.. t he was saying, “Red heart. Red heart,” over and over again. (117) Sethe goes through a cycle in the novel. She goes from one extreme to the other.
Sethe at first is insistent on beating back the past. With everything she does in the present, is a means to erase the past. “Working dough. Working, working dough. Nothing better than to start the day’s serious work of beating back the past” (73). Eventually Sethe is forced to face the past because of Paul D and Beloved.
When she finally is able to face her past, she becomes a different woman. She becomes so infatuated with her past that she begins to neglect the present. She neglects her life and the responsibilities of the present. Beloved plays the key role in the process of rememory for Sethe. It is Beloved who makes Sethe remember her actions and feel her feelings. In the novel, she exists in the flesh, baring the scar of death along her neck.
She is in a sense, the ultimate rememory- the ultimate reincarnation of a miserable past burdened by the horrors of slavery. As Paul D tells Stamp Paid, “She reminds me of something. Something, look like, I’m suppose to remember” (234). In Beloved’s monologues, she conveys a series of impressions of the terror of the life of the baby ghost and the blended memories of slavery. Although it is never clear whether Beloved comes back to life out of her own will, or if she is just the product of Sethe’s mind that longs for redemption.
Beloved’s image disrupts the life of the present, defies all laws of coherent time-lines, and leaves in its wake an open scar still bleeding from the past. All these images of the past that find a life in the present erase the boundary between time, and leave in its place a life of eternal regression. Many of the characters are aware of this and refer often to the idea of timelessness. After Sethe realizes that Beloved is her deceased daughter, she rushes back from work, longing to return home. Sethe becomes trapped in the past she had first denied. She forgets herself and wallows in her past pain. Once again with Beloved, Sethe puts the girl’s interest ahead of her own. Morrison shows the complexities of Sethe’s character, which is a woman who chooses to love her children but not herself.
Structurally, Morrison mirrors this idea of timelessness in her writing. Throughout Beloved’s entire monologue there are no periods, and no endings- only spaces. The same idea prevails with time. There are no beginnings and no ends, just a long expanse of chaos. One of the ways Morrison depicts this sense of chaos is by switching and intermingling tenses throughout the book.
The scene in which Paul D tries to tell Sethe about what Beloved is doing to him, but instead asks her to have another child, is taking place in their present, yet it is written in the past tense: “He waited for her.” (126) Yet, later in the novel, when Paul D is remembering the past and the days before they all planned their escape from Sweet Home, Morrison switches her tense to the present: “Paul A goes back to moving timber after dinner. They are to meet at quarters after supper” (224). Morrison includes the voices and perspectives of the deceased, including that of Baby Suggs. All of these tense changes show how the characters in the novel perceive time, or “no time” (191). Their pasts are being relived in their present, and the present time immediately flows into the past.
Time is not depicted in a linear progression. Instead, time is presented as an interweaving of past and present events in an ever-widening circle, with the past juxtaposed on the present. Morrison’s technique is deliberate, for the issues that she is addressing are too horrific. Similar to how Sethe explains Beloved’s murder to Paul D, Morrison too circles around the subject. She never directly acknowledges her actions as murder.
Sethe’s blindness is such that she displays her love by mercifully sparing her daughter from a horrific life. Yet at the same time Sethe refuses to acknowledge that her show of mercy is also murder. Sethe knew that the circle she was making around the room, him, the subject, would remain one. That she could never close in, pin it down for anybody who had to ask. If they didn’t get it right off- she could never explain. Because the truth was simple, not long-drawn-out record of flowered shifts, tree cages, selfishness, ankle ropes and wells.
Simple: she was squatting in the garden and when she saw them coming and recognized schoolteacher’s hat, she heard wings. Little hummingbirds stuck their needle beaks right through her headcloth into her hair and beat their wings. And if she though anything it was No. No. Nono.
Nonono. Simple. She just flew. Collected every bit of life she had made, all the parts of her that were precious and fine and beautiful, and carried, pushed, dragged them through the veil, out, away over where no one could hurt them. Over there.
Outside this place, where they would be safe. (163) Morrison, in the same fashion, spirals into the story. She brings the reader from being that of an outsider to an insider to the events. She slowly draws the reader in by giving bits and pieces of the entire picture. Reading this novel, one comes away with a sense that the past, as well as the people, never dies.
The past, present, and future all exist together. The character’s stories are not forgotten, nor the “sixty million or more” people that were victims of the bonds of slavery. Yet, to resurrect all these images of pain and suffering, only extends the burdens that each of Morrison’s characters are forced to carry with them for the rest of their lives. They could resurrect the past “if they like, but don’t, because they know things will never be the same if they do” (275). Amy Denver told Sethe that “anything dead coming back to life hurts” (35).
She refers to the soreness in Sethe’s feet that are the result of several days of brutal physical exhaustion. Her astute generalization holds true particularly through the last pages of the novel. Throughout the book, healing the painful memories of the past reincarnates the painful emotions. Similar to the pain of healing that occurs with Sethe’s feet. “The more hurt more better it is. Can’t nothing heal without pain, you know” (77).
Nonetheless, why does Morrison explicitly draw the label of rememories paired with pain, even after 18 years of mental torment? Sethe’s sins are obvious and she is forced to live half of her life ostracized from society. Yet, the reader is not quick to condemn her for her sins as the community and Paul D are quick to do. Beloved returns to 124 Bluestone as the reincarnation of Sethe’s sins, on a mission to punish Sethe for a crime that was committed 18 years earlier. Her intentions are evil from the start, and it is Denver, who ironically undermines Beloved’s motives. “Denver though she understood the connection between her mother and Beloved: Sethe was trying to make up for the handsaw; Beloved was making her pay for it” (251).
It is not Beloved’s wrath that plagues Sethe, but rather the memories of the past that Beloved revives that wear her down. Beloved uses Sethe’s guilt as a weapon against her. Her devotion to Beloved is based on the same destructive love of the past and also her sense of guilt. She is nave in the sense when she looks upon Beloved as an opportunity to wipe the slate clean. But instead, the past is replayed against Sethe.
The source of guilt that had enslaved Sethe’s soul develops into the physical apparition that literally enslaves Sethe. Beloved bending over Sethe looked the mother, Sethe the teething child, for other than those times when Beloved needed her, Sethe confined herself to a corner chair. The bigger Beloved got, the smaller Sethe became; the brighter Beloved’s eyes, the more those eyes that used never to look away became slits of sleeplessness. Sethe no longer combed her hair or splashed her face with water. She sat in the chair licking her lips like a chastised child while Beloved ate up her life, took it, swelled up with it, grew taller on it.
And the older woman yielded it up without a murmur. (250) Sethe is nave when she tries to rationalize Beloved’s existence as an opportunity to start over, to erase eighteen years of guilt. Sethe has managed to suppress many of the memories of her past. Now with Beloved’s presence, everything that originally made 124 a house of horror is resurrected. She is an invasion of two separate time periods, connecting all of the painful rememories.
Thus, Morrison confronts her readers with several varying degrees of pain and guilt. From the late introduction of Sethe’s crime, the reader understands the circumstance of the situation. Sethe committed her crime out of a severe degree of love and fear of slavery that forced her to a crazed state. Such complicated issues and emotions are not easily transferable to those who have not directly experienced the gravity of these events. Sethe knowingly endures eighteen years of punishment, guilt, and ostracism for the death of her child. For this reason, she does not see Beloved as a phantom of vengeance, but rather as a second opportunity to be forgiven. Morrison essentially creates this sense of pardoning of Sethe by the destruction of Beloved at the end of the book, a minor tribute to all the pain and anguish Sethe endures over the years.
Yet are these characters necessarily blameworthy for their crimes? Are pain and punishment caused by their “victims” justified?” In Beloved, the reader is unable to fully comprehend Sethe’s actions, but the pain she suffers over the years more than makes up for her crime. In addition, there is no justice in Beloved’s attempt to destroy Sethe. It is the community lead by Ella, which had for so long condemned her that in the end saves Sethe from Beloved. They come to realize that regardless of the crime that Sethe committed eighteen years before, it is Beloved’s intentions that are pure evil. Whatever Sethe had done, Ella didn’t like the idea of past errors taking possession of the present.
Sethe’s crime was staggering and her pride outstripped even that; but she could not countenance the possibility of sin moving on in the house, unleashed and sassy. Daily life took as much as she had. The future was sunset; the past something to leave behind. And if it didn’t stay behind, well, you might have to stomp it out. (256) Beloved invades Sethe’s world at a time when eighteen years of painful rememories were just beginning to fade. Beloved drudges up the past and brings the nightmare to life.
Beloved does not only bring forth the painful rememories of Sethe, but also the rememories of past women of slavery. Beloved conjures up all these images of painful rememories. It is these images that are passed on and remebered by the reader. It is these images that allow the reader to begin to understand the experience of slavery. The character’s rememories are timeless; not only are the characters struck by a sense of “no-time,” or a sense of time flying, but the reader as well is struck by how strongly they are affected in their present by a past that is not even theirs. Morrison brings forth a novel that opens the experience of slavery to the reader.
She makes the reader see the hopelessness, horrors, and realities of slavery. The reader is forced to contemplate and only try to understand. Beloved stands not as a story, but as a memorial to the “sixty million or more” people that were victims of the bonds of slavery. This is a book that is not to be read, but instead experienced. It is through this novel itself, that the past lives on, and it is this power that makes Beloved stand out and succeed as being a memorial to those who suffered and died; those who would have been forgotten in the past. In essence, Beloved is not a story about slavery and its affect on the people involved, instead it is the experience. For Morrison, history is something to be reflected on, and she does this by reenacting the horrors of slavery and the impacts it had on the people involved.
The reader is left to come to their own conclusions, and their own interpretations. What Morrison is essentially saying at the end is that Beloved is not just about individuals and individual experiences but about the experience of a race and a community. Book Reports.