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American Literature Unit 2 African American Novel
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African American Novel
Toni Morrison: Beloved
1. In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, are female slaves treated differently, or worse, than men?
Ans: Female slaves in Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved suffer more than male slaves, because they are doubly oppressed: first as slaves, and then as women in a patriarchal, masculine society. Their experience as slaves is unique in many ways compared to the male experience, since gender roles were still being strongly reinforced in that world. One can argue that their treatment is worse because of the fact that people in positions of power will not easily relinquish that power. For example, white men are not willing to relinquish their power or privilege, and male slaves might exert power over female slaves in order to.keep what little power, or illusion of power, they are able to exercise. As male slaves, they would always have more freedoms than female slaves, because of the simple truth that being male comes with different expectations.
The novel explores the concept of African American culture and the reclamation by African American women of an identity that had been either forgotten, or never claimed to begin with. It is important to understand the history of black culture in America, as well as the social context in which women are oppressed. The main characters in Beloved were both black and women, and so struggled in two ways to understand what true freedom was. In many ways, they were both tied down as slaves and as women who were supposed to fulfill certain expectations: to be “good” black women, to be good mothers, to keep their culture and customs alive for their people, while also being available physically and emotionally to support the white men, women, and children who had power over them.
At the same time, their husbands and lovers were sold off at the whim of their masters. They were separated from their children, forced to carry on sexual relationships with their masters, and care for their children as well. MeanWhile, the children of the slave women who had been sold off were forced to deal with the unsatisfied needs that had been plaguing them since birth. They needed a mother’s love. They also needed to be able to identify themselves when it’s not just tied to another, and the way that a lot of women do that is through their knowledge of their mother, their mother’s family history and traditions that have been passed down through generations. Instead, the character Seth is forced to make a difficult choice: give up her baby, watch her be raised in captivity as she was, possibly without a mother’s love, or kill her. According to Seth: “If I hadn’t killed her she would have died and that is something I could not bear to happen to her.”
In order to truly be free, black women must be able to claim for themselves the freedom that is associated with rejecting and transcending the patriarchy, slavery, poverty, racism, social isolation, and many more conditions that they faced at the time. At some point, the layers of trauma become so real and deeply established in the subconscious of the victim that it becomes almost impossible to realise and express one’s true self. In Beloved, the character of Seth says, “Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”
2. How are racism and the institution of slavery presented through the characters by the symbolism associated with Beloved in Toni Morrison’s Beloved?
Ans: We ought also to consider the fact that Beloved says that she walked out of the water, and she describes the place where she was before she showed up on Bluestone Road as though it were a slave ship. She talks about people sleeping on top of her, being taken above decks to get fresh air or watch another dead body get dumped into the sea. She talks about the “men with no skin,” presumably the white men, who would bring the slaves their “morning water”—likely their urine—to drink. Thus, it seems that Beloved symbolizes not only her own family’s history and experiences with slavery but, in addition, the history of slavery in general. She seems to recall the Middle Passage, the slave ships that she never traveled in, and her walking out of the water—as well as Sethe’s “endless voiding” of liquid when she first sees Beloved—seems to symbolize Beloved’s rebirth.
3. What is Beloved “hungry” for in Toni Morrison’s book Beloved?
Ans : Beloved is “hungry” for a number of different things; in fact, her “hunger” is almost insatiable. In a literal sense, she craves sweets, a fact that Denver discovers early in her stay at the house. Denver notes that
“…sugar could always be counted on to please (Beloved). It was as though sweet things were what she was born for. Honey as well as the wax it came in, sugar sandwiches, the sludgy molasses gone hard and brutal in the can, lemonade, taffy and any type of dessert Sethe brought home from the restaurant. She gnawed a cane stick to flax and kept the strings in her mouth long after the syrup had been sucked away.”
Beloved also “hungers” for Sethe. She cannot take her eyes off her;
“Sethe was licked, tasted, eaten by Beloved’s eyes. Like a familiar, she hovered…she rose early in the dark to be there, waiting…when Sethe came down to make fast bread…she was in the window at two when Sethe returned, or the doorway; then the porch, its steps, the
path, the road, till finally, surrendering to the habit, Beloved began inching down Bluestone Road…to meet Sethe and walk her back to 124.”
Beloved is also “hungry” for stories, particularly those about Sethe’s life, and her baby. Sethe discovers that storytelling becomes “a way to feed Beloved,” just like the “sweet things” that Denver has found that bring their strange visitor such satisfaction.
4. Why does Denver tend to Beloved in Toni Morrison’s book Beloved?
Ans: Later in the story, Denver tends to Beloved because she understands that Beloved is her sister, returned to life and no longer a baby ghost. She instructs Beloved not to tell Sethe who she is, and, even though Beloved seems to love Sethe much more than she cares for Denver, Denver continues to tend to her in an effort to protect her from Sethe. After Sethe realizes who Beloved is, Denver begins to fear that whatever made it all right for Sethe to kill her children the first time (back when schoolteacher came with a slave catcher to remand Sethe and her kids back to slavery when Denver was a baby) could happen again and that Sethe might try to kill her and Beloved a second time. For this reason, she becomes almost obsessed with protecting Beloved from Sethe, and, consequently, it takes quite a while for her to realise that perhaps it is Sethe who needs protecting from Beloved.
5. In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, in what sense is Sethe in danger, and what ultimately saves her?
Ans: Sethe is in grave danger because of Beloved’s death grasp upon Sethe’s fragile mental and physical condition. “The thirty-eight dollars of life savings went to feed [Sethe & Beloved] with fancy food and decorate themselves with ribbon, . . . shiny buttons and bits of black lace” (240). Physically, Sethe is dying from hunger while she gives Beloved every ounce of the meagre food she has left after their thoughtless splurge on frivolity. Sethe no longer has any knowledge of or desire for the future for her little family. Beloved has, literally, taken Sethe out of the real world and given Sethe only one goal: to plead her case to Beloved (indirectly) as to why Sethe ended her baby’s life. There is no winning this battle, which is breaking Sethe mentally; therefore, Sethe wastes away to practically nothing.
The reason behind Sethe’s salvation remains open to interpretation. A case can be made that the towns-people save Sethe from Beloved through exorcism. Likewise, one could argue that the simple disappearance of Beloved in itself saves Sethe. Yet another idea could be that Paul D saves Sethe through his strength by convincing Sethe, “You your best thing, Sethe. You are” (273).
Ultimately, however, it is Denver who saves Sethe. Denver, the girl who was always afraid to leave the house, now becomes Sethe’s salvation by doing just that. “Little by little it dawned on Denver that if Sethe didn’t wake up one morning and pick up a knife, Beloved might” (242). Denver has a revelation and realises “so it was [Beloved] who had to step off the edge of the world and die because if she didn’t, they all would” (239). Physically, Denver’s emergence from the home sustains the family. Mentally, Denver’s emergence from the home renews the family’s strength. Indirectly, Denver’s emergence sparks the “exorcism” that happens near the end of the book. Denver, then, is the saviour in Toni Morrison’s Beloved.
6. How does Toni Morrison’s structure of Beloved help reveal the characters and their conflicts?
Ans: The structure of Beloved is circular in nature, and characters return again and again to events in the past in an attempt to process them. In the following quote, Sethe refers to reliving events as an outgrowth of what she calls her “rememory:”
I was talking about time. It’s so hard for me to believe in it. Some things go. Pass on. Some things just stay. I used to think it was my rememory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it’s not. Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place—the picture of it—stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world.
In the process of remembering, which the former slaves carry out in the novel, memories exist separate from the places to which they are connected. Memories have their own kind of existence, and characters continually revisit the past in an attempt to process the trauma that occurred to them. Sethe in particular uses “rememory” to relive the trauma of killing one of her children to prevent her daughter from ever having to experience slavery.
The narrative is circular in nature and returns to the past multiple times and from multiple angles. This structure is in part caused by the difficulty the characters face in returning to memories that are so traumatic and dis-orienting in nature. It is only through the process of constantly revisiting these events that former slaves such as Sethe can hope to process them.
7. Why did Toni Morrison use a stream of consciousness in “Beloved”? How did Baby Suggs develop through stream of consciousness?
Ans: Morrison uses a stream of consciousness style in order to capture the muddled thoughts and feelings of Sethe and Denver and Beloved. Sethe’s thoughts and feelings once she realises that Beloved is actually her baby daughter are not logical or ordered. Instead, she seems to feel so many things all at once that stream of consciousness makes the most sense. In part two, in the section Sethe narrates, she moves from her memory of killing her daughter, to why she was so protective of her
breast milk, to her desperate wish that her daughter will understand why Sethe did what she did, to Halle, to the garden she plans to plant, to Mrs. Gamer, to memories of being whipped, to Sweet Home and her escape, to the first time she saw Beloved, and so on and so on. The past and present run together because that is how they are in Sethe’s head.
It is similar in the next section, which Denver narrates. For her, past and present don’t run together, because she doesn’t have “memories” that affect her present, but her conflicting feelings about Beloved and her mother seem to layer over one another. She loves Beloved, but she also seems to recognize the threat Beloved poses to her mother. Denver wants to protect her mother from Beloved, understanding that Beloved strangled Sethe in the clearing, but she also fears that “Maybe it’s still in her the thing that makes it all right to kill her children.” So, she wants to protect Beloved from Sethe as well.
Similarly, in the next section, Beloved’s thoughts and feelings are depicted using a stream of consciousness narration. Beloved seems to mix up past and present, referring to memories she cannot have (like being on a slave ship) as well as describing what it is like to be dead and buried underground. She seems unable either to recognize or articulate what happened to her or when it happened, and she seems to want to become one with her mother—seeing herself as disjointed and horrifyingly separate. Past and present blend together for her, too.
In the last section narrated in stream of consciousness, all three individuals think and feel and talk at once. Therefore, their voices overlap out of necessity. They all want things, and their desires build and conflict.
8. Describe the house in Morrison’s Beloved.
Ans: In Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, 124 Blue-stone Road is as much a character as it is a setting. The house itself is ripe with history, and not just that of Sethe’s family. Although Morrison personifies the house early on in the novel, the owner of the house, Mr. Bodwin, also discusses the home’s rich past later on, stating that “women died there,” specifically his grandmother, mother, older sister, and aunt. We also learn that Sethe’s grandmother, Baby Suggs, lived there once she was freed from slavery. Morrison writes about 124 during the time Baby Suggs was there, indicating that the house was “cheerful” and “buzzing.” 124 doesn’t become the haunted, spiteful home we are shown at the beginning of the novel until Sethe kills Beloved in the shed.
Throughout the novel, 124 continues to change. Morrison initially describes the house as “full of baby’s venom,” and later on, she also mentions that 124 is loud, then later quiet. All three descriptions hinge on events that take place within the house, including Sethe and Beloved’s fighting and Beloved’s departure from the house. In an interview with NPR, Morrison also discusses the haunted aspects of 124 as it relates to the characters.
9. Is the girl Beloved, in the novel Beloved by Toni Morrison, the girl who ran away from the whiteman who lived in Deer Creek?
Ans: Another way to look at the character of Beloved is as a metaphorical representation of Sethe’s guilt over killing her 2-yr old. A psychological reading of the novel is ripe with potential comments on the fundamental nature of guilt (especially maternal guilt) regardless of racial or ethnic background. You could discuss the notion that although the narrative indicates that other people in the story – such as Paul D. and Denver – interacted with and were impacted by the character of Beloved, it could be that Morrison is actually examining the effect of one person’s overwhelming and crippling guilt on the people closest to her. Again, this interpretation requires a slightly different approach to the work, but the fact that the so-called “physical” character of Beloved appears out of nowhere and disappears into the same, seems to support her as more of a symbol than anything else.
10. How is syntax used in Beloved?
Ans: In addition to the other two Educator answers, I would point out that Toni Morrison uses fragments, compound-complex sentences, appositives, and parallelism in her syntax for Beloved. Syntax, at its most basic level, is the arrangement of words and phrases within a sentence.
While the fragment tends to be looked down upon by formal and academic writers since it does not follow typically accepted grammatical rules, the intentional fragment can be used by an author for emphasis.
Morrison opens her novel with an intentional frag-ment: “Full of a baby’s venom.”
Another example of syntax is the use of the compound-complex sentence. A compound-complex sentence contains at least two independent clauses (or complete “thoughts”) and one dependent clause (a fragment). One example of a compound-complex sentence appears in the opening paragraph of the novel:
The grandmother, Baby Suggs, was dead, and the sons, Howard and Buglar, had run away by the time they were thirteen years old—as soon as merely looking in a mirror shattered it (that was the signal for Burglar); as soon as two tiny hand prints appeared in the cake (that was it for Howard).
Two independent clauses are as follows:
: The grandmother, Baby Suggs, was dead
: The sons, Howard and Buglar, had run away by the time they were thirteen years old
There are two dependent clauses in the sentence as well :
: as soon as looking in the mirror shattered it
: as soon as two tiny hand prints appeared in the cake
Morrison also uses appositives in her writing. An appositive is, essentially, the renaming of something. The sentence contains two appositives :
: Grandmother = Baby Suggs
: Sons = Howard and Buglar
The sentence also includes the use of parallelism. Parallelism is the balancing of verbal constructions. Essentially, this means that a sentence’s words bear the same weight, so as to show the parts possess equal importance. An example of parallelism within the sentence lies in Morrison’s use of “as soon as” when describing the circumstances which surround each boy’s leaving.
Morrison uses these types of syntax throughout her novel.
11. What some examples of catharsis in Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved? Catharsis can be defined as the purging of emotions.
Ans: I think that you could make a case catharsis amongst several characters. In my mind, Sethe undergoes the greatest amount of catharsis. Her narrative in the work is one entirely predicated upon evolu-tion and change. If we take the “purging of emotions” idea, then the appearance of Beloved, as a spirit, is what triggers Sethe to “come clean” about her own experiences and purge the past into the present. It is through this acknowledgement and acceptance that her perception moves from black and white and into colour. Sethe is able to fully understand her role as a former slave, as a woman, and as a woman or color in a more clear light as a result of her being able to tell the story of what happened to her and her child. As Deborah Horvitz noted:
As the embodiment of Sethe’s memories,the ghost Beloved enabled her to remember and tell the story of her past, and in so doing shows that between women words used to make and share a story have the power to heal.
Such a reality represents the essence of catharsis and character evolution throughout the course of the narrative.
12. Please explain the concept of “re-memory” used in Beloved.
Ans: Beloved by Toni Morrison explores the concept of rememory —the process of returning to memories again and again, in such a way that they affect a person’s processing of their present. Sethe, especially, is haunted by memories of her time at Sweet Home and how she murdered her daughter so she wouldn’t be enslaved. She is unable to completely separate her past from her present.
Sethe explains the concept of rememory to Denver, her surviving daughter, saying, Some things go. Pass on. Some things just stay. I used to think it was my rememory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it’s not. Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place—the picture of it—stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world. What I remember is a picture floating around out there outside my head. I mean, even if I don’t think about it, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there. Right in the place where it happened.
Her point is that memory isn’t just a concept of the past. It’s something that affects the present; it’s in the world, not just in her memory.
Morrison demonstrates this when Paul D first comes to visit Sethe. He interrupts her in a memory of Sweet Home. Her greeting to him shows just how deeply that memory is ingrained. Morrison writes, “And although she could never mistake his face for another’s, she said, “Is that you ?” The question, to Sethe, is whether Paul D is there in person or as another haunting memory, because at times she cannot distinguish between the two.
Morrison shows that Sethe’s memories of Sweet Home are stronger than anything, even the more recent memories of her sons who have run away. She remembers the landscape of the plantation more clearly than her sons, and “it shamed her—remembering the wonderful soughing trees rather than the boys” (7). Her memories are a weight she bears that impacts the present, which is what the concept of rememory is all about. However, when Paul D appears, he sweeps the past out of 124 and allows Sethe and Denver to live free of its weight for the first time, to some extent.
Beloved herself, when she appears, is the opposite of Settle, who is weighed down with the vivid memories of her past that play such a role in creating her present. Yet Beloved herself brings a barrage of negative memories and recriminations, from forcing Paul D to relive his enslavement to punishing Sethe for what Sethe has done in the past. Ultimately she traps Sethe even more than the years of memories; she feeds off her until Sethe is wasting away and Beloved is growing even larger.
When Paul D returns and the women in the community force Beloved out, there is hope for Sethe. Paul D tells her, “me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow.” The constant reliving of her past through the memories that haunt her may be pushed back so that she can have a real future.
13. What are some examples of feminism in Beloved?
Ans: Traditional feminism is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes”. This means that women should be equal to men in economic, political, and social status. Another type of feminism, as seen in literature, occurs when traditional gender roles are reversed.
The novel Beloved by Toni Morrison has many examples of feminism. One example of feminism is the simple fact that many of the main characters are women. Sethe, the main character, lived as a slave and escaped from her plantation. By believing in her own abilities, valuing her life as a human being rather than just as a slave, and choosing to escape, Sethe is being a feminist. All of the women in the novel, despite their struggles, work together to make the best life possible.
The fact that Sethe decides which men she will join in relationships is another example of feminism in the novel Beloved. Sethe chooses not too many, an idea that was not conunon in the 1800s when the novel takes place.
14. Why does Morrison use magic realism in Beloved?
Ans: Concerning your question about magic realism in Beloved, no one can speak for the writer. We can only tell you what the effects of magic realism are in the novel.
First, magic realism, according to the enotes Study Guide on the subject:
Magic Realism is a literary movement associated with a style of writing or technique that incorporates magical or supernatural events into realistic narrative without questioning the improbability of these events. This fusion of fact and fantasy is meant to question the nature of reality as well as call attention to the act of creation. By making lived experience appear extraordinary, magical realist writers contribute to a reenvisioning of Latin-American culture as vibrant and complex.
The Study Guide cites Latin America because that’s where the technique originated, but the Guide’s statements apply to the fictional world of Beloved, as well. Morrison certainly makes the world of her novel “appear extraordinary,” and her work certainly could be seen as a reenvisioning of that world as “vibrant and complex.”
The key to magic realism is the inclusion of the supernatural in realistic narrative. The world of the novel is realistic, with the exception of the presence of the supernatural. But the world presented is not a fantasy world, it’s a realistic world.
In Beloved, the daughter’s ghost that haunts the mother is the mother’s regrets and wishes and anxieties and guilt given form. The ghost is a metaphor, albeit concrete and tangible, for the mother’s regrets, etc.
Magic realism enables the speaker to present that which haunts the mother in an eerie, emotionally powerful, poignant (having a quality of specialness) form.
15. How does Beloved show the characteristics of magical realism?
Ans: Technically, magical realism is a literary mode that only refers to a temporally and geographically specific form of writing : writing to emerge in Latin America in the mid-twentieth century, epitomised by famous Boom writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Alejo Carpentier. Magical realism, a blend of fantasy with quotidian reality, was used by these authors to address the normalised but “unbelievable” violence and thwarted political projects in the history of the region.
That being said, the issue of what might more appropriately be called the supernatural or the spectral in Beloved is of extreme importance. The main element of the supernatural, the return of Sethe’s dead daughter, communicates an essential message of the work: that for the victims of historical violence, the inheritance is so real and traumatic that it is as if the past were made present and flesh. Psychological studies into transgenerational trauma—most famously in the case of children of camp victims in the Holocaust—have shown that the descendants of victims inherit the traumatic burden of the past, without ever having actually experienced it themselves.
16. In Beloved, what does the narrator mean by the warning at the end: “this is not a story to pass on . . .”?
Ans : The phrase has several different connotations, depending on how one interprets the word “pass.” Morrison could be saying that this is not a story to “pass on” that is, bequeath or hand down, passing from one person to the next—perhaps because of its potential to re-ignite the horrors of slavery. But it’s also a story that one shouldn’t “pass” on—that is, refuse—because its historical and emotional truths, however painful, deserve to be remembered and honoured. Thirdly, it’s not a story to “pass on”—that is, die—because, like Beloved herself, the legacy of slavery and its horrors will continue to haunt us as a nation and a culture. As David Lawrence states in Studies in American Fiction, “While the painful heritage of slavery cannot simply ‘pass on,’ cannot die away, enslavement to that heritage, Morrison implies, must ‘pass on,’ must die away, in order to undertake the task of remembering and re-articulating the individual and communal body.”
17. What is the symbol of colours in Beloved by Toni Morrison?
Ans: Colours have long been associated with different feelings and emotions. For example, we often associate red with anger, blood, or death and blue with sadness. In the novel Beloved, many objects are given specific colours that are symbolic. One colour can have several different meanings within the text.
Red is the most recurring colour in the text. There is the red of the decaying roses, Amy’s red velvet, Paul’s red heart, the red rooster, the red of Sethe’s daughter’s blood, and the red ribbon.
Clean and new and so smooth. The velvet I seen was brown, but in Boston they got all colours. Carmine. That means red but when you talk about velvet you got to say “carmine.” She raised her eyes to the sky and then as though she had wasted enough time away from Boston, she moved off saying, “I got go”
The red velvet symbolises Amy’s hope for a better future. Boston has many colours of velvet, especially red, in opposition to the brown that she has seen. The bright colours of velvet in Boston hint that she will move there.
The red ribbon of Stamp Paid represents strength. The text states, “he clutched the red ribbon in his pocket for strength. Softly at first, then harder”. The ribbon is like a talisman that he keeps in his pocket to remind him to be strong and courageous.
Now that you have a basic understanding of the use of red in the novel, try to discover meanings for the red rooster, Paul’s red heart, and the decaying roses on your own.
18. How can we compare and contrast A Mercy and Beloved?
Ans: When Toni Morrison’s novel A Mercy came out in 2008, it immediately drew comparisons to her acclaimed novel Beloved, which was written over twenty years before. A Mercy (which takes place in the New World in the late seventeenth century) and Beloved are like two bookends to the narrative of slavery in North America : the former at the moment when it was being defined and reified, legally and socially, and the latter when the institution was beginning to be dissembled. Morrison said in an NPR interview about A Mercy,
I wanted to separate race from slavery … to be a slave without being raced, because I couldn’t believe that that was the natural state … it had to be constructed, planted, institutionalised, legalised. I moved as far back as I was able to where what we now call America was fluid, ad hoc.
Structurally, both novels include multiple fractured narratives, and this reflects the traumatic psychic effects of slavery. In A Mercy, we see the beginning of the trauma, and in Beloved, we see its continued traumatic impacts, centuries later. Both novels also show us fractured relationships between mothers and daughters : a minha mae and Florens, and Sethe and Beloved. Slavery ripped families apart and destroyed intergenerational connections for generations.
The dust jacket to A Mercy says it is “almost a prelude to [Beloved], set two centuries earlier.” In the two novels, Morrison explores the traumatic legacy of the institution of slavery at two very different, but important, historical moments.
19. In Beloved, what is the significance of the antelope metaphor?
Ans : The antelope metaphor in Toni Morrison’s Beloved appears in chapter 3 of the novel. In a story filled with rich and vivid imagery, this metaphor in particular is quite meaningful. Denver is recalling the story she loves to hear her mother tell about her birth. Sethe made her escape from Sweet Home in Kentucky, where she was abused by her slave master and his nephews, while she was late in her pregnancy. Sethe gave birth to Denver in the woods on her way to Ohio with the help of another escaped runaway, Amy, who had been a white indentured servant. Before giving birth, Sethe struggled to keep going,
But she could not, would not, stop, for when she did the little antelope rammed her with horns and pawed the ground of her womb with impatient hooves.
Sethe is Mother Earth in this image, and the unborn Denver is the antelope. Denver is struggling for freedom from Sethe’s womb, paralleling Sethe’s own struggle for freedom as she heads north. It is significant as well that the antelope is native to Africa, a reference to the Middle
Passage and the removal of Africans from their homeland as a part of the slave trade.
In another reference:
And oh but when they danced and sometimes they danced the antelope. . . . Some unchained, demanding others whose feet knew her pulse better than she did. Just like this one in her stomach.
Again, the reference evokes Africa, where everyone was “unchained.” And again, it is clear that Denver is represented by the antelope. While her mother was born into slavery, Denver will be born free and will be closer to the freedom their ancestors experienced in Africa.
20. How can we read Toni Morrison’s Beloved through Homi K. Bhabha’s ideas?
Ans: Several ideas that postcolonial literary theorist Homi K. Bhabha has developed can be applied to a reading of Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved. The idea of hybridity figures into such a reading, as Bhabha has emphasised the need to negotiate cultural value by addressing the perspectives of historically subordinated peoples in creating their own literature as well as reinterpreting the ways in which authors from the dominant groups have represented them.
Beloved presents the story of an African American woman whose attempts to escape from slavery in the US South were not just thwarted but ended in tragedy. Presenting the events from the point of view of a woman who might have been considered powerless is an act of empowerment, as it repositions the experiences of enslaved persons as central.
The concepts of location and dislocation are also important contributions that Bhabha has made. Both the physical location of individuals within their culture and country should be taken into account, Bhabha proposes, as well as the related conceptual locations.
These relationships correlate with the role of the writer in constructing a narrative that emerges from their conceptual location within a specific nation. Morrison, born in the twentieth century, conceptually relocates herself within the nineteenth century in her narrative, thus encouraging identification of contemporary readers with the changing United States as it grappled with the impact of slavery.
21. What are some of the differences and similarities between the movie and the book Beloved?
Ans: One of the problems with adapting a novel like Beloved as a movie is that much of the novel deals with people’s traumas and abstract representations of past horrors. For example, Sethe continuously brings her past into the present by relating every event to memories of Sweet Home. The same memories are dredged up repeatedly. The movie isn’t able to show in such detail how often she goes back and just how many connections are made; it would likely take too much time. This makes it more difficult for a viewer to understand the trauma that Sethe and others endured.
Paul D and Sethe don’t experience the same problems with intimacy that they do in the novel. They’re able to consummate their relationship without the same shame and self-loathing they feel in the novel. Part of this may be because the movie didn’t flesh out Paul D’s past in the same way. (This is also true of characters like Baby Suggs, Stamp Paid, and others.)
These changes make it more difficult for the audience of the film to understand Beloved in the same way. She appears as an evil spirit rather than someone who does both good and bad. The relationship that Paul D and Sethe, especially, have with Beloved doesn’t translate as fully to the screen. A viewer would have a very different picture of Beloved the character than a reader would.
22. What is an example of a paradox in Beloved?
Ans: One of Toni Morrison’s most famous novels is Beloved, which tells the story of Sethe, a former slave, and her family in Cincinnati, Ohio. In literature, a paradox is a situation or statement which is contrary to expectations. A paradox appears to be self-contradictory but usually contains a deep latent truth which helps the reader better understand a theme.
Beloved contains numerous paradoxes, but the largest and most expansive is the paradox that Sethe’s family is free. It’s true that Sethe’s family escaped slavery. However, slavery has so impacted Sethe that her family will never be able to truly experience freedom. Sethe’s daughter, Denver, is unable to make friends and unable to leave her house, which represents both a physical and mental confinement. Both of Sethe’s sons ran away from home, much like slaves ran away from plantations.
In the most poignant moment of the novel, the reader learns that Sethe killed her oldest daughter in order to “keep her safe.” In Sethe’s mind, death is a better situation than slavery. This insight helps the reader better understand and contextualize slavery and the extreme negative impacts it had on humans.
Another paradox is when Sethe is unable to stop spoiling Beloved. Beloved becomes a stand-in for Sethe’s murdered daughter. Sethe spoils Beloved, which is the opposite of the way she treated her daughter.
23. In “Beloved” by Toni Morrison, how is the reversal of roles in society revealed through the relationship between Denver and Sethe?
Ans: The most obvious answer to this question is that Denver acts as a mother to Sethe by taking care of her. Denver nurses her mother when she is sick. She also gets a job to help support her mother and 124. It can also be argued that Denver is more emotionally mature than Sethe. While she does act out for her mother’s attention at the beginning of the novel, she quickly matures into the emotional stronghold of the house. Sethe becomes more and more dependent on Denver’s support as the novel goes on.
24. What is the significance of this passage from Beloved? “124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom.”
Ans: Toni Morrison’s Beloved starts with this line, a reference to the noises and spirits that occupy the house of Sethe, an escaped slave who escapes north to Cincinnati, Ohio, with her children. As the book starts (the action begins in 1873), Sethe’s house, where she lives with her daughter Denver, is plagued with the memory of Sethe’s dead child. Sethe killed the child to prevent her from being taken by slave captors, and the epitaph on her grave reads “Beloved.” The house, number 124, symbolizes Sethe’s continually troubled memory as she recalls her murder of her daughter, carried out to save the child from slavery, and other haunting memo-ries of her enslaved past.
The other two parts of Beloved begin with references to 124, including “124 was loud” (in Part Two) and “124 was quiet” in Part Three. The ghost of the dead child will continue to trouble the house until Part Three, when Sethe is able, with the help of members of the community, to put her past into a more comfortable place and face the future. The ghost of Beloved is a symbol of the suffering of countless of slaves and the memory of the horrors of slavery. It is not until the community can come together in Beloved that Sethe is able to move on and rid 124 of the vengeful spirits that possess it.
25. Morrison uses objective correlative in her style. Apply this style to “Beloved.”
Ans: Yes, Morrison definitely uses objective correlative in her novel Beloved. According to www.dictionary.com, objective correlative is when a writer uses situations or sequences of events to evoke a particular emotion in the reader (“Objective correlative”).
Morrison uses this technique throughout Beloved. The most prominent use of it, as someone who has read this novel several times, is through Morrison’s depiction of horrifying physical abuse and desperate acts. An example of this is when Sethe attempts to kill her children (and ultimately succeeds at doing so with one of them). This is a truly horrifying, heartwrenching, unimaginable situation to read about and it evokes terror, horror, and absolute sorrow in the reader. There are many other examples, as well, as this novel is ultimately a sad one that is so very eye-opening.
26. Write about the significance of Beloved?
Ans: I think that you can find many different paths in answering this question. The novel is more than one centred on the issue of race. It might not do it justice to categorise it as solely one of race. However, it is important to note that Morrison’s work does speak extremely powerfully to the issue of race, racism, and the lingering effects of past injustices on both the present and the future. The idea of presenting a character that struggles on both and emotional and historical level to overcome a past into a present and future of hope is powerful and speaks to all human beings. Another reason why the work is significant is because Morrison writes about the issue of slavery from both racial and gender valences. It is important to understand that African- American women endured a whole other host of challenges that men did not have to face in such an intense manner. Sethe’s fundamental crux is avoiding slavery and killing her child in order to do so. For the most part, men did not have to make such a choice. I think that its significance is present on this level. Finally, I think that Morrison’s work challenges the conventions of “the canon.” It is important to note that Morrison’s work belongs in any collection of American Literature even though it raises question and doubt as to how the canon reflects American History. Morrison is making the point that American Literature can critique American History. In this, the work is highly significant.
27. What is the overriding theme presented in Beloved?
Ans: Part of what makes Morrison’s work so intricate is that it takes the history of enslavement and the narrative of social and self hate into different psycho-logical avenues. I think that you can pull many different themes from the story. In my mind, the tension between remembering the past and being trapped by it is probably one of the most telling elements of the narrative. It distinguishes itself from other works in depicting characters who are mindful of the past, but also struggling to overcome it. Sethe is a prime example of this. In seeing her world in black and white and devoid of emotional interaction, she is both a product of slavery and struggling to overcome its horrific effect. It is Sethe’s character and her relationship with Beloved and Paul D where this dynamic is most evident :
Beloved seems to have ‘disremembered’ almost all of her past, and when Sethe comes to believe the girl is her lost daughter she ‘was excited to giddiness by the things she no longer had to remember.’ Her words seem to imply that Sethe tortures herself with memories as a sort of punishment…” The conclusion of the novel seems to imply that finally putting the past behind her will enable Sethe to survive. ‘We got more yesterday than anybody,’ Paul D. tells Sethe. ‘We need some kind of tomorrow.”
It is the need for “some kind of tomorrow” that compels Sethe to recognize herself as “her best thing.” This is a balance that Morrison brings out in the work, causing pain to turn into a source of strength.
28. What is the significance of Ella and Lady Jones in Beloved?
Ans: Both Ella and Lady Jones help to gather community support for Sethe after Denver finally leaves 124 and asks for help. She goes to Lady Jones because she can remember her, and Lady Jones is responsible for alerting the church members about the sad situation involving Sethe’s deteriorating physical condition and the debilitating influence Beloved seems to have. They provide food for the family.
Ella literally gathers a group of thirty women to go to Sethe’s house, apparently with the goal of getting rid of Beloved to save Sethe. Once they arrive, the women begin to make “a sound,” not singing, not yelling, and then Ella “hollers.” The volume grows, causing Sethe and Beloved to come to the door to find the cause of the commotion.
When Sethe mistakes Mr. Bodkin for the school-teacher because of the hat he’s wearing, she charges him with an icepick because she is determined no one will take her children. This time she will protect them. To stop her, Ella “clips her jaw,” and Denver brings her down.
Both Lady Jones and Ella are community figures who show female leadership and further emphasise Morrison’s focus on the role of women in her novel. Initially, Ella is the first woman Sethe meets after Stamp Paid delivers her and her newborn to land; Ella provides some supplies and takes her to Baby Suggs.
29. How are the novels Beloved and Dracula similar and different in their presentation of the supernatural?
Ans: While both Dracula and Beloved deal with the supernatural, their approaches to the subject/genre are very different. With Dracula, Bram Stoker tells a chilling story of an evil entity driven to consume mankind, while Morrison’s Beloved presents a ghost that devours because it doesn’t know any better.
Dracula’s titular character consumes everything in his path in order to survive. After luring Jonathan Harker (0 his castle, he imprisons him and feeds off Harker repeatedly as he prepares to travel to England. Dracula then leaves Harker behind in the care of thralls and continues to England, feeding upon the crew of the Demeter along the way, using his supernatural powers of strength, concealment, and shape-shifting to remain undiscovered. By the time the ship reaches shore, there is no living creature left aboard. He then moves through England, turning Lucy Westenra into a vampire and biting Mina Harker (Jonathan’s wife) and attempting to con-vert her to vampirism as well. His ultimate plan is to settle in various houses throughout the country to expand his feeding grounds, consuming at will. He is shown to be a great evil to the world, using his powers to kill and control nearly at will. When he is finally destroyed, Mina is freed from his grasp, the remaining characters are able to begin the process of healing, and England (and perhaps the world) are saved.
Beloved, on the other hand, also deals with a nearly all-consuming supernatural character in the form of the ghost that shows up to 124 Bluestone Road. Beloved, the ghost, does consume and draw the life out of those closest to her (Sethe, primarily, and Denver), but unlike Dracula she is not bent on destruction. Rather, Beloved is in one way the manifestation of a baby killed 18 years before, when pride caused communal bonds to shatter.
Upon showing up at 124 Bluestone, Beloved behaves in much the same way that a baby would. She falls asleep regularly, she has trouble controlling her body, and she is always hungry and often short-tempered. Her existence would not be possible without the influence of the supernatural. The title character embodies the spirit of a baby trapped in a woman’s body. She isn’t driven by malice but rather the fear of being separated from her mother again. She spends the majority of the book physically monopolising Sethe’s time while supernaturally consuming Sethe’s being. Beloved also succeeds in driving wedges between Sethe and her relationships with Denver and Paul D, until finally Denver is forced to go out into the community to ask for help. Once the community begins to understand what is happening, they come to 124 to confront the ghost and, through love, forgiveness, and acknowledgement, succeed in driving Beloved out and saving Sethe.
While both novels seemingly deal with greedy, all consuming entities, it is important to note the reasons for the consumption. While Dracula’s thirst for blood was a symbol for his greed and desire for conquest, Beloved’s desire to initially occupy all of Sethe’s attention and then all of Sethe’s existence is the result of the baby’s loss of that attention eighteen years before. The supernatural is a major part of both of these novels. Without the presence of the supernatural, the fantastical plots and resolutions could not occur. However, whereas in Dracula the supernatural is employed as a vehicle with which to consume society, in Beloved the supernatural exists as a means to heal a community.
30. What can we say about the subject of repression and expression in Beloved?
Ans: A more prevalent interpretation of Sethe’s killing of her child at the end of the novel is one, not of repression, but of expression. Rather than have her child live as a slave, Sethe frees her of this condition by sending her soul into the next world. This act, then, for Sethe is an act of love, an act initiated to defy the world that has oppressed her for so long.
And if she thought anything, it was No. No. Nono. Nonono. Simple. She just flew. Collected every bit of life she had made, all the parts of her that were precious and fine and beautiful, and carried, pushed, dragged them through the veil, out, away, over there where no one could hurt them.
For Sethe, the demarcation between life and death is fragile, no more than a “veil” placed before her children. She acts upon instinct and sends her child to the other side rather than let her be a slave.
31. How is Sethe considered a tragic heroine in “Beloved”?
Ans: Sethe can be considered a tragic heroine because of how thoroughly victimised she’s been, and how her various victimizations have impacted her life as a free woman. Not only was Sethe subjected to slavery, a condition which, in and of itself, is unimaginable in its cruelty and trauma, but she has a number of experiences related to her bondage that further victimize and traumatize her beyond her lack of freedom to make most personal choices (aside from marrying Halle).
First, she overheard a school teacher telling his nephews how to keep track of her human characteristics versus her animal characteristics (a demoralising and humiliating event at best). Next, she is assaulted by schoolteacher’s nephews when they hold her down and “[take her] milk” (an event that is especially taumatiz-ing—even beyond the assault itself—because one of her absolute biggest concerns is having enough milk for her then-baby, Beloved). Shortly after, she loses her beloved husband, never really knowing what happened to him until years later when she learns that he witnessed her assault and was driven crazy by it. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, when schoolteacher comes to return Sethe to slavery under the Fugitive Slave law, after she has experienced about a month of freedom with her children in Cincinnati, she’s been so traumatized by her experiences that she makes the awful and, in some ways, incomprehensible decision to kill her children—to “keep them safe” in her words—rather than allow them to be brought up in a life of slavery. (She manages to kill only her oldest daughter.) It is too much, too much for one person to endure. And yet she somehow does. Somehow this tragic woman keeps moving and raises her daughter, cobbling together a livable life.
32. What is Paul D’s look on life in Beloved?
Ans: In Morrison’s Beloved, Paul D’s look on life is a direct result of the evils associated with slavery. In fact, slavery has created this man who has a “tobacco tin buried in his chest where a red heart used to he. Its lid rusted shut.”
Paul D’s take on life is as a wanderer. Because of his past experiences, he feels that he can’t remain in one place. He becomes restless. He must move on. Specifically, he is the last male inhabitant of Sweet Home. All of his brothers were killed or sold away. It is the Cherokee who free Paul D, … free him to a life of paranoia.
It is Sethe who begins to change the hardness in Paul D only to be arrested by the appearance of the spectre, Beloved. She/It corrupts Paul D for a while and putting it in the simplest way possible, Paul D begins to wander again. It is most significant that Paul D remains/returns at the end of Beloved, nixing his past demons. For the first time in his life, Paul D’s restlessness is gone. Further, Paul D has found his place, admitting that he “He wants to put his story next to [Sethe’s].” And so he does.
33. How are the characters in “Beloved” revealed? How complex are the characters?
Ans: Beloved herself is revealed slowly. She begins the book as a phantom, and once she materialises, her true identity is only alluded to. She is mysterious and complex, but at the same time simple because of her childlike nature.
Sethe is also a complex character. Her motivations are character traits are also revealed slowly as the plot progresses. Morrison uses flashbacks in order to keep Sethe’s past hidden until the reader truly needs to know it.
34. What is the educational message of Morriton’s “Beloved”?
Ans: I believe one of the educational messages is the power of words to heal. Through her own story (her being able to tell the story of the horrible and unimaginable physical and emotional pain she has endured, not to mention the deaths of several of her children), Sethe is able to heal the scars of her past. Often writing and even talking about difficult times can be cathartic for people; it can be a form of therapy, in many ways. Simply being able to recount fully one’s difficult times can be a way of healing the past.
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