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Moving Forward

In his final interaction with Sethe, Paul D embodies the novel’s final message: he acknowledges the weight of the past as well as the need for a future separate from this past. He tells Sethe, “me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow” (322). Slavery withholds much of the future’s promise from its victims; having been denied the opportunity to shape his own tomorrows, Paul D must also claim his ability to decide what happens next.

Throughout Beloved’s final chapter, Morrison repeats the phrase “It was not a story to pass on” twice and then switches to the present tense to note that “this is not a story to pass on” (323-324). The initial use of the past tense establishes irony as the whole novel recounts a narrative that was “not a story to pass on.” Over the course of the novel, the characters struggle to liberate themselves from memories of their traumatic pasts in order to move forward. This message could serve as a reminder that the only way to advance in life is to forget about the past. In a literal sense, the phrase also demonstrates that the atrocity of slavery is not to be replicated in the future. In order to prevent this duplication, individuals and authors such as Morrison must continue to share the horrific yet important narrative of slavery.

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  1. Katherine Fell Katherine Fell

    I think your comments about the end of the novel and its relevance today are really insightful. As we have previously discussed in class, history is nonlinear and often repeats itself in unique iterations. The case of slavery, however, is one act that we never want to see repeated in the United States, obviously. In order to prevent ourselves from making the same mistakes throughout history, we must be able to reflect on the ugliest and most shameful parts of our history, like how the characters in the novel must reflect on and face past traumas in order to get a “tomorrow.”

  2. Nicolette Romley Nicolette Romley

    It was interesting how you evaluated the tenses used in the ending of the book. Every choice that Morrison made was carefully thought out, and the tenses used have a big impact on how the reader understands the novel. I also enjoyed your literal interpretation of the phrase as well as your interpretation of how that phrase can be applied to the bigger picture.

  3. Sara Messervey Sara Messervey

    I love this reflection! There is certainly a deep level of irony to the story being forgotten within the context of those who must forget to move on (formerly enslaved Black people) vs. those who must never forget to prevent slavery from ever being repeated (White Americans). I think it adds to the beauty of this story’s currently well-recognized status. I wonder if Morrison’s work will become canon, or if this story will, as predicted, be forgotten with time.

  4. David Ataide David Ataide

    I liked your message about slavery and the theme of the novel. This idea that the story can both demonstrate what happens when you can’t let go of past atrocities while also sending a message to future generations about the horrors of slavery makes this message a double-edged sword. This theme also aligns well with the novels strange concept of time.

  5. Rachel Nugent Rachel Nugent

    The way you discuss the fact that she says you shouldn’t pass the story on while simultaneously passing it on herself is very meaningful. You’re right when you say that it’s something that has to be passed on. It’s the idea that it’s too important to forget while also being too painful to remember. I think that each person has parts of their story that they don’t wish to pass on but use those bits as ways to warn or educate others. It’s similar to how your parents tell you things and give you advice because they don’t want to to “make the same mistakes I did.”

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