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Beloved | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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Toni Morrison | Biography


Toni Morrison, whose given name was Chloe Anthony Wofford, was born February 18, 1931, and grew up in an African American working-class family in Lorain, Ohio. Morrison debuted as a novelist in 1970 with The Bluest Eye, a controversial story set during the Great Depression. She has won numerous literary awards, including a Pulitzer Prize in 1988 and a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993.

Morrison left her job as a fiction editor at a prominent publishing house just before writing Beloved in 1987. Her own newfound sense of freedom led her to contemplate what freedom meant for women and especially for African American women. She remembered a newspaper clipping she had once read about an escaped slave named Margaret Garner, who, when cornered with her children by slave hunters, killed her daughter so that the child would not have to return to the plantation from which they had escaped. Morrison decided to tell Garner's story as a work of fiction; thus, Beloved came to be written as an assurance that the evils of slavery will never be forgotten.

Beloved also shows Morrison exploring racial labels and identity, topics that are central to all of her work. As she writes in Playing in the Dark, her 1990 book of literary criticism, "The kind of work I have always wanted to do requires me to learn how to maneuver ways to free up the language from its ... employment of racially informed and determined chains."

Beloved has inspired both acclaim and controversy since its release. Critics argued that it did not paint a true picture of slavery, while supporters celebrated its frankness. Some readers also objected to the novel's dedication, "Sixty Million and more," arguing that Morrison was setting up a comparison between the deaths of enslaved Africans and African Americans and the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Other critics have argued that through Beloved Morrison helped readers think differently about U.S. history. The novel paints a brutal picture of slavery yet shows how those who were enslaved managed to remain human.

After the book was released, the African American community was angry that Beloved did not receive the National Book Award; it was instead a finalist. Black writers placed an ad in the New York Times applauding the novel, and Beloved did go on to win the Pulitzer the following year.

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