Toni Morrison's Beloved. The Cambridge Companion to Toni Morrison. Circles of sorrow, lines of struggle: the novels of Toni Morrison. Deadly Beloved. Beloved Purgatory. Dearly Beloved. Beloved Vampire. Harold Bloom. New York: Infobase Publishing, Originally published in Journal of Commonwealth Literature New York: Infobase, Lewiston: Mellen Press, Philadelphia: Chelsea House, Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, Reprinted in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism.
Jennifer Blaise. Lynne Layton and Barbara Schapiro. New York University Press, Reprinted in Short Story Criticism. Anna Sheets-Nesbit. Amherst, Mass: University of Massachusetts Press, Detroit: Gale Group, Contemporary Literary Criticism. James Draper. New York: Modern Language Association, Jeffrey Adams and Eric Williams.
Columbia, SC: Camden House, Gerhard Bach. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, Each has been aided, Sethe by a throw-away 84 White woman on a journey to Boston, Paul D and his companions by a Cherokee remnant who have refused to trek West. And each escape, though Sethes is presented at greater length and in three separate sections, is among the most coherent narrations in the fragmented recit. Neither escape is, however, entirely successful. Such complete success, whether or not it ever occurs for these two characters, must wait for the living daughter Denvers later and no less heroic plunge from the family porch into a world dominated by White folks More to the structural point, though, the escape of Paul Ds that chronologically parallels Sethes is, for reasons never made entirely clear, a complete failure, except for the hope we may share with Sixo that his and Paul Ds capture provides opportunity for escape by the Thirty-Mile Woman and Sixos unborn child.
Apart from that hope, the escape attempt ends, Paul D thinks before we can know what he is thinking about, with One crazy, one sold, one. It is the failure of the slaves plan that leaves Sethe on her own in her desperate effort to reach the children she has sent on ahead. Schoolteacher heads up both the immediate capture of Paul D and Sixo and the party that arrives a month later at Bluestone with a legal claim to self-stolen property.
Sethes reaction is represented more as a reflex than a considered decision: And if she thought anything, it was No. She just flew. Collected every bit of life she had made, all the parts of her that were precious and fine and beautiful, and carried, pushed, dragged them through the veil, out, away, over there where no one could hurt them. Sethe knows even then, as she thinks of explaining to Beloved years later, where the impulse comes from.
Not so much from the threat of physical abuse, though of this she bears evidence on her own back, or even from the threat of separation through sale, a new concern that gives urgency to the attempt at escape, her mind turns in explanation to the moment when she discovered that there was a demeaning and dehumanizing way of being seen that might become her childrens way of seeing themselves.
Like Faulkners Sutpen, she backs away, physically and in the course her life takes, from something overheard that horrifies her: I heard [Schoolteacher] say, No, no. Thats not the way. I told you to put her human characteristics on the left; her animal ones on the right. And dont forget to line them up. I commenced to walk backward, didnt even look behind me to find out where I was headed.
I just kept lifting my feet and pushing back. Sethes own negations No. The incident is given particular importance in her unspoken account to Beloved of her motives for murder, partly in the revelation that it had never before been disclosed to anyone, partly in Sethes belief that it might help explain something to you.
No notebook for my babies and no measuring string neither , no return to those who could Dirty you so bad you couldnt like yourself anymore It may be the books only weakness that tact keeps Morrison from showing in other of the slaves or exslaves that Sethes fears in fact are warranted. We take on faith a deprivation of humanity that the novel as a whole seems determined to deny. What Sethe lives with is not just the deed itself of attempting to take her children to safety but a commitment to reject consolation or anything else that might suggest regret. Taken as pride by her neighbors, who feel rebuffed in their wish to wrap her in a consoling cape of sound , this commitment begins when she is taken away by the sheriff with her head a bit too high?
Her back a little too straight? It continues unabated into the storys present, with Paul D recognizing that more important than what Sethe had done was what she claimed: It scared him To admit any doubt to herself about the murder of her daughter would be to admit more pain than she can tolerate. The closest she comes occurs early in the novel, in anger at Paul Ds suggestion that she and Denver leave the ghost-infected house: No more runningfrom nothing.
J. Brooks Bouson
I took one journey and I paid for the ticket, but let me tell you something, Paul D Garner; it cost too much! There is never an overt confession of doubt, but besides the need to explain although I know you dont need me to do it  , such doubt is intimated early on when a question of Beloveds evokes shameful memories of Sethes own mother. Asked why she was hanged, Sethe does not recall or admit or, perhaps, really know that flight was her mothers crime.
Later, provoked by Beloveds accusations of abandonment, she clearly fears that her mothers behavior might be seen as a precedent for her own. Her denial that the mother she barely knew was hanged for attempting escapeBecause she was my maam and nobodys maam would run off and leave her daughter, would she? But if flight from her daughter as well as from slavery is not the shameful thought about her mother that enters Sethes mind in response to Beloveds question, then the thought that does, something she had forgotten she knew 61 , is even more troubling.
As small girl Sethe, she was unimpressed when told of her mothers having cared only for her among the children born to her. As grown-up woman Sethe she was angry, but not certain at what in the suddenly recalled story of all the others, with White fathers, that her mother threw away There is no more likeness between these acts of infanticide and Sethes than between either and Medeas deed, but there is, it appears, an inability to completely repress thoughts that her mothers abandonment of unwanted babies might reflect on her own effort to take her children to a safe place.
Beloved would be less powerful in Sethes life if the doubt and pain had not all along been demanding expression. Though Sethes professed lack of regret scares Paul D and leads him to question her humanity You got two feet, Sethe, not four , it is not what scares him away. His remark, a thoughtless echo of Schoolteachers racist anthropology, carries extra force because of that connection and because of Sethes discomfort about the bearing of her mothers actions on her own. Beloved would be less powerful in Paul Ds life, too, if doubt and pain about his choice had not all along been present but hidden.
The seduction by Beloved in the cold-house culminates her effort to rid the household of Paul D and to assure the needy childs dominance in Sethes life. From another perspective, its goal is to restore the pasts control over any possible future. Paul D, too, emerges as if from the past, first appearing in the novel as the continuation of a paragraph in which we are told first of Sethes efforts to remember as close to nothing as was safe and then shown suddenly. Sweet Home rolling, rolling out before her eyes 6. But Paul D comes, as if out from the memory of Sweet Home, to present Sethe with an alternative future.
The dead daughters human embodiment follows not only from Paul Ds victorious battle against the haunting of the house, but also and more immediately, from one page to the next, from imagery of a possible future that soon enters Sethes thoughts. Heading to a Colored Thursday at the carnival, They were not holding hands, but their shadows were. Nobody noticed but Sethe and she stopped looking after she decided that it was a good sign.
A life. Could be Though Paul D has just announced, with respect to the tension between Sethes living daughter and him, Im not asking you to choose. Nobody would 45 , the dead daughter leaves no such room for compatibility or compromise. Moved, in both senses, by the strange young woman who calls herself Beloved, Paul D is made to feel like a rag doll , an image that eerily reappears when Denver later thinks about what her mother has become in submitting to Beloveds punishing demands Doubts about his manhood, about whether Schoolteacher was indeed right in the matter of definitions, are provoked in Paul D when he finds himself picked up and put back down anywhere any time by a girl ; and he thinks, That was the wonder of Sixo, and even of Halle; it was always clear to Paul D that those two were men whether Garner said so or not.
It troubled him that, concerning his own manhood, he could not satisfy himself on that point A review of the abortive escape years earlier reinforces his doubts when he contrasts himself returned to slavery to Sixo determined in making and affirming a choice, adamant in claiming a different fate. Sixos defiance, first in physical resistance and then in song, convinces Schoolteacher that, despite the economic loss, This one will never be suitable A month later, Schoolteacher will find Sethe and the rest of his escaped property either dead or similarly unsuitable when he catches up with them in Ohio.
But it is the two unsuitable slaves who at least partially get their way.
Droits d'auteur :
As Paul D later thinks, of the response to Sixos laughter, They. Have to They did not have to shoot Paul D, and Sixo stands, in Paul Ds own terms, as a manly model of the alternative he did not take. Collared and chained back at Sweet Home, He thinks he should have sung along. Loud, something loud and rolling to go with Sixos tune Instead he begins a process comparable to the emotional self-containment Sethe adopts in order to defend herself one month later in Ohio: It was some time before he could put Alfred, Georgia, Sixo, schoolteacher, Halle, his brothers, Sethe, Mister, the taste of iron, the sight of butter, the smell of hickory, notebook paper, one by one, into the tobacco tin lodged in his chest.
By the time he got to nothing in this world could pry it open. For Sethe as well, containment can sequester but cannot dispose of distressing feelings. Both characters will be pried open by something in this world but not of it. The pain Paul D feels when Sethe speaks to him on the day of his capture joins doubt about manhood with the shame of being collared like a beast Manhood and humanity are as much linked for him as are maternity and humanity for Sethe.
The argument has been made that this is an ideological blunder on their part, a submission to the narrations and master definitions constructed by White patriarchal culture and its various laws Schopp, The claim has a certain theoretical logic, but it gains little support from the text itself, especially when joined with the claim that Morrison is on the side of the cultural studies angels in carrying her protagonists on a course of recovery from the internalization of oppressors values Ayer [Sitter], James Berger provides a useful reminderand possible correctivein setting the composition of Beloved in the political context of the s and that periods neoconservative appropriation of some of the data and conclusions offered two decades earlier by the Moynihan report, The Negro Family: A Case for National Action He suggests that the novel is sensitive to perceived attacks on black manhood and womanhood as ineffectual on the one hand and emasculating on the other, a perspective present by implication in the Moynihan report and more concretely in the Reagan Administrations policies.
Male independence and maternal bonding are, on the contrary, strongly affirmed in the novel. They are, moreover, despite Garner and his peculiar ways, on the record presented in Beloved among the gender roles slavery seeks to deny to slaves. There is also an impulse to make a political point, though less elaborately developed, in the attention given to Beloveds departure at the height of her destructive power late in the novel. That scene involves the coincidental. Critics who comment at all are as likely as not to take the will for the deed and assume that it is the community and perhaps Sethe herself that forces Beloved to flee.
And perhaps its wish to aid now sufficiently redeems it. But its efforts are not what relieve Sethe. The error is instructive with regard to both Morrisons narrative technique and her thematic intentions. At work here in the climactic moment in the present are, in miniature, some of the same proairetic elements that governed the deciphering of the climax in the past. That is, we have been prompted to provide names for actions the narrative has not yet fully disclosed.
Before we are able to make much, perhaps anything of the information, we learn that the baby whose venom 3 fills the house had had its throat cut and even more shockingly that its baby blood had soaked [Sethes] fingers 5. To the fact of the babys death, we may add the word murder, along with its mothers proximity, and ask what could account for the infants apparently violent death. Some hundred pages later, Denvers thoughts of the rupture in her year of schooling with Lady Jones add the word murderer to the readers lexicon. Questions about Beloveds attack on Sethes throat in the Clearing lead Denver to question her own loyalties and to memories of two questions posed by one of her fellow students: Murder, Nelson Lord had said.
Didnt your mother get locked away for murder? Wasnt you in there with her when she went? Whether or not one recollects Sethes earlier statement of, as if as a matter of choice, having gone to jail instead 42 of returning with Schoolteacher to Sweet Home, the questions Denver lingers over seem designed to raise suspicions about Sethes role in the babys death while raising equally troubling ones about why. Concurrently, Beloveds actions, till this point expressions of infantile need, come to seem tainted with a desire for revenge. But what could have led a woman so devoted to her children to brutally murder one of them?
The facts, at least from Sethes perspective, add the word rescue to the confirmation of murder. Though the narrative of the past is variously fragmented, suspicions are fulfilled and the hermeneutic process is as fully resolved as in the best of well-made plots. Having been trained in this manner to expect not only answers but answers that confirm suspicions, it is not surprising that so many readers assign the word exorcism or even, once again, rescue to the disappearance of Beloved at the end.
Though it is a matter of intention rather than. It is more surprising that Morrison, having so set us up for the satisfactions of effective communal action, chooses to deny us this doubly reassuring feel-good resolution. But this is the difference between the novels horrific past and its uncertain present and future: Standing alone on the porch, Beloved is smiling.
But now her hand is empty. Sethe is running away from her, running, and she feels the emptiness in the hand Sethe has been holding. Now she is running into the faces of the people out there, joining them and leaving Beloved behind. These are Beloveds frightened thoughts, and we know, from Sethes own, that it is not away from her but toward Mr.
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Bodwin that Sethe is running, not to join the others and leav[e] Beloved behind, but to protect her. If Sethe is reliving, with a difference, an earlier event, Beloved is experiencing a devastating sameness, the recurrence of an earlier abandonment in which Sethe never waved goodbye or even looked her way before running away from her It is only by the most peculiarly indirect logic that it might be said either that the gathered women dispose of the dead daughter or that Sethe, having had enough of her, turns to the community for the comfort she rejected nineteen years earlier. The womens wave of sound, silenced by Sethes demeanor in the earlier incident, may be wide enough to sound deep water and knock the pods off chestnut trees and it may be that Sethe trembled like the baptized in its wash But it is the power of misunderstanding that governs the action here, Sethes of what is transpiring as Mr.
Bodwin arrives in her yard and Beloveds of Sethes flight into the crowd. Later, to compound these errors, Sethe will misunderstand Beloveds motive for leaving. Though the scene presents an extraordinary lesson in perception as a function of mental state even for the undead , Morrison must knowingly be giving us less than we expect and less than would fully satisfy. She is also at this moment presenting Beloved not as the demon wrenched from its prey by a collective ur-prayer, but as the needy child at her most pathetic.
We cannot simply cheer her departure. To return to the question of gender roles, Sethe may at the end move somewhat from defining her humanity in terms of motherhood. At least to so move her seems to be Paul Ds goal in his final words, You your best thing, Sethe. You are, and may be Sethes meaning in her response, Me? Paul D on the other hand, much more the subject of gendercritiquing commentary, is at the end much as he was at the beginning,. And unchanged in the gentle responsiveness he is said to need to acquire.
Almost the first thing we learn about him, though never recalled in this line of criticism, is that, Not even trying he had become the kind of man who could walk into a house and make the women cry. Because with him, in his presence, they could. There was something blessed in his manner.
Strong women and wise saw him and told him things they only told each other. And it is surely no lack of verbal resource that leads Morrison to have Sethe think the exact same thing in the same words in their final scene together. The earlier paragraph continues with his reaction to the sight of the tree on Sethes back, also uncited in the midst of criticism of his insensitivity: And when the top of her dress was around her hips and he saw the sculpture her back had become, like the decorative work of an ironsmith too passionate for display, he could think but not say, Aw, Lord, girl.
And he would tolerate no peace until he had touched every ridge and leaf of it with his mouth. Instead attention is focused on his post-coital reaction to her scars and her breasts that he could definitely live without 21 , more an effect of deflated fantasy than a rejection, in the aftermath, of the reality that supersedes it.
Both characters soon overcome their disappointment. And suddenly it was a solution: a way to hold on to her, document his manhood and break out of the girls spellall in one Sethe comes to his aid, solved everything with one blow by inviting him back to the bedroom Where you belong , and this is the last we hear of procreative wishes. It is not his penis whose power he needs reassurance of, but his mans will, the characteristic Garner had cultivated, that Sixo had demonstrated, and that Schoolteacher, as surely as in thinking of Sethe as a member of a hybrid species, had set out to undermine: But it was more than appetite that humiliated him and made him wonder if schoolteacher was right.
It was being moved, placed where she wanted him, and there was nothing he was able to do about it. And it was he, that man, who had walked from Georgia to Delaware, who could not go or stay put where he wanted to in shame At the end, when he returns to , another beneficiary of Beloveds misunderstanding of her mothers motives, he sets out to comfort Sethe. Only this woman Sethe could have left him his manhood like that. Doubts about his manhood, provoked in the present by Beloveds power over him, have been with him since his choice of life and a return to slavery, just as Sethes doubts about her maternal adequacy, and therefore humanity, also lanced by Beloved, have been with her since her choice of death as slaverys alternative.
While these may not be the most enlightened gender identifications, arguing against them in this narrative seems peculiarly neglectful of the limitations slavery is shown to impose on the possibilities for selfdefinition. Moreover, these modes of definitionor any other claims to humanityseem more an escape from the dominant cultures construction of the slave than an acquiescence to it.
In the novels two main characters, Morrison starkly juxtaposesor, as with so much else in Beloved, leaves it to her reader to juxtaposethe terrible choice between life as a slave and violent death that is almost the only choice slavery allows its victims. It is worth a moment to look a bit more carefully at the bases of these choices and to distinguish also between the choice of death by Sethe and Sixo, as different in their nature as either is from Paul Ds choice of life. None of the three diesor livesfor a cause or an abstract ideal, a characteristic Tzvetan Todorov uses to distinguish between what he calls the heroic and the ordinary virtues in his recent examination of behavior in the Warsaw ghetto and the Nazi concentration camps.
Particular individuals may or may not , in Todorovs terms, benefit from a heroic act, but the welfare of particular individuals is not the reason for that act. Sixos death is closest to a heroic act, the one that term attaches to most readily, and indeed closest to the conventional model of manhood in that regard, but his death has much more to do with his own dignity, with slaverys power over him, than with an assault on the institution of slavery itself.
This dignity is, in Todorovs formulation, the first ordinary virtue, and it simply means the capacity of the individual to remain a subject with a will; that fact, he goes on to say in terms appropriate to the present discussion, is enough to ensure membership in the human race Sethes choice of death for her children and herself, even if viewed as misguided, adds a second ordinary virtue. Her concern is not only for her. I took and put my babies where theyd be safe , she announces to Paul D. Her own death, like her own escape from Sweet Home, would be a matter of joining them rather than an effort intended for her own welfare.
She sets out to kill them in their innocence as an expression of caring, a kind of act Todorov is able to give examples of from the camps: There are things we can do for others that we are incapable of doing solely for ourselves Some other way  , he misses in his own decision precisely the dignity that each of the others can claim to have secured, Sixo in acting in a way calculated to force the hand of his master, Sethe in more impulsively imposing her will on circumstances. Indeed, Paul D has at least given the appearance of having simply been passive, merely following Sixo in his diversionary tactic and then observing him.
But just as Sethe is less confident than she claims with regard to her own behavior, there may be more to Paul Ds choice than his sense of the requirements of manhood allows him to find in it. Staying alive damages Paul Ds dignity, but is not accomplished at the expense of any others dignity or well-being. Sixos act makes a better story, but not, in its specificity, a better person.
The test is in the aftermath, both in the persistence of escapes, the other way Paul D insists upon to Sethe, and in the quality of caring that survives his ordeal. His bad moment comes not in claiming life for himself, but, years later and under the pressure of Beloveds perceived presence, in demeaning Sethes contrary decision. The protagonists are not the only characters in the novel who make choices with regard to their status as slaves.
The circumstances within which Halle and Stamp Paid choose life are different mainly in that one man goes mad in seeing his wife brutally abused and the other, abiding a less obviously brutal assault, doesnt. The difference isnt negligible, of course, and perhaps neither choice nor life perfectly describes Halles portion, last seen by Paul D squatting by the churn smearing the butter as well as its clabber all over his face because the milk they took is on his mind Stamp Paids choice is to change his name and his life rather than follow his inclination to kill the master who temporarily took his wife or his wife once she is discarded.
But both men accede where the alternative of resistance would likely have led to death. In another implicit pairing of characters, two who risk death in choosing escape are Baby Suggss husband and Sethes mother, one perhaps successfully, the other, her body displayed as an example, evidently not. What they share is not only the risk of capture and death, but also the separation that flight entails.
If we regard Suggs more sympathetically than we do Sethes. Sethe, as she finally acknowledges at the end, feels abandoned by her mother, and the text gives us no reason to take a different view. This decision in Baby Suggss past is disclosed when Mr. Garner, who has always known her as Jenny Whitlow, her bill-of-sale name, delivers her into freedom. Even this step, achieved through years of her sons labor, involves a wrenching, impossible decision in which the cost seems greater than the prize: Of the two hard thingsstanding on her feet till she dropped or leaving her last and probably only living childshe chose the hard thing that made him happy, and never put to him the question she put to herself: What for?
Her experience of what for with her first step on free ground there was nothing like it in this world helps to explain Sethes determination later not to allow her children to be returned to slavery. A third stage in putting beside each other Sethes and Paul Ds storiesa follow-up to escape and, then, the response to recapturecomes in the present and with the arrival of Beloved. Acting single-mindedly toward her own goal of satisfying an insatiable hunger, she is for both protagonists an outside thing that embraces while it accuses , ironically, the former most dramatically and explicitly for Paul D, whom she sees as her enemy, the latter for Sethe, to whom she clings.
Morrison guides us to a view of Beloveds role through Amys harsh and consoling words while massaging Sethes feet: Anything dead coming back to life hurts This is true for Beloved herself after her journey from the other side, both in the pain she feels and in the pain she inflicts, as well as for Sethe and Paul D in their journey toward a fuller emotional life. This latter journey has already begun when Beloved appears on the scene, but with the implication that it cannot be completed, if it is to be completed at all, without facing up to something she evokes and represents.
Almost simultaneously, The closed portion of [Paul Ds] head opened like a greased lock 41 in his pleasure at being reunited with Sethe and Sethe begins to wonder, Would it be all right to go ahead and feel as Emotions sped to the surface in his company 38, But it is also the case, as Paul D approaches an emotional limit, that: He would keep the rest where it belonged: in that tobacco tin buried in his chest where a red heart used to be.
He would not pry it loose now in front of this sweet sturdy woman, for if she got a whiff of the contents it would shame him. And it would hurt her to know that there was no red heart. Sethe, at the same moment, thinks of Working dough. Working, working dough. Nothing better than that to start the days serious work of beating back the past Beloved reminds me of something, Paul D comments for both of them late in the novel, Something, look like, Im supposed to remember If freedom is to get to a place where you could love anything you chose , emotional freedom, it appears, cannot be arrived at without fully admitting into ones present doubts about the past.
And so Beloved agitates memory, explicitly in Sethe, from whom she seeks, even while still a stranger, stories from Sethes past. These forays into the past give Sethe unexpected pleasure 58 , soon enough to turn into maddening pain when curious questions turn to insistent accusations of abandonment. The larger question is whether the pain was ever really absent or merely under a control that precluded healing. Healing is no part of Beloveds purpose, may leave a scar like the tree on Sethes back if it occurs, may indeed never occur. Certainly it is not Sethes goal at the end, absorbed as she is in her own feelings of abandonment.
Opening old wounds creates, though, the condition of the possibility of healing.
Likewise for Paul D, Beloveds intervention opens old wounds, requires facing old decisions, and creates possibilities beyond her own self-interested intentions. Her goal is to move him out of Sethes house and life; in shaming him into leaving, she also moves him beyond self-imposed and selfprotective constraints on feeling that even love of Sethe had been unable to break through.
He finds his Red heart. Red heart. Red heart in coupling with her despite himself, and fully feels the pain of the past and the shame of his most significant choice. For Sethe, pain follows after pleasure in the process of coming back to life; for Paul D, there is something life-affirming within his humiliation. Coupling with her wasnt even fun, he thinks after she has gone: It was more like a brainless urge to stay alive. Each time she came, pulled up her skirts, a life hunger overwhelmed him and he had no more control over it than over his lungs. And afterward, beached and gobbling air, in the midst of repulsion and personal shame, he was thankful too for having been escorted to some deep-ocean place he once belonged to.
Morrison does not make it easy, or perhaps necessary or desirable or even possible, to completely analyze Paul Ds feelings here. She does, though, provide language that tells us something, probably more than it tells Paul D, about why he acted as he did nineteen years earlier, made the choice that he made in not joining his lungs and voice to Sixos song: then, too, a brainless urge to stay alive put him on a different course than his friends. Afterwards, with the others on the chain gang, he killed the flirt whom folks called Life for leading them on; later, with Beloved, in her cockteasing hug, he found himself caring and looking forward, remembering and looking back As repressed elements in the unconscious draw to them other unacceptable or traumatizing materials, Beloved, the dead daughter transformed and resurrected, includes within herself other figures of racial oppression, ranging from Sethes antecedents during the Middle Passage to a young woman of Beloveds apparent age who had been locked up in [a] house over by Deer Creek The fear of abandonment motivates a murderous rage in the Clearing when Sethes thoughts turn from her past with Halle to a future with Paul D and lies behind her cruelty to Sethe when she secures dominance over her.
Fearing exclusion earlier, she now demands exclusive attention. But, though she is large and powerful and has achieved mastery of both Paul D and Sethe, she still has the vulnerability of the infant who every afternoon had doubted anew the older womans return from work and in whose eyes Sethe had seen a longing that was bottomless. Some plea barely in control 57, She weeps once, ostensibly in pain over an extracted tooth, but really, like Sethe at the end, over accumulated losses real and imagined.
With Paul Ds arrival, she is in danger of being disremembered even before her embodied return, and Morrison has contrived that there be unbearable sadness as well as relief in her passing.
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Even when she is at her most punishing, discussions of Beloved as a kind of succubus therefore leave too much out of account. But like the belief that each of the spores floating at the rivers edge when Sethe delivers Denver will become all of what is contained in [it]: will live out its days as planned,. It is on a note of loss more than relief and of uncertainty more than either that the novel ends.
With as much craft as earlier went into planting and concealing clues that would provide a reassuring as well as disturbing resolution to the mystery of the past, Morrison chooses to compound misunderstanding and unintended consequences with unanswered questions about the future. As Morrison said of her novels in an interview a few years before Beloved was published,.
There is a resolution of a sort but there are always possibilities choices, just knowing what those choices are or being able to make a commitment about those choices or knowing something that you would never have known had you not have had that experience meaning the book. Its also information. Jones and Vinson, The choices in Beloved that slavery is shown to allow, even oblige, are inevitably and necessarily unthinkable choices between bad alternatives. This is especially true of the choice of life or of death made by Paul D and Sethe.
There is no judgment to be made about these choices, any more than about Baby Suggss heartbroken response to the one of them that touches her: she could not approve or condemn Sethes rough choice. One or the other might have saved her, but beaten up by the claim of both, she went to bed It is at least partly in accepting a burden of responsibility for their impossible choices that they, in the midst of their victimization, achieve and maintain the dignity that most defies what slavery would have them be.
The humanity that invests, perhaps transcends, Sethes and Paul Ds specific gendered concerns with manhood and maternity comes through choosing to recognize themselves and their history in the choices history has implicated them in, forced upon them. This is perhaps the choice Morrison leaves us with in the novels final pages, with their ambiguous assertion that the story we have been witness to is not one to pass on or not one to pass on. Memory, we are repeatedly reminded, is also a matter of choice in the novel, but that choice is present in how we remember, not in whether we do.
Reference to the possibility of linking the two characters stories is made in passing by Furman, Levy, Powell, Samuels, and Schreiber. Aspects of the topic are dealt with more fully by Bowers, FitzGerald, Fulweiler, Moreland, Rushdy, and Schopp, none of whom assigns the importance I do here to Paul Ds choice of life, in contrast to Sethes choice of death, as the foundation for the comparison. The most complete linking of the two stories occurs in Barnett and Ayer Sitter. Barnett proposes that it is rape, the primacy of sexual assault over other experiences of brutality , that brings together the stories of the novels two protagonists and.
Ayer Sitter s focus, as discussed later in the essay, is on the characters need to overcome oppressive gender definitions. This absence of autonomy in slavery is the subject of Linehans essay, where he argues that without freedom of the will, actions can have no moral significance His position has the danger of denying Sethe and Paul D and others living under slavery precisely the humanity both Sethe and Morrison seem determined to affirm.
The best commentary on the difficulties of the novels beginning is Morrisons own in her essay, Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature, where she writes of the risk of confronting the reader with what must be immediately incomprehensible For the question of whether the narrative is a story to pass on, seemingly denied in the texts final paragraphs, see, most interestingly, Phelans analysis. The passage Im reminded of in Absalom, Absalom! All of a sudden he found himself running and already some distance from the house, and not toward home.
He wasnt even mad. He just had to think. He says he did not tell himself where to go: that his body, his feet just went there. Sutpens awakening comes, already an irony, through the words of a slave.