Beloved by Toni Morrison
A modern reader hoping to understand the realities of enslavement around the time of the Civil War through fiction faces several obstacles. While slave narratives exist, slaves were rarely allowed to read or write, and conditions were hardly conducive to writing until after the Civil War. So the most famous novel of the time concerning slavery is Uncle Tom’s Cabin, an account written by white Northern woman.
In order to find an African-American comment on slavery, a reader is almost forced to turn to modern fiction. While The Wind Done Gone is one example, Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved is the standard in this category. Beloved is story about a former slave woman who escapes to the North, but is still haunted by her experiences as a slave and the knowledge of what she did to make sure her former owner could never take her children.
Beloved reads as completely, emotionally true — it’s haunting in the way that Uncle Tom’s Cabin cannot be. While Stowe emphasized the inherent good in her characters in order to make her readers sympathize with them, Morrison emphasizes what terrible lengths a person, any person, can be driven to by being enslaved. The novel was inspired by the life of Margaret Garner, a former slave who actually did kill her daughter in order to prevent her from being re-enslaved under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1860.
Can Beloved replace Uncle Tom’s Cabin on reading lists nationwide as the “official” Civil War novel? Probably not. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, after all, was supposedly the book Lincoln credited with starting the Civil War (though that story is widely discredited), and it has a historical impact that Beloved can’t really compete with. But as a portrayal of the emotional realities of slavery, Beloved is certainly worthy of the Pulitzer Prize it earned its author.