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The 15-Minute Pulitzer: Reading between the lines

by Craig B | Nov 14, 2018

Book Review: Toni Morrison's winner of the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Beloved

cover for Toni Morrison's novel, BelovedI can see why Morrison’s novels inspire, what is sometimes called in academia, a “close-reading.”  There are layers and layers here in her 1988 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Beloved; layers laced with question after question, ripe for some intransigent essay questions.  For example, who am I supposed to sympathize most with?  Who is the heroine?  Hero?  95% of the way through the novel I suddenly found myself being pulled to look at events in a different way, which I found fascinating, intriguing even.  Intrigue can lend itself to “close-reading,” to an obsession with questions like, “What is Morrison trying to tell us?  Who is Morrison really writing this book about?  What do you think, class?” 

It is true that I find some of Morrison’s vagueness and disjointed exposition frustrating (especially at the beginning), but I also find that it allows for interpretations to be formed, picked apart, formed again, and that there’s something profound about this process.  And this sort of thing happens not only within the text.  Put Beloved within its actual historical context, the fact that the seed for the story originated with something that happened within Morrison’s own family history, and every scene has the potential to take on a different timbre.

Lastly, it’s a ghost story!  Of sorts.  It does read like a horror novel at some points, which I actually found a little weird and a bit off-putting, and then that near overly maudlin ending really put my experience of this novel on edge, but I have to say Morrison does seem to near perfectly pull the narrative out of its dangerous dive.  And further good news, Beloved is part of a trilogy!  A trilogy connected by themes rather than concrete characters allowing for point-counterpoint comparisons as well as nebulous connections, mirroring of events, and various other literary magic.  Talk about an opportunity for close-reading!


Craig B author Craig B is a thirty-something lover of books, movies, and rock and roll whose grandmother still worries that he might not be eating enough. (Love you, Grandma!) He lives with his charming wife in the small town of Berne, IN (in sight of the clock tower) where he busies himself keeping the Roses of Sharon in check and training his chinchilla in the ancient arts of the Ninja. Craig’s current favorite book is Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann.


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  1. Craig B | Dec 04, 2018

    Thanks for writing (and reading) Cheryl and Barb.  I've not read Song of Solomon, Barb, though I did like Sula in college.  I'll keep "Song" in the back of my mind for the next time I need a book to read ...

  2. Barb Strubel | Dec 04, 2018

    I love Morrison’s work. Every single sentence is worth pondering. So well thought out. My favorite? Song of Solomon. Made me look at literature in a completely new way! 


  3. Cheryl | Dec 02, 2018
    I read this book when it came outin the 80s and I don't have fond memories of it.  It was supposed to be one of those 'must reads', but I can't even remember what it was about.  Good review & thanks for the memories.

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