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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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2 Comments

  1. Nora Apt Nora Apt

    Historic recurrence permeates today’s society. As you mentioned with respect to abortions, women must fight to hold onto their reproductive rights. Moreover, it seems like almost every day that we read something in the news or see something on social media about an act of bigotry against a minority individual or groups of minority individuals. These prejudices serve as a reminder that as a country we seem to be taking “one step forward, two steps back.”

  2. Michael Paul Michael Paul

    The idea of running from the past isn’t just mentioned, it seems to be a central theme of the story. Toni Morrison’s writing reflects Sethe’s past by incorporating it almost seamlessly throughout the first three chapters. The distinction times within the book is unclear as memories seem to appear out of nowhere, interwoven among the current events of the story. It is clear the Morrison is hinting at the inability to run from the past. No matter how much Sethe tries to forget, the past will always be a part of her, haunting her until the day she dies.

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