While in college, I took a class that centered on the work of Toni Morrison and South African writer Nadine Gordimer, and as a result, I had to read every one of Morrison’s books up until that time, which included all of her novels save LOVE (published in 2003) and this most recent one.
I like Morrison’s work a lot. I don’t recommend reading all of her novels in the span of three months, but I think that her ability to convey story with an almost oral writing style that blends realism and the fantastic is wonderful.
Of all her books, my favorite it BELOVED, perhaps because it afforded me with my single greatest moment in a college classroom. In discussing the end of the book one day in class, a student asked my professor, whose name escapes me, why Morrison chose to imply that Beloved explodes as the novel concludes. Beloved is a ghost who the black community eventually attempts to exorcise, and though the book has numerous unrealistic elements (including a ghost), the explosion of BELOVED seemed an odd choice to this student.
My professor and many of the students in my class agreed, admitting that the choice had baffled them as well. My professor acknowledged that this was something that she had been wondering about for years.
Then my hand went up. In a timid voice, I suggested that perhaps Morrison’s choice of an explosion was referencing Langston Hughes’s poem A Dream Deferred.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
As a character, Beloved represented the loss of a child, and therefore a dream deferred. Perhaps Morrison was eluding to the last line of Hughes’s poem.
The class sat in silence for the moment, and then my professor walked over to me, placed her hand upon my shoulder, squeezed, and said, “I think you got it, Matt.” The pride and warmth on her face was unforgettable.
Of course, I have never been able to confirm this theory and secretly fear that I am wrong. If so, that’s okay. Those few moments in that classroom in 2001 were priceless, and whether or not I was correct will never change that for me.
But if you know that I’m wrong, please don’t tell me. I’m perfectly content living in my sweet, little delusion.