Book Review©



Toni Morrison

[This book is further evidence of the ‘shadow’ de-facto Race and Gender Studies Program within the English Department at the U.S. Naval Academy.]


       This book describes Toni Morrison's view of the post-Civil War period in the South with flashbacks to the era of slavery before the war.  The plot in the story is a simple one. A young black slave woman, Sethe, is sexually abused by white men before the war, and in her haste to run and be free from the oppression of slavery, attempts to kill her young children, two young boys, a toddler girl, and a just-born female baby. She succeeds in killing the toddler, Beloved, but leaves the others bloodied but living. Beloved comes back to haunt the dingy, run-down house in which Sethe lives with her surviving dauthter, Denver. The surviving sons ran away from home at the age of 13, as soon as they were able, having been traumatized by their near-death experience at the hands of their mother and unable to cope with the strange happenings in the house haunted by the vengeful Beloved.


       The story jumps back and forth between these two periods, sometimes in fuzzy, foggy, disconnected sequences that provide vast opportunities for the author to spice the story with vignettes of vaporous, sometimes meaningless and meandering connective threads -- but with a purpose. That is, to portray the black characters as having little hope for a happy life, even after freedom is won, because of the past evils of their previous slave existence.


       When John D., one of five black slaves who, along with Sethe, had lived on the Sweet Home farm in the 1850s, showed up one day at her door, he was immediately taken in by Sethe. As time went on, and John D. took over the security of the premises from the 'spooky' Beloved, the ghost shows up in the human form of a young girl, about the age of Sethe's murdered toddler, and begins to retake her territory.


       John D. finally leaves and the story slowly vanishes into meaningless incoherence as Beloved, in human form, casts her spell over Sethe, Denver, and even John D., who was enticed into sexual intercourse with the young ‘girl,’ much to his mounting dismay and disgust. The ending is weakly drawn with Sethe attempting to kill her boss, a white man who treated her kindly in the past, with an ice pick. She thought he was driving up in his buggy to 'take her most precious thing.' This action takes place amidst a group of outraged black women from town who came to confront her, knowing the horrendous truth of what she did to her baby girl in the past and concerned about what Beloved was doing to Sethe in the present.


       This book, with little plot and a silly ending, is simply a poor excuse for the author to rail against the evils of slavery. Morrison accomplishes this feat with vigor, imagination, and energy. The vignettes are stark. There is little subtlety in this book. She successfully portrays every white man, but two (her first owner and her current boss) as oppressive and evil. But even those two are lumped together and demonized in the end.


       As in the other required book by Morrison, she portrays black men as depraved, pitiful victims. For example, she introduces beastiality early on (pp.10). "Sethe was thirteen when she came to Sweet Home ...The five Sweet Home men [all black] looked at the new girl and decided to let her be. They were young and so sick with the absence of women they had taken to calves. Yet they let [Sethe] go, so she could choose in spite of the fact that each one would have beaten the others to mush to have her ... It took her a year to choose -- a long, tough year ... eaten up with dreams of her. A year of yearning, when rape seemed the solitary gift of life [ Note: What in hell is that supposed to mean?]. The restraint they had exercised possible only because they were Sweet Home men -- the ones [their owner] bragged about while other farmers shook their heads in warning at the phrase."


       "And so they were: Paul D., Paul F., Paul A., Halle Suggs, and Sixo, the wild man. All in their twenties, minus women, fucking cows, dreaming of rape, ... rubbing their thighs and waiting for the new girl ... She waited a year. And the Sweet Home men abused cows while they waited for her." Peter Singer and Toni Morrison have something in common other than the fact that they are both hold 'Distinguished Chairs' at Princeton University. They both approve of and promote beastiality. That in itself should be enough to provoke askance at the propriety of their texts being required reading in the new 'ethics' program at the Academy and in the English Department there.


       Morrison's first reference to the evils of white men occurs on page 16. She describes Sethe's time in the 1850s when her owner died and his widow was unable to control the slaves' circumstances. The mean Schoolteacher and his two lecherous nephews take over the management of the farm. So the slaves decided to run away. Sethe, with a nursing baby, sent her two boys and the baby girl on ahead with Paul D. and the rest, and she would follow. "'I had milk,'[Seth] said. 'I was pregnant with Denver but I had milk for my baby girl [Beloved]. I hadn't stopped nursing her when I sent her on ahead with [the two boys] ... Anybody could smell me long before he saw me. And when he saw me he'd see the drops of it on the front of my dress. Nothing I could do about that. All I knew was I had to get my milk to my baby girl ... After I left you, those boys came in there and took my milk. That's what they came in there for. Held me down and took it. I told Mrs. Garner on em ... Them boys found out I told on em. Schoolteacher made one open up my back, and when it closed it made a tree. It grows there still." This is reference to the results of a flogging she took at the hands of the white men – rough bulging scars on her back.


       "They used cowhide on you?"

       "And they took my milk."

       "They beat you and you was pregnant?"

       "And they took my milk."

Of course the 'boys' and the Schoolteacher were stereotypical Southern white males.


       Sethe's husband, Halle, was the father of all of Sethe's children. He was one of the five slaves on the Sweet Home farm. His mother, Baby Suggs, was described in the following way. " all of Baby's life, as well as Sethe's own, men and women were moved around like checkers. Anybody Baby Suggs knew, let alone loved, who hadn't run off or been hanged, got rented out, loaned out, bought up, brought back, stored up, mortgaged, won, stolen or seized. So Baby's eight children had six fathers. What she called the nastiness of life was the shock she received upon learning that nobody stopped playing checkers just because the pieces included her children."


       What is amazing about this description is not that it occurred during the period of our history when the abominable practice of slavery was practiced, especially in the South. What is astounding is that this description fits just as well the condition of many blacks in America nearly 150 years after the abolition of slavery, especially in the period of the 1960s through 2000, wherein nearly 70 percent of black newborns are illegitimate and a single black mother on welfare with nearly the same number of children, each by different men, is not uncommon. And this in an America where blacks have more freedom, opportunity, and economic prosperity than any other place on earth.


       But of course, Ms. Morrison cannot bring herself to convey this message, nor would it be appropriate in this book. Her purpose is to blame all of this depravity on Southern white males -- not just Southern white 'slave owners,' but all Southern white males. There is not a single one, except the owner of Sweet Home farm who died early on in the story, who rates a description of decent human behavior.


       Morrison's message of hatred of ALL white people is vividly displayed in the passage in which Baby Suggs preached to a large group of black neighbors in a field near their home. "'Here,' she said, 'in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass ... Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don't love your eyes; they'd just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it ... and no, they ain't in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again ... And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight ... Those white things have taken all I had or dreamed,' she said, 'and broke my heartstrings too. There is no bad luck in the world but white folks.'"


       This kind of ranting of a racial hatred message is closely akin to that of the early 1990s from Kahlid Abdul Muhammed, Louis Farrakhan's Minister of Security. His version of the same message is rather more 'masculine' than Toni Morrison's 'poison,' but it has the same object of hatred -- the villainous white man.


       For example, in a speech at Kean College (NJ) on November 29, 1993, Muhammed said, "If we want to be merciful at all, when we gain enough power from God almighty to take our freedom and independence from him, we give him 24 hours to get out of town by sundown. That's all. If he won't get out of town by sundown, we kill everything white that ain't right that's in sight in South Africa. We kill the women, we kill the children, we kill the babies, we kill the blind, we kill the cripple, we kill [inaudible] ‘em all ... You say why kill the babies in South Africa? Because they gonna grow up one day to oppress our babies so we kill the babies. Why kill the women, they, they -- because they lay on their back -- they are the military or the army's manufacturing center – they lay on their back and [inaudible] -- reinforcements roll out from between their legs. So we kill the women too. You gonna kill the elders too. Kill old ones too -- goddamn, if they're in a wheelchair, push 'em off a cliff in Capetown. Push 'em off a cliff in Capetown, or Johannesburg, or [inaudible] or Port [inaudible] or [Durban], how in the hell do you think they got old? They got old oppressing black people. I say kill the blind, kill the cripple, kill the [inaudible]. Goddamn it, and when you get through killing them all, go to the goddamn graveyard and dig up the grave and kill 'em a goddamn gin cause they didn't die hard enough. They didn't die hard enough. They didn't die hard enough. And if you kill them all and you don't have the strength to dig 'em up, then take your gun and shoot in the goddamn grave, kill 'em again, kill 'em again, cause they didn't die hard enough." Muhammed was ranting racial hatred against South African whites, but recall that he was speaking to a predominantly black American audience. This device was a thin screen of smoke to disguise the true object of his hatred – white people in America.


       Indeed, Toni Morrison's book is but an excuse to provoke the same black rage and white guilt. It is of the genre of those books in Oprah Winfrey's Book Club. In a passage describing Baby Suggs last days, Toni Morrison has her final say about the evil white man. "Baby Suggs grew tired, went to bed and stayed there until her big old heart quit. Except for an occasional request for color she said practically nothing -- until the afternoon of the last day of her life when she got out of bed, skipped slowly to the door of the keeping room and announced to Sethe and Denver the lesson she had learned from her sixty years a slave and ten years free: that there was no bad luck in the world but white people. 'They don't know when to stop,' she said, and returned to her bed, pulled up the quilt and left them to hold that thought forever."


       It takes Morrison 150 pages of this kind of rhetoric before she tell us the tragedy of Sethe's cutting her toddler’s throat and slashing her other children in an attempt to kill them rather than have them taken back to Sweet Home and the predatory whites who had taken it over after the death of her previous master. It is there that we finally learn what haunts the house at 124 (its non-address, address). When Paul D. learns of this, he splits.


       It isn't long thereafter that Morrison gets back to her angry rant about the conditions in which blacks lived in the years after they were freed in the wake of the Civil War. She lets a friend of Baby Suggs' describe the circumstances. "Now, too late, he understood her. The heart that pumped out love, the mouth that spoke the Word, didn't count. They came in her yard anyway and she could not approve or condemn Seth's rough choice. One or the other might have saved her, but beaten up by the claims of both, she went to bed. The whitefolks had tired her out at last."


       "And him. Eighteen seventy-four and whitefolks were still on the loose. Whole towns wiped clean of Negroes; eighty-seven lynchings in one year alone in Kentucky; four colored schools burned to the ground; grown men whipped like children; children whipped like adults; black women raped by the crew; property taken, necks broken. He smelled skin, skin and hot blood. The skin was one thing, but human blood cooked in a lynch fire was a whole other thing. The stench stank. Stank up off the pages of the North Star, out of the mouths of witnesses, etched in crooked handwriting in letters delivered by hand. Detailed in documents and petitions full of whereas and presented to any legal body who'd read it, it stank."


       Now, can we see why Toni Morrison is one of Oprah Winfrey's favorite novelists?  This is Oprah's World. In counterpoint, one is reminded of the million Russian cossacks who were returned by the Allies to Stalin during World War II, wherein mothers threw their children into the river to drown and jumped in after them to escape their forced repatriation to the Soviet Union and certain death.[See “It Didn’t Start With Elian,” by Michael A. Ledeen, The Wall Street Journal, 5/11/00 and the film, “Operation Keelhaul,” Dr. Stan Monteith, Liberty Radio]. But in Morrison's world, such nobility is absent. Her book is nothing but a blatant excuse to claim 'victimhood' for all blacks in America. And the white man is the oppressor. This book is a direct attempt to fan the flames of black hatred and white guilt for the evils of slavery, which was eradicated nearly 150 years ago in America.


       This book is nothing more than blatant 'cultural Marxist' propaganda that tears America down and which possibly laid the groundwork for the current cries for 'reparations' from the U.S. Government for the misery dealt out to the ancestors of black people for the evil of slavery.


       "It was Ella more than anyone who convinced the others that rescue was in order ... [Ella's] puberty was spent in a house where she was shared by a father and son [both white], whom she called 'the lowest yet.' It was 'the lowest yet' who gave her a disgust for sex and against whom she measured all atrocities. A killing, a kidnap, a rape -- whatever, she listened and nodded. Nothing compared to 'the lowest yet.' She understood Sethe's rage in the shed twenty years ago, but not her reaction to it, which Ella thought was prideful, misdirected, and Sethe herself too complicated. When she got out of jail and made no gesture toward anybody, and lived as though she were alone, Ella junked her and wouldn't give her the time of day."


       "When Ella heard 124 was occupied by something-or-other [Beloved] beating up on Sethe, it infuriated her and gave her another opportunity to measure what could very well be the devil himself against 'the lowest yet.' ... Was it true the dead daughter come back? Or a pretend? Was it whipping Sethe? Ella had been beaten every way but down. She remembered the bottom teeth she had lost to the brake and the scars from the bell were thick as rope around her waist. She had delivered, but would not nurse, a hairy white thing, fathered by 'the lowest yet.' It lived five days never making a sound. The idea of that pup coming back to whip her too set her jaw working..."


       "The singing women recognized Sethe at once and surprised themselves by their absence of fear when they saw what stood next to her. The devil-child was clever, they thought. And beautiful. It had taken the shape of a pregnant woman, naked and smiling in the heat of the afternoon sun. Thunderblack and glistening, she stood on long straight legs, her belly big and tight. Vines of hair twisted all over he head. Jesus. Her smile was dazzling."


       "It is when [Sethe] lowers her eyes to look again at the loving faces before her that she sees him. Guiding the mare, slowing down, his black hat wide-brimmed enough to hide his face but not his purpose. He is coming into her yard and he is coming for her best thing...She flies. The ice pick is not in her hand; it is her hand."


       "Standing alone on the porch, Beloved is smiling. But now her hand is empty. Sethe is running away from her, running, and she feels the emptiness in the hand Sethe has been holding. Now she is running into the faces of the people out there, joining them and leaving Beloved behind. Alone. Again. Then Denver, running too. Away from her to the pile of people out there. They make a hill. A hill of black people, falling. And above them all, rising from his place with a whip in his hand, the man without skin, looking. He is looking at her."


       In the aftermath of the near stabbing of Sethe's boss, "Janey says all [the boss] wants to know is who was the naked blackwoman standing on the porch. He was looking at her so hard he didn't notice what Sethe was up to. All he saw was some coloredwomen fighting. He thought Sethe was after one of them, Janey say."


       "Janey tell him any different?"

       "No. She say she so glad her boss aint' dead. If Ella hadn't clipped her, she say she would have. Scared her to death have that woman kill her boss. She and Denver be looking for a job."

       "Who Janey tell him the naked woman was?"

       "Told him she didn't see none."

       "You believe they saw it?"

       "Well, they saw something. I trust Ella anyway, and she say she looked IT in the eye. IT was standing right next to Sethe. But from the way they describe IT, don't seem like IT was the girl I saw in there. The girl I saw was narrow. This one was big. She say they was holding hands and Sethe looked like a little girl beside it."
       "Little girl with a ice pick. How close she get to him?"

       "Right up on him, they say. Before Denver and them grabbed her and Ella put her fist in her jaw."


[Note: Now, dear reader, just who in the hell do you think the antecedent to 'her' is? Just who in the hell tried to stab the boss with an ice pick? Just guess. Toni Morrison doesn't believe in using direct antecedents for her pronouns. That would require rigor in a novel which has none. Just keep everyone guessing -- even the author. Oh, yes, later on we find that Sethe was the one who attempted the stabbing. Or, could it have been Beloved?]


       "He got to know Sethe was after him. He got to."

       "Maybe. I don't know. If he did think it, I reckon he decided not to. That be just like him, too. He's somebody never turned us down. Steady as a rock. I tell you something, if she had got to him, it'd be the worst thing in the world for us. You know, don't you, he's the main one kept Sethe from the gallows in the first place."

       "Yeah. Damn. That woman is crazy. Crazy."

       "Yeah, well, ain't we all?"


       And as the story ends on such a vaporous sequence, one wonders whether or not Toni Morrison is a bit ‘teched’ as well. Or could it be that her story is simply a lame excuse to demonize white men and carry out a racist vendetta. But Toni Morrison is more than simply a black racist. She is, in addition, a radical feminist who hates all men – black and white. Otherwise, why would she so ‘animalize’ black men by delightfully describing their bestiality with young calves and John D’s weakness in succumbing to the seduction of a young girl -- Beloved? There is an answer.


       And that answer is provided by Bob Just in his description of another black female radical feminist, Donna Brazile (‘Feminizing the Black Beret,’ Bob Just, WorldNetDaily, 6/13/01). “When Al Gore's black campaign manager Donna Brazile made her infamous and outrageous statement during the [2000 presidential] campaign about not letting "the white boys win" she was properly accused of being racist. However, that was only a small part of what was going on. Brazile tried to clarify her statement and only revealed a deeper problem. She said, “... ‘white boys’ was not a description of ‘gender or race, it's an attitude, a 'white boy' attitude … 'I must exclude, denigrate, and leave behind.'” That phrase is very telling. Any feminist Army recruit could have said that same thing about her ‘old guard’ drill instructor, ‘He's excluding me, denigrating me and leaving me behind.’ Her problem is not with white men; her problem is with men.”


       Of course Donna Brazile has the same problem as Toni Morrison. Bob Just informs us, “Donna Brazile's problem is not with ‘white men.’ Her problem is with patriarchal men, men of proper authority whether white, black, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, or whatever. They are all ‘white boys’ to her. To radical feminists, men who act like men are the problem. It is the natural authority of these men, their strength, confidence, and their aggressiveness, that is so annoying to feminists. It threatens their gender-free, egalitarian fantasy. However, the rest of us are inspired by such men, from Churchill to Roosevelt to Reagan.” Judging from her book, the same could be said of Toni Morrison.


 If this is so, who is responsible for this trashy, 'cultural Marxist' novel being made required reading in the English Literature course at the U.S. Naval Academy? How could it possibly contribute to building the kind of TRUST in each other required of our nation’s core combat naval leadership?


       The answer is that it cannot. On the contrary, this book sows the seeds of suspicion, divisiveness, and distance. It breaks down TRUST. It should not be required reading at the U.S. Naval Academy.





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