Toni Morrison: Beloved‘s Language of Loving Your Body

Debbie says:

Maria Popova’s The Marginalian is one of the best sites on the Internet. Popova writes thought-provoking, moving essays based on contemporary and historical writing. This week, she served up some language from Toni Morrison‘s Beloved, a book I deeply care about, but rarely revisit, because it’s such a hard read. So I had no memory of these passages:

Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face… Love your mouth… This is flesh… Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms… Love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver — love it, love it, and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts… love your heart. For this is the prize.

Popova connects this passage to Walt Whitman, and adds to it with scientific art from Paul Sougy, whose work I didn’t know.

To me, however, once I get over how extraordinary the text is by itself, I connect to to the stark, painful realities of the novel, a book which is not primarily about joy, or hope, or even the possibility of getting through hard times. So what I see is the jaw-droppingly beautiful flower growing in the garbage slick, the extraordinary sunset over the killing field. Morrison was a genius beyond compare. The fact that she found the time not just to celebrate the body but to teach her readers how to love our bodies — which are, after all, us — is yet another reason to treasure her and her work.


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2 thoughts on “Toni Morrison: Beloved‘s Language of Loving Your Body

  1. I share your feelings about Beloved — if any book qualifies as the Great American Novel, it’s that one, but I don’t think I can read it again — so I had also missed those words. As someone who has learned to love my body, I deeply appreciate them and am thrilled that she could find a place for them in that particular book.

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