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A Harpeth Hall Senior’s Letter to Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison, author of Beloved

Toni Morrison, author of Beloved

Marimac McRae

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Dear Ms. Morrison,

I can’t call myself a fan yet because I have only read one of your books, Beloved, but I am fascinated. From an all-girls school, I have grown up in, around, and soon out of buildings where women come to die and be reborn all in the same week. I know best the transformations of women, know best what these changes amount to, know best what these changes feel like.

I want to talk to you about your work because I feel like your voice is the most striking part of the story. Its reduction to weather on the last page illustrated that. Voice is the only thing that can endure if it is handed over to the fleety face of paper. And, you endure.

Yearning is a massive motif in your novel, and I have some questions about it.

I always thought that smiles were innocent things, but like just about everything else, these common expressions now feel like paradoxes that I am too disoriented to understand. In the scene where Denver thinks that she has lost Beloved, what is signified in the smiles that you talk about? When Beloved looks into the dark and is yearning for “Her face,” seeing this dim corner results in Beloved “smiling again” (145). Could that smile be sinister? This scene resonates with me because it seems like Beloved is talking about her own face while she talks about the face of somebody else, which also seems to be the face of darkness, which also makes Beloved smile.

I understand a satisfied smile, and from the short syntax and the one line paragraph of “She is smiling again,” I think that the smile is satisfied. But why does Beloved need another face if she is already reincarnated into the flesh, and why is that satisfying face in the darkness?

Earlier in Beloved, you wrote that “Nothing ever [dies]”, and now I wonder if the opposite is true as well—that it’s hard to keep the living alive (44). Are you writing this book to ask questions, implying that there is a paradox surrounding the relations of the living and the dead? Is that line between worlds which we keep so sacred and untouchable actually more like a jump rope?

Besides the flesh, which has its own physical limitations, I think I agree with you on the jump rope quality of living and dying. Our own selves go through dormant months which are followed by months full of life when we brim over and touch the people around us. That is the kind of thing that I have learned and felt throughout my time at my High School.

At the beginning of the book, aren’t most of your characters dead? Baby Suggs is physically and spiritually dead due to lack of color and lack of hope. Denver is in an absence of living because she exists only within somebody else’s rememory, literally sequestered in her own home where “a kind of weeping clung to the air” (11). And, “To Sethe, the future was a matter of keeping the past at bay… the job Sethe had of keeping her from the past that was still waiting for her was all that mattered” (51).

And then, each by their own process, they either come to life or die more. Does Sethe prove that she is alive when she tries to kill the external enslavement force (the whiteman) instead of the life force within herself (her own children)? Is that why she runs for the whiteman instead of the shed with Beloved and Denver under her arms in the climactic scene? Does Denver prove that she was born truly not in a boat but in the submerged dissatisfaction of her home when she realizes for the first time that she is needed? You wrote, “…unless Denver got to work, there would be no one to save, no one to come home to, and no Denver either. It was a new thought, having a self to look out for and preserve.” (297). Through defensive, almost maternal drive, isn’t Denver forging a self in the absence of her family here? Isn’t she forcing herself to become a person in order to reverse the dimming of two other people, who don’t feel like people, who amount to only regret and desire?

Is that how the jump rope turns? Do regret and desire take the line between the world up and down, allowing us the ability to move between the two, either spiritually or, in the case of Beloved, physically?

Beloved asks questions—the earrings—, and that indicates that she knows things. I ask questions, and that indicates that I have known the book. You ask questions by writing the book, and that indicates that you know things as well. But why do you know these things about selflessness in the liminal and lost kind-of-way? Why do you know about dead babies and the forms in which they return? Why do you know about resurrection? And why do you ask questions about the quality of it?

I ask questions more like Denver, who needs to know to grow, and less like Beloved, who needs to know to leave. Eagerly awaiting your response.

Sincerely,

Marimac McRae

 

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