Rememory in Toni Morrison's Beloved
To survive, one must depend on the acceptance and integration of what is past and what is present. In her novel Beloved, Toni Morrison carefully constructs events that parallel the way the human mind functions; this serves as a means by which the reader can understand the activity of memory. "Rememory" enables Sethe, the novel's protagonist, to reconstruct her past realities. The vividness that Sethe brings to every moment through recurring images characterizes her understanding of herself. Through rememory, Morrison is able to carry Sethe on a journey from being a woman who identifies herself only with motherhood, to a woman who begins to identify herself as a human being. Morrison glorifies the potential of language, and her faith in the power and construction of words instills trust in her readers that Sethe has claimed ownership of her freed self. The structure of Morrison's novel, which is arranged in trimesters, carries the reader on a mother's journey beginning with the recognition of a haunting "new" presence, then gradually coming to terms with one's fears and reservations, and finally giving birth to a new identity while reclaiming one's own.
Morrison characterizes the first trimester of Beloved as a time of unrest in order to create an unpleasant tone associated with any memories being stirred. Sethe struggles daily to block out her past. The first thing that she does when she gets to work is to knead bread: "Working dough. Working, working dough. Nothing better than that to the day's serious work of beating back the past" (Morrison 73). The internal and external scars which slavery has left on Sethe's soul are irreparable. Each time she relives a memory, she experiences the pain all over again. Morrison parallels her character's unrest with the past with a mother's unrest during the first stage of pregnancy.
Morrison uses the voices of two people, lost from each other in remembrance, and brings them together by juxtaposing memory against memory until finally their recollections converge in the same episode. After a sexual encounter, Sethe and Paul D reflect on their shared experiences in slavery at the Sweet Home plantation. It is against this backdrop that both characters struggle to tackle their feelings of inadequacy. Although Sethe and Paul D share their memories, there is only so much that they are willing to divulge since "[s]aying more might push them both to a place they couldn't get back from" (Morrison 72). While Paul's coping mechanism is to place all of his painful memories in the tobacco tin buried in his chest, Sethe's coping mechanism is prevention. The characterizations of Sethe, Paul D, and Sethe's daughter Denver continue through the use of flashbacks. By juxtaposing memory with scenes from the present, Morrison offers a better understanding of Denver and her reaction to Paul D. Lonely and troubled, she finds solace inside her own small world...