Bookish Thoughts

Bookish Thoughts.

Lisa and Lolita, Le viol des deux

An Essay by Lisa Korthals

One

I discovered Lolita in film at the tender age of 11. What I remember most about that summer was that I was always alone, but not alone enough as it turned out. My older brother was habitually out with ‘friends’ and my little brother had the unique privilege of being able to go to work with my mom (who worked at a day care center); this left me alone in our four bedroom apartment. My father worked for our apartment complex and he had the frustrating habit of coming home in between maintenance calls. I hated that.

We lived in Las Vegas and that summer was one of the hottest anyone could remember, with temperatures reaching a lethal 120 degrees at least twice a week. Trapped inside by the heat, I would watch movies. My favorites were old movies; anything black and white was of interest. And so it came to pass, that (quite by accident) I found myself one hot summer day watching Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 classic Lolita.

Two

In Lolita, Laughter in the Dark and Transparent Things Nabokov writes vivid prose regarding the agony that (both unrequited and requited) ‘forbidden love’ creates in the male soul and the violent impulses these couplings bring out in both parties. Nabokov’s themes are voyeuristically sexual; turning all of his readers into ‘accident gapers’ on the highway of life. The accidents Nabokov allows his readers to slow down and gaze at have old names: lust, cruelty, incest, torture, rape, betrayal, and murder. It follows that during Nabokov’s lifetime (and well after his death) his most popular work was Lolita – people love a blood smeared road.

Three

I cried through most of it. I was so confused.

Four

Synesthesia from the ancient Greek σύν [syn], “together”, and αἴσθησις [aisthēsis], “sensation“) is a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. People who report such experiences are known as synesthetes. Though often stereotyped as a medical condition or neurological aberration, many synesthetes themselves do not perceive their synesthetic experiences as a handicap. To the contrary, most report it as a gift—an additional “hidden” sense—something they would not want to miss.

Five

Biographers and critics alike have analyzed and dissected Nabokov’s prose style, finding the artistry of synesthesia under their microscopes. However, this type of literary criticism feels reductive, sterile, and antiseptic. While Nabokov’s prose is richly textured and full of sensory details that capture all of the five senses, this tenant of his writing cannot and should not be explained away as the by-product of a medical condition. In the same way, critics miss the aberrant impact of his words when they are tagged, bagged, and shelved as high art. These types of diagnosistic criticism, while traditional, capture none of the distressingly painful content that fills the pages of his novels. Lolita is about the brutal and repeated rape of a child at the hands of her step-father. Laughter in the Dark details the descent of a man into fatal lust and tortured blindness. Transparent Things gives the account of a man who kills his young wife in a fit of rage and jealousy. All the flowery prose and untranslated French phrases (a signature found in most of his novels) in the world cannot change these sickeningly heart-wrenching themes.

Six

I called my grandmother and begged her to take me to the library. I wanted to tell her why I had been crying. I wanted to tell her so many things about her son, but I settled for a trip to the library. I was on a mission to find Lolita in print – the film would make more sense to me once I read the book. I gathered up my latest round of read books and met my grandmother at the wrought iron gate that separated our community from the rest of the world. She never asked me what was wrong . . . funny, no one ever did. Like all good betrayers, she ignored all signs that didn’t point toward her destination. She refused to see my puffy, red, eyes and emaciated figure (my anorexic attempt to control my beauty and therefore be too ugly for my father’s tastes). That anciently happy betrayer just drove me to the library and complimented me for being such an avid reader.

I checked out three books that day: Lolita, A Wrinkle in Time, and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. The librarian hesitated as she flipped open Lolita’s cover, “Do you know what this is about young lady?” I responded with silence, hoping she would pull me aside and ask me why I wanted to read the book. The silence grew between us. Her face became quizzical and she appeared to be on the verge of saying something . . . I looked up at her with large, brown, pleading eyes, urging her to pursue her line of questioning. “You do know this is not a children’s book?” I was silently hopeful, this nosy librarian wasn’t going to stamp my book; instead, she was going to help me! “I really don’t know if you should be reading this. . .” was all she said before she pounded her ink stamp into the due date box and called for the next patron to step forward . . . due dates are important.

Seven

Readers don’t have to wait long for Humbert to find his soul, his sin, his Lolita. Just 38 pages into the novel, Humbert a cuckolded, newly divorced man is struck by her resemblance to his first love. It was the same child-the same frail, honey-hued shoulders, the same silky supple bare back, the same chestnut head of hair. The twenty-five years I had lived since then tapered to a palliating point, and vanished . . . yes, they [were both] beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. The subtlety of this scene is horrifyingly focused. Nabokov does not mention her breasts or mouth (the obvious seats of sexual symbolism); instead, with an interweaving of words, colors, and textures Humbert’s budding compulsive obsession is revealed. The reader can picture the color of honey on her shoulders, her chestnut brown hair, and we can almost feel the silkiness of her back under the warm sun. Nabokov forces his readers to look at Lolita as Humbert does (a sexual being – a nymphet). In doing so, he pushes us to explore our own apathy and self-imposed blindness toward child molestation, rape, and incest. Nabokov paints child rape in an array of blindingly bright, artistic hues – but, like a valuable masterpiece that has been painted over, the true painting, the one most people will not see, is hidden underneath. Conceivably, what lies beneath the surface of Lolita is the most shocking; for me, it certainly is the most terrifyingly personal depiction of evil I have ever read.

Eight

Throughout Lolita Nabokov hints at the seedy underbelly missed by readers who get caught up in his clever use of the English language. It is noteworthy that Lolita is the first person to define clearly what is happening to her. She does not evade the subject with flowery prose (as Humbert does throughout the novel) instead, she states calmly, clearly, and quite correctly the word is incest. In his choice to have Lolita use this word, Nabokov has skillfully revealed her true feelings about Humbert’s ‘love’ for her and the unreliability of Humbert as a narrator. The reader knows that Humbert, like all narrator’s, is telling his version of the truth. And yet, Nabokov makes it wonderfully and appalling clear that his protagonist/narrator is looking through the glass darkly of a sexually disturbed man.

Humbert describes his sexual appetite as that of an artist or madman, a creature of infinite melancholy. He justifies his attraction to children with revolting passion and unchecked forthrightness very early in the novel. At times, Nabokov allows Humbert to speak of himself in the third person. For instance, his heart beat when, among the innocent throng, he espied a demon child, [charming and deceitful] . . . he was perfectly capable of intercourse with Eve, but it was Lilith he longed for. Nabokov’s syntax here is precise and deceptively eloquent. The casual reader, who picks up Lolita in the hopes of finding a catalog of erotic perversions, misses Nabokov’s ingenious equation of pedophilia with demonology.

This important analogy is found by the reader seventeen pages into the novel, long before Humbert finds Lolita. Here, Nabokov skillfully invokes the mythology surrounding the Lilith tradition in his depiction of Humbert’s sexual desires. To explain, Eve represents subservient adult women of beauty and strength, who most Adam’s (unlike Humbert) find sexually attractive. Humbert’s yearning for a Lilith symbolizes the contrary nature of what he calls his ‘love’ for nymphets.

Nine

Lilith, a demon goddess, was birthed from the dust of Eden and married to Adam. However, unlike Eve, she refused to lie underneath Adam during sexual intercourse. According to the myths and legends that surround her, Lilith’s refusal came from her desire to control the amount of sexual pleasure she received from Adam, while simultaneously controlling the amount of sexual pleasure Adam received from her. In the same way, Humbert refuses to accept conventional sexual relationships and instead desires to be sexually dominated by a childlike demon-goddess of his very own.

Ten

Nabokov’s early mention of the Lilith myth also acts as foreshadowing. To explain, the mythical Lilith leaves Eden and journeys to the desert caves peppered along the shores of the Red Sea. Once there she daily gives herself over to her insatiable sexual desires with lascivious demons; the result is the production of a litter of demonic babies. Comparatively, Humbert takes his Lilith aka his Lolita and flees to the deserted roads of America to pursue his own sexual desires. He also desires a marriage in a mountain state [and] a litter of Lolitas. Several times throughout the novel, he and Lolita find themselves exploring the dark realms of physical and symbolic caves. To the bitter end, Humbert rationalizes his perverse dream that with patience and luck I might have her produce eventually a nymphet with my blood in her exquisite veins, Lolita the Second . . . when I would still be [in the strength of my age]  . . . practicing on a lovely Lolita the third the art of granddad.

Eleven

Vladimir Nabokov was asked on numerous occasions why he wrote Lolita. Loath to answer this question, he would respond differently almost every time. Sometimes he might quip that it was not the love affair between Humbert and Lolita that interested him; no, it was his own love affair with the English language. At other times, he would state that the whole novel was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s Annabel. Nabokov’s evasiveness toward this question only fueled the novel’s mystery, causing critics and literary scholars alike to draw their own conclusions. One of the most popular is that Lolita is the greatest love story ever told. Take it from a real-life Lolita: this is no great love story; quite the contrary. Perhaps, Nabokov is using the physical rape of his main character to illustrate a larger issue: the rape of the American female’s childhood.

Nabokov may have written Lolita to expose the fact that underneath the 1950’s American commercial veneer of happy marriages, white picket fences, and charmingly boisterous children lay the ugly rapes of generations of little girls – who were conditioned by a predatory mass media to leave innocent girlhood behind as quickly as possible and plunge head long into womanhood as full blown consumers of all products deemed feminine.

Twelve

A comedian once said: My mother tried to kill me when I was a baby. She denied it. She said she thought the plastic bag would keep me fresh. My own mother tried to kill me when I was twelve. Like all good mothers, she denies this. She said she thought the fires of her indifference were keeping me warm.

Thirteen

All-in-all my mother was a good sport about things – she always drove me out of town whenever I caught a bladder infection. When I was very young, not more than four or five, I remember being driven forty miles away to a clinic where you did not have to have an appointment. This was done to keep me away from our family doctor, a wonderful, elderly, German gentleman, who had taken a special interest in me since he delivered me into this cruel world. Due to an abnormal amount of bladder infections for a child my age, it was ordered that I see our good German doctor once a week until ‘things cleared up’. He always brought his beautiful wife/nurse into the exam room with us and made my mother wait outside. He would carefully look over each childhood bump and bruise to ensure that all of them were received innocently during play. His wife would smile while he was doing this and ask me all kinds of questions about my parents’ overall treatment of me and my brother. These visits always ended with the same question, “Does it hurt when you pee?” At first I told the truth, whereupon he would gently pat my knee and tell me he would give me something to take care of that and not to worry. Then, his wife would smooth my hair and prepare the liquid pink antibiotic. By the fifth infection, I overheard him telling my mother that if I had even one more infection something more intrusive would have to be done. My mother cried all the way home, saying all the time that I might have kidney troubles and that she didn’t want me to die. After that, I lied to the good doctor and told him everything was fine, but when the pain got to be too much I confessed to my mother the truth. The doctors and nurses at the clinic never asked me any questions; they just examined me, wrote my mother a prescription and sent us on our way.  Thus, she became indifferent to my abnormal amount of infections; tossing them aside as ‘something I would grow out of’.

When I was older, the tumor of her indifference grew so large that it blinded her. She loved the darkness that feigned ignorance brings to the eyes. I hated her darkness, almost as much as I hated the hot, white light coming through our front door every day at 1 pm: his favorite hour of interruption.

Fourteen

Nabokov’s mothers fall into three categories: absent, dead, or complicit, all of which lead to their fresh-faced daughters being harmed emotionally, physically, and sexually. In Lolita, Charlotte (Lolita’s mother) conveniently dies, and in doing so, opens the way for Humbert: at first, when Charlotte had just been eliminated . . . one thing in my mind and pulse–namely, the awareness that in a few hours hence, warm, brown-haired, and mine, mine, mine, Lolita would be in my arms, shedding tears that I would kiss away faster than they could well.

Death is not the only way Nabokov’s mothers betray their daughters. In Transparent Things (one of Nabokov’s final novels), Armande’s mother acts as a complicit procurer for the obsessive Hugh when she states, Come, I want to offer you a nice cold drink and show you some albums . . .not only did the snapshots follow Armande through all the phases of the past and all of the improvements of an amateur photographer, but the girl came in various states of innocent undress. 

Laughter in the Dark (Nabokov’s tribute to the silent film era) shows Margot’s mother to be abusively absent: Her mother was still youngish, but rather battered too . . . a coarse callous woman whose red palm was a perfect cornucopia of blows. As a child Margot went to school, and there her ears were boxed rather less frequently than at home.

Nabokov’s own mother fits none of his categories; in fact, she is the polar opposite of these ghostly figures who float in out of the pages of his novels leaving trails of endoplasmic damage in their wake. His novels leave the reader begging to know ‘Where have all the good mothers gone?’ Nabokov does not present an idealized view of the bond between mothers and daughters. In stark contrast to any loving bond, Nabokov presents the mother-daughter relationship as an ongoing power struggle – where only one will survive. Lolita, Margot, and Armande find no comfort in their mothers’ arms. They are waiflike orphans forced to seek comfort and love wherever they can find it. They are vulnerable. They are preyed upon. They are predators. They are modern women in every sense of the word.

Fifteen

The average marriage among the Sami people of pre-industrial Finland showed young women marrying much older men; with an age gap between 15-25 years . . . the men lived longer . . .  love did not enter into it.

Sixteen

Every pedophile is a lover of history, art, and traps. They are regular encyclopedias of Greco-Roman history on the subject of sex with children. They will cite with barely veiled anticipation places around the globe where men are allowed to freely and openly copulate with children as young as nine. Paintings, sculptures, sketches, and photographs of children line their walls and fill their odious hiding places. Only the most well-known artists are seen by the public and only the most obscene are saved for private consumption. Predators want so much to be accepted and understood as tortuously artistic.

Their traps, like all good hunters, are camouflaged. They feign interest in childish things; they offer achingly soothing words to pre-pubescent angsts; they carefully place kisses and caresses on cheeks, foreheads, and hands; they offer eagerly developing brains philosophical bullshit about life, love, and death. Yet, these snares boil down to strategic attempts to hide their predatory nature. Ah but, these revelations come to the prey too late . . . much too late.

Seventeen

Nabokov’s work is not autobiographical and he loathed psychoanalytical criticism or what he called Freudian criticism of his work: My advice to a budding literary critic would be as follows. Learn to distinguish banality. Remember that mediocrity thrives on “ideas.” Beware of the modish message. Ask yourself if the symbol you have detected is not your own footprint. Ignore allegories. By all means place the “how” above the “what” but do not let it be confused with the “so what.” Rely on the sudden erection of your small dorsal hairs. Do not drag in Freud at this point. All the rest depends on personal talent.

This may due to the fact that there is almost nothing of Vladimir Nabokov’s personal life in his novels. He grew up in a healthy, wealthy family where he was educated, supported, and encouraged to pursue his creative passions. Moreover, Nabokov was known for thrashing literary critics who attempted to connect him to his characters: Neither can I do anything to please critics belonging to the good old school of “projected biography,” who examine an author’s wor…k, which they do not understand, through the prism of his life, which they do not know.

Eighteen

Nabokov is not Hugh, Albinas, or even Humbert and I am not Lolita, Margot, or Armande. And yet, we are drawn together by wisdom and experience on the painful journeys his novels take me on. His writing speaks to that part of my soul that was crushed, broken, and lost long ago, in the arid heat of Nevada. Perhaps, I return to Nabokov’s evil, deserts because, despite the pain they bring, they are familiarly real to me. Perhaps, I return to Lolita in an attempt to mend the broken pieces of my soul and retrieve those pieces of myself that have been lost. Or maybe, just maybe, I too love to gape at the blood-smeared highway that represents the rape of my childhood.

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The Never-Ending Journey

I have come to understand that writing is a journey . . . I have even begun to wonder if there ever is a destination. I know the destination I am trying to reach – a completed book. And yet, there are days when this epic journey of fictional writing feels out of reach. It is as if my fingers are grasping and reaching toward something only my heart can see.

I am a fledging novelist – a seeker, learner, novice, and apprentice in the craft of writing. These thoughts overwhelm me and I want to give up (and sometimes I do). In fact, I went a month without writing so much as a word. Then, I began to miss my Miranda and her story. However, I still could not write, because there was the danger of letting my character (the one I created) down. I desire to give Miranda only my very best writing and there are times when this feels like a challenge and other times it feels like a burden. A burden this novice was not sure she could carry . . . and then doubt began to set in.

What am I doing? Am I crazy? Is my writing ‘good’? What makes me think I can succeed where so many others have failed? I began to think that I was just a silly dreamer, one of the many people who would have to hang their head and say in a low voice, “No, I never finished my book.” These thoughts began to torment me and I began to understand why Hemmingway became depressed and drank so much – anything to numb the searing pain of self-doubt.

And then, it happened . . . someone I love more than my own life said, “Write, because you love to write. Make the love of writing your only motivation – forget all other goals. Just write.” So, here I am today – writing just because I love it. I will not be an expert today or even tomorrow, but this fledgling writer will again take on the never-ending journey of finishing my novel. Perhaps, I will reach my destination  of a completed book . . .

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Oreos and Homosexuality

As a Christian, I have become frustrated. Why has the issue of same sex marriage become such a lightening rod to bash those who believe that homosexuality is a sin? I blame the Church and the media. As a believer, it is too easy to say it is all the liberal media’s fault that Christians are getting a bad name. While there is some truth to the statement that Christians are often painted in the press as hating those they do not agree with, there is plenty of blame to go around.

First of all, the press never ask anyone what they think about rape, adultery, incest, orgies, or pedophilia. These are ALL listed as sexual sins in the Bible, and yet, the only questions ever raised have to do with one sexual sin from (what is obviously) a much longer list. Why wasn’t Phil Robertson asked about his views on rape? I have yet to hear one recent news story where believers are asked to discuss what the Bible says about incest? The only answer is, of course, the obvious one – these behaviors are still considered ‘wrong’ by our culture/society.

Second, it is time for all believers to stop creating a hierarchy of sin where certain sins (like homosexuality) are considered worse than others. Many modern believers have come to hold the sin of homosexuality as a ‘pet sin’. Why? Again the answer is the obvious one, the other sexual sins listed often hit a bit too close to home; and it is easy to demonize that which is different or outside one’s own experiences. To explain, the reason homosexuality has become a ‘pet sin’ is that most believers (certainly not all) have not experienced the desire for someone of the same sex. However, many (far too many) have committed the sin of adultery – so, they can forgive it because they understand the impulse and also desire to be forgiven.

Finally, Christianity is THE only religion that I am aware of that preaches faith, hope, love, and freedom. And yet, if believers do not agree with those who choose to live in sin they are painted as judgmental bigots out to bash those who are not like themselves.

Approval of sinful behavior does not equal love. As a parent, I see this truth played out on a daily basis. If my children are doing something wrong, such as, eating an entire package of Oreos. I need to tell them the truth – I do NOT approve of their behavior, but this does not mean that I hate them. In fact, I am telling them that I do not approve out of love for them and the desire to see them healthy and happy. However, I must speak truth in love. For instance, I do not call them ‘fat little pigs.’ Instead, I tell them the truth that this is not healthy behavior and that they will most likely get sick. Finally, I tell them not to do it again. None of these things are done out of hatred for them, instead, they are done out love.

Some of you reading this may be thinking that eating too many Oreos and homosexuality are not the same thing, but that is my point. All sin is the same before God and believers must speak truth in love regarding all sins not just the ones we have deemed worse than others.

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The Christian Feminist (Podcast)

I have been a panelist a few times for this podcast and I wanted to share this link with my readers! Please feel free to check it out, I am a panelist on the most recent episode 3.2 “I am not a feminist, but . . “! Happy listening:)

Here is the link: http://feeds.feedburner.com/TheChristianFeministPodcast

Note: Be sure to scroll down once the page opens up!

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Justice or Vengeance?

Is Justice or Vengeance being served?

There is no doubt that the murder of Kira Trevino was a tragedy. A beautiful young woman is dead and a young man will spend the rest of his life in prison. Prosecutors have a saying, “there are no winners in a murder case,” and certainly there are no winners in the Trevino case. According to St. Paul police, Kira Trevino was killed by her husband in the home they shared. In an effort to cover up what he had done, Jeffrey Trevino dumped her body in the Mississippi River and proceeded to tell anyone who would listen that she was missing.

  missing poster    But as Shakespeare’s Launcelot said in Measure for Measure, “at length the truth will out.”  And yet, in this case what actually happened on that fateful night died with Kira Trevino. Did Jeffrey kill her because she was having an affair? Making this a crime of passion or did he carefully plan her death? Making this a case of pre-mediated murder. The reality is that even the jury appeared to have some unanswered questions, because in the end they handed down a verdict of second-degree unintentional murder. And they further acquitted Jeffrey Trevino of the second-degree intentional murder charges. This means that Trevino could serve a maximum of 10.5 years.

This fact has not sat well with the Steger family who have  been making headlines this Thanksgiving weekend due to their emotional appeals for a much stricter sentencing for Jeffrey Trevino to the tune of 30 years. Trevino’s defense attorney has argued that this is “a lot more than the law allows.” The Steger’s position was made clear by Kira’s sister who was reported as saying, “This monster is a calculated criminal. He deserves no mercy.”

Steger   It goes without saying that Steger family deserves justice for the murder of their daughter at the hands of their son-in-law, but is their quest for a longer sentence vengeance or justice? United States judges  are supposed to hand down sentences without passion or prejudice, in other words, they are meant to exercise their authority within the limits of the Constitution and the laws of their respective states. So, handing down a sentence of 27.5 years based not on the verdict handed down by the jury, but instead on the emotional appeals of the family sets a concerning precedence.

What if Kira Steger’s family was not stable? What if she came from a family where several members had spent time in jail? Would her killer get the same sentence? What if Kira Steger and Jeffrey Trevino weren’t white? Would there be such a public outrage over her murder? Again, if this tragedy occurred in a poor, uneducated, or even diverse family would there be this much media attention? And furthermore, would there be this much public outrage?

So, once again the privileged white classes in America are given a different type of justice, where vengeance carries more weight than following the letter of the law. Jeffrey Trevino should have been sentenced, but he should have been sentenced according to what the law allows, not according to how much vengeance her privileged white family wants to exact on her killer. And in the Trevino case it is certainly hard to tell, “where justice leaves off and vengeance begins.” Perhaps, the Steger family will find themselves years from now bitterly considering whether or not they should have traded vengeance for mercy.

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Morrison’s Three Sisters

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Morrison’s Three Sisters by Lisa Korthals

Anton Chekov’s famous drama Three Sisters tells the story of Olga, Masha, and Irina who find themselves alone in the wilderness of Russia. Their lives make up the drama that contains: their loss of innocence, unfulfilled dreams, betrayals from the men in their lives, and above all a life lived for family survival; not the joy of living. Comparatively, Toni Morrison’s Beloved forces the reader to look deep into the eyes of a harsh and painful time in American history – as told through the eyes of her three sisters Denver, Baby Suggs, and Sethe. Similarly, Morrison’s three sisters’ experience: a complete loss of their innocence; abject perfidy from white and black males in authority; their deepest hopes and dreams sawed to shreds; and above all transformation from living death to abundant joy.

Morrison has given each of her three sisters a “Hagar in the wilderness” story all her own. This “inclusive wilderness experience” is foundational to womanist theology.[1] In her book, Sisters in the Wilderness Delores Williams writes, “womanist theologians claim the biblical wilderness experience as the foundation of their enterprise.”[2] The foundational wilderness experiences of Denver, Baby Suggs, and Sethe are intertwined around their collective need to: survive their circumstances; find a new quality of life outside of the slavocracy; and build a new sense of identity within their community groups.[3] Beginning with Denver’s wilderness experience and moving through to Sethe’s final wilderness journey Toni Morrison’s reveals her unique perspective on modern womanist, feminist, and mujerista theologies.

Denver’s wilderness journey begins at birth and symbolically foreshadows the role she will play in her mother’s salvation and liberation from the past. To explain, Denver is born in blood and water – which act as powerful symbols of bondage and freedom. The blood of slavery is literally choking Denver during her birth, but she is saved from death by the strong hands of a young, white, girl named Amy.[4] Amy acts as one the novels Christa figures who freely gives Sethe, “salvation not as a once-for-all absolute, but a movement toward redemption in the midst of the trials of existence.”[5] Sethe’s Christa appears (prior to Denver’s birth) when she is in the midst of the great trial of her escape from slavery. Moreover, due to her pronounced pregnancy and severe injuries (sustained during a brutal beating) Sethe decides to lie down and wait to die; when this ordinary Christa does the extraordinary in bringing what is dead back to life.

As Christa, Amy cares for Sethe; and moves her one step closer to freedom/redemption. She begins by getting Sethe to a “lean-to” or safe place, where “she did the magic: lifted Sethe’s feet and legs and massaged them until she cried salt tears.”[6] Moreover, this Christa imparts biblical truth to Sethe foretelling the return of Beloved, “It’s gonna hurt, now,” said Amy. “Anything dead coming back to life hurts.”[7]  During Denver’s birth Christa/Amy uses her “strong hands” (an obvious reference to the strong hands of God/Christ) to save the baby that “was stuck, face up and drowning in its mother’s blood.”[8] The Christa washes away the blood of the past with clean river water (and in doing so) she baptizes infant Denver redeeming/restoring her to her mother and a future of hopeful freedom. Denver receives her name from Christa/Amy, signaling to the reader that she will be gifted by God for a unique purpose/calling in Her story of redemption. Subsequently, Denver’s identity is wrapped up in others hearing about her miraculous birth, for the simple reason that it makes her visible.

Denver survives her first wilderness journey and experiences a time (albeit short lived) of freedom and community. This peaceful life is shattered in the wake of her mother’s horrifying actions to keep her children away from the bondage of Sweet Home[9]-a fate she considers worse than death. As a result, when the community shuns both Sethe and what remains of her family/children, Denver enters into a new wilderness: that of being the “other” in people’s lives. This new wilderness has rendered her invisible and isolated from all other human contact. As an “other” in her surrounding community, Denver exhibits what Cheryl Kirk-Duggan calls a “quiet grace”.[10] Simply put, she finds her power and liberation in truth. It is this knowledge of truth that gives Denver the courage to break out of the lonely, desolate wilderness she has been traveling in with her mother these past 20 years. Her quiet grace envelops and surrounds her giving Denver the courage to find a space to call her own:

In these woods, between the field and stream, hidden by post oaks, five boxwood bushes, planted in a ring, had started stretching toward each other four feet off the ground to form a round, empty room seven feet high, its walls fifty inches of murmuring leaves. In that bower, closed off from the hurt of the hurt world, Denver’s imagination produced its own hunger and its own food, which she badly needed because loneliness wore her out. Wore her out. Veiled and protected by the live green walls, she felt ripe and clear, and salvation was as easy as a wish.[11]

Additionally, it is this space that moves Denver to fulfill her role as prophetess and later a full-fledged Christa figure. Thus, it is Denver who (after spending time in her wilderness sanctuary) sees the ghost of a full grown Beloved, wearing a white dress and holding onto her mother. What is more, it is Denver who prophesize, “I think the baby got plans,” just before the baby ghost takes on its fleshy, grown, form.[12] Above all, the truth about what Beloved intends to do i.e. claim her mother’s earthly and eternal life, is revealed to Denver; who is moved to act as a Christa figure offering her mother true salvation and freedom.

Denver enters into her third and final wilderness journey as Christa; this final quest ultimately moves her from being an “other with nobody-ness, to important with somebody-ness”.[13] As Christa, Denver takes on what Nakashima Brock has named “Christa/Community”.[14] Denver acts as Christa in community as she seeks, “to form relationships and rebuild community,” where she will find healing and a sense of wholeness/fulfillment.[15] This is clearly illustrated in the following two ways: one, it is Denver who seeks the help of other African-American women to deal with the problem and person of Beloved; two, it is Denver who moves the women she encounters to “remember, retell, and rehearse” their stories as former slave women[16].

Together the women remember that, “God cares, God helps, God rescues, God empowers; God is slow to anger, is just, is merciful.”[17] Their remembrance is best highlighted in the change of heart one of Morrison’s minor characters (Ella) goes through after hearing the truth about Sethe’s situation and witnessing Denver’s actions as Christa/Community. Ella observes Denver’s desire for a new, “reality that requires a moral vision . . . to make a difference through individual commitment and social witness.”[18]

Denver has committed herself to making a difference in the life of her mother and it is her social witness that moves the women to finally act on Sethe’s behalf. And it is Ella who leads the others in both body and voice to rescue Sethe from a past that threatens to claim her life:

It was Ella more than anyone who convinced the others that a rescue was in order. Her puberty was spent in a house where she was shared by father and son, whom she called “the lowest yet”. It was “the lowest yet” who gave her a disgust for sex and against whom she measured all atrocities. She understood Sethe’s rage in the shed twenty years ago, but not her reaction to it, which Ella thought was prideful, misdirected, and Sethe herself too complicated. When she got out of jail and made no gesture toward anybody, and lived as though she were alone, Ella junked her and wouldn’t give her the time of day.[19]

Yet, when Ella heard 124 was occupied by something-or-other beating up on Sethe, it infuriated her and gave her another opportunity to measure what could very well be the devil himself against “the lowest yet”. There was also something very personal in her fury. Whatever Sethe had done, Ella didn’t like the idea of past errors taking possession of the present.[20]

Ella had been beaten every way but down. She remembered the bottom teeth she had lost to the brake and the scars from the bell were thick as rope around her waist. She had delivered, but would not nurse, a hairy white thing, fathered by “the lowest yet.” It lived five days never making a sound. The idea of that pup coming back to whip her too set her jaw working, and then Ella hollered.[21]

Ella’s remembering of her own past echoes the teachings of Clarice Martin, a womanist biblical scholar, because in retelling her past she: “removed the lie of isolation” that has kept her from offering Sethe the kind of hope that can only be found in relationship with other African-American women. Ella remembers that she “got over” and she needed to impart to Sethe that she could too. Finally, it is important to note that Ella’s championing of a rescue for Sethe occurs due in part to Denver’s witness as Christa/Community. Ella is drawn back to a place of remembrance “that resurrects an ancient cloud of witnesses,” who together restore order to Sethe’s mind, Baby Suggs’ home, and the entire community’s hospitality.[22] Denver is saved by her newfound cloud of witnesses and chooses to make a space for herself away from the past and all that haunts her at 124 Bluestone Road. This choice brings her to a place of humble empowerment that guides her out of her wilderness of fear and isolation to a clearing where she can laugh, cry, and lay down her sword and shield.

Baby Suggs’ wilderness experience comes at the end of her life when “the Misery (which is what Stamp Paid called Sethe’s rough response to the Fugitive Bill) that was to carry Baby Suggs, holy” to her grave.[23] Baby Suggs had survived the wilderness of slavery with her identity intact, yet her life ended with her taking to her bed and thinking about the colors of things.[24] Morrison uses Baby’s transition from womanist theologian/preacher/Christa for her community’s salvation to social outcast to illustrate the fact that without a way, “to make a space for life in all its messiness” African-American women cannot thrive or find fulfillment in their faith-and by extension- their daily lives.[25]

Baby Suggs is a multi-layered character and symbol in Beloved, encompassing negative and positive stereotypes about African-American women in both the ante and post-antebellum periods. To begin, Baby is depicted as “a long suffering, religious, maternal figure, whose most endearing characteristic is her self-sacrificing self-denial for those she loves.”[26] Although this gives her a favorable view among the whites of her community, she moves beyond this box of what a black woman should look and act like to become a full-fledged Christa offering truth, healing, and salvation to all who came to her call/preach. Her Christlike attributes are clearly portrayed throughout the books early chapters:

1) Baby Suggs tries to move Sethe from a place of defensive fear to a place of healing: “Lay em  down, Sethe. Sword and shield. Down. Down. Down. Don’t study war no more. Lay all that    mess down. Sword and shield.”[27]

2) Baby Suggs (holy) acted as an unofficial preacher of God’s Word: “Uncalled, unrobed, unanointed, she let her great heart beat in their presence. When warm weather came, Baby Suggs, holy, followed by every black man, woman, and child who could make it through, took her great heart to the Clearing-a wide open place cut deep in the woods.”[28]

3) Morrison also portrays Baby as a womanist theologian/Christa who worked to offer black women and their families: “Jesus ministerial vision; providing knowledge that God, has through Jesus, shown humankind how to live peacefully, productively, and abundantly in relationship. Jesus gave humankind a vision of righting relationships between body, mind, and spirit.”[29]

4) This is best seen through the words of Baby Suggs (holy): ‘Let the children come!’ And they ran from the trees toward her. ‘Let your mothers hear you laugh’, she told them and the woods rang. The adults looked on and could not help smiling. Then ‘Let the grown men come,’ she shouted. They stepped out one by one from among the ringing trees. ‘Let your wives and children see you dance,’ she told them, and the groundlife shuddered under their feet. Finally, she called the women to her, ‘Cry,’ she told them. ‘For the living and the dead. Just cry.’ And without covering their eyes the women let loose.[30] ‘Here,’ she said. ‘in this place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do love your hands. Those they only use, tie, hind, chop off, and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, path them together, stroke them on your face because they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! This is flesh I’m talking about here, Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put your hand on it, grace it, stroke it, and hold it up . . . love it, love it.’ Saying no more, she stood up then and danced with her twisted hip the rest of what her heart had to say while the others opened their mouths and gave her the music. Long notes held until the four-part harmony was perfect enough for their deeply loved flesh. And with Baby Suggs heart in charge the people let go.[31]

Baby Suggs knew that as “a Black woman she could not avoid oppression,”[32] yet, through her preaching of the Spirituals she found a space for herself where her identity could thrive. And in doing so, “she honored herself and her ancestors through remembrance and retellings as she celebrated God’s redemptive nature and belief that God would deliver them out of bondage.”[33] She epitomizes womanist thought and ideals in her sermons and symbolizes all former “slave women who resisted their incarnation and developed their own sense of Christianity and communal life which contrasted sharply with the hypocritical use of Christianity by their former slave owners.”[34] In spite of the space Baby Suggs created at 124 – “a cheerful buzzing [space] where Baby Suggs, holy, loved, cautioned, fed, chastised and soothed,”[35] she died believing it was all a lie.

Sethe’s actions in the shed behind 124 Bluestone Road took this empowered black woman and reduced her to blood and sawdust; a place from where her identity as holy/Christa could not resurrect itself. To explain, “Baby Suggs, holy, believed she had lied. There was no grace—imaginary or real—and no sunlit dance in a Clearing could change that. Her faith, her love, her imagination and her great big old heart began to collapse twenty-eight days after her daughter-in-law arrived.”[36] Baby became lost in the wilderness of shock, betrayal, and guilt; where the only thing logical to do was contemplate the harmless colors of this world.[37] Her painful descent into “nobodyness” is summed up by Stamp Paid (a black man who helped rescue slaves; who was there the day Sethe cut her baby’s throat):

“The heart that pumped out love, the mouth that spoke the Word, didn’t count. They came in her yard anyway and she could not approve or condemn Sethe’s rough choice. One or the other might have saved her, but beaten up by the claims of both, she went to bed. The white folks had tired her out at last.” [38] Through Baby Suggs’ brokenness, Morrison reveals the emotional and psychological damage done to the identities of African-American women by a white patriarchal society.

Baby Suggs (vanquished) [39] is the victim of “race hatred and a calculated method of social control,”[40] in that, when Schoolteacher and his boys ‘come into her yard’ to capture and return Sethe and her children to slavery she can do nothing to stop it. Socially and legally, they are in control of her body and any actions it wanted to commit. It is this simple truth that when the whites went too far, she, for all her holiness, was powerless to obstruct them. This knowledge leads to severe emotional and psychological damage to Baby Suggs’ confident spirit and her aura of strength filled self-respect. In her wilderness wandering Baby Suggs (vanquished) delivers one final exhortation before dying, “The lesson I have learned from living sixty years as a slave and ten years free: there is no bad luck in the world but white people. They don’t know when to stop.”[41]

Morrison develops a mujerista theology in regard to the last years of Baby Suggs life; clearly showing that it was “the global economic systems working against women, their bodies, and their deepest desires for fulfillment,” that prevented Baby from unearthing her holy identity once more.[42] Regrettably, white power and social structures still do not know when to stop and continue to keep African-American women and minorities trapped in their bodies. According to Maria Cristina Ventura (Tirsa) in her discussion of globalization and women’s bodies:

In dominant Western intellectual tradition the body has been viewed with suspicion: identified as the source of uncontrollable passion and appetites capable of interrupt the progress of truth and knowledge. The Judeo-Christian tradition saw the body as an obstacle to the attainment of purity, so that women remain locked into their bodies, subject to their natural biological processes. Their bodies are deprived of the right to express the delight of life, the right to eat when they are hungry, to sleep when they are sleepy, and the right to feel pleasure.[43]

Baby Suggs thought she had everything: her son, her freedom, her role as Christa/community – yet, due to oppressive powers beyond her control she never achieved, “the Right to Be.”[44] The sympathy with which Morrison paints Baby Suggs’ complete overthrow of all she held dear, and her desire to give up the struggle to free her body from the control of others, is a call to action for womanist, feminist, and mujerista theologians alike. Morrison calls her female readers not to “give over” to color (as Baby Suggs, vanquished did) but instead to fight for their fundamental right to exist. This ‘Right to Be’ is “centered on the freeing, in a holistic sense, of our body, and the capacity to make decisions regarding it, being able to decide about our own lives.”[45] Unlike her mother-in-law Baby Suggs, Sethe knows full well that she is not in control of her body and subsequently she and her children are not safe. Thus, Sethe’s wilderness story is one of extreme resistance against those who meant to rule over her body and the bodies of her children.

In the character of Sethe (the novel’s protagonist) Toni Morrison makes her most direct comparison to a Hagar in the wilderness analogy. Sethe’s first wilderness journey from slavery to freedom is synonymous with Hagar’s own movement from foreign slave to mother of a nation. Like Hagar, Sethe’s life is that of “the slave woman’s and has been unavoidably shaped by the problems and desires of her owners.”[46] For instance, Sethe is used by her owners Mr. and Mrs. Garner, and even though their version of slavery was kinder than most, she was still at their mercy. “Nobody counted on Garner dying. Nobody thought he could. Everything rested on Garner being alive. Without his life theirs fell to pieces.”[47]

While her master lived, Sethe was treated better than most American slaves: she was allowed to “marry”; her family was allowed the unique privilege of living together; and she was not subjected to sexual exploitation of any kind. However, upon Mr. Garner’s death, Mrs. Garner gives in to societal pressures and brings in a male overseer (known as Schoolteacher) to “help” her with the slaves.  Mrs. Garner’s disastrous action to bring in “Schoolteacher and his boys” leads Sethe into a new wilderness: that of abused and sexually exploited slave.

Like Hagar under Sarai’s authority, Sethe finds only pain and suffering under Schoolteacher’s cruel forms of supervision and discipline. It should also be noted that Morrison uses Mrs. Garner’s decision to put her slaves under the hand of Schoolteacher to unmask the antebellum and post-antebellum, “myth of the male black rapist.”[48] A conversation between three of Mrs. Garner’s male slaves (Paul D., Halle, and Sixo) illustrates just how fearful white women were, “that all black males were eager to rape.”[49]

“Why she call on him?” Paul  D asked. “Why she need the schoolteacher?” “

She need somebody who can figure,” said Halle.

“You can figure.”

“Not like that.”

“No, man,” said Sixo.

“She need another white on the place.”

“What for?” “What you think? What you think?”[50]

This issue of the black male rapist that began during the slavocracy has become embedded in the societal and cultural constructs of the modern Western world. This myth has become deeply rooted in the minds of white patriarchal power structures that move to uplift and protect the picture of “true womanhood”: the white woman; while at the same time devaluing the black man. Morrison’s inclusion of this myth is a reminder to her readers that this falsehood is far from dead, but it is one womanist theologians are facing head on. Delores Williams addresses this issue in “The Color of Feminism” arguing that the womanist’s response to this and other devaluing conventions will need to be, “the liberation of black women and black families involving the survival, salvation of black people’s spirits, and equality between males and females.”[51]

With Mrs. Garner’s decision to protect her true womanhood instead of the humanity of her slaves, she ends up allocating her role as mistress to Schoolteacher and his boys. This leaves Sethe, much like Hagar, wandering in the wilderness of sadistic abuse, devaluing sexual exploitation, and dehumanizing cruelty known as slavery. Morrison exposes this all too common culture of abuse and misuse of African-American female slaves by allowing Sethe’s body to act as a bio-text that reveals, “the abuse upon her body, where her mental, physical, and emotional self were ravaged and destroyed.”[52] The most compelling bio-textual example from Sethe’s past is referred to as a “tree” she has growing on her back.[53] Sethe’s “tree” is revealed to the reader through the eyes of Amy Denver (a young white runaway):

It’s a tree Lu. A chokecherry tree. See, here’s the trunk-its 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. Your back got a whole tree on it. In blood. What God have in mind, I wonder. I had me some whippings, but I don’t remember nothing like this.[54]

The bio-text of Sethe’s “chokecherry tree” works as a two-fold, multi-faceted symbol. First, it symbolizes the loss of Sethe’s identity as a woman that led to her fanatical and ferocious actions to protect her children from the wilderness of slavery. Second, the “tree” and its bio-textual narrative symbolize the shared history of many African-American women; giving voice to the teachings of womanist theologians such as: Bell Hooks and Cheryl Kirk-Duggan. In the same way Hagar is sexually exploited by her master Abram, Sethe is also sexually assaulted and exploited by two males in authority over her – the boys of her overseer Schoolteacher. To explain, these boys hold her down, force breast milk from her nipples, and nurse on the milk meant for her daughter referred to only as “crawling already”. In Sethe’s own words, “the boys came in there and took my milk. That’s what they came in there for. Held me down and took it.”[55] In giving Sethe this bio-text Morrison is personifying the words of Bell Hooks, “sufferings peculiar to black women were directly related to their sexuality and involved rape and other forms of sexual assault.”[56] The form of sexual assault Sethe endures took from her something she held dear: her identity as a woman.

As a slave Sethe has given up almost every other piece of herself to the dominance of white oppression: her homeland, her name, and even her heritage. Yet, she held onto the one thing that gave her a sense of her true self: her femaleness as expressed in motherhood. When this too is taken from her, Sethe demands that it be given back. Thus, Sethe seeks justice from the only “Christa” she knows – her kind hearted, sickly mistress Mrs. Garner. Tragically, for this demoralizing/dehumanizing physical, emotional, and mental rape of her identity she is not only denied justice; she is brutally punished for desiring it in the first place. “I told Ms. Garner on em. Them boys found out I told on em. Schoolteacher made one open up my back, and when it closed it make a tree. It grows there still.”[57]

Sadly, Sethe’s tree serves as a symbol of the historical bio-text of thousands of African-American women who live with the knowledge that their history includes the horrifying ill-treatment of women at the hands of white men. Bell Hooks speaks to this, “Female slaves were beaten as harshly as male slaves . . .  it was common to see a black female stripped naked, tied to a stake, and whipped.”[58] Sethe is also a victim of the societal and cultural norm held during the antebellum period that, “black women who resisted sexual exploitation directly challenged the system; and their refusal to submit . . . was a denouncement of the slave owner’s right to their persons. They were brutally punished.”[59]

Bio-texts acted as a way for African-American men and women to share their histories and sufferings with one another without ever saying a word. This is also why Paul D is skeptical of Beloved and her motivations for coming to Sethe’s house. For instance, Paul D is unnerved by the fact that Beloved arrived not wearing any shoes and yet her feet do not show the signs of her claim that she walked a long way to this place (Sethe’s house). In Paul D’s own words, “This girl Beloved, homeless and without people, beat all, thought he couldn’t say exactly why considering the colored people he had run into during the last twenty years. From all those Negroes, Beloved was different. Her shining, her shoes. It bothered him.”[60] Paul D has learned through the bitter experience of the slavocracy that there are two kinds of people in this world: the oppressed and the oppressors. In his mind, Beloved is some kind of an oppressor because she does not bear the scars of the past. In other words, she has no bio-text; she is blank and this makes her highly suspect.

It is the bio-text of Sethe’s “chokecherry tree” that communicates to others the story of her body being used as a, “site for aggressive, violent acts of individuals, communities, and governments.”[61] It is also clear that under the white patriarchal power structure, Sethe’s slave body was viewed as less than human and therefore the “sexual abuse [of her body is] desirable, normal, and natural.”[62] Morrison reveals these beliefs by allowing the reader to ease drop on a conversation between Schoolteacher and his boys/pupils, “Which one are you doing? And one of the boys said, ‘Sethe’. No, no. That’s not the way. I told you to put her human characteristics  on the left; her animal ones on the right. And don’t forget to line them up.”[63] Womanist theologians, like Bell Hooks, explain this animalistic view of African-American women as follows: “Mass exploitation of enslaved black women was a direct consequence of the anti-woman sexual politics of colonial patriarchal America. Since the black woman was not protected either by law or public opinion, she was an easy target.”[64] In our modern American society, little has changed and women of all races are still the target of sexual exploitation, none more so than women of color. Morrison’s choice to state that Sethe’s tree “grows there still,” symbolizes this reality.

The sexual exploitation of the African-American female did not end with the dismantling of the slavocracy. Sethe’s bio-text is an all too familiar reality for modern women of color. Sadly, the roots of racism and the overall dehumanization of African-American women have taken hold of the Western world. Violence against women has become a universal issue, in short, “violence has become normative, pervasive, and impersonal making women invisible.”[65] Womanist theologians are calling for the exposure of governmental and societal institutions that continue to promote anti-woman rhetoric and action.

Sethe’s second wilderness experience occurs while she is on the run from Sweet Home to 124 Bluestone Road – where her mother-in-law Baby Suggs is waiting to receive her. On her flight from slavery she delivers Denver with the help of an unlikely Christa figure and against all odds she makes it to Baby Suggs. While this wilderness experience was physically difficult for Sethe, it is her next journey into the wilderness of freedom that finally breaks her mentally and emotionally. Sethe has been brutalized verbally, emotionally, sexually, and physically. Due to this complete and total annihilation of, not only her femaleness, but her humanness as well, Sethe becomes fixated on keeping her children safe. This fixation leads her to make the severe choice to pick up a hand saw and slice the throat of her toddler; bludgeon her two older boys with a shovel; and smash her infant’s (Denver) head against the shed wall.

It is Sethe’s horrifying choice that resonates with many womanist theologians as a form of “black women’s resistance”. Tragically, this fictional scenario is based on true slave narratives and accounts. According to Maude White Katz’s book She Would Be Free – Resistance, “A mother on a Georgia plantation killed thirteen of her babies to save them from slavery.”[66] It is clear that this type of resistance is not applauded by womanist theologians, but it is certainly understood. An example, Delores Williams writes:

From the day when they first arrived as slaves in America in 1619, African-American women have rebelled against their plight. They used a variety of resistance strategies, some subtle and silent, others more dramatic. They petitioned courts for the freedom of themselves and their children; they were accused of burning, buildings and of attempting to poison their owners. Like Hagar, they ran away from slavery. They participated with slave men in conspiracies and insurrections. They killed their children to keep them from a life of enslavement. They passed on doctrines of resistance to their children.[67]

Toni Morrison taps into this history and doctrine of resistance with Sethe’s murderous and destructive actions. Sethe is Hagar, “alone in the wilderness, pregnant and alone. She suffered indignities and abuse from those who had more power than she did, but she defied them by resisting their authority. She had Hagar’s wilderness experiences of courage, fear, aloneness, and meeting/obeying God’s will[68]. Morrison uses Sethe’s justifications to display the heart and history of African-American and womanist resistance. A telling moment of resistance justification occurs between Sethe and Beloved told through eyes of Denver:

“Sethe cried, saying she never meant to—that she had to get them out, away, that her plan was always that they would all be together on the other side forever. Sethe pleaded for forgiveness, counting, listing again and again her reason: that Beloved was more important, meant more to her than her own life, that she would trade places any day. Give up her life, every minute and hour of it, to take back just one of Beloved’s tears.”[69]

It is clear that Sethe feels that she was not only trying to meet God with her actions, but that she was also obeying God’s direction when she chose to take the life of Beloved and attempted to take the lives of baby Denver and her two young boys to keep them from a life of slavery. Yet, Morrison is also critiquing and exposing Sethe’s actions that have been heralded by womanist theologians as a historical example of resistance by any means necessary.

Morrison allows another minor character, Paul D. (who learns the truth about what has happened to Sethe’s children) to offer a counter to womanist theologians who promote resistance by any means necessary:

“This here Sethe talked about love like any other woman; talked about baby clothes like any other woman, but what she meant could cleave the bone. This here Sethe talked about safety with a handsaw. This here new Sethe didn’t know where the world stopped and she began. Your love to thick . . . Your boys gone you don’t know where. One girl dead, the other won’t leave the yard . . . What you did was wrong Sethe. You got two feet, Sethe, not four.”[70]

Although Paul D.’s choice to leave Sethe, Beloved, Denver, and the spirit of danger that has descended on 124 Bluestone Road behind is presented to the reader as an understandable and necessary action on his part – contrastingly, the choice of the women in Sethe’s community to shun her in the aftermath of “the day in the shed” is not shown sympathetically by Morrison. Comparatively, Morrison employs mujerista theology to point out Sethe’s need for a more community driven means of salvation. By extension, Morrison takes the ending of Beloved and makes a strong point that in order for womanist theology to survive (and continue to impact generations of women of color) it is going to need to focus more on empowering whole community groups.

To explain, the kingdom is finally unfolded when the women of Sethe’s community come together to march as one body and one voice to vanquish Beloved (referred to for the first time as devil-child) once and for all. With the urging of the prophetess/Christa Denver, the women have decided that, “they will study war no more,” against the kin of Baby Suggs. Morrison utilizes their communal actions to expose her readers to mujerista theology; which is focused on the kingdom of God being furthered through familial relationships and communal unity. “This means that the coming of the kin-dom of God has to do with a coming together of peoples, with no one excluded and at the expense of no one.[71]

It is through the group’s religious understandings and desire to help those struggling for liberation that order is finally restored to the lives of Morrison’s three sisters. Denver finds her true identity in community outside the walls of 124 Bluestone Road; Beloved (devil-child) is sent back to the darkness from which she came; and Sethe comes to understand that she is more than a runaway slave woman who killed to keep her “best things” with her for all time. In the end, it is Paul D. who tells her “you your best thing,” reminding Sethe that she will come to “love her flesh” and in doing so find true liberation.

Morrison’s Beloved will continue to be read as one of the most intriguing and thought provoking fictional books on womanist, feminist, and mujerista theology of our time.  Each reading of this award winning novel leaves the reader haunted by new aspects of the female narrative that depict a horrifying time in our nation’s history. Yet, through a careful reading one is able to grasp the breadth and depth of Toni Morrison’s commitment to the liberation of women of color from past, present, and future oppressions.

Bibliography

Bedford, Nancy. 2012. “The World Palpitates’: Globalization and the Religious Faith and Practices of Latin American Women.” Chap. 7, In The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Theology, edited by Shelia Briggs and Mary M. Fulkerson, 180-194. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hooks, Bell and Gloria Watkins. 1981. Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism. Boston: South End Press.

Isasi-Diaz, Ada.  2012. “Mujerista Theology: A Challenge to Traditional Theology.” Chap. 30, In An Eerdmans Readers in Contemporary Political Theology, edited by Jeffrey W. Bailey, William T. Cavanaugh, and Craig Hovey, 418-435. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Kirk-Duggan, Cheryl A. 2012. “Globalization and Narrative.” Chap. 23, In The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Theology, edited by Mary M. Fulkerson and Shelia Briggs, 474-493. New York: Oxford University Press.

———. 1997. “Womanist Thought.” Chap. 7, In Exorcizing Evil: A Womanist Perspective on the Spirituals [The Bishop Henry McNeal Turner/Sojourner Truth Series in Black Religion], edited by The Bishop Henry McNeal Turner/Sojourner Truth Series in Black Religion. Vol. 14, 137-157. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

Morrison, Toni. 1990. Beloved. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Slee, Nicola. 2012. “Visualizing, Conceptualizing, Imagining and Praying the Christa: In Search of Her Risen Forms1.” Feminist Theology 21 (1): 71-90. doi: 10.1177/0966735012451831. http://fth.sagepub.com/content/21/1/71.

Ventura (Tirsa), Maria C. 2012. “Globalization and Women’s Bodies in Latin America.” Chap. 22, In The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Theology , edited by Mary M. Fulkerson and Shelia Briggs, 456-473. New York: Oxford University Press.

Williams, Delores S. 2012. “The Color of Feminism: Or Speaking the Black Woman’s Tongue.” Chap. 29, In An Eerdmans Readers in Contemporary Political Theology, edited by William T. Cavanaugh, Jeffrey W. Bailey and Craig Hovey, 398-417. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

———. 1993. Sisters in the Wilderness. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books.


[1] Delores Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1993), 158.

[2] Ibid., 161.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Toni Morrison, Beloved (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), 86.

[5] Nicola Slee, “Visualizing, Conceptualizing, Imagining and Praying the Christa: In Search of Her Risen Forms1, Feminist Theology 21, no. 1 (2012): 74.

[6] Morrison, Beloved, 35.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 84.

[9] Sweet Home is the name of the small plantation where Sethe, Paul D., and Baby Suggs were all slaves.

[10] Cheryl Kirk-Duggan, “Womanist Thought”, in Exorcizing Evil: A Womanist Perspective on the Spirituals (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1997), 151.

[11] Beloved, 28.

[12] Ibid., 37.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Nicola Slee, “Visualizing, Conceptualizing, Imagining and Praying the Christa”, 80.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Kirk-Duggan, “Womanist Thought”, 154.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., 151.

[19] Beloved, 256.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid., 258-259.

[22] Kirk-Duggan, “Womanist Thought”, 155.

[23] Beloved, 171.

[24] Ibid., 177.

[25] Nancy Bedford, “The World Palpitates’: Globalization and the Religious Faith and Practices of Latin American Women”, in The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Theology eds. Mary McClintock Fulkerson and Shelia Brigss (New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2012), 181.

[26] Beloved, 177.

[27] Ibid., 86.

[28] Ibid., 87.

[29] Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness, 167.

[30] Beloved, 87-88.

[31] Ibid., 89; 94.

[32] Kirk-Duggan, Exorcising Evil, 139.

[33] Ibid., 141.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Beloved, 86-87.

[36] Beloved, 89.

[37] Baby Suggs may have also been contemplating which colors were in fact harmless and which ones were not.

[38] Ibid., 180.

[39] Her identity lost she is no longer Baby Suggs (holy), but Baby Suggs vanquished.

[40] Hooks, Ain’t I A Woman, 60.

[41] Beloved, 104.

[42] Maria Cristina Ventura (Tirsa), “Globalization and Women’s Bodies”, in The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Theology eds. Mary McClintock Fulkerson and Shelia Briggs (New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2012), 463.

[43] Ibid., 459.

[44] Ibid., 469.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness, 15.

[47] Beloved, 220.

[48] Bell hooks, Ain’t I A Woman: black women and feminism (Boston: South End Press, 1981), 60.

[49] Ibid., 61.

[50] Beloved, 220.

[51] Delores S. Williams, “The Color of Feminism: Or Speaking the Black Woman’s Tongue”, in An Eerdmans Readers in Contemporary Political Theology, eds. William T. Cavanaugh, Jeffrey W. Bailey, and Craig Hovey (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012), 413.

[52] Cheryl Kirk-Duggan, “Globalization and Narrative,” in The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Theology, eds. Mary M. Fulkerson and Shelia Briggs (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 488.

[53] Beloved, 15.

[54] Ibid., 79.

[55] Beloved, 16.

[56] Hooks, Ain’t I A Woman, 24.

[57] Beloved, 16-17.

[58] Ain’t I A Woman, 23.

[59] Ibid., 27.

[60] Beloved, 66.

[61] Kirk-Duggan, “Globalization and Narrative”, 489.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Morrison, Beloved, 193.

[64] Ain’t I A Woman, 42-43.

[65] Kirk-Duggan, “Globalization and Narrative”, 489.

[66] Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness, 136.

[67] Ibid., 136-137.

[68] Ibid., 139.

[69] Beloved, 241-242.

[70] Ibid., 164-165.

[71] Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, “Mujerista Theology: A Challenge to Traditional Theology,” in An Eerdmans Readers in Contemporary Political Theology, eds. William T. Cavanaugh, Jeffrey W. Bailey, and Craig Hovey (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012), 423.

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A Little Q & A

I have been asked the following questions so often in the past few months that I have decided to share my answers with my readers. The following are the questions I have been asked and my most common responses (I am not a robot so I do not answer the same way every time:)

Q: As a Christ-follower how can you write about serial killers and gruesome murders?

Korthals: To be fair, I also write about caring and dedicated detectives, justice for victims and their families, and of course the reality of sin. I think it is actually easier for me to write about things like murder, because I am a Christian. For the simple reason that there is no middle ground or gray area for me: sin is real and we live in a fallen world where sin occurs. My characters are dealing with the end results of the sinful nature run amuck i.e. homicide, rape, and sex trafficking.

Q: Will you let your kids read this upcoming crime series?

Korthals: To clarify, I have three daughters ages 19, 11, and 9. I would love for my 19-year-old to read this series, since she was the inspiration for the main character. However, my 11-year-old and 9-year-old will not read this series until they are much older. I do not believe in censorship, but I do believe in age appropriate reading. I think every parent should be concerned about what their children are reading, viewing, and even writing. This is clearly NOT a children’s book, nor am I interested in writing a children’s series. Parents should be aware that this is a crime series/mystery series for older young adults and adults.

Q: Why did you write such a strong female character?

Korthals: I absolutely love any mystery novel with a strong female detective, because I find any woman doing what traditionally has been thought of as a man’s job fascinating. So, I wrote the story of Miranda Hoxie from that place of an avid reader who loves to read about a strong female lead. I also wanted to show that a woman can do more in a novel than fall in love or out love. In fact, I have purposefully not given Miranda a love interest in this first book because I want readers to come to place where we have different expectations for female characters. Because modern women have different expectations for their lives than the traditional story of falling in love and getting married, in fact, this is a role many women in law enforcement have rejected. That is not to say that Miranda will never have a man in her life, she will, just not in this first book. I want Miranda to take a very realistic journey when it comes to her love life, so yes she is strong, but she is also a woman with healthy sexual desires, a desire to be loved, and all of the vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and failures that come with being a woman in power and authority over others.

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Upcoming Crime Series

I will be launching a new crime series Spring 2014; focusing on the career of detective Miranda Hoxie. Miranda will be introduced to my readers as she tracks down one of the Twin Cities cruelest killers. Her journey takes her into the mind of a vicious serial killer; and in order to catch him she will have to face her own tortured past.

I am excited to launch this new series! I have always wanted to launch a series of novels with a strong female lead, so I am very excited to introduce to my readers the world of Miranda Hoxie. This crime series is also very personal for me, as my daughter Marissa was the inspiration for some of Miranda’s back story. Overall, this certainly has been a labor of love that I am certain readers are going to enjoy for years to come!

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A Murder of Indifference

Being a doctor has never been an easy profession in America, but now it is becoming a deadly one. Doctors are often sued or reprimanded by their respective boards for minor infractions that often have more to do with a doctor’s personality than his/her professional care. Doctors are required to carry millions of dollars in liability insurance for this very reason, because sometimes it is easier to pay the patient than it is to fight false allegations. Yet, in the homicide of Dr. Stephen Larson there appear to be many unanswered questions.

For instance, why would Ted Hoffstrom (a lawyer who has worked within the system at different points in his life) choose to kill Dr. Larson; instead of taking the legal recourse available for the way he felt about Larson’s care of his mother’s medical condition? Was Hoffstrom unstable or being treated for depression? Had he tried to speak to his mother’s doctor and been turned away? Why was he angry about her medical treatment? Did he feel more should have been or could have been done? And, of course, the question on many minds: Did Dr. Larson do all that he could for Hoffstrom’s mother? These questions will most likely not be answered as both the Larson and Hoffstrom families have refused to comment on Larson’s murder and Hoffstrom’s “suicide-by-cop”.

Clearly, Hoffstrom had an untreated obsession with both his mother’s doctor and her condition. One can speculate and infer the following: Hoffman loved his mother deeply. This love for her led to his becoming obsessed to the point of a fixation with her doctor. This developed over time into a dangerous delusion that told Hoffstrom the only way for his mother to get better was for her doctor to be removed from the situation permanently. Perhaps, Hoffstrom could have been helped had he reached out to his community in regard to his mother’s condition or if the community had reached out to them.

There has been a community response in the aftermath of this murder-suicide. According to The Star Tribune, Larson’s clinic saw, “patients bringing in flowers and baked goods and cards and really sharing their sympathy with us.” While this outpouring is good to see, where was the community outpouring for a sick woman and her troubled son? Did anyone reach out and bring them a meal, offer a listening ear, or even prayers for healing? Or were we as a society too busy to care? The Larson murder and Hoffstrom suicide bring to light many issues communities can no longer ignore: the plight of the sick and dying, the mental stability of our citizens, and our indifference to both our Creator God and one another.

Our self-centered indifference to the lives of others has led to more and more violent acts being committed against both the powerful and the powerless in our society. Could this tragedy have been avoided if someone would have just taken the time to reach out to Hoffstrom and his family during this time of physical, mental, and spiritual illness? In the wake of this tragedy, this question will remain unanswered however it certainly one worth asking

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Becoming Lisa

My journey toward becoming an author started when I was very young. I cannot remember a time when I did not know how to read and since I could read at such a young age, I soon began writing my own stories. I used to fill journals, diaries, and notebooks with story ideas; often getting inspired by what I was reading at the time. In my teens I found the genre of mysteries and I have never left! I have read everything from James Patterson to Matthew Pearl.

I have always dreamed of writing my own mystery, with a strong female lead. Now, in my mid-thirties with doors closing in my life, and extra time on my hands, I decided to start writing again. Once I began writing again, I felt as if I was coming home for the first time in years. As I finished writing my first completed novel, I am mindful of all of the twists and turns my life as taken toward becoming Lisa.

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have  imagined.”  -Henry  David Thoreau

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