Beloved: A Book Review

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Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved covers many different themes; she writes about revenge, racism, death/loss, self worth, relationships, and the importance of community. Her story tackles disturbing situations such as sexual assault, infanticide, slavery, and the mistreatment of human beings that borders on being torturous. She even touches on the supernatural with the aspect of the house being haunted by a ghost, which everyone believes to be the spirit of Sethe’s daughter. Perhaps the most significant theme Morrison touches on, however, is that of identity.

Many characters struggle in the story with the concept of their identity, taken away from because of the horrors of slavery. Baby Suggs, for instance, is confused when her former master is driving her to freedom. Her son has worked overtime on Saturdays, Sundays, and nights to be able to buy her freedom. Mr. Garner refers to her as Jenny Whitlow a few times, and she doesn’t understand why. He finally reveals that Jenny is her real name, not Baby Suggs, which she goes by because her husband was Suggs, and he called her baby. Mr. Garner tells her to go back to Jenny Whitlow when she is in the North because he tells her Baby Suggs is not a “real” name. It has become her identity and is what she had been called by her loved ones, however, and she continues to introduce herself as such even when she is a free woman in the North.

Stamp Paid, too, deals with identity. He renames himself after he has paid off all of his old debts because he feels as though his new name will more accurately reflect his character. He was originally born under the name of “Joshua,” but changes it because he wants a name that is solely his own. Unlike Baby Suggs, he does not have emotional ties to his name, but wishes to be completely freed from his past. His new name not only reveals what he believes to be his identity, but also helps him view himself as an entirely different person.

Paul D and his brothers represent the idea of identity, as well. Their situation deals more with the negative aspects of slavery; they are all named Paul, but are distinguished by the initial that follows: Paul D, Paul A, and Paul F. The fact that the three brothers all have the same name signifies how slavery swallows up an individual’s character to the point that the only difference between the three men is one letter. Readers learn more about Paul D and his character, but names are a significant part of one’s identity; Paul D and his brothers are denied that basic right.

Sethe is arguably the character in which the theme of identity can be seen the most strongly. When Beloved “returns,” Sethe’s identity becomes completely swallowed up in her, to the point that she has no distinctive character outside of her daughter. She is completely obsessed with Beloved, to the point that she is completely dumbfounded and disbelieving when Paul D tells her that she is her best thing, not her daughter. All of the brutalities she faces chip away at her until she is no longer Sethe; perhaps she does not even remember who Sethe is.

Toni Morrison tells a moving story and uses many different themes that broadly cover all of the atrocities that fall under slavery. Her writing shows how the dehumanization of humans leads to cruelty, rape, and the break up of families, and, in some situations, death. Many of the slaves also display a loss of individuality and defining characteristics, as well. Morrison rightly believes the loss of identity is just as much of a tragedy as these horrors, and her writing reflects that with many characters.

Joy to the World

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I like to think of life as a journey. I understand that sounds super cliché and cheesy, but it’s true. One of the (admittedly more annoying) aspects of my character is that I try to be optimistic and find good in everything.

I remember once when I was a kid on a hayride at night with a group of friends. Someone pointed out a black, boarded up house and began to tell a story about how he had heard that it was haunted.

I frowned at this suggestion, worried that the owners and/or the actual house might be hurt over those allegations. I decided to try to find a way to redeem the situation. “I don’t think it’s haunted,” I defended it stoutly.

“Really? Then how come the old lady that lived there hasn’t been seen coming in or going out in 25 years?” he challenged.

I remember scrambling for an answer. “Maybe she hasn’t been seen because she just…died in the house a few years ago…or something.”

I believe his response to my proposition was something along the lines of, “That’s what would make it haunted, doofus.”

It was annoying to people when I was seven. It’s still annoying to them 15 years later.

Now, I am not an Amy Adams from Enchanted type of person; I do complain. Things irritate me. I get crabby, especially and inexplicably on Thursdays. I just don’t really like to dwell on negative aspects of my life because I have too many things to be thankful for.

I guess the world has enough negative aspects that already fight to try to steal my joy without me allowing them to by dwelling on what I’m not happy about. This does not mean I stick my head in the sand or ignore features that are wrong or need changing. Life is beautiful, but it is also difficult, and we, especially as Christians, should be fighting against the injustice, pain, and poverty that is so prevalent not only in our society, but also in the world as a whole. Sometimes, however, there comes a point in life where we need to stop complaining about things that need to be changed and just be the change ourselves.

What would happen if, instead of focusing on what displeased us, we focused on our blessings?

I’ll change the Patrick Dempseys of the world yet.

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Purim: God’s Faithfulness Then and Now

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God is a huge part of my life. I like my writing to reflect that. Even though my capstone project isn’t necessarily a “Christian” or “religious” one (Ugh. I hate both of those terms), the idea of God heavily influences it. I love writing about the faithfulness of God. I’m so blessed to have a Savior who will never let me down.

Purim is a Jewish holiday that falls between the months of February and March and commemorates the story of the book of Esther. This year, it begins March 14 and ends March 15. We throw big, loud crazy parties where everyone dresses up in a variety costumes and eats fruit filled cookies called Hamentaschen that are supposedly shaped after the hat Haman wore. (They’re triangle shaped, so apparently Haman was part pirate.) Last year, my congregation held a contest for the best costume and we had everything from Willy Wonka to a gypsy to a bunch of grapes. True story.

Somewhere in the midst of all the laughter and celebrating, someone reads the whole book of Esther out loud while all of the little kids cheer and boo respectively when Mordecai and Haman’s names are mentioned. It’s considered a mitzvah (good deed) to give time and money to different homeless shelters and charities, helping out those less fortunate than us. It’s a loud, boisterous and busy holiday, and it’s frequently easy to get caught up in the fun and noise and exciting chaos, while losing sight of the true meaning of the holiday. (And you guys thought I wouldn’t have that problem by not celebrating Christmas!) The truth is that just because I’m Messianic doesn’t mean I get to avoid commercialism.

There’s a story behind Purim (as is frequently the case with holidays.) Esther was stuck in a pretty tough situation. When the Persian King Xerxes decided to kick out his first wife after she wouldn’t parade herself through his court for his drunken friends to admire, he decided he needed a new woman to replace her as queen. He chose Esther, whose uncle Mordecai had raised her from birth and advised her not to tell anyone at the palace that she was Jewish. This turned out to be a wise choice, as Haman began to slowly work his way into power and create a plot to completely destroy the entire Jewish race. Thanks to Persian politics, Esther couldn’t visit the King unless he had invited her first. It was an act punishable by death. With all of her people facing annihilation, Esther stepped out in faith and went before him, anyway. He decided not to lop off her head (spoiler alert), and she revealed Haman’s plot. The King had him killed for his treachery and the people were saved, hence the big day of celebration, even thousands of years later.

Cool story, bro, you’re probably thinking. What in the world does this obscure Jewish holiday have to do with me?

My point is that we’ve all been Esther. We’ve all been in situations where it was terrifying to even consider taking one more step forward, because the way was dark and we didn’t know what was around the corner. We could fall. We could get hurt. It’s hard to step out in faith when it would be much easier (and safer!) to stay within our comfort zones. We can boldly move forward, confident, because our God is not uninvolved or apathetic. He cared about Esther’s life-threatening situation, and He cares about our struggles, no matter how small or enormous they may seem to us. Whether the situation is a problem emotionally, financially, physically, or spiritually, He’s involved….even when it doesn’t feel like it. He’s never failed before, and I don’t expect Him to now. He’ll come through. It may be right at the moment that I’m facing the king, bracing myself for that final, fatal blow, but He’ll step in. He’s never late.

He was faithful for Esther. He’ll be faithful for you. Trust in Him.