The theme of religion and community is not foreign to Toni Morrison. In several of her novels, she has treated themes of God and humanity. Indeed, spirituality is a common thread woven through many of her characters. Morrison has a sharp insight into people as they relate to their Maker and each other. She clearly understands that everyone must achieve salvation in her own way and in her own time. However, it is not until Beloved, her Nobel-prize winning novel about slavery, that Morrison truly examines the relationship of the community and redemption. Through the gut-wrenching story of Sethe, a former slave living with terrifying memories, Morrison shows us the powerful role that community can play in the individual’s redemption. .
Morrison opens Beloved with two very powerful statements. Before the story even begins, there is a page with only the words “Sixty Million and more”: she is referring to the sixty million people who died as a result of slavery. This figure has been much speculated upon, and when questioned about it, Morrison says, “Some historians told me that two hundred million died. The smallest number I got from anybody was sixty million.” One might think from this staggering dedication that this book is going to focus purely on slavery. Beloved is a story about slavery, certainly. It does not deal with slavery as an institution, though- “Slavery with a capital S”, as Morrison says. Rather, it deals with individuals who must deal with the horrors of being slaves, and their responses to their lives. It deals with the individuals who constitute the community of slavery. This communal aspect is never forgotten by Morrison; it is woven throughout the story, constantly reminding the reader that this story is only one of millions. Sethe’s pain is the focus, but there is always the underlying reminder that millions have experienced that pain as well, and they will always be bound together because of it.
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