The Beloved – from the First Black Female Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature
In this essay the role of language as being more than a means of communication has been the central focus. Language has been described as a means through which identities can be forged, the instrument through which the past, present and future can be represented, as well as a means through which we can remember that which has been forgotten. Focus has also been laid on the cultural aspects of language, how language can be used as a symbolic cultural artifice that separates the Whiteman from the Blackman. Language in this sense becomes not just a vehicular means of communication, but a cultural identity that makes the weaker take on a strength that is akin to his nature. Just like the signifying monkey, the weaker man, the black man, enslaved, ripped of his status, autonomy and culture, uses language as a tool for Hansson changing the status quo.
Sly and unpredictable, like the signifying monkey, the Blackman uses language to taunt, goad, boast and cajole. Like “The Monkey – a trickster, like Esu, who is full of guile, who tells lies, and who is a rhetorical genius is intent on demystifying the Lion’s self-imposed status as King of the Jungle”. He talks with his hands, eyes and uses gestures, innuendos and indeterminacy to, on the one hand, undermine the superiority of the white man, while on the other, establish a bond between him and his kinsmen in a language that the white man does not comprehend. He uses irony to undermine the supposedly high status of the white man and establishes the uniqueness of his version of language, the vernacular, with gusto: Me tend to dress my source to you dis nite on de all imported subject of Language, an de warious tongues ob differn nations and niggars, libbin and dead, known and unknown: an in so doing me shant stan shilly shally bout preface to de subject, but run bang at him at once like mad at “dam haystack”. In its role as a means of creating and establishing identity, language is to the black man something to pass on; a cultural heritage that is learnt and mastered through adolescence.
The Negro learns how to indulge in “black language games”, as a sort of formal language training, separate and unique, incomprehensible to the Whiteman and a “method of language is like that of oral poetry, substituting in the framework of the grammar”. Signifying is the language of the trickster, which the Blackman uses “that set of words or gestures which arrives at ‘direction through indirection”’. This is seen in Beloved, in how Sethe’s actions were incomprehensible to the Whiteman, Schoolteacher’s nephew: “‘What she go do that for?’ he wondered; ‘What she want to go and do that for?’ he asked the Sheriff Hansson. Sethe’s signifying, her act of infanticide, a clear act of defiance, of reclaiming a lost autonomy, was incomprehensible and shocking to the white man, and understood by the Blacks, who needed no words, or singing to signify their understanding. She was crazy, they concurred to the white man’s interpretation of Sethe’s action, but, “Yeah, well, ain’t all’? in the eyes of the white man? She had loved too much, something a slave never should do – she had not accepted her role as the underling, and just like the monkey, she had challenged the lion to a fight. Also, the use of language as a spiritual connotation that bridges the real and the unreal has also been discussed in this essay. That which the white man calls unreal, the black man calls spiritual; that which the white man calls history, the black man calls memory. The ritualism of language is seen in how the black man learns to signify as adolescents, contrary to the classic structuralism of the white man, “Black adults teach their children this exceptionally complex system of rhetoric”.
Wideman claims that through language, the black man pays homage to his ancestors, sees the connection between the physical realm and the spiritual and interprets history as “peoples imaginary recreation which exist in the imagination are a record of ‘certain collective experiences’ that have been repeated generation after generation”’. This trope of interconnectivity between the past, the present and the future is not only seen in Yoruba mythology of Esu but is also seen as a black trope in Beloved, as well as in contemporary African American culture of today. Rushdy’s quote of Wideman summarises the spirituality of language to the black man: ‘Past lives in us, through us. Each of us harbors the spirits of people who walked the earth before we did, and those spirits depend on us for continuing existence, just as we depend on their presence to live our lives to the fullest.’ . Hence, when the black man says: ‘‘It was not a story to pass on” repetitively – three times, the concept of signifying comes to mind. Beloved, “the Hansson 30 devil-child was clever. And beautiful. Her smile was dazzling”, but they had to forget her, because membering would be using language to give her life again. Morrison states that we must ‘’bear witness and identify that which is useful from the past and that which ought to be discarded.’ In other words, the past we choose to remember must be palatable, it has to be constructed in a way that serves the present I a positive . Forgetting Beloved’s name, thus, was like forgetting that which was undesirable and brought pain, so although “Everybody knew what she was called, nobody anywhere knew her name”. They had to forget, because, remembering gives life to the past. She was Beloved, but she had no last name.
Analysis of Works and The Concept of Beloved
With love comes trust. Paul D sees the trees as something he can trust, something you can go to when you need reassurance or support. Trees are also become a sign to a second life for him especially when the Cherokee directed him to follow the blossoming trees all the way up to Cincinnati and 124. With love comes comfort and safety. For Denver the trees or bushes symbolize a sense of safety. For instance her five boxwood bushes was a place where Denver’s imagination produced its platform, which she badly needed because loneliness took over her Trees have a totally different meaning for Sethe, whose back Amy Denver calls a ‘chokecherry tree’. Her tree is more a sign of the past that she doesn’t like being reminded of. Actual trees also bring up deep dark thoughts for her, like the dead-man when she thought Paul A was hanging from the tree. At times love can bring pain, people love something or someone that they shouldn’t. Or one has experienced love at one point that did not have the desired outcome creating unbearable memories. Trees hold a different meaning for all three characters as all three of them have experienced different things in life and have a different mental standing.
Each color has a different connotation to it. The darker the color, usually the duller the emotion associated with it. Each color holds its own specific meaning. The color red shows up throughout the novel. It carries different meanings when it goes with different situations and objects. Amy’s red velvet, for example, stands for hope and future. She described the velvet to Sethe as something “like the world was just born” and “clean and new and so smooth”, and therefore the velvet represents a new life. When one is receiving love while going through a rough time from family or someone who has their best interest, it encourages them to take a step that will better their life. Love expresses many emotions and characteristics such as protection, flirtation, concern, and more. In this case, there was a sign of concern or more of a hope of Sethe having a new life.
The 124 was a place where majority of the characters had their ups and downs. It was place that impacted the characters for the rest of their lives. It was a place that contained a haunted side, a feminine side, and a party side. 124 was haunted with beloved’s ghost. Baby Suggs moved to 124, Mr. Bowdin, the owner remembers a women died in there, and it does seem like the house’s moods follow Beloved’s presence at 124. Beloved was called “spiteful” because of her ghost, “loud” when she fights with Sethe, and “quiet” when she leaves. Looking at it from all angles, 124 was a place that brought everyone together, whether it was in a positive or harmful manner. 124 is also a place that resembles sethe’s children that have survived, 124 the birth order of the living children excluding the third being, Beloved.
“124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children. For years each put up with the spite in his own way, but by 1873 Sethe and her daughters Denver were its only victims”.
In today’s society, majority of the people associate the abstract idea of love with the tangible human organ, the heart. Why? As one prepares for something exciting, their heart rate increases. The heart is the center of emotion and love is one of the biggest emotions a person will experience in their lifetime. Paul D however replaces his heart with a tobacco tin filled with all his struggles and painful memories. The tobacco tin symbolizes the lack of love Paul D has received in his life. The tobacco tin box is not something Paul D can open and face on his own, if he were to do such a thing it would force him to go mad like Halle. He needs the support of the women, Beloved and Sethe in order to realize who he really is as a person.
Red heart from the sound of seems to represent love and passion, however, in the context of this novel it turns out to be the total opposite. Paul D and Beloved’s sexual encounter did wake up Paul D’s emotion sides but in order for that to happen, he had to drop so low, practically went to the dark side to experience the bright side of his life. As many readers may believe, Beloved came back from the dead which makes it sound like Paul D had sex with a dead girl. In true context, the “red heart” symbolizes the past and death, both of which beloved represents. It also shows that characters in this novel cannot experience love in a normal manner, they are forced to do something inhumane to feel like a typical living person. Perhaps that is what slavery does to its victims.
Symbolism in Tony Morrison’s Novel Beloved
In Beloved, many aspects of nature are woven into experiences the characters have endured, as well as into the characters themselves. These themes and motifs within nature seem to play quite a significant role in the development of the story and characters. Breaking Down these themes and motifs will help to see why they were placed into the story and what importance they actually serve. In Beloved, Toni Morrison utilizes motifs within nature, such as water and trees to represent experiences in Sethe’s past and present life.
Water is a recurring theme in manytAfricantAmerican literature’s. It’s alwaystbeen a site for memory and history. In Beloved it represents life, death and all of the inbetween. Though water does play other major roles within the story, focussing on the way in which water relates to Sethe, will allow for more insight to her character. For Sethe as a character mostly water represents life, and all the ways it is presented within her life. During Sethe’s escape from Sweet Home Plantation, she is confronted with imminent dangers by the Ohio River which is said to be “infected by the Klan”. Crossing this river safely, implies that Sethe will be closer to freedom. This encounter symbolises life for Sethe, because it is one step closer to her freedom which in return is her life. She would rather be dead than not be free. “She never made the outhouse. Right in front of its door she had to lift her skirts, and the water she voided was endless. Like a horse, she thought, but as it went on and on, she thought, No, more like flooding the boat when Denver was born” This happened right after Beloved emerged from the woods, where she too also came out of a body of water, as a way “into life”. This appearance of one of her past children lead her body to emulate a function which is normal when having a child, except this time there is no child inside of her. Sethe’s body gave way to mass amounts of water in a way embodying Beloved’s life coming out of here, This whole seen is very symbolic, the sight of one of her children being reborn convided Sethe’s body that it needed to replicate what happens when one gives birth, breaking water. This scene does not only represents life and birth literally, but includes the motif of water furthering its relation of life into Sethe. These examples are of many which show the connect of water into Sethe’s character and development.
Trees as well play a notable role in the story, but each character has a different relationship to each of these motifs. One character might relate to one in a very positive way, while another character not so much. As for trees, this is very true. For many in Beloved trees represent a fairly positive and comforting thing for them, but not for Sethe. In Beloved Sethe is described to have a scar on her back which resembles that of a chokecherry tree. This is explained within the first three chapters of the book, and this is the first we see of trees in relation to the. Sethe’s “tree” is a sign of her past, and not a good one. She associates that scar with much of her past life and memories which I believe she may like to offer. It reminds her of her past as a slave and all she endured during those times.
These motifs which play major roles in Sethe’s life and development as a character are relayed to the reader in a way so they don’t understand all of what is happening right away, but as the context widen they can clearly see what is happening. In sethe’s case we do to find out what happened to her until later on in the book. This allows for the reader to implement tie down imagination into the story, and lets them to create their own story for the characters. All in all these motifs played a significant role not only in life, but the story as a whole
Dejection Starts Small And Then Hits You All At Once
It begins little. You don’t see anything to be distinctive by any means. Of course, you passed on having your most loved supper that your mother makes – you simply didn’t have a hunger – it was an off day; ‘maybe it was simply the climate’ you think. You skip heading off to the rec center regardless of your relatively religious pledge to leg day. You miss your week by week espresso date with your closest companion – “I’m sad young lady, I simply don’t grope to it today.” You feel off, you don’t feel affirm. This off day is transforming into weeks, into months. What is happening? Your work begins appearing to be incomprehensible – how could this occur? You were such a hard worker, how are you attempting to abruptly do the absolute minimum? You sit in your room and parchment thoughtlessly on your telephone – looking however not seeing. You feel worn out, debilitated, vacant and secluded regardless of your family and companions being a simple telephone summon. Never experiencing difficulty with rest, abruptly you’re up at 5 AM each day – awakening loaded with unadulterated fear at simply one more day.
You invest hours cleaning every last trace of your home looking for clearness – you’re guaranteed that once everything is unblemished you will feel much improved. However Mr. Clean and Lysol weren’t sufficient to overwhelm the throbbing in your chest. You focus on making a tastefully satisfying Instagram grid– this possesses you for seven days? For multi month? It looks awesome – so what? You purchase many dollars worth of healthy skin items. Without a doubt, individuals with impeccable skin aren’t miserable. However you stay there with small pores and clear skin feeling more empty than previously. You take up perusing once more. You read and re-read a similar sentence again and again – seeing yet not understanding. You think taking up another leisure activity – like cooking – will help. You make a beeline for the market, purchase every one of the fixings and that is the extent that you can go. Once you’ve done some basic needs you understand that a full stomach won’t enable you to feel less unfilled.
It begins little – then hits all of you without a moment’s delay. You will invest days discharging seas you didn’t’ know you had in you. You will invest hours in voids so profound, they put Marianas Trench to disgrace. This vacancy, the openings inside your chest, the tears and tears that you all of a sudden bear can’t be filled by anybody yet you. This battle is one that you have with yourself. Unexpectedly, you require the most grounded covering for this is the hardest fight you confront; notwithstanding, this battle must be won with the most delicate, delicate touch. You have to battle heartlessly for self-esteem. Somewhere close to adoring yourself enough to attempt new interests, between enough empathy to put resources into healthy skin items you will fill a pit inside you that could put dark openings to disgrace. You will giggle once more. You will go for a considerable length of time without ruminating. Days will start to go without any tears. All of a sudden, you’re occupied with the new coffeehouse they are opening not far off. You will wake up all around rested one day, prepared to begin another day. You will fill yourself with so much light that the enthusiasm of supernovas will be darkened. Recuperation begins little as well – then hits all of you without a moment’s delay.
An Astounding Effects Of Slavery in Beloved By Toni Morrison
Words to describe traumatic events range from “unspeakable” to “intangible”. Often, persons struggling with past trauma attempt to find something tangible to latch onto, seeking some sort of comfort and escape from the whirlwind of emotions they are dealing with, or not dealing with. These tangible entities can also serve to validate a person’s extreme feelings of melancholia that typically go hand in hand with trauma. Throughout Toni Morrison’s Beloved, each of the characters require physicality and tangibility in some way, whether it be through a name, a place, or a bodily marking, in order to fully confront their past “hauntings” and to move past them. These palpable symbols serve as a form of unceasing support for the characters as they attempt shine light on the shadows of their past.
The naming of significant people and places are essential for the characters in Beloved to properly move forward from the trauma they have faced. Despite their memories being flipped upside down, the symbolic names remain unchanged: a firm anchor in the dark, swirling sea of their past. Sweet Home Plantation is one of the first names to be introduced in the novel. Immediately, a juxtaposition is evident between Sethe’s memories of Sweet Home and what actually transpired while she was there, shown with her description of her previous home:
Suddenly there was Sweet Home, rolling, rolling, rolling out before her eyes, and although there was not a leaf on that farm that did not make her want to scream, it rolled itself out before her in shameless beauty. It never looked as terrible as it was and it made her wonder if hell was a pretty place too. Fire and brimstone all right, but hidden in lacy groves. (6)
Sethe refuses to remember everything that took place at Sweet Home, instead choosing to remember the beautiful grounds, trees, and atmosphere (6). The name “Sweet” Home combined with the physical beauty of the plantation allows for Sethe to temporarily forget the horrors that took place there; she is able to identify with the seemingly good aspects of Sweet Home, hoping that the pleasant memories will be enough to quash the traumatic ones. Although she does not have to physically visit Sweet Home in order to recall the events that transpired there, the aura of splendor that surrounds it, largely due to its name, is enough for her to slowly allow herself to remember the bitterness of Sweet Home.
The Clearing, an area in the woods where Baby Suggs would preach and dance with the community before her death, bears an essential name because it is the place Sethe goes when her traumatic past begins resurfacing in her conscious. With fond memories of The Clearing as a place where feelings of peace and joy were once rampant, she hopes Baby Suggs’ spirit can help her face her past without letting it crush her. After Sethe feels Baby Suggs’ fingers on her neck and Beloved attempts to regain her affection by kissing her neck, Sethe reprimands Beloved (115). This is extremely important because it is the first time in the novel that Sethe shows any sort of retaliation towards Beloved. This pushback shows that Sethe is beginning to make decisions for her own benefit, no longer only acting for Beloved out of guilt. The Clearing serves to clear Sethe’s mind, cleansing her psyche enough to feel like herself again. This is evident in the quotation, “Bit by bit, at 124 and in the Clearing, along with others, she had claimed herself. Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another” (95). Feeling Baby Suggs’ presence in The Clearing gives her enough hope to decide that she wants Paul D to stay in her life. This decision is critical because it is one of the first times that Sethe shows any sort of motivation in regard to her future; she feels almost content after leaving The Clearing. The Clearing serves to clear away enough of the negative thoughts clouding Sethe’s mind in order for her to have room to face the trauma of her past.
Denver’s name is an integral part of Sethe’s past; therefore, it is also an integral part of her recovery from the past. Denver is named after Amy Denver, a white indentured servant who helps Sethe during her escape from Sweet Home and delivers baby Denver (97). Amy’s permanent ties with the family, both through her deliverance of Denver and with Denver’s name, are significant to Sethe recapturing her traumatic memories of Sweet Home and afterwards. Sethe, who finds it difficult to trust anyone again following the traumatic events that took place at Sweet Home, somehow finds an connection with Amy due to their mutual escapism from involuntary work, and consequently places her trust in the white woman. This unexpected bond that Sethe forms with Amy is one of the most positive and defining events of Sethe’s life.When Amy is massaging Sethe’s swollen feet, she states, “Anything dead coming back to life hurts,” a highly significant quote that essentially sums up the novel’s central message (91). Naming her first daughter Denver means that Sethe is constantly reminded of Amy’s selflessness, which is important because Sethe’s distrust in white people is what leads her to kill Beloved in the first place. Although it is not explicitly stated, Denver’s name is a major factor in Sethe moving forward with her life after slavery nearly took it away.
124 is referred to as a living being numerous times throughout the novel, and consequently plays a large role in the characters’ coping mechanisms with trauma. As stated on the first page of the novel, “124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom” (1). This quotation makes it clear that 124 is to be considered more of a character than a house, which gives 124 a key role in the recovery of its inhabitants. 124, although definitely not the most stable, peaceful, or enjoyable places to live by any means, does accept this role of leadership over the women (and eventually, men) who live there. If 124 was calm and not constantly being haunted by the baby that Sethe murdered, she and Denver would not ever confront their pasts simply because they wouldn’t have to. 124’s constant chaos unsettles Denver and Sethe enough so that they realize they cannot escape their past by simply ignoring it. Similarly to Beloved, 124 forces the characters to deal with their buried memories one way or another.
Nature, trees specifically, provide the characters with consolation throughout Beloved, making it easier to cope with their past. The marks on Sethe’s back from the abuses at Sweet Home take the form of a tree. Amy describes these markings when she first meets Sethe in the woods:
It’s a tree, Lu. A chokecherry tree. See, here’s the trunk— it’s read and split wide open, full of sap, and this here’s the parting for its branches. You got a mighty lot of branches. Leaves, too, look like, and dern if these ain’t blossoms… Your back got a whole tree on it. In bloom. What God had in mind, I wonder. I had me some whippings, but I don’t remember nothing like this. (93)
The chokecherry tree depicted upon Sethe’s back is meaningful because the tree holds the painful effects of slavery that Sethe cannot bear to remember long after the physical pain has healed. Sethe’s infatuation with trees is also evident when she is reminiscing about Sweet Home, “It shamed her— remembering the wonderful soughing trees rather than the boys. Try as she might to make it otherwise, the sycamores beat out the children every time and she could not forgive her memory for that” (7). Trees, through their physical beauty and their ever-presence in Sethe’s life at both Sweet Home and 124, provide her with a distraction from the horrible things in her memory, effectively covering up the traumatic memories she has from Sweet Home from her mind. For Denver, the boxwood bushes near 124 provide her with similar feelings of comfort and a form of escape from her continuous loneliness (35). The boxwood allows Denver a sense of release. She is able to let go of the ghosts that surround her at 124 and let her imagination take over, one of the few times she is allowed to act and play like a normal child. In a way, these forms of nature that grow out of the ground keep Denver and Sethe grounded when everything else is trying to pull them away.
Beloved is a novel about the astounding effects of slavery years after it ends, not only upon those who experienced it, but also their children and relatives. The highly traumatic, indescribable events that took place during that time are extremely difficult to overcome, as evidenced through the plights of Sethe and Denver. From chokecherry trees to Amy Denver, familiar places and memories make moving forward easier for the two female protagonists. Although recovering from such extensive trauma such as slavery and murdering your child is anything but easy, it is the constants in one’s life, no matter how big or small, that help the most. Places that have meaning in a person’s life are just as important as people.
My Personal Attitude to Laurel’s Youth of My Beloved Land
An Evaluation of Laurel’s “Youth of My Beloved Land”
Former president Jose P. Laurel delivered a very inspiring speech directed to the Filipino youth of 1944. During this time, the Philippines is still under Japanese occupation (independence from Americans was not granted until July 4, 1946). Before the Japanese invaders were the Americans who built numerous public schools in our country, which helped increased literacy among the Filipino youth. With this in mind, it could be said that the speech Laurel delivered could be within the level of the youth’s understanding. A nation in wartime could spur its youth to have open ears to all matters relating to their situation and Laurel’s speech addressed relevant matters. The former president’s speech serves as a reflection for all the Filipino minorities and a call for unity and cooperation during the trying times of war. Both of these are very much appropriate topics for the youth of the 40’s. Overall, the speech was pertinent to the situation in which the Filipino youth under Japanese occupation found themselves in.
The opening lines of Laurel’s speech were rousing the youth for it stated that the country needs them and this appeal to their patriotic sense. In the first few sentences, Laurel is already prompting the youth to reflect upon their responsibilities to the state. The structure of the speech is organized properly, as can be seen in the order which is follows. It starts with citing Rizal’s faith in the Filipino youth and from there, using our hero’s words to incite a reflection. Laurel then summons Isagani from Rizal’s Noli and makes him a model from which the Filipino youth should emulate. The last paragraphs are an invitation for the youth to do their tasks in helping our nation become peaceful and prosperous. The speech had a consistent and clear delivery of its message, and also done in a simple yet thoughtful manner. Every paragraph of this speech was like a brick which, when linked to other bricks, formed a rigid wall. This is to say that Laurel stayed within the parameters of relevance and which rendered his speech stability. The conclusion of the speech stayed true to the main idea which is “the youth is the future of the country”. The speech itself was inspirational but the conclusion did not provide me with a sense of closure for I anticipated a stronger finale to a very moving speech but instead I found a weaker reiteration of the speech’s theme.
What I liked most about the former president’s speech is its mention of Isagani’s conversation with a lawyer. Isagani’s retort to the lawyer was both brilliant and relevant even today. What I disliked most about the speech was its conclusion, as I have previously described above. The strengths of the speech were that it was simple but striking, inspirational without being over the top. The conclusion could have been stronger so that it complements the rest of the paragraphs better. It could be a brief yet rousing reverberation of the main points of the speech. Generally, Laurel’s speech delivered the intended message to the target audience well and conveyance was brilliant but the conclusion weakened the delivery.
The Interrelated Structure of Cry, the Beloved Country
Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country exhibits the effects of living in Johannesburg; though it is a city divided by race, its inhabitants lead parallel lives (Cry, the Beloved Country 33-312). The lives of the two main characters, Stephen Kumalo and James Jarvis, are first depicted separately, giving each a quality of distinctness and independence (33-210). When Kumalo and Jarvis meet, however, it is clear that they parallel one another, leading similar lifestyles and experiencing similar tragedies (33-216). The underlying element of style throughout Cry, the Beloved Country is subtle symbolism, for there are significant details whose importance are not immediately obvious. Cry, the Beloved Country is composed of three books, each structured to give insight into the separate lives Kumalo and Jarvis, while subtly showing how each life is interrelated (33-312).
The first book describes the plight of Stephen Kumalo, a native of South Africa, as he journeys through Johannesburg. It introduces Kumalo as the protagonist and sets up the framework for the conflicts he soon encounters. Johannesburg acts as both the setting and the antagonist, for it is where racism, crime, and poverty dwell, and is the source of Kumalo’s misery (33-312). Its effects are seen in the quote, Cry for the broken tribe, for the law and the custom is gone Cry, the beloved country, these things are not yet at an end (105). That Kumalo discovers his sister’s prostitution, his brother’s superficiality, and his son’s criminal activities in Johannesburg shows the city to have entrapped his family, as well as its inhabitants, into a stage of declining morality (33-312).
The second book shows James Jarvis as he mourns for his murdered son. The change in point of view to concentrate on Jarvis’ character adds depth to Cry, the Beloved Country, showing a reaction to the crime committed by Absalom, Kumalo’s son. Because Jarvis’ actions and emotions are seen, he becomes an active character (161-312). The climatic scene occurs when Kumalo and Jarvis meet for the first time, representing the confrontation of emotion and tension each person has felt since their discovery of the murder (211-216). When Kumalo says, This thing is the heaviest thing of all my years, is the heaviest thing of all your years also (214), he is trying to show Jarvis that both are grieving over their sons and are in similar circumstances. This confrontation signifies the parallel between the two men’s lives (33-216).
The third book exists for Kumalo and Jarvis to come to a resolution to their situation. There were factors, such as the prevalence of racism and the irony that his murdered son was a defender of the social injustices of natives, that would have supported Jarvis’ hatred for Kumalo (253-312). When Jarvis says, I have seen a man, who was in darkness till you found him. If that is what you do, I give it willingly? (307), he is acknowledging the goodness of Kumalo’s intentions as a pastor. Jarvis’ generosity in rebuilding the church, cultivating the land, and improving the lifestyle of Kumalo’s village signifies his carrying on of his son’s legacy to help the struggling natives. The third book serves to resolve the tension between Kumalo and Jarvis, and, representatively, ease the tension between the natives and the whites of South Africa (253-312).
The three books that structure Cry, the Beloved Country serve to tie together the lives of Kumalo and Jarvis, who are plagued by grief for their lost sons. The interrelation of the books also demonstrates the dependency that both men feel for one another. Kumalo’s goodness as a servant of God, his family, and his people gives Jarvis inspiration to continue his son’s legacy. Jarvis’ aid to Kumalo’s village restores the natives’ hope in the whites that run their country. The simplistic language used supports the subtlety of symbolism, creating a smoothly flowing style. The division of Cry, the Beloved Country into three books thus creates three stages representing grief, confrontation, and hope (33-312).
Beloved Mothers: the Uncelebrated Heroines
From telling scary stories to teaching multiplication tables, a mother takes on a myriad of roles. Yet, as a mother fully devotes herself to her child, she loses connection with other facets of herself. The consumption of maternity subjects the mother to a tenuous identity. In her works Beloved, “Recitatif,” and “Sweetness,” Toni Morrison forces her reader to recognize the uncomfortable realities of a mother’s transformation. Her works delve into the intersecting relationships between a mother, her community, and her child. These relationships play into one another. Through this, Morrison paints a specific picture of the mother: that of a fractured identity. Her characters detach themselves from invariable attributes of their persona in an effort to repress the past. Morrison interrupts their lives with their memories, forcing them to face their unthinkable guilt. By doing so, the mothers overcompensate, surrendering their own identities. This allows power dynamics to shift towards the child. Morrison’s protagonists most profoundly shape themselves not by their work, relationships, or community, but by their motherhood. Maternity’s all-consuming nature illuminates the tenuous identity of the mother figure.
In Beloved and “Recitatif,” the mothers’ sacrifices simultaneously demonstrate their devotion and consume their identity. Sethe and Roberta prove the boundless nature of a mother’s love by severing external relationships to protect their children. Morrison suggests a mother’s sacrifice comes as naturally as self-preservation. Within this exists Sethe and Roberta’s surrender of self, repressing all facets of identity unrelated to their child. Because of this, the mother grows isolated from her community and ultimately, herself.
Roberta testifies her unabashed dedication to her children: “It’s not about us, Twyla. Me and you. It’s about our kids. What’s more us than that?” (Morrison, “Recitatif” 12). Both Roberta and Sethe sacrifice their lifelong friendship for a conflict centralized around their child’s presupposed ‘best interest.’ External relationships are rendered negligible compared to to the bond between mother and child. Even more intensely, Beloved’s Sethe extends the limits of maternal love as she murders her baby girl. In this act of heroic sacrifice, Sethe personifies quintessential motherhood. She chooses to spare her children the suffering of Sweet Home, unwilling to stand idly by as Schoolteacher takes them. “And if she thought anything, it was No. No. Nono. Nonono…” (Morrison, Beloved 163). The passage records Sethe’s thoughts, her language reduced to the repetitive ‘Nonono’ as she imagines an alternative future for her children. “…Simple. She just flew. Collected every bit of life she had made, all the parts of her that were precious and fine and beautiful” (Morrison, Beloved 163). Like Roberta, Sethe finds herself incapable of determining an identity independent of her children. To allow Schoolteacher to enslave her children would be removing the most ‘beautiful’ parts of herself. In both Beloved and “Recitatif,” sacrifice becomes as instinctive as self-survival. Madsen Hardy comments on Roberta and Twyla’s protest, rooted within their children: “Roberta opposes busing on the grounds of ‘mother’s rights.’ Twyla supports busing on the grounds of ‘children’s rights.’” (Madsen Hardy 72). The interchangeability of the terms signify the mother’s identification with her child. In the moment of sacrifice, the mother is not a member of the community, a friend, or a citizen on the verge of jail time. Morrison’s protagonists dismiss external facets of identity and allow motherhood to consume them. In this light, Sethe and Roberta not only sacrifice for their children, but they surrender elements of their personas. While their sacrifice enables them to preserve their identities as mothers, they neglect external attributes. Because of this, the mother becomes withdrawn from herself. By protecting their children from the world’s evils, Sethe and Roberta isolate themselves from the community.
The mother’s tenuous sense of self manifests in her isolation in Beloved and “Sweetness.” When the community rejects Sethe and the Narrator, they lose their emotional outlet. No longer able to cope with their pain, the mothers detach from the inalienable elements of their identity. This detachment constitutes their fractured sense of self.
The black community envelopes Sethe within love and security, allowing her to experience spiritual and social unity. Yet, upon witnessing her sacrifice, the community rejects Sethe. “The twenty-eight days of having woman friends, a mother-in-law, and all her children together; of being part of a neighborhood; of, in fact, having neighbors at all to call her own— all that was long gone and never come back” (Morrison, Beloved 173). Sethe discovers herself on the outside looking in, banned from her own people. Due to the absence of community, Sethe lacks a means of expressing her deep-seeded suffering. Suppressing her painful memories as a final coping mechanism, Sethe finds herself unable to reconcile with her community or herself. By neglecting her past, Sethe subjects herself to a fractured identity. Light-skinned, the narrator of “Sweetness” parallels Sethe’s isolation from community. Not entirely black or white, Morrison traps the Narrator on the outskirts of belonging. Mothering a black child reveals the Narrator’s repressed resentment held against her people. She prides herself on her caucasian features: “I’m light-skinned, with good hair, what we call high yellow, and so is Lula Ann’s father. Ain’t nobody in my family anywhere near that color” (Morrison 1). The Narrator detaches herself from an invariable element of her identity: her race. She conveys her feelings of alienation in a racially polarized world by excluding Lula Ann from her family. Now a light-skinned woman with a dark-skinned child, the Narrator has no chance of joining a community on either end of the racial spectrum. Lacking an outlet, the narrator uses Lula Ann as a scapegoat. Beloved and “Sweetness” demonstrate the extent to which individuals necessitate their communities to develop their identity. In “Sweetness” the Narrator’s rejection by her community prevents her from reconciling her fractured sense of self. In contrast, the community of Beloved rescues Sethe from the absolute destruction of her identity as they band together to exorcise the past. The quest of the black mother for an affirmative self-definition intimately connects to the absence or presence of community.
Morrison’s contrasting narrative styles in Beloved and “Recitatif” act as the first cue to the protagonists’ fractured sense of self. By incorporating the past, she provides a foundation for the mothers’ identities and allows the reader to empathize with her characters. The narratives span extended periods of time, showcasing the past’s repetitive nature. Through narrative style, Morrison draws Sethe and Twyla to the past, despite their struggle to escape it.
In Beloved, Morrison seamlessly interweaves the past and present, steadily revealing the horrors lurking in Sethe’s memories. In this way, Sethe’s past and present become interchangeable. Morrison’s lack of a definitive timeline reinforces Sethe’s fractured sense of self. Sethe reflects on her distorted sense of time: “I used to think it was my rememory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it’s not” (Morrison, Beloved 35). Sethe’s past festers in the present, fostering an unhealthy environment for her psyche. Sethe’s confusion of self results in her descent to insanity. In “Recitatif” specific spotlights highlight transformative moments that compromise Twyla’s sense of self. Repeating patterns establish Twyla’s entrapment within the past. Morrison uses the revelation of her protagonists’ identity to establish their maternal struggle. Sethe’s all-consuming devotion to her children is rooted in her own mother’s neglect. Her own ‘ma’am’ leaves her in enslavement, so Sethe vows not to commit the same mistake. Providing Sethe’s upbringing before disclosing her infanticide allows the reader to sympathize rather than reject. In the same light, Twyla’s abandonment in the orphanage explains her unfaltering willingness to protect her child. Her memories of powerlessness, manifested in her mother, force Twyla to reject external relationships for the sake of her son. In narrative style, Morrison uses time to explore the evolving identity of mothers. Both Beloved and “Recitatif” span extended periods, serving to employ the vicious cycles of her characters’ memories. Sethe repeatedly uses the active phrase ‘rememory’ to indicate the past’s uncontrollable force independent of the rememberer. These ‘rememories’ make it possible for Sethe to realize her connection to the past. In a similar way, Twyla’s encounters with Roberta reinforce the repetitive cycle of her memories. Initially, Twyla plays the innocent child subjected to her mother’s racial prejudice. By adulthood, Twyla possesses the same biased beliefs. In “Recitatif” and Beloved, the past interrupts the present, forcing the mothers to recognize its effect on their identity. “Morrison, it would seem, suggests a different kind of intervention, an intervention involving history and rememory. What is passing if not the repression of one’s personal history?” (Peterson 207). She forces her characters to deal with the unthinkable objects of their repression as they inevitably return from the past. Her characters undergo the painful process of remembering while simultaneously healing their fractured identities. By balancing the past with the present, Morrison disillusions the mothers’ evolving sense of self.
In all three texts, the mother’s nurturing sheds light upon her selfhood. Motifs of milk in “Sweetness” and Beloved examine contrasting mother-child relationships. “Recitatif” presents food as a symbol of physical and emotional nurturing. Different levels of nurturing expand upon the mother’s identity.
The narrator of “Sweetness” corrupts arguably the purest act between mother and child. She refuses to breastfeed her daughter, remarking, “All I know is that, for me, nursing her was like having a pickaninny sucking my teat. I went to bottle-feeding as soon as I got home” (Morrison 1). Sethe directly contrasts the Narrator’s disgust, devastated at her loss of breast milk. Abused and burned, Sethe focuses on her inability to provide for her child rather than the pain of being assaulted. The symbol of milk sheds light on Sethe and the Narrator’s identities as mothers. Dehumanized by a racially polarized world, the Narrator’s self-hatred manifests in her failure to provide for Lula Ann. She degrades her daughter, referring to her as a ‘pickaninny’ despite the Narrator’s own blackness. Her initial rejection proves the Narrator’s broken sense of self. In contrast, Sethe desires only to feed her daughter to compensate for her overbearing guilt. The Narrator’s internal conflict prevents her from breastfeeding Lula Ann. Through this lens, Morrison bases a mother’s identity on her ability to nurture her child. This translates in “Recitatif” through the representation of food. The narrative’s primary settings, from diners to grocery stores, show that nurturing ultimately determines the mother’s identity. Roberta’s mother packs a home-cooked meal while Twyla’s mother brings nothing. Twyla remembers her mother’s inability: “The wrong food is always with the wrong people. Maybe that’s why I got into waitress work later— to match up the right people with the right food” (Morrison 3). Into her adult life, Twyla seeks to fulfill the nurturing her mother couldn’t provide. The girls’ contrast in meals as children parallels their encounter at Howard Johnson’s. Roberta again has food given to her while Twyla must fend for herself. When the girls meet as mothers in a grocery store, they must nurture their children. Through the motif of food, Morrison traces Roberta and Twyla’s identities as mothers. Beloved’s Sethe compares, the chef in her family. By providing for their children, the mothers discover an unlikely source of empowerment. Yet, feeding Beloved only feeds Sethe’s guilt. Over-nurturing results in Sethe’s starvation. In “Recitatif,” a lack of nurturing leaves Twyla confused about her past. Various levels of nurturing reveal the mother’s tenuous identity.
Power dynamics shift as guilt corrupts the mother’s identity. Originally, the mother’s power allows her to protect her child. Yet, the protagonists of “Sweetness” and Beloved misapply this power, resulting in the child’s separation. Sethe and the Narrator’s consuming guilt allows their daughters to gain power in their relationship. Parent and child reverse roles as the mother begs for her daughter’s forgiveness, preventing the mother and child from maintaining a healthy relationship.
The Narrator intends to spare her child the discrimination faced by a dark-skinned woman in an unforgiving society, but her misplaced power results in Lula Ann’s emotional abuse. As her guilt festers, power dynamics shift. She taunts her mother, sending a letter announcing her pregnancy. Yet, “There is no return address on the envelope. So I guess I’m still the bad parent being punished forever for the well-intended and, in fact, necessary way I brought her up. I know she hates me” (Morrison, “Sweetness” 12). Beloved parallels Lula Ann’s rise to power, steadily growing stronger as Sethe weakens. “Beloved ate up her life, took it, swelled up with it, grew taller on it.” Morrison utilizes imagery to signify Beloved’s consumption of Sethe’s identity. Beloved preys on Sethe’s past, soaking in her identity. “…And the older woman yielded it up without a murmur” (Morrison 250). Once Sethe recognizes the woman as her baby girl, Sethe spoils her in compensation. As Sethe’s remorse grows, so does Beloved. Sethe becomes so fixated with feeding her guilt that she refuses to eat. Sethe over-nurtures her daughter, therefore neglecting herself. Beloved personifies Sethe’s guilt, forcing Sethe to surrender herself in appeasement. With Beloved, Sethe has the opportunity to live out two fantasies. First of all, she can be mother to the daughter she has never known. Giving all her time and attention to Beloved makes it easy for the demon the execute her desire. On the other hand, by giving all to Beloved, Sethe becomes childlike, pleading for acceptance by a harsh ‘parent’ who is more intent upon cruel punishment than understanding forgiveness. (Harris 134)Sethe’s identity transforms from a maternal position of power to that of a subservient victim. Similarly, the Narrator goes from the rejector to the rejected. Neither Sethe or the Narrator act maliciously in their initial power, rather depriving their children of a relationship for the sake of safety. Now enabled to freely pursue a connection, the child refuses their mother. In both Beloved and “Sweetness,” the mother’s misuse of power causes her controlling guilt. There exists the mother’s vulnerability, letting the child procure power. Within this, power manifests in which role can withhold affection. Therefore, the corruption of power prevents the mothers in “Sweetness” and Beloved from achieving a healthy relationship.
Motherhood’s consumption of self illustrates the unstable identity of the mother figure. Morrison’s protagonists surrender themselves for the sake of their child, sacrificing external influences and withdrawing from the community. Through this isolation, the mother detaches from invariable attributes of her persona. There exists motherhood’s all-consuming nature, dominating other elements of identity and allowing a dynamic power shift that reverses the role of mother and child. Morrison’s narrative style reinforces these fractured identities and bases a mother’s identity on her ability to nurture. Yet, as the mother overcompensates for her guilt, power dynamics shift towards the child. In Beloved, “Recitatif,” and “Sweetness,” the protagonists personify the power of a mother’s love. In more ways than one, Morrison characterizes mothers as the unsung heroes of our society.
Facts Signifying The First Appearance Of Beloved
When Paul D, Denver and Sethe first come upon Beloved resting against a tree after emerging from the water, the three cannot understand the past or present of the girl in front of them. Rather than interpret her odd actions, each of them looks to a physical aspect of Beloved to act as a key to her soul. Even as Beloved comes home to stay within the first chapter of her appearance, the family takes note of her personality through her vague actions and her own fascination in small objects. Her background and her future is incomprehensible to them; therefore, small forays into her being must be gleaned by observation and slight questioning of her sickly movements. Morrison, by giving the reader inklings of Beloved’s true person, makes her all the more intriguing and mysterious through the strange connotations of the girl’s associated objects.
When Sethe, Denver and Paul D first saw Beloved, the only things they noticed were the objects surrounding her: “a black dress, two unlaced shoes below it” (51). As Paul D gives her water, Beloved drinks from the tin cup four times and leaves droplets on her chin?the cup and the drops acting as the two most noticeable aspects of her person. Sethe then notices her slender, under-fed body and the “good lace” (51) at her throat. She wears the hat of a “rich woman” and her skin was “flawless except for three vertical scratches on her forehead” (51), which are just the bare marks on the outside signifying nothing remarkable about her personality. For Sethe, the most noteworthy things about Beloved are her shoes and the lace at her throat?it is really Denver who tries to delve deeper into the soul of this odd, homeless woman.
When Sethe thinks to herself of Beloved’s background, she associates her with all the other blacks wandering, looking for cousins and reminders of home in a maze of streets and highways and country lanes. After this musing, Morrison has Sethe refer to her as “the woman with the broken hat” (53), another suggestion of her association with inanimate objects rather than prescient emotions. Sickly, Beloved falls asleep for days and days upon Baby Suggs bed while Denver watches over her attentively. She will eat nothing until the supposed bout of cholera breaks and she sits up, gesturing for the sweet bread. From then on, Beloved is associated with the sugar she consumes, rather than the words she speaks or the history she exudes. While she was ailing, “It took three days for Beloved to notice the orange patches in the darkness of the quilt” (54). At that point, Denver folds the quilt so that the orange bits are in Beloved’s line of vision. In this instance, the girl and her caretaker take pleasure in spots of cloth?unmoving objects?rather than a coherent example of personality or past.
After Denver hands her the sweet bread, Morrison writes, “It was as though sweet things were what she was born for” (55) and then adds a litany of sugary items that mark Beloved’s unnatural pleasure for sweets. This fascination with the taste of sugar once again does not open doors into Beloved’s past or present. Rather, the observation of this love of certain objects simply adds to her mystery and idiosyncrasy. Even towards the end of the chapter, Paul D associates Beloved with the strange effect of picking up a rocking chair?an object?though Denver denies it with her lying eyes. Her shoes, her hat, her taste for sugar and Paul D’s strange observation do not shed much light upon the strange character that is Beloved. Morrison’s foray into her character’s psyche leads the reader and the surrounding characters into the dark?her association with unmoving objects only solidifies her already strange existence.
The Acts Of Writing In Morrison’s Beloved Novel
In an essay entitled “Writing, Race, and the Difference it Makes,” Henry Louis Gates, Jr. discusses the way in which over the course of history, a binary has existed between whiteness and writing, blackness and silence. Summarizing this tradition, he writes, “Human beings wrote books. Beautiful books were reflections of sublime genius. Sublime genius was the province of the European…Blacks, and other people of color, could not ‘write’” (56). Attacking a tradition of European writers including Kant, Hegel, and Bacon, Gates outlines the way in which whites asserted their superiority through writing, and maintained that superiority through the suppression of black voices or “pens.” For example, a 1740 South Carolina Statute made black literary mastery unlawful, thereby preventing blacks from developing the tools to break out of the inherent hierarchy (58).
In the final pages of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, when Sethe pleads, “I made the ink, Paul D. He couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t made the ink” (271) she alludes to a larger theme of the novel, and one with which Gates is extremely concerned – the relationship of writing to the institution of slavery. The ink to which she refers is the product of her labors as a slave; it is the substance that Schoolteacher takes from her in order to write a white supremacist discourse and perpetuate slavery. Acts of writing or inscription in the novel, as is true in much of literature, represent assertions of agency. Conversely, the inability to write symbolizes a loss of agency, as does becoming the object of inscription. By writing Beloved, Morrison gives voice not only to the murdered infant, but also to Sethe’s lost ink, attempting to ventriloquize the slave woman and provide a way for contemporary readers to confront the issue of slavery. Revisiting a time when whites controlled the power of inscription under the institution of slavery, Morrison first presents a series of images that dramatize the suppression of black agency through inscription – Sethe’s ink, and the scar on her back – and then presents another series of images that attempt to counteract that inscription. By asserting her own black, female identity on the white pages of the novel, Morrison nullifies the process of white inscription that took place during slavery. Just as the ghost Beloved haunts 124 and the novel as a whole, the novel itself haunts contemporary society, demonstrating an alternative to the tradition of white inscription.
I must mention here that Paul D’s recollections of having the bit in his mouth vividly and effectively symbolize the assertion of white agency through the silencing of black voice, as does Sethe’s recollection of having bitten her tongue while being whipped. However, the treatment of speech and voice is beyond the limits of this paper, so I shall for the present deal solely with the occurrences of writing in the novel.
The first of two central images of suppression is Schoolteacher’s act of stealing the ink. The ink, like a child, is the product of Sethe’s labor. That ink represents her ability to control her destiny, to rise up against the association of blackness with silence and inferiority, and to do what Gates calls “write [herself] out of slavery” (66). Schoolteacher does not merely confiscate the ink; he exploits it to write history and perpetuate the white supremacist discourse of slavery. As Sethe laments at the end of the novel, “He couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t made the ink” (271). Paralleling the way in which white slave masters raped their slaves in order to perpetuate the commodity, Schoolteacher robs Sethe of the fruits of her labor – the ink in order to inscribe the discourse of slavery. While Sethe has the potential to write her own history, that potential is shattered in the robbing of her ink, and the white supremacist inscription that ensues.
Sethe’s scar is the other major symbol of “negative” inscription, and the multiple ways it is interpreted underscores its literariness. Sethe, although refusing to look at it, embraces Amy Denvers’ interpretation of it as a chokecherry tree, while the narrator describes it as the “decorative work of an ironsmith” (17). While the scar is not so obvious as to be in the shape of a letter, it is still a form of inscription, and the impulses to interpret it as a signifier suggest its discursive quality. By whipping her, the slave master permanently inscribes her, placing the mark of his white identity on her black skin. Like the stealing of her ink, the permanent scar on her back represents the way in which inscription, or the act of writing, is integral to the hierarchy of slavery and its perpetuation.
With the placement of these images of “negative” inscription, Morrison sets about balancing them with more “positive” images of inscription, accompanied by the assertion of black agency. The first of these images is Sethe’s infanticide, which serves to counter Schoolteacher’s act of stealing her ink. Interestingly, Sethe’s child and Morrison’s work have the same name. That is, there is a deliberate conflation of Sethe’s and Morrison’s “offspring.” Sethe’s ink, Sethe’s child, and Morrison’s novel are all products of labor. But whereas Schoolteacher claims the product of Sethe’s labor (the ink) and uses it to write history, Sethe claims the product of her own labor (her child) by murdering it. Through the infanticide, Sethe controls the fate of her offspring, just as Morrison controls the fate of her characters. By killing her child, Sethe makes up for the ink that has been stolen from her, essentially writing her own discourse. Ironically, that discourse is written at the cost of a human life.
In addition, Sethe’s infanticide is made possible only by Morrison’s literal act of writing the novel. Her infanticide is a kind of writing in that it is an assertion of her agency, despite her status as an enslaved black woman. Morrison’s act of writing literally allows the events of the novel to take place, but it also asserts her own identity as a free black woman on the white pages of the book. Thus, the inscription of the book is presented as a way to counter the previous acts of racial inscription that have taken place in the past.
This idea of inscription as retribution for past offenses is underscored by three key ideas or images that appear in the novel: the inscription of Beloved’s gravestone, the appearance of Beloved’s skin, and the location of the word “Beloved” on the very last page. In the first few pages of the novel, Sethe recalls how Beloved’s headstone was engraved. Morrison writes:
…there it was again. The welcoming cool of unchiseled headstones; the one she selected to lean against on tiptoe, her knees wide open as any grave. Pink as a fingernail it was, and sprinkled with glittering chips. Ten minutes, he said. You got ten minutes and I’ll do it for free…Ten minutes for seven letters. (4-5)
The image of “unchiseled headstones” evokes the idea of blank pages, and the act of engraving closely parallels Morrison’s act of inscribing the novel. However, the engraving of the word “Beloved” on the headstone occurs as the result of a sacrifice – here, Sethe must give up her body to pay for the engraving. Placed at the beginning of the novel, this symbolizes a problematic inscription; the engraving itself represents an assertion of black agency through writing, yet the act is performed only as the result of sacrifice.
The description of Sethe with her “knees wide open” foreshadows the “birth” of Beloved into the novel, and her appearance helps counteract the first series of inscriptions (the scar on Sethe’s back and the stealing of her ink). Specifically, it is the appearance of Beloved’s skin when she arrives at 124 that serves this purpose. In the first few paragraphs describing her, the narrator comments that “her feet were like hands, soft and new” (52) and that “her skin was flawless except for three vertical scratches on her forehead so fine and thin they seemed at first like hair…” (51). Beloved’s soft, new, and nearly flawless skin resembles the “unchiseled headstone” – both images have the quality of blankness, like surfaces that await inscription. Morrison’s description of Beloved’s skin is cleverly self-referential; it is like a blank canvas, marked by three vertical lines, and closely resembles the pages of Beloved that await Morrison’s inscription. The blankness of Beloved’s skin directly opposes Sethe’s scarred back, and that blankness welcomes writing – a more positive form of inscription than the kind that appears on her back. Again, Morrison’s act of inscribing Beloved (that is, writing both the character and the novel) serves to counteract the previous instances of racial inscription that have occurred in slavery. However, the lines of Beloved’s forehead suggest that inscription is still problematic, and that despite her good intentions, Morrison cannot simply heal the past through writing.
Finally, the placement of the word “Beloved” at the very end of the novel draws attention to the novel itself, and its presence as an example of an alternative form of inscription, meant to counter the binary that Gates identifies between whiteness and writing, blackness and silence. The location of the word “Beloved” as the last word of the final page suggests that Morrison has re-enacted the inscription of the headstone at the beginning of the novel; in other words, Beloved remains entombed in the book. However, I would argue that although Morrison does provide a series of inscriptions – the gravestone, Beloved’s skin, and the novel itself – as retribution for past transgressions – the stealing of Sethe’s ink, and her chokecherry tree scar – she does not mean to merely insert a black literary voice in the place of white discourse. In his essay, Gates writes, “Whereas I once thought it our most important gesture to master the canon of criticism, to imitate and apply it, I now believe that we must turn to the black tradition itself to arrive at theories of criticism indigenous to our literatures” (67). While he ostensibly writes about literary criticism, he evokes larger separatist notions regarding the formation of a distinctly black literary voice. And although Morrison directly addresses Gates’ notions of blackness and suppression, whiteness and writing, Morrison does not share Gates’ sentiments on reconciling this tradition.