Morrison’s ability as a writer to put an exact picture along with all the emotion, feelings, senses, and thoughts astounded me. My favorite part was her depiction of Sixo from Paul D’s point of view. It shook me to the bone. Especially when Paul D states “How could a rooster know about Alfred, Georgia?” By showing what was going on in Paul D’s head during the botched escape she showed just how miserable and bleak the view of a slave was. Especially when Paul D fumbles in his mind with his worth as a human being approximated to $900 dollars. He wonders is that a lot, and how much would other slaves like Sethe and Baby Suggs go for? In this way she depicts the dehumanization of slavery with a scary stroke. Her ability to weave into a novel what seemed like small short stories and captivating poetry proved a great read. Throughout the novel time and time again it seems that her point was to uncover the forcibly forgotten memories of what slavery actually consisted of in order to bring the healing process full circle. It seems that she believes that just like her character Sethe and so many others in her novel one must come to terms with their past in order to conquer it. Also Morrison uses the novel’s organization (or seemingly lack of it) to enforce the idea of the past taking over the present. Many times the reader can not tell where the past ends and the present begins. This alludes graciously to the character’s inability through out the novel to separate it from the present no matter how hard they try to stow it away or forget about it. In this way Morrison gives us a story that is not only a story about Sethe and the people of the community of and around I24 but also a history of an enslaved people.
The Effects of Slavery Truly Shown Part I
I feel that throughout the book Morrison gives us a depiction of characters who portray exactly what the belittlement and shear denial of a human’s god given rights can do to the human psyche. We see the different way that the human mind deals with the enslavement of the body. In Sethe we see many signs of slavery’s mark at every turn in her character. The “chokeberry” tree left from the beating after she ran away one her back symbolizes the physical apperance of what her mind is always on. The tree is an interesting symbol in the book and instead of the usual tree which would symbolize life, nourishment, or knowledge instead throughout the book it seems to take on many darker meanings. Upon research I found out that the actual chokecherry tree interestingly is arguably one of the more widespread and ancient trees of North America. I think that that qualifies it as an interesting choice to describe what was on Seth’s back. The stripes on her back reflect slavery in its most brutalizing manner, Morrison’s choice to nickname the scars a “chokeberry” tree seems to display the fact that like the tree this form of brutalization has been around since the beginning of not only time but mainly America along with its widespread reach also mimicking the Chokecherry tree. You also see this same comparison when Seth relates that she has felt this tree growing inside her for a long time. This tree that Seth feels growing inside her also stands for the never-ending reach of the past into ones present thoughts. Sethe did all she could to forget her past only to have it rise up at every turn. At first this past was symbolized as the deep sorrow or the ghost that seemed to haunt I24, the chokecherry tree on her back, and the never-ending questions from Denver that would bring back unpleasant memories then the past was represented directly by Beloved. It seems that no matter what approach Sethe takes on remembering the past nothing she can do will make it any better. When she finally stares her past in the face (Beloved) it tears her down to the point of a child again and causes her mind to shut down and she finally flirts with insanity. It’s interesting to note that Morrison also had the same fate befall her husbands when the last picture we are left of him is his face with butter mashed all over it sitting on a churn.
The Effects of Slavery Truly Shown Part II
Paul D also seems to have the same trouble dealing with the past. His memories of Alfred, Georgia and eating a bird while its heart is still beating seems to be constantly on his mind and in his comparisons throughout the story. His memories and sorrows are directly depicted in his tin box that he keeps with him. ”Saying more might push them back into a place they couldn’t get back from. He would keep the rest where it belonged: in that tobacco tin buried in his chest where a red heart used to be. It’s lid rusted shut.” This quote from Paul D explains his total view on the past since before he met Sethe until the end of the book. He feels that even thinking about the past will trap him in it again just like Sethe does. This saves him from the pain of reliving it but also prevents him from moving on and is corrosive to him overall. Towards the end of the book we see Paul D breaking down after he left Sethe. The scene of him drinking on church steps basically homeless and an outcast to society shows that his inability to deal with the past and the pain that it has caused him seems to be getting the better of him just like Beloved is getting the better of Sethe and he will soon lose himself because of it. One of the happier points in the story is toward the end when we see that he has chosen to let in the possibility of being hurt again and reconciling with his painful past by going to see Sethe again. Without trying to break Morrison’s story down to have a linear moralistic reading I do feel like a point is trying to be made through these characters’ of Sethe and Paul D and perhaps some others. This point is that if the past and slavery is not come to terms with and put to rest in everyone’s mind then the painful memories of it will be enough to kill you in the end.
Beloved as a Symbol
Beloved by far the most interesting character in the book seems to have the ability to represent many things to many different people. To Denver it is the obvious reincarnation of the sister that her mother had killed. To Sethe it is what she has always been missing until the end when she recognizes her as the child she murdered. Then she begins to represent an extremely painful and troubled past for Sethe. The last representation that Beloved could stand for is the African American race in the chains of slavery overall. My interpretation is that this character was created in order to fulfill all three roles. It was Morrison’s intention to provide us with a character that could be seen from many different angles. In the scene depicting Beloved strangling Sethe, Beloved was obviously symbolizing Sethe’s past and what it was doing to her. Baby Suggs gathering place here represented all that used to be good even after bad things had happened. It represented a life after a troubled past in a way. Sethe inability to come to terms with her past and her choices was strangling her ability to move forward, while at the same time to avoid the past she was coddling it just as Beloved did her after she strangled her. Also when Sethe first sees her, her water breaks and Beloved is soaking wet. This symbolizes a birth scene suggesting that she is in fact Sethe’s reincarnated daughter. In other ways although Beloved represented something more encompassing. She also represented the suppressed past of a race shackled by slavery. In the last chapters of the book there is a quote that recalls Beloved’s presence in I24 like that of a angry race of enslaved people. Beloved for all the trouble that she caused also moved along the process of healing for every character involved with I24. Through her sexual encounters with Paul D she breaks open the rusted shut Tin Box of memories. Although Denver once felt that she was no one with out her, Beloved’s actions towards the end of the novel cause Denver to finally escape I24 and become a part of the community. Finally she inadvertently brings the town together to free Sethe from her grip.
The White’s View of Slavery
Another interesting point throughout the novel is how the White people are depicted. While there are some who are good we see three different types. Ones that are whole heartedly attempting to help the African Americans in any way possible like the ones that Baby Suggs went to. The ones who feel that son’t treat them like slaves but still expect them to work like ones and buy themselves out of slavery (Mr. and Mrs. Garner at Sweet Home). And the most despicable one such as School Teacher whose view on slaves and the African American race was an interesting one. Through his constant note taking through out the novel I could only think of a scientist relating his findings of a foreign animal. His pain when he “had” to kill “Sixo” reminded me of a hunter putting down a hunting dog. The despicable act of making his nephews steal Sethe’s milk and then encouraging them to beat her showed his disregard for them as anything remotely human or perhaps even animal. Unfortunately throughout the book we see this mentality taking its toll on the characters even after he is gone. The painful memories cause them to drift or become so concerned with daily tasks so that they wont think of the past again that they are reduced to something less than human themselves. Morrison relates to us the attitudes of Whites towards slavery at this time so that we can see directly what their intent was and what pain they caused a fellow human in order to compensate for their own animalistic thoughts.