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.
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.
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.
The Presentation of the Beloved in the Poem ‘To Celia’
“To Celia” is a four-stanza poem written by Ben Jonson that has been said to be centered around his fellow poet Lady Mary Wroth, who had also been the subject of his other poems such as ‘To Penshurst’ and ‘Sonnet to the Noble Lady, the Lady Mary Wroth’. This poem is essentially a depiction of an exquisite woman that the speaker is romantically interested in. In the first half of the poem ‘To Celia’, the speaker describes how her smallest of actions would trigger the largest of reactions in his mental state. The speaker then continues the poem by chronicling the events in their relationship. This can be seen through the mention of his decision to send his beloved a rosy wreath, and eventually his beloved’s response towards this particular action. It is crystal clear that her every move is of utmost significance to him, and the reader gets a sense of the speaker’s transcendental love for his beloved. Therefore, the question before us is: how was the beloved presented in this poem?
First of all, ‘To Celia’, could be interpreted as the speaker addressing the poem to his beloved, and this is supported by the use of second-person pronouns, such as ‘thine’, ‘thou’, and ‘thee’ throughout the four stanzas. On the other hand, the phrase ‘To Celia’ also sounds like a toast to celebrate the existence of Celia, thus presenting Celia as a rather special human being. The title of the poem has not only provided a hint to the reader about drinking but has also begun the pedestalling of the beloved. In the first stanza of the poem, alcohol is used as a metaphor for the beloved’s intoxicating eye contact. This is suggestive of the fact that the speaker is addicted to the beloved, which explains why he would go so far as to ‘pledge’ to her. In other words, Celia is depicted as a woman who is lovely enough for the speaker to be committed and loyal to her at the drop of a hat, so long as she would merely glance at him. Her kiss is then described as a substance that exceeds wine in terms of its ability to cause infatuation. In this instance, the reader is again reminded of the beloved’s ethereal qualities, which perhaps is used by the speaker to justify his love for her. It is worth noting that the speaker’s desire for her to communicate any reciprocal feelings through actions instead of words creates an atmosphere of secrecy. The reader would now be curious about the identity of the beloved and the nature of their mysterious relationship.
In the second stanza, the analogy of his love and desire being related through wine and thirst is demonstrated through the rhyme scheme of the first two stanzas. The corresponding lines of each stanza rhyme with each other, for example the last word of the first line of the first stanza ‘eyes’, rhymes perfectly with the last word of the first line of the second stanza, ‘rise’. In the first line, thirst is used as a metaphor to express the speaker’s desires and urges as a physical need. This is done through the implied desperation by the usage of the word ‘thirst’ and it shows how the affection of the beloved is of utmost necessity for the speaker to live. The idea is further strengthened with the phrase ’from the soul doth rise’, as it gives the reader the impression that the speaker yearns for his beloved with every fibre of his being. In the following line, the speaker begins to draw a connection between Celia and the divine. Firstly, the speaker elevates the depiction of Celia by indicating that she is the ‘divine drink’ that his soul requires, and proceeds by further idealizing the beloved through hyperbolic comparisons. For example, the speaker confesses that the desirability of Jove’s nectar pales when juxtaposed against that of the divine drink of Celia’s love. Hence, it can be said that the speaker considers the divine drink to have powers even greater than that of Jove’s nectar, which is a substance that allegedly provides immortality. This mythical allusion helps cement the message that the speaker is trying to get across: that Celia’s love is so wonderful, it exceeds even the best of what the mystical realm can offer.
The poem then departs from the drinking analogy that has previously been presented. Now the focus of the poem is on a wreath, and the speaker uses this to again prove that his beloved is indeed heavenly. The depiction of the wreath as ‘rosy’ could suggest beauty and fragility, but the seemingly positive intention of sending the beloved a lovely wreath is diminished by the following line. ‘Not so much honouring thee’ would shock the reader as it is an unforeseen tonal shift from the devotee-like praise that came from the speaker in the first two stanzas. In fact, the phrase seems to insinuate a form of insult towards the beloved. The speaker then defends himself by clarifying that he considers Celia to have powers of immortality, thus his actions serve as an experiment to test the veracity of his belief. This provides evidence that the speaker thinks that his beloved is not mortal and therefore is not subject to the same mortality as the flowers in the wreath, which perfectly explains why the speaker attempts to prolong the existence of the wreath by sending it to her. The Petrarchan convention of immortality in romantic poetry, which is introduced in the previous stanza, is clearly sustained. Besides that, the enjambment in the third stanza in lines 10-12, mirror the speaker’s hope to immortalize the beauty of the wreath. The lack of a pause could also be linked to the continuation of the life of the wreath.
In the final stanza, the reader is informed on what becomes of the wreath. It is sent back by Celia, and thus can be seen as a direct rejection towards the speaker’s romantic intentions. This paints an image of the beloved as a coy and scornful woman, which fits in with the Petrarchan conventions commonly found in love poetry. Essentially, the main point of the stanza is that despite being sent back, the wreath is still alive as it still ‘breathes and smells’. Similarly, despite a rather obvious dismissal, the speaker’s affections have yet to be crushed. However, the speaker’s seemingly foolish behavior of clinging onto this potential relationship could be justified by the fact that since the rose smells of Celia, it could mean an implied acceptance. Moreover, the rose smelling of Celia is an apparent statement of power because it shows that the smell of Celia is so powerful that it overwhelms the smell of the rose, even though the rose has only been in Celia’s presence for a relatively short while. Therefore, the wreath is not only symbolic of the speaker’s hopes for the continued life of his relationship with Celia, but it is also symbolic of Celia’s quasi-divine abilities as well.
Overall, the poem presents the beloved as a woman who is above mere mortals. In the first stanza, Celia is presented as a woman so lovely that her kiss is capable of providing more intoxication than alcohol. The speaker then continues to elevate Celia’s image by comparing the desirability of Celia’s love and Jove’s nectar, and ultimately decides that he would trade off this drink of immortality in favor of Celia’s love. This again positively slants Celia and presents her as an extraordinary woman. Finally, through the revival of the wreath, the speaker makes it unquestionable that Celia is to be considered as absolutely divine. In conclusion, Celia is presented to the reader as an ethereal woman whose beauty and love is more powerful than what both earthly and supernatural worlds can offer.
Quest for the Son and Suffering in Cry, The Beloved Country
Throughout the novel Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton, Paton uses suffering and the quest for the son together to add to the tragic framework of the novel. Paton uses suffering, an element derived from Greek tragedy in which the main protagonist(s) of the novel are subjected to hardship and pain, to enhance the experience that Kumalo and Jarvis endure in the quest for their sons. Kumalo and Jarvis’ quest for their sons contribute to the tragic framework of the novel because of the suffering that it causes. Both Kumalo and Jarvis’ quest for their sons begin with the murder of Arthur Jarvis, James Jarvis’ son, and the resulting suffering that it causes both of them. Furthermore, they both realize that their sons were total strangers to them, causing them suffering seeing them so different from who their fathers had known. Also in the quest for their sons, they both realize the suffering of the native people, causing both protagonists great suffering with their newfound knowledge.
The realization that Arthur Jarvis had been murdered is marked as the beginning of both Kumalo and Jarvis’ quest for their sons as well as their suffering. Kumalo had gone Johannesburg in search of his missing relatives: Gertrude, John and his son, Absalom. Upon arriving in the city, he finds both Gertrude and John quickly but has difficulty in finding his son. He looks to his friend Msimangu with whom he searches all of Johannesburg for the whereabouts of his son. After a long period of searching, Kumalo is finally told by the white man at the reformatory that his son had been arrested for the murder of a white man. Upon learning of the severity of his son’s crime, Kumalo “nodded his head again, one, two, three, four, times … and nodded to them again” (Paton 126). Although he did not express his suffering in a obvious way, the repeated nodding intimates the fact that he was suffering both mentally and physically. His strange behaviour is most probably because he was in shock over what his son had done. The severe shock could also be attributed to him being a preacher and a man of God who would considers murder to be the worst sin of all and finding that his own son could have done such a thing, causing him great pain both as a father and a man of God. Along with the arrest of Kumalo’s son, Jarvis also began his quest for the son after his murder. He had been at his estate in Ndotsheni when he learned of his son’s death through van Jaarsveld, telling him “He was shot dead at 1:30 P.M. this afternoon in Johannesburg” (165). Upon the conformation of his worst fears, Jarvis also experiences suffering through shock. He sits down and then is dazed when he walked down the mountain to return and tell his wife. Before the police came to inform him and his wife of his son’s death, James had been content to live and stay within the narrow, comfortable confines of his estate. After finding out about the news of their son’s death, James is forced upon an emotional and mental quest for who his son had been. Although Jarvis’ quest for the son had begun with the death of his son and Kumalo’s quest for his son had truly begun upon hearing of the imprisonment of his son for murdering a white man, this marks the beginning of the quest for their sons on a deeper, more emotional level considering that they barely knew the strangers that were their sons, and as a way to cope with their suffering
As Kumalo and Jarvis progress through the quest for their sons, they suffer due to the complete strangers that their sons had become. After all his searching for the whereabouts of his son, Kumalo had finally found him to have been imprisoned waiting for his trial. Upon having his son brought out before him, Kumalo begins questioning him:
— Why did you do this terrible thing, my child?
The young man stirs watchfully, the white warder makes no sign, perhaps he does not know this tongue. There is a moisture in the boy’s eyes, he turns his head from side to side, and makes no answer. 130)
As Kumalo continues to question his son, he realizes that the person that stood in front of him was a stranger. He had to ask his son why he would do such a thing because it differed so violently from the boy that he had raised in the ideals of Christianity. He suffers throughout the interaction with his son as he discovered a cold, unfeeling man instead of the loving young boy that he had known before. Thus, his quest for his son had ended in a physical sense considering the fact that he had found his son but, he had found a stranger occupying the body of his son with a wholly different personality than the one that he attributed to his son. Along with Kumalo’s quest of his son, Jarvis’ quest for his son continues after he arriving in Johannesburg to be received by the Harrisons, Mary’s parents. After settling down, he sat down to listen to Mr. Harrison on what happened and who his son truly was. As he sat listening “to this tale of his son” he soon realizes that he is listening to the “tale of a stranger” (172). This causes Jarvis to realize how little he knew the man that he called his son, causing him great pain as he had as a parent never seen this for himself within his son. Jarvis’ quest for his son is one that opens his eyes, spreading them past the provincial outlook he held before to one where he was able to consider the worldly and all-encompassing views that his son now shared with him. His suffering is further enhanced by the irony that his son, the man that fought for the rights of the natives, had been killed by the very people he tried to defend. Jarvis’ realization of his son being a stranger and Kumalo’s quest for his son also yielding a similar result of a stranger lead to more suffering for both of the main protagonists of the novel.
As Kumalo and Jarvis progress through the quest for their sons, Jarvis realizes through the stranger that was his son, that the natives that he had been ignorant up to that point were suffering, while Kumalo sees the full extent of his people’s suffering. Kumalo realizes through his quest for his son, that the white man broke the tribe throughout South Africa and it had been replaced with nothing. He sees as he wanders through Johannesburg, the sights of his people in shantytowns and slums and it causes him great pain. This suffering is thus imprinted in Kumalo and he strives throughout the rest of the novel to try to mend the broken tribe in any way he could. Upon arriving back at the Ndotsheni after the sentencing of his son, he continues forward with this new outlook on the condition of his people noting that the white men had “knocked these chiefs down, and put them up again, to hold the pieces together … rulers of pitiful kingdoms that had no meaning at all” (264). This causes him emotional suffering because he through the quest for the son has his ignorance wiped away, allowing him to see the system that they whites had laid out for his people and the pathetic form that the tribe had been reduced to. Along with Kumalo, Jarvis also comes to know of the suffering of the natives. He learns of this through the essays that his son had written saying, “It is not permissible to mine any gold… if such mining… depend for their success on a policy of keeping labour poor” (178). Jarvis discovers the personality of his son and the kind of things that he stood for while also learning of the condition of the natives. He realizes that the system that he had ignored for such a long time was one built on exploitation and it leads to suffering as he saw that he was a part of the system that perpetuated these problems. Seeing the world from his son’s point of view allowed him to both find out who he was while also passing the suffering and pain of know that he was part of the problem. As Kumalo and Jarvis come to the end of their quest for their sons, they discovered native suffering and the widening of their provincial viewpoints.
In Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton, Paton uses both suffering and quest for their sons to add to the tragic framework of the play. Beginning with Kumalo and Jarvis’ quest for their sons with the murder of Arthur Jarvis and its resulting suffering, Jarvis and Kumalo both realize that their sons were total strangers to them, causing them further suffering since they are the ones that should have known them most. Finally, as their quest for their sons comes to a close, they both realize the suffering of the native people, causing both protagonists great suffering with their newfound knowledge.
The Symbolism Of The Red Color In Beloved
Toni Morrison uses the color red in multiple ways in her novel Beloved. On one hand red is a symbol of vibrancy and life, often revealing life in unexpected places. It also symbolizes pain and death, though death does not signify absence in a book where the dead have a very lively presence in human lives. Beautiful but terrible, red is desired and feared by the characters and often signifies important turning points in the book.
Several of Beloved’s characters express desire for red, showing it as a positive symbol of birth, life, and emotion. Denver, who has not left 124 for twelve years, longs for color and vibrancy. To Denver, Beloved’s arrival signifies the return of the vibrancy that she has missed most: that of a companion. Beloved’s worth to Denver is made clear through Denver’s love of colors, and red in particular, for Denver is willing to give up “the most violent of sunsets…and all the blood of autumn and settle for the palest yellow if it comes from her Beloved” (143). Beloved, also, is captivated by the color red. Though she has experienced more than enough vibrancy in her own life, her eyes follow the “blood spot” of a cardinal in the leaves of a nearby tree, “hungry for another glimpse” (119). To Beloved, red represents the emotion that she has kept inside for eighteen years. Beloved’s need for feeling leads to her affair with Paul D and spurs her desire for vividly colored clothes, such as the dress Denver eventually wears to visit Lady Jones, “a dress so loud it embarrassed the needlepoint chair seat” (291) Amy Denver, the whitegirl from whom Denver receives her name, has a fascination with “carmine” velvet. Though she has most likely never before left her home town, Amy is willing to travel “a hundred miles, maybe more” to find some red velvet of her own (41). Amy’s description of the velvet as “like the world was just born” strengthens the connection of the color red to birth and life (40).
Though admired for its beauty, red appears both as an overt and implied symbol of blood and death, reminding the reader about Sethe’s past. Beloved sometimes opens her neck wounds, terrifying Sethe and using the “rubies of blood” to get what she wants (294). Sethe is horrified by this image because it reminds her of the murder she committed eighteen years ago and disproves her frequent insistence that “I don’t have to explain a thing” (236). The reopening of Beloved’s wounds reflects the fact that nothing has truly healed and that Sethe can never fully forgive herself for the act. Besides the clear references to red blood, Morrison relates the color red to violence and death in several other places. Stamp Paid often plays with a red ribbon, found attached to part of a black child’s scalp in the “Licking River” (212). Stamp carries the ribbon at all times as a reminder of the cruelty of whites and the struggle of black people. When Paul D enters 124 for the first time, he encounters “a pool of red, undulating light that locked him where he stood” (10). The light is the presence of the baby ghost, showing that dead things are by no means gone from the world of the living. Upon Paul D’s arrival, the women of 124 have lived with the light and other reminders of Beloved for eighteen years, allowing the ghost to become part of daily life; when Paul D forces Beloved out, she returns in person, stronger than ever. The color of the blood, ribbon and light connects them to the events of the past.
Paul D and Baby Suggs’ reluctance to acknowledge the color red demonstrates their fear of the past and their own emotions. Paul D’s frustration over the freedom of the red rooster, Mister, stems from his own powerlessness. He is jealous of the rooster because Mister is able to display his colors, but Paul D’s captors have taken away his identity. The loss of his freedom also leads to an inability to feel, which Paul D equates to the sealing of a “tobacco tin buried in his chest where a red heart used to be” (86). After all the trials he has been through, Paul D is afraid to be emotional or allow himself to love. For years, he has thought it best to “protect yourself and love small” (191), but he is eventually unable to keep his emotions in check around Sethe and Beloved. His affair with Beloved causes the tobacco tin to open and his “red heart” to reemerge (138). Paul D’s refusal to open the tobacco tin reflects his fear that the things he loves will again be taken from him and a deeper fear that he is no longer able to love. Baby Sugg’s bedridden contemplation of colors shows that she may be as afraid of red and the emotion it carries as Paul D is. Though she spends most of her last eight years of life pondering colors, Baby Suggs never manages to think about red. Baby’s desire to “fix on something harmless in this world,” and unwillingness to think about red contrast with her earlier view that all life and emotion must be embraced, showing her acceptance of white dominance (211).
The color red represents the two extremes of life and death in Beloved and is therefore both feared and coveted by the characters. The young and naïve Denver, Beloved and Amy embrace red, seeing only its vibrant and positive aspects. The older characters, who have lived through the hardships of slavery, are more wary of the color. Sethe admits that “me and Beloved outdid ourselves with [red]” and cannot erase the color of her daughter’s blood from her mind (237). Morrison’s use of the color red as a symbol makes the connection between the living and the dead powerful in Beloved and makes the reader question traditional beliefs about life after death.
The Theme of Loving a Beloved One in the Poem
“[Funeral Blues]” was written in the 1900’s by an author named W.H Auden. It is a popular poem, and was included in the British movie “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” in which it is read at a funeral. The poem is about losing a loved one. The narrator has lost the love of their life, and now that they have, nothing else matters- not even life itself. It is touching and sad, and one can assume the narrator is a widow who has just recently lost their spouse. The poem paints a picture for readers, and tries to explain the true pain of how it feels to lose someone who was loved so dearly. “[Funeral Blues]” does an excellent job of displaying themes of grief, love, and depression, all while flowing well and following a rhyme scheme.
The poem shows many emotions- including but not limited to grief, love, remembrance, and depression. The narrator speaks highly of their recently deceased lover. “He was my North, my South, my East and West, my morning week and my Sunday rest, my noon, my midnight, my talk, my song,” (530) it is clear that the narrator thinks their love was the best thing in the world. Now that they are deceased, the narrator feels they cannot go on without them. When Auden writes “The stars are not wanted now; put out every one: pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,” (530) it shows that the narrator does not know how to live without their love, nor do they want to bother trying. It is questionable when the narrator says “I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong” (530). While it is a strong line, especially due to its punctuation, does love not last forever? It seems that if a love is strong enough, it does last forever. This is where the narrator caused slight confusion. Nonetheless, they are extremely in love still, despite the void that cannot be filled. “For nothing now can ever some to any good,” (530). The narrator truly believes that their purpose in life is no longer, just because they lost the love of their life. The first stanza leads the reader to believe the narrator is just going through the motions, but feels numb. “Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone. Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone, silence the pianos and with muffled drum bring out the coffin, let the mourners come” (530). They are just letting everything happen, for example, silencing the piano and dog, and letting mourners come and go. But, they also ask for clocks to stop, signifying they do not want it to happen, and they want the telephone cut off, because they do not want to answer it. Not only is speaking to everyone about the death terrible, but it makes it feel real. It is tragically beautiful that the narrator feels this way. But it shows their grieving process, the memories they appreciate with their passed person, and the deep depression they are feeling. Readers can truly feel the emotion the narrator is feeling throughout the poem.
This poem has short stanzas of four lines each, and an AABB rhyme scheme, which is unusual. While unusual, the poem still flows well when read aloud. It is an elegy, which is a reflection poem that is typically reserved for the dead. The poem was organized in an orderly fashion- beginning with tasks, and things that are going on around the narrator. The narrator then shifts to their personal feelings about their recently passed-away love, and it gets intensely deep. Overall, Auden stuck to an interesting rhyme scheme that poets do not typically used, but still managed to make the words flow together. The first line uses hyperboles, because the author is ordering that everything stop solely because of the death of their love. Auden did a great job of staying away from simple language. Because the author used much more in-depth words, it made the poem that much more meaningful. Instead of simply saying they heard an airplane outside, Auden wrote “Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead” (530). By using descriptive language, readers can paint a clearer picture in their minds. When writing “My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song” (530), the author is using metaphors to explain just how important this person was to them. One particular line that seemed emphasized was: “Pour the ocean away and sweep up the wood,” (530), because again hyperbolic metaphors are used- you cannot literally do either of these, assuming the author meant the forest or woods.
As far as themes go, this poem was fairly transparent. Love, depression, remembrance, and grief were repeating factors. But, it seems that pessimism and hopelessness are reoccurring as well. Towards the end, the narrator seems to have given up on everything. The last line specifically highlights the narrator’s pessimism and hopeless outlook on life: “For nothing now can ever come to any good” (530). The speaker even begins the poem unhappily. It seems they wanted to quiet the dog, silence the piano, and just get some peace and quiet. When the speaker explains how much his beloved dead meant to him: “He was my North, my South, my East and West”, it compares to one losing their actual compass in the woods. How will they go on? The narrator is clearly bereaved, and has no intention of moving on. At first, they want to do things correctly and orderly, but they cannot hold themselves together, and an outpour of emotions is released. The readers then get to see a more personal, touching side of the speaker.
Auden brilliantly showed what it is like to go through grieving of someone close to you. “[Funeral Blues]” not only was deep, but was well-written and displays raw emotions to readers. The simple elegy followed a rhyme scheme, and the stanzas went from casual to deep emotion. While it flowed smoothly, the poem properly captured grief, love, and depression. “[Funeral Blues]” wrapped up the devastating mood of funerals.
The Beloved’s Tobacco Tin Box
There are many symbols woven throughout Beloved, by Toni Morrison. Among those is Paul D’s tobacco tin box, which is a figurative replacement for his heart. Being a slave at Sweet Home and a prisoner at a camp in Alfred, Georgia, Paul D certainly faces traumatizing events. These traumatizing events are figuratively manifested in Paul D’s tobacco tin box. In more abstract terms, the tobacco tin box represents the loss of connection between memories and emotional function. With a tobacco tin box as a figurative replacement for a heart for Paul D, Morrison highlights slavery’s destruction of identity.
Paul D’s traumatizing experience under the burden of an iron bit in his mouth cause him to lose his voice, and adopt of a feeling of uselessness. The iron bit is a manifestation of slavery’s destruction of identity because Paul D is restricted of his ability to talk. Most of our personality is displayed by what we say or do, and by being severely limited in those areas, Paul D ends up with a reduced personality. Paul D is naturally a kind and caring person, but when “Paul D saw [Halle] and could not save or comfort him because the iron bit was in his mouth”, his caring nature is destroyed (Morrison, 83). The iron bit is a critical piece to Paul D’s tobacco tin box because “it put a wildness where before there wasn’t any” (Morrison, 84). The tin symbolically represents all harsh emotional changes that occur as a result of the horrors of slavery. For Paul D, that change was a wildness that would remain for a while.
Paul D arrives at 124 and begins to become more of the masculine character that he aspires to be. After being treated as sub-human for the last several years, spending quality time with Sethe and Denver change him for the better. Although once Paul D learns about Sethe’s questionable past, there is no looking beyond that. Having a tobacco tin box as a heart, Paul D cannot comprehend the kind of “thick love” that Sethe believes in for her children. Being abused, humiliated, and tortured, Paul D is left immune to any feelings of love. This is part of of the emotional dysfunction that Paul D suffers on a daily basis. Paul D says, “You got two feet, Sethe, not four” (Morrison, 194). The knowledge of Sethe’s brutal actions is yet another item added to the tobacco tin.
Paul D as a character is naturally inclined to be kind and feel sympathy for those he loves, but his tobacco tin deprives him of that. Scraping away all that was left of his original identity, all he can do is part with Sethe, “locking the distance between them, giving it shape and heft” (Morrison, 194). The work as a whole places great emphasis on the trials of abandonment and desperation that Paul D goes through. His parting with Sethe is stacked up with all the rest, lying in his tobacco tin box. The opening of Paul D’s tobacco tin represents how past horrors can always return to haunt us. With Beloved breaching an increasing threat on Paul D’s sanity, an emotional revolution was imminent for Paul D. Beloved’s sexual pressure and Paul D’s uncontrollable impulse for connection disrupts his emotional stagnation, and pries open the lid of his tobacco tin. Paul D is left repeating, “Red heart. Red heart” (Morrison, 138). It was a deep, haunting, and emotional connection which provoked such change in heart for Paul D, which closely aligns with slavery’s long-lasting detriments to the heart. Paul D’s encounter with Beloved represents more than just a physical event. Beloved, a figure from the past, stimulates Paul D’s heart painfully, just as when he reflects about traumatizing experiences. The opening of his tobacco tin is critical to the work as a whole because it reinforces the idea that even something so dull and stagnant can be victimized by slavery.
With a tobacco tin box as a figurative replacement for a heart for Paul D, Morrison highlights slavery’s destruction of identity. Paul D is a prime example for a man who had their own true identity taken away involuntarily. With no way of showing a hint of emotion that used to be there, the tobacco tin box becomes a symbolic location in the heart where all connections, emotions, hope, and desperations lay to rest. The symbol is a powerful manifestation of all things terrifying in slavery, and most importantly, the harsh destruction of one’s identity.