Sunday, March 7, 2010

Beloved - 2009-10

Students sometimes ask whether it gets dull teaching the same books over and over again.

And it doesn't, really.

Or, to be more precise, when I find that teaching a book is dull, I take a year or two off of it and see if it returns to life again.

But books that I return to again and again tend to stay alive, tend to continue to spark a response in me for a few reasons:

1. Students have new insights into them.
2. Students get to encounter them for the first time.
3. I'm a different person every time I re-read these texts.

The first one is great when it happens.

The second one is a reason, in and of itself, to teach.

And the third one surprises me just about every year. And because I'm a different person -- even if only a little -- every time I re-read a particular text, different issues, different ideas, different questions, pop out at me with any given reading. And I notice things that I was apparently too dense to notice before.

Toni Morrison's Beloved gave me yet another how-was-I-so-dense moment this year as I read the final few lines before the internal monologues:

"When Sethe locked the door, the women inside were free at last to be what they liked, see whatever they saw, and say whatever was on their minds."

How did I miss that before? "The women inside were free at last..." How could I have breezed right past that over the last eight or nine readings?

Free at last. Deliberately taking from Martin Luther King, from the spiritual he cites itself, to shed light not on three women who are, finally, free, but who -- in the most terrible of ironies -- are probably less free in that moment than they've been in the last 18 years. Free at last.

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