Memory’s Ghost in Beloved
“A moment lasts all of a second, but the memory lasts forever”- Anonymous
In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, the concept of memory is so intertwined with the novel that it is becomes a character; like any character it has impulses, it breaths, it moves, it pushes action forward, and it prevents it; if repressed it sometimes fights; it gives life, and attempts to take it away. Memory and identity are inseparable and interchangeable; what happened in the past becomes not only a part of you; it is you; in the same light it is also possible to identify a strongly felt emotion with a previous memory; a memory of how you felt during a traumatic situation that is played over your daily life, almost like a sensory soundtrack, it becomes almost like a dual self, existing in the same time and the same place. In this essay I will be looking at the effects that memory takes in this novel, how it affects the characters of Baby Suggs, Sethe, Denver, and Paul D., and how memory can both take and give freedom.
Sethe is a woman trapped in a private prison; although seemingly independent and strong, she remains tethered to her past, almost like an invisible umbilical cord; she is bound to the memory of her dead daughter, Beloved, the one whom she murdered. In the beginning of the novel, Sethe’s existence is an empty shell; she’s impaired in a way both mentally and emotionally by her experience at Sweet Home, and her nameless dead daughter, yet she still manages to cope, or rather suppress her memories. Sethe’s daily life compared to her recalled life at Sweet Home presents a dual existence; she attempts to live in the present, but the challenge of attempting to do so introduces a problem; in the novel, Sethe brings up an analogy of a burned house, “ 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” (43), what is gone is never really gone, until it is completely, utterly, and totally forgotten; what remains is a dual identity, something that is in the here and now, but also exists in another world that is frozen in time.
For Sethe, her past and her present are at conflict, and this conflict only increase with the arrival of Paul D., a man who has locked up memories of Sweet Home, and of Alfred, Georgia, in an internal rusted box. Here Boy, the lame dog at 124 whose name represents the current and present place, runs off. At 124, a gap is developed; what is in the present and the past become converged and equal; what was memory, now lives in the current. There is no fading of memories, no forgetting; what happened eighteen years ago to Sethe and her children is as real as the hand in front of her face; she is incapable of separating the two.
Beloved, as a manifested spirit, her existence equal memory of the “sixty million and more”; she cannot survive without feeding off of Sethe, Beloved’s control on Sethe and her memory is like a leach, the more Beloved...