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Month: October 2019

Memories of Beloved

The ending of Beloved addresses the theme of memories that is apparent throughout the rest of the novel. The phrase, “it was not a story to pass on,” is repeated twice and then again with a third slight variation of “this is not a story to pass on,” in the final section of the novel. This phrase is interesting given that the novel itself has done the deed of passing on this story to its readers. Beloved is filled with moments of passing on stories and looking back upon the past. However, the narrator of this section notes that although the characters may do this with all other stories of their pasts, no matter how painful, the story of Beloved is not one that should be repeated and shared to continue her memory. The narrator of this section notes that Sethe, Denver, and all the other people in the community reached a point where Beloved is barely remembered by even those that have interacted with her. They essentially forced out Beloved and her memory out of their minds. Beloved is “disremembered and unaccounted for, she cannot be lost because no one is looking for her.” It is interesting that the painful memories of slavery, assault, etc. were stories that Sethe passed on and recounted, but the story of her first daughter will be forever gone from her mind and the minds of others. 

Additionally, this section talks about Beloved’s lack of name and how, “everybody knew what she was called, but nobody anywhere knew her name.” It made it easier to forget her for those who knew less and less about her, so her lack of name made this even easier. This section is interesting for many reasons. It really ties together all the ideas surrounding memory and time throughout the novel, it finally addresses Beloved’s real name not being told, and it gives a feeling of closure for readers at the end of the story. 

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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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The “Jungle” Effect: Institutionalized Racism

Last class we discussed the issue of labeling African-Americans as animalistic, and further the systemic issues in our society which allow the existence of these stereotypes. In Nicolette’s blog she discussed the cultural effects of slavery on all of society. Whites were instilling animistic conditions for African-Americans creating a perpetual cycle which continues to exist today. Further, as we saw in the scene with the Schoolteacher where Sethe heard the students dividing her characteristics into either the animalistic category or the humane, certain aspects of slavery remain implicitly as a consequence of perpetuating racist education. Nicolette wrote, “Whites who acted as reluctant participants are often just doing what they think their role is in life.” The implicit racism which remains because of slavery couldn’t/can’t be solved by legislative action but needed a re-education of layers of misguided, racist propaganda. 

Although there were many white folks who were helping the movement, there were many (including those you helped) who couldn’t accept their willful ignorance and properly deal with the issue. Continuing to oppress blacks allows for us to disregard such past issues, but in this case we aren’t able to actually investigate the lasting effects of slavery it has only not only blacks but whites as well. Referring to the perpetual oppressing cycle,Morrison wrote, “It was the jungle white folk planted them in.” This “jungle” (system) which white folk instilled has continued to exist. The self-understanding by whites of their awful history and their implicit sentiments seems to be too rich and deep of an issue for many to uncover. Morrison further writes, it is the “screaming baboon living under their white skin.” Oppression is easy to do for society, what becomes a more convoluted and exposing issue is when we try display the truths of our past and the every-lasting effects we continue to face.

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Nobody Saw Their Fall

In Beloved, Morrison often employs repetition to convey a deeper, and sometimes darker, meaning. My attention was drawn early in chapter 19 to Morrison’s repetition of the phrase “nobody saw them fall” in the scene of Sethe, Denver, and Beloved ice skating. This phrase is repeated four times, and its exact meaning is not made clear. This moment appears to be a pleasant departure from life within the confines of 124, laughing and skating under “winter stars, close enough to lick,” offering their “perfect peace.” The notion that nobody saw them falling can be taken as their opportunity to enjoy life without the judgement of the community, with nobody to laugh or ridicule them for falling on the ice, where the trio are free to be carefree and spend time together as a family. In this moment, nobody and nothing mattered to the women besides each other.

Although the literal meaning of the repeated phrase refers to them ice skating and stumbling through the snow, it can be interpreted as referencing their social isolation and fall into madness. It could be conveying to the reader that because of the ostracization Sethe and Denver face from the community, nobody was there to watch them deteriorate to their current mental states, nobody was there to catch them and care for them. Even Baby Suggs was left to fall from her place of prominence with nobody but her family to watch. It is clear from chapters 20 and 21 that Sethe and Denver’s minds are scattered, and both deal with heavy truths that each has trouble coming to terms with. For Denver, it is that her mother tried to kill her and that she is someone to love out of fear, and for Sethe it is the constant obligation to justify attempting to kill her children. Sethe appears to be reminded of this when all three are laughing at Denver’s fall and Sethe “rises to her hands and knees” and begins to laugh and cry until the laughter stopped and the tears continued. Being on her hands and knees could have reminded her of Paul D referring to her as an animal, and briefly realizing that she could have had many moments on the creek like these had she not acted as the animal Paul D labeled her as.

Most striking to me was the fourth and final repetition of the phrase, where she instead writes “but nobody saw them fall.” Morrison’s departure from the present participle in favor of the infinitive form of the verb “ to fall” gives the reader a sense that their fall is complete. Perhaps this could just be Morrison’s way of closing the scene by the creek and transitioning back inside 124, or does this foreshadow something sinister to come? Does it mean that it is too late for Sethe and Denver? This line does come when the trio are walking through the woods, arms around each other, holding on tight. Does this represent the unity and bond between the mother and daughters, or does the final repetition’s use of the infinitive suggest Sethe and Denver have already fallen too far into Beloved’s spell?

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Who Are The Real Animals?

In this section, we hear a lot from Stamp Paid, who has seemingly replaced the only other male character, Paul D. Stamp Paid brings about this concept of “The Jungle.” Stamp Paid uses the metaphor of The Jungle to help understand how slavery is so terrible for everyone involved. Blacks are described as jungle-like, while the actions of whites help emphasize and promote the jungle-like behavior. The whites create jungle-like instincts within people and in turn, they behave like brutal animals in order to control those instincts. And yet, white people are never described as animals, only black people, even though the acts of white people are the most animalistic of them all. Stamp Paid highlights how slavery affects everyone, and while black people are obviously the ones who have horrible acts done against them, individual white people are reluctant participants and are often just doing what they think their role is in life.

“The Jungle” made me reflect on the discussion we had last class about black people often being described as “animalistic” when it is often the actions of others that bring them to that point. When discussing who should be blamed for Sethe’s horrible act against her children, it was hard to pinpoint a single person. One could blame the Schoolteacher and his nephews, but they are also a product of their environment. Sethe made the physical act, so blame can be placed there, but she would never have had to make that choice had the world been a different place. White people grew up believing that they had this power over those that were enslaved, and so the individuals cannot always be fully blamed for their actions. The Schoolteacher was, of course, unnecessarily cruel, but his actions were only permissible because the institution of slavery existed. Everyone is part of The Jungle and everyone suffers in some way because of slavery. No one of that time could be untouched by the effects of slavery. Yes, white people as a group are to blame for the institution of slavery in America, but blaming individuals is nearly impossible because who’s to say how those individuals would have acted had the circumstances of the country been different.

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New Perspectives

What struck me the most about this reading was the new perspectives that in the series of monologues starting at Chapter 20. I was especially intrigued by Denver’s thoughts, given that besides, Beloved, Denver is the character where we have gotten the least from her perspective in the narrative. As readers, we have been apprehensive of Beloved’s presence and have feared for Sethe’s safety, given that we know that Beloved died at Sethe’s hands. We know that 124 has been haunted by Beloved’s presence, and she has returned in a corporal form with the possible intention of harming those who live there, namely Paul D (the outsider who was trying to find his place in their family), and Sethe (the person who killed her). We have seen that Denver is intrigued by Beloved and has tried to connect with her, but in this chapter we learn that Denver is also concerned for Beloved’s safety.

Denver has chosen to stay with and love Sethe out of fear, now that we know that Sethe’s two sons had to flee from 124 after Sethe tried to kill them after she murdered Beloved. This revelation completely changes the way that we read Denver and Sethe’s relationship, now that we know that Denver is afraid in her own house, and is still scared of what her mother might to do Beloved. It will be interesting to see if and how these revelations are brought out into the open and how they will force Sethe, Beloved, and Denver to address their relationships with one another.

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Beloved: A platform to promote new “Definers”

I want to focus on the quote that Morrison introduces in the first chapter of Part Two. In her rememory, Sethe comments on a time that Sixo redefines stealing, and how the whitepeople punished him for it: “Schoolteacher beat him… to show him that definitions belong to the definers–not the defined” (225). In the foreward, Toni Morrison notes that “to render enslavement as a personal experience, language must get out of the way” (xix). This feature of the use of definitions is really important, because the language we use to shape slavery is a language by and generally for whitepeople.

I believe those two quotes combined point to the purpose of Morrison’s novel inlaid with new words of her own creation. Morrison has made herself the definer to reclaim a narrative of slavery that has far too often been taken over by whitepeople. As a whiteperson, I have found myself often confused by the language and timelapse of Sethe’s narrative, and I’m finally beginning to understand how that disorientation is intentional. Whitepeople (specifically in the US) never had to adapt to learning new languages and understanding different cultures. This book forces whitereaders to challenge their expectations of literature and open themselves to a whole new form of narrative storytelling to empathize with the characters–who feel far realer than fiction–forced to exist in a world where words were used to oppress and define them without any regard for their humanity and experiences.

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The Concept of “The Jungle”

Stamp Paid’s portions of Chapter 19 discussed a common theme of a “jungle” that existed within people. In these parts, Stamp reflects on events of his past, from his life as a slave with his wife, to the horrors of Beloved’s murder and its impact on Baby Suggs. These reflections seem to be a reflection of the story so far, and tie it together under this idea of a “jungle.” According to Stamp, white people believed that there was a jungle within each black person, which was a savage side to them that made them more crude. He goes on to say that this jungle was put there by these very same white people for forcing slavery upon them and all the horrors that came with it. In response, white people themselves developed their own jungle as they became scared “of the jungle they had made” within black people. This led to increased savagery on their part as they became frightened of the very slaves that they owned.

This part to me was very important because it acknowledged the psychological impact of the institution of slavery on the enslaved. With increased punishment came increased resistance and an increased rage/desperation among the slaves, as shown in Sethe’s psychotic break when she considered it better to murder her own children than allow them to be returned to slavery. It also reminded me of how slavery differed from the United States to the West Indies. Slavery in the West Indies was considered to be far worse than in the U.S. because slaveowners were significantly more brutal to their slaves. In response, the slave uprisings in the West Indies were likewise some of the most horrific uprisings in the history of slavery. As Stamp would say, in the West Indies this “jungle” was far more prevalent among both the slaves and slaveowners, and it demonstrates what human beings are capable of when their mental state is pushed to its limit.

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