The Artistic Intent in Beloved, a Novel by Toni Morrison

Topics: Beloved

The writing and works of Toni Morrison hold a unique place in the history of literature due to her miraculous ability to capture her readers and bring them into unfamiliar worlds. This incredible talent is demonstrated profusely in the works of Beloved. Morrison approached the creation of this book to generate a disorienting platform for which the reader feels lost as they navigate through her words. The premise of Beloved would be defeated if not for the cryptic way in which Morrison shapes the order in which the story is told.

She teases her readers by adding only a minimal amount of context, just enough to snatch and kidnap them into a confusing environment. This being her artistic intent, Morrison carefully crafts every sentence to fulfill this goal, making Beloved the revolutionary and memorable piece of literature that it is.

Toni Morrison fulfills her artistic intent completely from the moment that Beloved begins. From the very first sentence, “124 was spiteful”(1), a plethora of questions arise in the mind of the readers; what is 124? How can a number be spiteful? Why is it spiteful in the first place? The second line doesn’t do much to provide aid by answering any of those questions.

“Full of baby’s venom”(1) adds this sense of danger and darkness to the setting, making readers wonder what kind of world they have been thrown into where the ultimate symbol of all things pure and happy releases something as sinister as venom. The date and period are prominently left out of the novel, which creates a disorienting feeling by causing readers to feel confused about what environment they have exactly been thrown into.

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The rest of the opening paragraph sets the tone for the remainder of the book by slipping in morbid words such as “dead”, “spite”, and “shattered”(1). These words do not hold the purpose of creating a scary tone, more a dark and solemn one. There is not a sense of panic within the opening pages, which exemplifies that this will be a story of developing psychological uncertainty, rather than an instantaneous wave of fear. The third-person narrative that this paragraph is written in creates the sense of an omniscient narrator, which makes the reader feel even more dethatched from the characters, for they are unable to easily explore and understand their thoughts and feelings.

Movies and films are momentous in our culture in that they can offer a unique and differing perspective than that of a story in the form of literature. Of course, being that films and books are two different models of art, it can be noticed that the effect of a story in movie form upon a viewer will often be very contrasting with the effect that the book of the same story will have upon its readers. In the film Beloved, there are times in the opening scenes where Morrison’s original artistic intent is fulfilled, and perhaps even emphasized. Yet, simultaneously some elements did not seem to satisfy the intent to the extent that the novel did. This contrast in dominant effect between the movie and the book attracts different audiences for each and unveils new elements of this complex and intricate work by Morrison.

As the film opens, there is a moving camera pan up to the gravestone chiseled with the word “Beloved”. Opening the movie with moving images compliments the artistic intent of wanting the audience to feel “thrown” into a strange environment. However, the instant reveal of the gravestone followed by the chaotic haunting scene gives the movie a tone that of a terrifying ghost story, which was not the tone given in the book. Audio sound is an element that movies often have the advantage of using, and the opening female a cappella humming portrays the message that this film will be eerie. An interesting element that the movie decided to add was the use of chronology. The audience is given the exact date of the scene, which provides a little too much context for the audience to feel snatched and disoriented as Morrison intended. However, the film does make up for it in the way that the house is depicted. Right away there are screaming, disorienting camera shots, quick movements, gory images, and paranormal happenings. Although a very different tone than the novel, it does indeed successfully make the viewers feel captured. All the events happening simultaneously do indeed add more chaos, however, it takes away from the idea that these events occurred over a long period, breaking the family apart as it did in the novel.

The portrayal of characters in the film can be a fragile process, for books allow a more direct view into their minds, as opposed to movies where it is harder to gain account of a character’s thoughts. Sethe was portrayed very true to the book in the movie’s opening scene, for the audience is enlightened to her hard personality as she bravely fixes the dismantled dog, Here Boy. Through all the screaming and disorder, Sethe remains quiet and collected, which is the feel that Morrison gives her in the novel. The movie does a satisfying job of expressing Sethe’s mysterious persona that makes the audience question what went on in this woman’s past to make her so thick-skinned and composed. This adds to the artistic intent of feeling confused, for not even the main character can be fully understood. Yet, the character of Baby Suggs in the film can only be seen as a limp body in a bed, which takes away from the personality that we see of her at the beginning of the novel, because the novel has the advantage of jumping back in time to explore characters more in-depth. A min-depths does not have the luxury of efficiently quickly jumping between scenes from different periods.

No matter the audience, Toni Morrison proves her ability to hold the readers in the palm of her hand. All who read the distinctive words of Beloved are instantly thrown into a whirlpool of uncertainty and ambiguity. However, this is exactly what Morrison intends. The film interprets the scenes with completely new eyes, yet fulfills Morrison’s intent in different ways. In both art forms, Beloved acts as a mysterious and new world in which readers are captured and absorbed by the carefully crafted words of Toni Morrison.

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The Artistic Intent in Beloved, a Novel by Toni Morrison. (2022, Jun 14). Retrieved from

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