1001 Books: Beloved by Toni Morrison
Why was this booked banned and do I agree with the decision?
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Published in: 1987
Literary Awards: Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, American Book Award and Ainsfield-Wolf Book Award.
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Synopsis from Goodreads: It is the mid-1800s and as slavery looks to be coming to an end, Sethe is haunted by the violent trauma it wrought on her former enslaved life at Sweet Home, Kentucky. Her dead baby daughter, whose tombstone bears the single word, Beloved, returns as a spectre to punish her mother, but also to elicit her love. Told with heart-stopping clarity, melding horror and beauty, Beloved is Toni Morrison’s enduring masterpiece.
According to Wiki this book was banned for the following reasons: “Common reasons for censorship include bestiality, infanticide, sex, and violence. Twenty years after Beloved’s publication, in 1987, the novel was first banned from AP English classes at Eastern High School in Louisville, Kentucky because of the book’s mention of bestiality, racism and sex. The cause of the book being banned was because two parents complained that the book discussed inappropriate parts about the Antebellum slavery.  In 2017, Beloved was considered for removal from the Fairfax County (VA) senior English reading list due to a parent’s complaint that “the book includes scenes of violent sex, including a gang rape, and was too graphic and extreme for teenagers”. Parental concern about Beloved‘s content inspired the “Beloved Bill”, legislation that, if passed, would require Virginia public schools to notify parents of any “sexually explicit content” and provide an alternative assignment if requested. ”
Book Worm’s Thoughts: I personally don’t believe in banning books or restricting what people chose to read for themselves however I cannot argue with the reasons given above for wanting the book banned, it does contain everything they say it does. Some of these reasons are less valid than the others so lets look at them in turn specifically as they apply to teenagers reading in school:
- Racism – this is still occurring all over the world today and the best way to stamp it out must surely be for people to understand the damage it does and the best way of understanding? Reading if you ask me.
- Inappropriate parts about antebellum slavery – this has now ended so what are we trying to hide?
- Bestiality – score one for the censors although this is mentioned only briefly and it is more hinted at than described in detail. If you are talking about a younger audience I think they can understand that slavery is bad without exposing them to this side of things.
- Infanticide – I think most teenagers will be able to see what drove this behaviour and like me they may well sympathise with the decision. While I don’t condone what Sethe did I cannot in my heart condemn her for it either, she was making an impossible choice between 2 evils.
- Violence – the way slaves are punished is certainly violent but have the parents calling for the ban played a video game or watched a horror movie lately? I think teens are exposed to so much violence that it gets lost in the noise. If the violence described in the book causes them to pause and think or even upsets them I think it is a good thing.
- Violent Sex/Gang Rape – I found these scenes particularly disturbing but I think it is important for teenagers to understand how devastating this is and how it is a form of violence and punishment aimed particularly at women and how it can have a lasting impact on entire families. Given the news at the moment I am sure most if not all teenagers are aware that these things can and do happen.
So now we have covered the controversial points why should you read this book? Because it is so important to understand how far we have come since Sethe’s day and how easy it would be to end back there again. The book explores the psychological impact of slavery not just on those directly impacted but also on future generations and society as a whole.
This is not a book I enjoyed reading however it is a book I feel I needed to read.
I think Morrison describes this book perfectly in her foreword:
“In trying to make the slave experience intimate, I hoped the sense of things being both under control and out of control would be persuasive throughout; that the order and quietude of everyday life would be violently disrupted by the chaos of the needy dead; that the herculean effort to forget would be threatened by memory desperate to stay alive. To render enslavement as a personal experience, language must get out of the way.”
We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think?