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Month: September 2019

Ghost or reincarnation?

On Beloved page 61, Morrison describes Sethe, Paul D, and Denver’s return to 124 after their time at the carnival. As they approach the house, a woman with “new skin, lifeless and smooth, including the knuckles of her hands” sits near the steps. This imagery parallels that of a newborn. Once Sethe views the woman’s face, her “bladder [fills] to capacity” and immediately needs to use the restroom; however, Sethe can’t even hold it until she gets there as “the water she voided was endless.” This illustration remembers water-breaking. Morrisons use of symbolism suggests rebirth, perhaps this woman is linked to Sethe’s dead child. Specifically, the assertion that “there was no stopping water breaking from a breaking womb and there was no stopping now” further alludes to this relationship.

The woman tells Sethe, Paul D, and Denver that her name is Beloved. This revelation serves as additional evidence for some form of a connection to Sethe. As days go by, Beloved’s attachment to Sethe becomes apparent as “Sethe was licked, tasted, eaten, by Beloved’s eyes” (68). This toddler-like, possessive behavior from Beloved suggests dependence like that between a mother and her small child. Moreover, Beloved seems to know about Sethe’s crystal earrings that Sethe no longer owns. Strong evidence suggests that Beloved is a reincarnation of Sethe’s child. If this is the case, and so long as Beloved stays at 124, Sethe will continue to grapple with moving forward from her traumatic past.

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Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can.

In the beginning of Beloved by Toni Morrison, the idea of running from the past is discussed. It is saddening to read that both Baby Suggs and Sethe had to physically and mentally run from the horrors of their pasts. Sethe tries so hard to forget the pain of her past but that is slowly erasing the memory of her sons as well. It is hard to imagine how one’s past can be so terrible that they’re willing to sacrifice happy memories in order to forget the bad ones. While Sethe is trying to hard to repress these memories, she ends up more or less living in the past because she is unable to move forward into the present. The need to forget holds her back from creating new memories, and one of her memories, that of her dead daughter, ends up manifesting itself as a ghost in the house that Sethe is physically unable to get away from.

Sethe has a belief that one can relive the past and is, in a sense, correct about that idea. We live in constant fear of repeating the past and repeating horrible wrongdoings, but do not take enough action to make sure we do not repeat the past. I am reminded of the struggle women must have endured to get abortion legalized and cannot imagine how those who fought for the original legalization would feel now seeing women’s reproductive rights regress instead of progress. History is repeating itself and we are having to fight for things again that we already fought for. Sethe is right to fear the idea of reliving the past because it means that you have not been able to move on from the past and create a better future.

 

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(I can’t believe I have to say this:) Black Women are Human, Too

In part one of Beloved, I was horrified by the description of the enslaved men who raped cows in place of women. It was horrific, because the act felt so against nature, and so violent. Yet, what these enslaved Black men did pales in comparison to the rape perpetrated against enslaved Black women by White slaveowners. The story seamlessly glides between the two horrors, with the Sweet Home men and the cattle and Mr. Garner and Baby Suggs, daring us to blanch at the idea of fucking cows, but not at that of raping Black women.

It’s so easy to look back at slavery from a place of White privilege and pass judgement upon the behavior of those our ancestors enslaved. I found myself disgusted yet again in the second chapter, reading Paul D’s perspective of resentment toward Sethe for not being a more worthy “lay.” The idea that women weren’t seen as fully human, but as fuckable things, and in the case of Black women, deserving only slightly more respect than the cattle (if that), was revolting. And yet, that is how Whites treated Black men and women for centuries. Our ancestors taught them that they were violable things, and in spite of being raised with that understanding of themselves and their place in the world, the fact that the Sweet Home men could treat Sethe with such delicacy and kindness is a testament to these men’s humanity and goodness in the face of such depravity.

That alone can’t change the experience of enslaved Black women like Sethe and Baby Suggs though, which is why an understanding of intersectionality is so important. Not only were Black women treated as inhuman for their race by White men and women, but they were also stripped of their humanity yet again by men–Black and White–who saw them as violable, fuckable objects because they were women. It’s hard to read a book like this, knowing the humanity these women (and the Sweet Home men) deserved to be treated with, but were denied on the basis of characteristics that should not ever have defined them.

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The Hidden Meaning in the “Haunted House”

Upon reading the first three chapters of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, it becomes evidently clear that the house where Sethe and Denver live is haunted in more ways than one. Early on we learn that Sethe is haunted by the house because her unnamed child is buried there with a headstone that simply reads “Beloved.” Denver is scared to live there because of how isolated it makes her feel. However the cultural and emotional significance that the house has on both Sethe and Denver goes much farther beyond this.

The house holds significant influence for Sethe. Despite being an escape slave, she is not yet truly free. she feels trapped by her home, and I think that this lack of autonomy can be translated into what was also effecting her culturally in the story. She may have escaped the horrors of slavery, but even freed slaves were still horribly mistreated and struggled to become involved and respected members of their communities. While she is no longer enslaved, she is still subject to the racism and discriminatory culture that plagues America. In addition to being trapped and isolated because of her race, I thought that Sethe was also being trapped in the household because of the fact that she is a woman and a mother. Not only are there ramifications about her race in this time period, but Sethe is also trapped and held back because of her gender. I look forward to reading about how Morrison explores these themes as the novel continues.

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Suppressing the Horrors of Slavery

In the first three chapters of Beloved, we are introduced to Sethe and her daughter Denver, who live in a house that is haunted by a ghost suspected to be Sethe’s eldest daughter who died. Sethe herself is an escaped slave who tries in vain to suppress the memories of her past in enslavement, all for the sake of insuring a better life for her daughter Denver. Despite her efforts, she is constantly reminded of her past through the ghost and through Paul D, one of the male slaves who also worked at her plantation called Sweet Home.

As of these chapters, it seems to me that the ghost in the story is a representation of the psychological impact that is left on those who lived as slaves. Having lived their entire life considered as sub-human and under the threat of torture or death for any action considered out of line, slaves bear the weight of these horrors every single day. What makes it worse for Sethe is that she was never actually freed from slavery, but rather escaped. This makes her even more paranoid of her past, because she could be easily returned to Sweet Home if she were to be discovered. All of these factors together show a clear impact on Sethe’s psyche, and form a representation of the mental state of those who were once in captivity.

It even goes a step further and shows the impact that Sethe’s efforts to forget her past have on her daughter, who is practically home-ridden because of the “ghost” in the house. While the ghost itself seems real in the story, I again believe that this goes to show the impact that witnessing her mother’s traumatized mindset has had on Denver. With every reminder Denver seems to understand more and more about what her mother went through and in turn becomes more secluded from society. Overall, it seems as though Sethe’s efforts to suppress her past and secure a better future for her daughter have been in vain due to constant reminders of slavery through the ghost of her daughter and through her paranoia of being returned to captivity.

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Theme for English B

I highlight this particular poem for the three lines at the bottom of the second stanza which read, “I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like the same things other folks like who are other races. So will my page be colored that I write?” I am attracted to this poem for a couple of reasons including it’s highlight on the all-interacting ‘hive’ we live in where every moving part of society is connected to another in some way. This twenty-two year old colored college student writes a poem that comes out of him, but he goes into this assignment with the understanding that not only will his assignment be colored  but a part of his white instructor as well. He further includes his environmental circumstances, New York and more specifically Harlem. Being the only colored student in class, his experience living in Harlem is entirely different from his fellow classmates who live in a different part of the city. However he doesn’t disregard this as a negative aspect but an accepted truth to everyday life. Every body around him is different and is faced with various opportunities/struggles, and this is what he argues makes the assignment ‘American’.

When talking about his white instructor he writes, “Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be me. Nor do I often want to be a part of you. But we are, that’s true! As I learn from you, I guess you learn from me–” This poem beautifully highlights the positive and negative aspects of the black/white relationship in America. For this relationship to co-exist in a semi respectful and humane nature we need to embrace our history and learn what we can from experiences of others. Everybody’s difference whether black/white/asian/latino/etc.. needs to be fully embraced in order to exist as a true democracy. Theme for English B emphasizes the importance of needing to hear someone’s story before assuming a general sentiment or attributing stereotypes.

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Make America Great Again

A particular poem by Langston Hughes that stood out to me was “Let America Be America Again.” This poem talks of how the ideals that America and the “American Dream” were built on do not apply for everyone that make up this nation. Lines such as, “but opportunity is real, and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe,” are countered with lines like, “(There’s never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this ‘homeland of the free.’)” America boasts the importance of liberty, equality, freedom, etc.; however, not every person in America has these important rights our nation was built on. For those of color, achieving these aspects of the American dream has been an on-going battle throughout the entirety of the nation’s history. 

I found this poem particularly interesting because of the present day relevance with the similarities it holds with the slogan of the Trump administration: “Make America Great Again.” This slogan closely mimics the title of the poem. Both the poem and this slogan infer a greater America in the past, but for those of color, America has never been great; issues such as the oppression and segregation of African-American citizens were only more severe. Although America is still not a land of equality for minority groups, comparing this present day America to the America 100 years ago, America is technically “greater,” even if not by much. 

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Ink Speaks

Although Langston Hughes was by no means the only voice of the Harlem Renaissance, he had an immense amount of influence in his objectives to portray the reality of America at the time. One poem of his that particularly stood out to me was “Will V-Day Be Me-Day Too.” In this poem, Hughes says, “When we see Victory’s glow, Will you still let old Jim Crow” showing his commitment to his country but also identifying what he is actually fighting for (and how ugly it might be). He later equates black oppression to the oppression of the “Germans to the Jews.” Clearly, Hughes is describing immense problems with America at the time. He is patriotic but recognizes that there is still a long way to go for the American dream. “America was never America to me” is another line that stood out for this reason. Hughes clearly has a well-defined sense of what America should be in his mind, even if reality doesn’t fit his expectations. He is still optimistic about the future but realizes that it takes effort to create the America he wants. Hughes’ poetry works to close the gap between his (and many others’) dreams and the actuality of what America realistically is.

What made Hughes unique and possibly what caused his poems to be so well known today is that he takes a unique take on America. He is both hopeful, but realistic; crude and refined in his diction. This is probably why his works appealed to such a diverse crowd. He uses lingo that is representative of the black community at the time in his well structured and poems and works, clearly showing his education at Columbia University. It is easy to understand the purpose of his poems at a quick glance but it takes a much deeper effort to realize his genius. Hughes is clearly a part of high culture today with influences that span much wider categories. J.I.D., for example, is a rapper from Atlanta who has, on multiple occasions, claimed he is heavily influenced by Langston Hughes. With such a wide influence today, I wonder how his works were received in the early to mid 20th Century or if Hughes ever knew the impact he had. Like many of the artists mentioned in “Or Does it Explode,” it would make sense that the conflicting responses Hughes received at the time are a testament to the power of his written word and of him as a prominent figure.

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The Power of Acts of Solidarity

Langston Hughes’s “Night Funeral in Harlem” describes the funeral of a poor man. Lacking funds to pay the insurance company, the man’s insurance coverage was terminated. As such, insurance did not fund his funeral. The “poor boy’s” friends and girlfriend pooled together money in order to ensure the man had a proper memorial. This action conveys love through sacrifice; individuals contributed their own money to properly pay homage to their friend. The final line of the poem notes “It was all their tears that made That poor boy’s Funeral grand.” This description reflects the idea that material goods do not outweigh feelings of love. The “poor boy’s” community stands and acts together in solidarity.

This poem made me reflect on recent events in the United States and how communities come together in solidarity in light of them. For example, approximately one month after the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, various organizations and activists arranged for El Paso Firme: an event in effort of standing up against white supremacy. The event was held in a local El Paso park; however, the town of Buffalo, New York simultaneously held a rally and march to demonstrate solidarity with El Paso Firme. This gesture serves as a reminder that in the aftermath of an atrocity, communities can band together to find strength.

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Fighting for Women’s Suffrage

I found the video on women’s suffrage very informative. There are certain things that most people don’t know about the movement. People typically simplify it by seeing it as a spontaneous movement when all women finally decided to fight for the vote, but it was a much more complicated and strenuous process. The women involved in the suffrage movement began as abolitionists. I thought it was interesting how the movement for women’s rights began because women were locked out of the anti-slavery discussion, despite being abolitionists themselves. To this end, one of the points of the video that I enjoyed the most was when they talked about how former slave Frederick Douglass himself came forward in support of the women’s suffrage movement. Unfortunately, when slavery was finally abolished and down the line when black men were guaranteed the right to vote, the women’s suffrage movement didn’t achieve the same success.

On this point, I thought it was interesting to consider how the women’s movement has always seemed to be on the “back-burner” of American politics. As more and more classes of men were allowed to vote (the poor, blacks, etc.) nobody besides women themselves seemed to care about their movement. Even as the most radical change in American politics since the creation of the Constitution was occurring with the abolition of slavery, American men were still unyielding and were refusing to even consider a women’s perspective on the matter. Living conditions aside, it seems like women had a social status equal to a slave. Despite all of this, I found it at least interesting how World War I secured the suffrage movement, with women becoming crucial figures in the factories at home while men were off fighting in the war. This time it seems women made themselves heard and refused to be swept aside despite the global conflict. And finally, after the war concluded, women guaranteed their vote.

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