Week 10 2020.docx - October 30, 2020 My Very Dear APES, You...

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October 30, 2020My Very Dear APES,You will be finishing your reading ofBelovedthis week, though our consideration of the novel willcontinue for a few more. I encourage you to supplement the rather harrowing nature of this work withsome pleasure reading or other rejuvenating activities this week—walking outside, listening to much-lovedmusic, or spending time with trusted friends.Belovedbears witness to the tragedy and injustice of theworld; yet the world also contains joy, life, hope, and pleasure, and when we do the important work oftaking the world’s tragedies seriously, we are strengthened and given courage by also filling our cups withaffirmations of life and goodness.For some, reading novels containing this much tragedy is an exercise in depression. Yet I find myselfreading between the lines somewhat, and seeing in the very act of telling these stories another, morecovert, plot line. After all, if cruelty were all that humans are capable of, why would we bother trying tohelp one another understand its devastating effects? I would argue that the act of telling tragic stories isitself an act of faith in humanity: we believe that it is possible for empathy, understanding, and compassionto triumph. We believe that these forces, too, lie hidden within human nature just as much as cruelty does,and we believe that they can be unlocked. It is this belief, I argue, that motivates the writing of novels likeBeloved, just as it motivated the dissemination of thepowerfully evocative image of the kneeling slave inchains, together with the line from Whittier’s poem: “Am I not a man, and a brother?”As we saw in “The Lottery,” human beings experience innate resistance, reluctance, and discomfort whenfaced with a situation in which they must treat a fellow human being with violence or disrespect. ShirleyJackson’s villagers were only capable of murdering one of their own because they assumed the Lottery wasnecessary for survival; they did not question why their society was built on this unjust system, and we seethat they all found the practice distasteful, even troubling. Alongside the existence of oppressive socialsystems, we almost always see counter-movements: rebels who call for justice, equality, humane treatment,and who champion the cause of the downtrodden. Relishing another’s degradation or suffering does notcome naturally to most humans; such states of mind require a great deal of deadening and numbing of thevoices within us that call for us to treat one another with dignity. Similarly, stories likeBelovedstand as atestament to the natural drive within humanity to uphold the dignity of all human beings—and one of theways we do this is by telling and honoring the stories of those who have suffered. Morrison’s willingnessto bear witness in this way, even though she is chronicling great tragedy, shows the unconquerable hopeshe has: that humanity is capable of humane, just behavior, and capable of learning to see the human in the“other.”

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