Firmament-ation: The Trials and Tribulations of Learning to Live in the Both/And

With this prompt, there is a part of me that feels I have to neatly organize, rationalize, and conclude everything I have known and learned here; I know that this isn’t possible, but I think that’s one of the toughest emotional elements of graduation—that it feels both that the world is ending and just beginning, that there is both so much that I will miss and so much that I need to leave behind. I’m experiencing, in my personal life, the both/and of the growing pains of hurt and love. Both academically and personally, this class has taught me more about navigating through complications of all varieties, and how this influences avenues of connection and engagement with the broader world. This is one of the things that I will miss most about Geneseo—the way that our English department has the ability to genuinely change the lives of its students by cultivating a sense of the both/and in every regard. To have the opportunity to close my time at Geneseo not only with yet another English course that accomplishes the growth of these perspectives so enormously, but through exploring the both/and of Morrison’s writing and prose as a whole, has truly changed the way that I will move into post-grad life.

For this class specifically, I have been especially challenged in how I understand collaboration and communication. I did not have much confidence in my ability to engage in collaborative writing before taking this class, especially as a student who had not encountered collaboration as immersively as this class approached it prior to this semester. While I’ve been brought to consider collaboration and its many values and benefits in many English courses, not a lot of those thought experiments had been genuinely put into work or actions concretely as we have done in this course. Thus, having to face collaboration head-on felt a little strange and overwhelming to me—I was concerned with executing the ability to understand and write about the perspectives of nine people, much less attempt to coalesce nine different writing styles and approaches, when I’ve only ever been charged with one. Because of this, it took me a little while to get the hang of things; by the end of the first collaborative paper, however, I was starting to feel more confident about and secure in this opportunity to write papers in a way that I never had before. In our second collaborative paper, when I was put into a new group, I also started to realize some of the benefits of collaborative writing that benefitted me and my writing style, specifically—because we had lots of folks working on this assignment at once, I could afford to advocate for specific elements of the text that I felt were important to represent and work through my own thoughts and notes about it (with Jazz specifically, I was fascinated by the matching up of the maps of Purgatorio and Manhattan). However, in this specific example, when I inevitably found myself in the conspiracy theory woods off the thesis-driven path of the paper, poring over each reference of the number seven in some of the most infinitesimal details of Jazz, I had a group full of people to keep me on track. This collaborative writing, thus, became a both/and of me discovering and growing from my own personal pitfalls in academic writing, as well as recognizing my ability to offer fruitful thought and analysis to a group of people who are equally enthusiastic about a concept of shared curiosity and passion.

Another daunting element of collaborative writing that had originally put me off at the beginning of the course was the translation and intuitive communication that group collaboration requires. I know how to write papers by myself mostly because the ideas originate rather cohesively from inside my own brain; there is little effort required in understanding or formulating thoughts, just in how to write them down. With more collaborative writing, however, it becomes necessary to both understand and translate the thoughts that are in the head of someone who isn’t even me. This feat is one that requires a lot of skill, not just professionally, but personally—there is an essential empathy, a willingness to both engage with the people around oneself and care for their ideas. Obviously, this is important, both professionally and holistically; at this moment in time, I plan to pursue editing and publishing, either in journalism, literary fiction, or poetry, all of which require a great deal of this sort of collaboration.

That being said, I am able to recognize that the level of collaboration we have experienced in this course is definitely exaggerated to an extent that I am unlikely to encounter in the professional world—it’s improbable that I’ll find myself in a situation outside of college where I have to sit down and write a specific article or handle an assignment as collaboratively with as big a group. In editorial work, it’s likely that I will be trying to refine the work of one or a couple of people who are writing something specific to their own narrative, but even here, collaboration comes into play—I will need to understand the thought and reasoning behind the piece, but only after the writer(s) themselves have done the work of trying to communicate that. Editing and publishing, too, address the inevitable truth that each piece of writing must at some point face—that writing is subjective, and is, as we know so thoroughly from Morrison’s work, something that involves unprecipitated collaboration between the reader and writer even in the way that it is read. This collaboration and the empathy that it teaches might be considered a bit more relevant in the field of journalism. In this profession, I might be trying to communicate or represent more than one story or perspective; even then, however, even then it is likely that I will be the sole handler of these assignments, trying to process and translate those perspectives the way that I specifically think they ought to be represented. Thus, the experience of having written an essay with eight other people with eight other distinctive minds, perspectives, and experiences, is not irrelevant to the way that I will step into post-grad life; it might be more apt to say that the lessons and values derived from that experience will likely prove to be extremely beneficial down the road.

Morrison’s writing, of course, accomplishes this in its ability to resist convention and “easy reading,” inviting collaboration with ease and borderline necessity. I loved the quote from Anna Mulrine’s article, “This side of ‘Paradise’: Toni Morrison defends herself from criticism of her new novel Paradise,” where Morrison referenced the way she feels about how people interact with her work—“‘I have people tell me, ‘Your novel is on my bed stand.’ I don’t want books to be what people dip into before they go to sleep’” (qtd. in Mulrine). There is so much to be earned from this way of approaching literature. The reader of Beloved is not meant to pick a side or decide whether or not they think Sethe was “right” for killing Beloved, though our instinct is to do this—to make something clear in this winding prose and complex story that resists a simple conclusion or answer. Rather, we are brought to understand Sethe’s experience through the accessibility of the harsh and traumatizing conditions that Sethe reveals throughout the novel; this isn’t easy to read. Morrison reveals the intentionality of that in allusions to Sethe’s emotional experience:

Why was there nothing it refused? No misery, no regret, no hateful picture too rotten to accept? Like a greedy child it snatched up everything. Just once, could it say, No thank you? I just ate and can’t hold another bite? I am full God damn it of two boys with mossy teeth, one sucking on my breast the other holding me down, their book-reading teacher watching and writing it up. I am still full of that, God damn it, I can’t go back and add more. (Morrison 83)

In these passages and many more, there is a desperate need for a connection between the reader and Sethe’s character. Without this, the novel’s purposes fall flat, revealing, more often than not, a lack of willingness for the reader to fully immerse themselves in the many emotional trials and tribulations of engaging in Morrison’s work. However, if the reader is willing to engage with the novel with genuine care for understanding the experiences of Morrison’s characters and story, there is so much to take away. In Beloved specifically, we learn about the multiplicity of representing slavery narratives, as well as how and where healing is possible from intergenerational trauma and wounds relating to racism. These takeaways are vital lenses through which to view the world today, especially as racial violence and inequity continue to unfold in this country day after day.

It is also important to note, however, that the many conclusions I have felt able to draw from our time engaging with Morrison’s writing have been skillfully guided by the work and reflection of my peers in this course. Looking back on my class notes from this course, I can remember clearly the excitement that I felt on specific days of group discussion where I was brought to consider new connections that I had not made on my own. I remember a class period in early February where we discussed the importance of guides in both Beloved and Dante’s Inferno, which, though it was not an idea or theme that I had fully fleshed out in my independent reading and interpretation, became a major theme of the first collaborative essay that we completed in this class due to the extent to which it impacted both my and my group members’ understandings of the novel. At the beginning of our reading of Jazz, too, I recall a class discussion where we began drawing more explicit connections between the different novels of Morrison’s trilogy (specifically pertaining to Beloved at that point in the semester), between the writing of Dante and Morrison, and between different core concepts that we have focused on throughout this semester. These conclusions are not ones I would have come to independently; rather, it took me approaching each class period mindfully, prepared to engage with the ideas of others and present ideas of my own, for these connections, which elevated the reading and class experience of most (hopefully each) members of the class, to be drawn.

None of this experience could have been possible had I not trusted the value of the community that we have established in this class, as well as accepted the discomfort that, for me, came along with collaborative writing. As I step into this next period of my life, where that sort of academic community will be far less accessible, I am ever-grateful for the time that we have dedicated to multiplicity, collaboration, and complication—the both/and of everything in life—in this class, both through the manner of the course as a whole and the dedicated approach to Morrison’s writing. I feel confident in asserting that this sort of work could not have come about as fruitfully in studying any other writer, especially in examining the intersection between Dante and Morrison; however, having garnered these skills of observation and collaboration, I am feeling, too, more confident in how these skills will continue to ripple my life post-grad, professionally and personally. This course, in its collaboration and study of Morrison’s writing, have helped me make peace with the impossibility of any critical thinker, reader, or writer to “neatly organize, rationalize, and conclude”; more importantly, this course has led me to recognize the beauty and inherent meaning behind this impossibility. It has taken me three years of intensive English courses and challenging conversations with my professors and peers to embrace this, but I am leaving both Geneseo and this course more in love with the both/and of literature and life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Works Cited

Morrison, Toni. Beloved. Vintage Classics, 2007.

Mulrine, Anna. “This side of ‘Paradise’: Toni Morrison defends herself from criticism of her new novel Paradise.US News & World Report, 19 Jan. 1998.

The Nature of Paradise: Hell and Slavery in Morrison’s Beloved

By Marie Naudus, Frances Sharples, Emily Loper, Hannah Myers, Kathleen McCarey, Mia Donaldson, Owen Vincent, and Rachel Cohen

In her fifth novel, Beloved, Toni Morrison uses elements associated with Dante’s Inferno to enhance a grief-suffused narrative following characters who escaped enslavement only to deal with the turmoil of living in a country that is set against the success of Black individuals. The Hell depicted in Dante’s Inferno is made up of nine circles, each dealing with certain sins and their respective punishments that become more severe as Dante the Pilgrim moves down (and then up) through Hell, beginning with virtuous paganism and ending with the worst kinds of betrayal. In the eighth circle—reserved for those who committed fraud—Dante moves to the Malebolge, approximately translated from Italian as “evil pockets,” a series of ten ravines that each serve to punish a certain type of sinner; for the purposes of our analysis, the first, fifth, and sixth ravines will be most relevant. The first ravine is designated for pimps, panderers and seducers, where they walk endlessly in separate lines and are whipped by demons. The fifth ravine is reserved for grafters, who are thrown into a river of boiling pitch, and the sixth ravine is for hypocrites, forced to march forever with lead robes. These specific ravines fit most closely with how the residents of 124 Bluestone Road in Beloved are seen by the reader and interact with other characters. The characters of Beloved, including Sethe and Paul D, must face what could be deemed as Hell on Earth as they suffer through slavery and its ramifications on the rest of their lives. While Sethe reminisces on her time at Sweet Home, a plantation where she and Paul D were enslaved for four years together, she recounts that “there was not a leaf on that farm that did not make her want to scream, it rolled itself out before her in shameless beauty. It never looked as terrible as it was and it made her wonder if hell was a pretty place too” (Morrison 7). This idea of slavery as Hell on Earth is most poignantly depicted in the Paul D imprisonment chapter.

“When all forty-six were standing in a line in a trench, another rifle shot signaled the climb out and up to the ground above, where one thousand feet of the best hand-forged chain in Georgia stretched” (Morrison 126); in this quote, and throughout the chapter describing Paul D’s torturous enslavement in Alfred, Georgia, we the reader are brought to consider one of the novel’s most evocative and raw depictions of slavery. In addition to back-breaking labor, the forty-six men are forced to fellate the white guards every morning, one of the several depictions of sexual assault of enslaved characters throughout the novel. Along with descriptions of the various heinous treatment that these men are subjected to, this chapter explains how Paul D escapes Georgia and moves forward to 124; following the lead of Hi Man, the man at the beginning of the chain, the men are led under and through the mud during a rainstorm to escape. By diving under the water in the trench and moving as one, the forty-six men escaped the plantation, allowing Paul D to make his way to 124 and Sethe after eighteen years of traveling, never settling in one location for too long. 

While the most vivid and shocking descriptions of Paul D’s imprisonment appear in this chapter, they provide context for the reader’s understanding of his traumas and character development throughout Beloved as a whole; his character is introduced before this unsettling scene unravels, thus the chapter provides context for both his most generous and deplorable actions toward Sethe, Denver, and Beloved. Paul D’s presence in 124, too, reveals many of the damages Paul D carries with him; his contempt for Beloved provokes, in the very beginning, Paul D’s violent removal of Beloved from 124, and resurfaces time and time again throughout the novel in his need to assert dominance over women due to the emasculation he underwent in Georgia. His sense of emasculation from his severe defilement is made most clear to the reader in his sexual encounter with Beloved: “She moved closer with a footfall he didn’t hear and he didn’t hear the whisper that the flakes of rust made either as they fell away from the seams of his tobacco tin … ‘Red heart. Red heart. Red heart’” (Morrison 137-138). Paul D had tried to lock up his feelings in this “tobacco tin” he created for his heart, and Beloved had opened that tin without his consent, causing him to feel less than human again. Paul D was forced into a multitude of dehumanizing situations during his enslavement in Georgia, many of them sexual in nature; these dehumanizing acts led to the version of Paul D seen in 124 that is often violent and cold, and depicts the world around him as Hell. Throughout the novel, Paul D moves through the seventh, eighth, and ninth circles of his own Hell before finally coming to his own version of paradise. However, this version of paradise is not an idealized, perfect life, since the nature of Paul D’s journey and the constant presence of slavery continue to haunt him even in paradise. These moves through Hell and into paradise mirror Dante’s Inferno, thus creating a deeper understanding of the inhabitants of 124.  

Morrison artfully crafted her novel, Beloved, to mirror elements of Dante’s Inferno. This conversation between the two works can be seen in the plantation, Sweet Home, that Sethe and Paul D inhabit for four years together; given their dire circumstances as living slaves—compared to Dante who, while alive, is on a relatively clear path back to safety—Paul D and Sethe must seek unconventional means of guidance. While Dante has Virgil, a beacon of seemingly endless poetic wisdom, the characters of Beloved feel largely alone and maintain their fraught endurance on their journey through Hell via nature. Trees, for example, “guide” characters toward salvation, but also toward feelings of guilt and despair. This convergence makes itself most clearly in the comparison of Sweet Home to Dante’s seventh circle of Hell, reserved for the violent, suicides, and blasphemers; those who commit suicide specifically are transformed into trees and ripped apart by Harpies. This significance of trees is seen repeatedly throughout Beloved, most vividly in the descriptions of Sethe’s back, which is scarred and torn up by traumatic beatings during her time at Sweet Home. When Sethe, distressed and fleeing Sweet Home, is met by a young white girl, Amy, Amy is shocked by the horrific scars scattered across Sethe’s back. Unfamiliar with the extent of the cruelty that Sethe has faced, Amy is mystified by the scars and says in wonder: “‘It’s a tree, Lu. A chokecherry tree. See, here’s the trunk — it’s red and split wide open, full of sap, and this here’s the parting for the branches. You got a mighty lot of branches. Leaves, too, look like, and dern if these ain’t blossoms. Tiny little cherry blossoms, just as white” (Morrison 93). Amy would later prove to be a guide for Sethe, leading her to freedom away from Sweet Home; but even with the assistance of a slew of guides, both Sethe and Paul D’s respective journeys through Hell are marked by prolonged violence.

Like Dante’s escape from Hell, Paul D must continue his path down through the deepest aspects of Hell in order to reach his salvation, in this case, settling down in 124 with Sethe. After leaving Sweet Home and exiting the seventh circle, Paul D is imprisoned in Alfred, Georgia, which represents the eighth circle of Hell. The Malebolge, or “evil pockets,” are geographically very similar to the trench that Paul D and the forty-five other men were chained in. Dante describes them as “ten descending valleys,” each with their own specific and fitting punishment for the sinners trapped there (XVIII: 9). While the flatterers in the eighth circle are immersed in human excrement and corrupt politicians in boiling pitch, the men chained together in Georgia are forced to work while sinking in mud; while the thieves are chased and bitten by reptiles, the men in Georgia are on the lookout for snakes while continuing to work in conditions of heavy rain and oozing mud. Even the escape from Georgia mirrors the scenes described by Dante in the Malebolgia: “It started like the chain-up but the difference was the power of the chain. One by one, from Hi Man back on down the line, they dove. Down through the mud under the bars, blind, groping” (Morrison 130). In Canto XXII, corrupt politicians are forced to swim and submerge themselves in boiling pitch (line 30); one Navaressian politician, upon being tortured by a group of demons, dives back into the boiling pitch in order to escape their torment (XXII: 123). This mode of escape reflects how Hi Man led the line of chained prisoners under the mud and rain to freedom. While Hi Man served as a temporary guide for Paul D in Georgia, Paul D never has one permanent guide as Dante does in Inferno, thus his path to freedom and 124 is aided by several guides. 

This idea of guides is prevalent in both Beloved and Inferno. Paul D relies on multiple guides in his escape from imprisonment in Georgia to his salvation in the North. In order to escape from the chained Hell that was his imprisonment, Paul D places his trust in Hi Man, as well as the other forty-four men, to lead him away from the torture. Paul D recounts how “the chain that held them would save all or none, and Hi Man was the Delivery … they trusted the rain and the dark, yes, but mostly Hi Man and each other” (Morrison 130). Paul D’s guides soon shift once Hi Man completes his task of escaping the plantation, now shifting to his surroundings as a form of a guide. Paul D is alone in his quest up North, “when he lost them, and found himself without so much as a petal to guide him, he paused, climbed a tree on a hillock and scanned the horizon for a flash of pink or white in the leaf world that surrounded him” (Morrison 133). While Paul D is forced to rely on numerous guides in his escape, these guides are short-lived compared to Virgil’s continual accompaniment of Dante all throughout Inferno and Purgatorio.

Paul D’s stay at 124 ends his journey through the circles of Hell and allows him to make the paradoxical move from the ninth circle of Hell, the deepest and most barbarous, to paradise; but, in Paul D’s case, paradise is haunted. As he steps through the doors of 124, Paul D steps through “a pool of pulsing red light,” into “the spot where the grief had soaked him [and] a kind of weeping clung to the air” (Morrison 11). This compares to Dante’s trek through the last of the malebolge, just before he and Virgil climb the legs of Lucifer down, down, down, and then finally up and out of Hell: “Here, the weeping puts an end to weeping, / and the grief that finds no outlet from the eyes / turns inward to intensify the anguish” (XXXIII: 94-96). While 124 represents Paul D’s most stable and safe conditions from his 18 years of perilous travel, its violent, “spiteful” confines marked by “baby’s venom” (Morrison 3) present new sources of fear, proving that this hellish experience as a former slave does not afford him a sweet release akin to Dante’s paradise. Toni Morrison famously stated in an interview with Bonnie Angelo how “Black literature is taught as sociology, as tolerance, not as a serious, rigorous art form.” Morrison artfully establishes her novel in conversation with Dante’s Inferno as a way to not only enhance her own craft but to complement Dante’s own art as well. While it is easy to dissect Beloved in an almost clinical and scientific sense, to fully analyze every detail meticulously, it would be doing a disservice to such a beautiful work to ignore the artful elements of the work. Beloved is important because it tells the true, historical story of Margaret Garner, who committed infanticide to save her children from the cruelty of enslavement. In order to depict such a heavy topic, Morrison takes to well-crafted diction and the creation of her fictionalized telling of true events to offer a raw and honest novel on a topic that is typically shied away from. While Black literature can be cast aside as a teaching in sociology, as previously stated, Beloved demands to be taught and remembered for its intricate writing and complexity of characters and themes. Each detail of her text is accounted for, building on each other and offering additional layers; one of these layers, and indeed a through line in Morrison’s trilogy, is the idea of self-sabotage. This idea can be seen in how Beloved sabotages Paul D and Sethe, creating a Hell on Earth for the two characters and forcing them to endure additional suffering. Paul D sabotages his happiness with Sethe at 124 by having sexual relations with Beloved, causing him to flee the home. Similarly, Sethe ignores her own happiness and Denver’s in order to devote her life to Beloved’s parasitic need for attention. The notion of self-sabotage and its simultaneous unfolding alongside Paul D’s descent into the inner circles of Hell calls to mind many of the questions we have been brought to reckon with in connecting Dante’s Inferno and Morrison’s Beloved, not least of which being the question of whether or not enslaved or formerly enslaved persons can ever escape these depths of Hell, and whether or not the concept of “paradise” can truly exist in the world of Morrison’s Beloved.

The Elusive Effort of Beloved’s Beginning: A Meditation on Another Morrison Reading

One of the most common misconceptions that I have both observed and experienced in taking undergraduate literature courses is that there is a right or wrong way to approach a class—that the goal of taking a literature course is to ‘get it,’ to smooth the student’s understanding out into a nicely rounded trinket that they can take home and keep on their desk to show that they accomplished something; however, on the first day of this class, it became immediately clear to me that the intended outcome of this course is not meant to be anything nearly as linear or neatly outlined as this expectation. So far, nothing in this course has had a concrete, ‘right’ answer or approach—in fact, our class discussion has seemed to, more than anything else, emphasize the importance of not approaching a reading, assignment, or even class period with this mindset.

Even in conversations not directly pertaining to Toni Morrison, I have been brought to question simple knowledge and habits that I have often executed without thought or self-reflection. The class discussion that we had on using the term “enslaved person” versus “slave” on the first day already made me call into question the reasons that I make changes to my language and the way that I think. While I had thought that I was making a nuanced, respectful, and ‘correct’ choice by using the term “enslaved person,” that conversation brought me to remember that the outcome of these class conversations is not to decide what opinion is right or wrong, but about making a genuine effort to learn and take on good faith practices.

The first time that I read Beloved, in a high school classroom, I definitely approached my reading with this type of “I want to get it” mindset, but as I have reread Beloved again and again, I have better come to terms with understanding that reading and really experiencing Beloved is not nearly that simple. Though I was encapsulated by Morrison’s poetics and felt a strong sense of resonance with her characters like Denver and their deep desire to be cared for, I felt connected to Beloved more for craft and character development rather than trying to immerse myself in Beloved’s greater historical context and significance. While I would not suggest that White people are unable to experience a meaningful connection with books like Beloved, I was definitely not reading the book in the context that was meant to be read. Our conversation in Wednesday’s class about Morrison’s intention of writing to and for Black audiences with the understanding that non-Black readers are invited to come along contextualized my experiences as a White reader interacting with Morrison’s work. I hope to, in alignment with Morrison’s wishes, continue to approach this course with an expansive mindset rather than supposing that I concretely understand or have ownership over any knowledge regarding Morrison’s creativity, reasoning, or craft. Even entering the Major Authors Morrison and Silko class that I took last year with Professor Woidat, I was not really prepared to enter the class without these past biases and interpretations clouding my judgment. I still remember quite clearly on the first day of that class writing in a discussion post that said I was excited to learn more about Morrison’s usage of magical realism, only to learn down the road that this “magical” component of her novels was meant to be read literally, rather than in the fantastical sense that I was interpreting. While this interpretation was made in good faith, it was not one that included fruitful acknowledgment of Morrison’s intentions and is thus the sort of preconception I am moving to release on the threshold of another Toni Morrison course.

I am addressing all of these experiences and reflections at the start of this course in order to think critically not only about the thresholds we are addressing in Morrison and Dante’s work but in approaching a new opportunity for growth and learning. With that, I am thinking about the orientation with which someone embarks on a new journey, precipice, challenge, or portal. Because I have some experience with Morrison’s work already, I am trying to take a deep breath to clear my mind about what I know (or think I know) about Morrison and her work, while still trying to supplement the work that we do in this class with the biographical knowledge I have about Morrison, her writing processes, and the interdisciplinary knowledge I have regarding Morrison’s work from reading books like The Bluest Eye in women and gender studies courses. I am grateful for and reflecting very intentionally upon the preliminary work that we did on the first day of class, which felt like a meditation—not a final understanding—of how to read Morrison’s work. Instead, this class served as an introduction to treating her work the way it deserves and demands to be treated, rather than a tutorial on how to be respectful and aware throughout our readings and conversations.

This metaphorical threshold is one that lends itself well to the explicit mentions of thresholds that appear throughout what we have read so far from both Morrison and Dante. In both Beloved and Dante, we are so brought along with their literary journey that we have no choice but to be wrapped up in it. Morrison encapsulates this sentiment perfectly in the foreword of Beloved—“I wanted the reader to be kidnapped, thrown ruthlessly into an alien environment as the first step into a shared experience with the book’s population—just as the characters were snatched from one place to another, from any place to another, without preparation or defense” (xviii). Of course, we see this pattern implicate itself physically and metaphorically from the very first moment of Beloved, from “124” skipping the number three to Beloved’s ghost being ripped from the house by Paul D. In this way, the threshold from which the reader enters Beloved is but a moment of recognition that something is about to change, rather than an extended rumination on what is going to happen. Morrison does not want her reader to finish Beloved sitting down with a pretty and polished understanding of it, but with an authentic experience of what it means to move through this book that contains so much. Similarly to the characters of the book, we are faced with the consumption of pain and devotion, “still full of that” (83) as we sit with Morrison’s writing and allow ourselves to move through the journey it contains, from the beginning we find ourselves in now to the ending of this course come May.

Dante’s writing, too, demands this same level of dedication; just as Beloved’s journey from the afterlife and back again is unavoidable both to Beloved’s audience and characters, Dante the pilgrim embarks on an unimaginable expedition into the depths of Hell, all the while keeping the reader by his side with remarkable prose and observation. While both works of literature accomplish this imperative severity, I find myself thinking more about the implications of Beloved’s stakes in a world where tragedies like the death of Keenan Anderson continue to occur every day. In her lifetime, Morrison knew and understood the consequences of the fact that, “Black literature is taught as sociology, as tolerance, not as a serious, rigorous art form.” When I first read Beloved in a high school classroom, it was the only book by a Black author my class was taught that year—the book was not chosen to recognize the artistic meaning and implication of Morrison’s work, but to check a box of having a Black author on a high school syllabus. Morrison implored us to treat Black literature seriously, part of which means to meet her novels where they’re at—thus, it is important that we enter Beloved without much sense of direction at all, which I am striving to let loose of at this class’ precipice. This threshold, just as Morrison described, is elusive and difficult to grasp; however, it is a meaningful scaffold that I intend to stay rooted in throughout this semester.