Professor Margaret Shannon, PhD
09 December 2012
Rememory of Things Past
The practice of slavery is on the greatest contradictions in the history of our nation. In the
18th century, as equality and liberty were being touted as the ideals of our what it means to be
American, slavery grew into an institution, that saw the death of millions of innocent lives. Toni
Morrison dedicates her novel, Beloved, to the "60 million and more"—a liberal estimate of the lives lost to slavey, mostly on the mid-atlantic crossing alone. With 60 million and more lives lost, there are just as many stories to be told. In Beloved, Morrison endeavors to delve into the mind of a slave, inspired by the true story she read about mother her murdered her children to save them from slavery. Although she herself concedes that language can never "pin down" slavery, its "force" and "felicity" is in its reach toward the "ineffable" (Morrison). If the the reach is what makes language, then Morrison is worthy in that she captures the raw emotion through a fictional narrative of a harsh reality.
Slaves were dealt with choices, which the circumstances of their conditions, offered nothing but "bad" choices. The central focus of the story is the choice made by Sethe, and to a lesser extent the choices made by all the characters. The experience, and memory of their experience is cause for much inner turmoil for the characters in the book. They all make choices
Santos 2 in the face of slavery and struggle with what their choices mean. Sethe chooses sacrifice, Paul D chooses to live. The conflict of living with their choices and “rememory” of their past, trying to lock them away, hampers their ability to love themselves. Sethe's personal dilemma, is representative of the slave identity. Her main conflict is not so much about the choice she made, but her inability to love herself, a fault that prevents from truly breaking the free of slavery.
When we are first introduced to Sethe, she is a free, but is still enslaved by the after effects of slavery— the memory of it. The legacy of slavery is ingrained in her memory, her subconscious mind, which itself takes the form of a spirit that at first haunts the her home, then presents itself in human form in the character Beloved. Her brain is "not interested in the future... loaded with the past and hungry for more, it left her no room to imagine, let alone plan for, the next day" (83). "Working, working dough. Nothing better than that to start the day's serious work of beating back the past (87). Preoccupied with repressing her past, she is unable to progress both mentally and emotionally.
The arrival of Paul D to 124 sets Sethe's journey to self love in motion. Until this point she is effective at keeping her past at bay. She is resolved to living with the wounds. But a figure from her past, Paul D informs her of information she was oblivious until the present story. The awful memory of the night in the barn was retroactively compounded by the knowledge that Paul
D imparts on Sethe that Halle had witnessed the entire event. This is the point of the story where she resigns to her "rebellious brain":
Why was there nothing it refused? No misery, no regret, no hateful picture too rotten to accept? Like a greedy child it snatched up everything. Just once, could it say, No thank
Santos 3 you? I just ate and can't hold another bite? I am full God damn it
of it... I cant go back
and add more (83).
Not only was she traumatized by the experience, but what she really could not comprehend was the fact that her husband had been there to witness it, "not stopping them—looking and letting it happen" (83). She acknowledges how other peoples brains stopped when faced with trauma, and how sweet it must have been for Halle. But because her children were well on their way to
Ohio, she still had to fight. Paralysis, for her, was not an option.