'Beloved' is Published

''I was amazed by this story I came across about a woman called Margaret Garner who had escaped from Kentucky, I think, into Cincinnati with four children,'' Ms. Morrison said, sitting in an office at Alfred A. Knopf, her publisher, on a visit from her home near Nyack, N.Y. ''And she was a kind of cause celebre among abolitionists in 1855 or '56 because she tried to kill the children when she was caught. She killed one of them, just as in the novel. I found an article in a magazine of the period, and there was this young woman in her 20's, being interviewed - oh, a lot of people interviewed her, mostly preachers and journalists, and she was very calm, she was very serene. They kept remarking on the fact that she was not frothing at the mouth, she was not a madwoman, and she kept saying, 'No, they're not going to live like that. They will not live the way I have lived.'

Writing a novel about slavery in the U.S. would seem to be a fail-safe endeavor. The audience for such a book is already converted: the evil of owning men, women and children as chattel is shamefully obvious to everyone, and the heroes and villains are easy to tell apart. But it is precisely the contemporary consensus on human bondage that makes serious fiction on this subject so rare and so difficult to achieve. Imaginative literature at its best does not reinforce received opinions but disturbs them, puts them to the test of experience relived. And what is obvious to readers now -- that slavery was a moral abomination -- did not appear as unchallenged truth to everyone embroiled in its practice then. Those who possessed and those who were possessed struggled, like most people at all times, everywhere, to get through their days; neither history nor the exigencies of survival allowed them much time for meditation or outrage. To portray the texture of such lives, a novelist must be willing to forgo reflective indignation and let the characters and details speak for themselves.