Have you read “Beloved”?

Our book discussion group is primarily older adults.  My role as facilitator has been an interesting and enjoyable task.  The book Beloved by Toni Morrison has been at the top of my list of books to read.  I normally choose a classic but I also want to challenge the normal tastes of our group and especially like picking something I just can’t seem to find the time for on my own. Once chosen, the pressure mounts and I’m forced, with no trepidation, to read the novel or face the embarrassing & withering stares of these wonderful seniors.  This book was no exception and wow what an amazing choice it turned out to be.

I love our conversations and have yet to be disappointed.  When a book is disliked we have the best and most rich reviews.  Our group consists of around 15 people that fluctuate depending on the weather (and surgeries).  There are only 2 men, besides myself, that attend on a regular basis and only one other regular that is under the age of retirement.  With the topic of slavery we had quite an unusual discussion.  The book in general was not well received due to the graphic nature of the content and general requirement for “suspension of disbelief” on the part of the reader.  There’s a strong need for realism by several participants even though it’s almost Halloween.

Different perspectives are soooo interesting.  For the most part our group recognized the beauty of the writing and felt, as I did, Morrison’s ideas were extremely disturbing. This influenced our discussion in compelling ways.  In particular it fostered comparisons to our own town environment and culture.  I was raised in an area of Kentucky not prone to outright racism.  The subtle musings and jokes were apparent in private settings. See Dave Chapelle “Open Racism”  As with any race I would surmise we have all been guilty of humor at the expense of another person that is different.  One woman expressed the problem of Confederate flags on farm trucks locally.  My thoughts on this are somewhat different.  I genuinely believe a lot of the culture in small country towns do not recognize how offensive this is or can be.  The people I grew up with did the same and it was a fad.  There are always exceptions but largely these teens weren’t trying to demonstrate a racist attitude and instead were reflecting something seen in music or movies.

That said, where I do recognize issues in this small town comes from pure elitist regard for those blessed individuals who are native (born) here.  This type of prejudice is in our upper class community and crosses all lines of race.  Another point I brought forth included experience from working in restaurants.  I can usually tell the people who had to work for their living.  They tipped well and had an understanding for genuine mistakes.  The worst tips were often from the wealthiest people.  Higher standards?   The truest problem we have always faced is difference in socioeconomic levels.  I submit it is THE biggest problem when it comes to bias.  I know; I’ve strayed off topic.

The dialogue did turn a corner during our review.  Several people suggested plantation workers (slaves) were valued as much as their own family, given respect and kindness, and stayed on the land working for many generations.  A lady who’s friend still owns a 1000 acre farm depicted this exact situation.  She recounted, and I believe agreed with, the currently held belief this was an acceptable situation during her family history.  Nothing to be ashamed of.  This caught me off guard and it continued. To support her statement someone suggested slave owners weren’t realistically portrayed; the point being these people would not have been abused or neglected as slaves due to their value as property.  Validity of this point may be heartlessly insightful but I would and did argue that the neglect coming from the repression of these people intellectually alone constituted an injustice.  It is in no way acceptable but it is happening today. Links between illiteracy and incarceration

How to express what was happening and why this book prompted so many discussions.  I don’t know.  We all have differences.  I’d love less prejudice and more respect for all.  We all divide into our own lines of thought on every matter.  I grew up in a different generation compared to the people in our group and it was part of my stance.  How important was it is for Toni Morrison to give the perspectives of a black female?  Did she want to create a sensationalized story which would give a person pause?  There is after all no such thing as bad publicity.  During the time we now live in can we, or will we ever, treat individuals without regard for their wealth, politics, religion, age, race, gender, etc.?  I would highly recommend this book for many reasons.  It’s a powerfully clear example of what we all know occurred in our not too distant past, embellished or not.  It is important to recognize our differences and at the same time not let it overwhelm our sensibilities.  We all get bogged down in the details so quickly.  A human family idea has always given me pause and I hope you enjoyed this rambling post.

-mg

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