Today, I started teaching Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Beloved, in an online class offered by Story Circle Network. This will last for 6 weeks, during which time we’ll not only read the book and explore its themes, but will also look critically at Morrison’s use of literary elements, such as figurative language, symbol, diction, point-of-view, foreshadowing, irony, etc. The class is small, which is good because this book is a tough read and it’s important to have plenty of time for everyone to ask questions. I taught this same course last year and learned so much from it that I am eager to teach it again this year.
We will be doing a close reading of the book, going chapter by chapter to discuss major events. We’ll also look at the literary devices that Morrison uses to deepen the writing. Each student will write a piece of no more than 750 words each week to practice using literary elements in their own writing. They will each have weekly rotating reading partners who will comment on their work. I will read everyone’s work and comment on it as well.
Today, we started working our way through the first few pages of text. Morrison masterfully introduces the problem, the characters, the setting, and the themes of the book while peppering the pages with figurative language, evocative descriptions, and realistic dialogue. She foreshadows events that will come much later while keeping the reader riveted to the primary conflict that is occurring from page one. In other words, she offers a veritable Master Class on how to write the first ten pages of your novel for anyone who wishes to grab his/her audience instantly and hurl them headlong into the story.
I am pleased to have a few intrepid travelers who are willing to join me on this journey. I can already tell we’re going to have a worthwhile experience together. This is a book that challenges the reader to look unflinchingly at the pain and suffering inflicted by slavery. Through getting to know these characters, the reader emerges with a broader awareness of how slavery negatively affects both the enslaved and the slaveowners. One mother’s desperate act helps all of us to understand just how brutal slavery can be and to what lengths one might go to protect those we love from evil’s clutches.
Off we go on this difficult but worthy endeavor.