One only has to skim the headlines to realize the toxic cloud of slavery’s legacy still hangs heavily overhead. Recent revelations connecting the families of Rev. Al Sharpton and the late Sen. Strom Thurmond will only fan the flames of discourse Thurdsay night, as The Artist’s Bookshelf dives headfirst into a heated, but as always civil discussion of Toni Morrison’s exquisite Beloved, and its thematic links to the current Kara Walker show.
Please consider the following:
1.) Artist Kara Walker references Toni Morrison as an influence. In what ways are their approaches to African-American history and the legacy of slavery similar? In what ways do they differ?
2.) Both Walker and Morrison have been accused and/or praised as being provocative. What is it about their work that provokes such strong responses? Is this provocation intentional, and if so, should it be considered an important measure of the significance of their work?
3.) Beloved was recently named THE most important work of American fiction of the last twenty-five years. What qualities led to such high praise?
4.) Morrison uses multiple points of view and a wide range of narrative techniques in the composition of Beloved. What is the cumulative effect of such fragmentation? Would the novel have been as powerful (and artistically successful) if the author had limited herself to a more standard literary format?
5.) Who is Beloved? What is her significance as the title character of the novel? There are at least two potential interpretations of her character. The first is of her as the displaced ghost of the child killed by Sethe, and now returned in an adult body. The second is of her as, as Stamp Paid puts it, “a girl locked up by a white man over by Deer Creek. Found him dead last summer and the girl gone. Maybe that’s her”. Both seem to be supportable by the text, yet the intentional ambiguity opens the door for several other possibilities as well. What was your perception?
6.) In a 1987 New York Times interview, Toni Morrison said, “ I really think the range of emotions and perceptions I have had access to as a black person and as a female person are greater than those of people who are neither. I really do. So it seems to me that my world did not shrink because I was a black female writer. It just got bigger.” Do you agree with her premise? What light does this statement shed on Beloved?
7.) Early on in Beloved, we are told, “ For a used-to-be-slave woman to love anything that much was dangerous, especially if it was her children she had settled on to love.” Let’s ponder the significance of this remark.
Gallery tour starts at 6 pm, followed by discussion at 7 pm.