Markers “Morrison underscores the presence of death by preceding the three sections of Beloved with grave sepulchers, which simultaneously direct the reader to the cemetery as an ancestral location. The gravestone images of winged skulls, typical of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, are iconic representations of ‘death and resurrection, a metamorphosis from this world to the next’.... In this way, Morrison stresses the connection between the material world and the afterlife, as Beloved straddles both existences” (Wardi 49-50).
The Contemporary Slave Narrative Contemporary slave narratives or neo-slave narratives: “contemporary novels that assume the form, adopt the conventions, and take on the first-person voice of the antebellum slave narrative” (Ashraf Rushdy, Neo-Slave Narratives 3). Products of the 1960s and the “set of intellectual and social conditions associated with the civil rights and Black Power movements” that “generated a change in the historiography of slavery” and questioned “race and racial identity, literature and literary history, texts and intertextuality” (Rushdy 3, 7)
Absent Presence Prosopopoetic: “the illusion of voice, rather than its presence” (Lisa Marie Lucenti 253) Morrison’s response to Camille Billops’s and James Van Der Zee’s The Harlem Book of the Dead, its photographs of Harlem funerals, “So living, so ‘undead’” (Carol E. Henderson 83)—published 1978 Morrison’s “fascination with the ‘undead’ would find its way into many of her novels” (Henderson 83). “In making Beloved flesh, Morrison makes this historical moment tangible as Beloved’s physical frame becomes a material symbol of those bodies unaccounted for” (Henderson 89). Morrison’s comment that “there is no place... to summon the presences of, or recollect the absences of slaves... There is no suitable memorial or plaque or wreath or wall or park or skyscraper lobby.... And because such a place does not exist (that I know of), the book had to” (qtd. in C. Henderson 84).
Absent Presence Naomi Mandel writes, “When Beloved stands for the absence of suitable memorial spaces, then, it is not so much as rendering absence present but rather articulating the paradox of absence and presence, memory and forgetting, the unspeakable and speech... there can be no suitable memorial for the unspeakable” (585-86). “The notion of ‘literary archaeology’—the imaginative and reconstructive recovery of the past... characterizes Morrison’s fictive process...” (Mae Henderson 66). “In some ways, the texts of the slave narratives can be regarded as classic examples of the ‘return of the repressed,’ primarily because the events relating to violence and violation (which are self-censored or edited out) return again and again in ‘veiled allusions.’ To the degree that her work is intended to resurrect stories buried and express stories repressed, Morrison’s relationship to slave narrators, as well as the relationship of her text to its precursor narratives, can be profitably compared not only to the relationship of the historian to his or her informant, but also the analyst to the analysand.” (Henderson 64)
Returns Gatsby: “‘Can’t repeat the past?... Why of course you can!’” (Fitzgerald 110). Dangers of the past—returning to it for Sethe, for her children “A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about... like that ashen, fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees” (Fitzgerald 161). Magical realism—material and unreal
Rememory “Working, working dough. Nothing better than that to start the day’s serious work of beating back the past” (86). “To Sethe, the future was a matter of keeping the past at bay” (51) “I was talking about time. It’s so hard for me to believe in it. Some things go. Pass on. Some things just stay. I used to think it was my rememory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it’s not. Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place—the picture of it—stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world. What I remember is a picture floating out there outside my head. I mean, even if I don’t think it, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there. Right in the place where it happened” (43). “Where I was before I came here, that place is real. It’s never going away. Even if the whole farm—every tree and glass blade of it dies. The picture is still there and what’s more if you go there—you who never was there—if you go there and stand in the place where it was, it will happen again; it will be there for you, waiting for you. So, Denver, you can’t never go there. Never. Because even though it’s all over—over and done with—it’s going to always be there waiting for you. That’s how come I had to get all my children out. No matter what.” (44)
Calling her Beloved “one word that mattered” (Morrison 5) “She thought it would be enough, rutting among the headstones with the engraver, his young son looking on... That should certainly be enough” (5). Marks on Beloved—scratches, mark on neck, unlined skin “Her skin was flawless except for the three vertical scratches on her forehead so fine and thin they seemed at first like hair, baby hair before it bloomed and roped into the masses of black yarn under her hat” (62). Beloved’s memories—bridge, diamonds Love with stories; storytelling as attempting (or gaining) control over the past
Sethe’s Tree “tree on [her] back”: metaphor and metonym “‘Is something growing on your back? I don’t see nothing growing on your back’” (18) “‘A chokecherry tree. Trunk, branches, even leaves’” (18) “He rubbed his cheek on her back and learned that way her sorrow, the roots of it; its wide trunk and intricate branches” (20); “he saw the sculpture her back had become, like the decorative work of an ironsmith too passionate for display” (21). “And the wrought-iron maze he had explored in the kitchen like a gold miner pawing through pay dirt was in fact a revolting clump of scars. Not a tree, as she said” (21). “Not a tree, as she said. Maybe shaped like one, but nothing like any tree he knew because trees were inviting” (25).
Sethe’s Tree “Sweet Home had more pretty trees than any farm around” (25). “Now there was a man and that was a tree. Himself lying in the bed and the ‘tree’ lying next to him didn’t compare” (26).
Assembling the Pieces Fragmentation of the story—multiple accounts of events Fractured identities Reassembling the pieces—of bodies, of stories Baby Suggs’ call in the Clearing to reclaim the body; here, reclaiming the body of the narrative “the thoughts of the women of 124, unspeakable thoughts, unspoken” (235) Three competing narratives of claims of “Beloved” and ownership, connection: interior monologues of three central characters (236-256) Sethe’s, Denver’s, Beloved’s, all three collectively Re-membering; disremember Call and response with community
Faith Sethe’s name: 3 rd son of Adam and Eve Epigraph—message of Christianity “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” Solomon Song of Songs 6:3
Fragmentation Paul D’s attempts to “put his story next to hers” Heteroglossia Voices of the past Different accounts of Beloved “This is not a story to pass on” Use of song, liberation, spirituals Community, unspoken communication with chain gang
Coping and Survival How do we deal with the problem of slavery? 1. Baby Suggs (past): dies—no white forgiveness; white hate; no reconciliation 2. Sethe (present): family; sending children ahead; possibility of having family after slavery; can’t do it alone—needs Paul D; reformation of idea of family; ghost gives way of dealing with letting go 3. Denver (future): leaving the yard; connecting with larger community; reconciliation between black and white communities with Bodwin
On Love Romantic love Clichés are gone in first sex scene between Paul D and Sethe; after-effects because of past that haunts them more than the ghost “leap from calf to woman isn’t that great”; after 25 years of dreams Love for children “too thick” love; Baby Suggs and letting go
Traces Physical reminders of past—rememory; scar; ghost Ghost as “normal” to community; all recognize what the red light signifies Sixo “clears” Indian spirits when meeting the Thirty-Mile Woman “Ghost story”—reconsecrate body burnt, shamed, raped; story of ownership and authority Revision of slave narrative Survival story
Contextualization Racism, sexism, essentialism, one-drop theory, miscegenation (marriage/cohabitation between persons of different races), double consciousness, cult of true womanhood (piety, purity, submissiveness, domesticity—19 th century constructs—way women were “supposed” to be; feminists’ reaction to; cornerstones do not work well for all women, especially slave women, with rape by slave-owners, sexual stereotypes); literacy; oral tradition; the “dozens’ vernacular (dialect, slang); signifying; call and response; agency; culture; ideology Margaret Garner story—found in 1855 newspaper; runaway slave from Kentucky 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, but people not free from lynchings, violence