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The Importance Of The Past In Toni Morrison's Beloved

2282 words - 9 pages

 
"The future was sunset; the past something to leave behind. And if it didn't stay behind, well, you might have to stomp it out. Slave life; freed life-every day was a test and a trial. Nothing could be counted on in a world where even when you were a solution you were a problem"1

The past is something that, without clinical illness, is impossible to forget. No matter how horrific or emotionally damaging, it cannot be changed. What we chose to do with this memory of the past will shape our future. This lesson is one of the most important themes in Toni Morison's novel, Beloved.

History was not only a significant theme in the novel, but the book was also very historical itself. I had learned and educated myself very thoroughly on the issue of slavery before I read this novel. Reading this novel I felt as if I were experiencing slavery first hand. Morrison creates her characters and chooses her words so poetically it is impossible to not see the beauty of the way she portrays this historical event. "It is a meditation on history." Says history professor Elsa Barkly Brown of Maryland University. Professor Ira Berlin continues,  "The discipline of history is such that it limits the imagination. Morrison has an extraordinary imagination, an extraordinary ability to take us into the world of slavery and freedom. Beloved is an attempt to do something which no historian can do." 2

Morrison also has a very creative and entertaining way of slowly revealing each characters past to the reader. The novel goes back and forth between the present and each of the characters pasts. At times it may get confusing to the reader, but it was not meant to be understood at all times. That left many spaces open for the reader to insert their own thoughts and attempt to interpret, in a way that related to them, what was really going on.

Some of the characters, like Sethe, try desperately to hide their past. Others are constantly clinging to it as Denver does. Both methods prove to be emotionally unhealthy for the characters throughout the course of the book, and in the end they learn the best way to deal with this.

Not only does the novel pull you into the psyche of many diverse and emotionally saturated characters, it also leaves the reader with many unanswered questions, a technique of the author that was not accidental. Toni Morrison left many (things) open for reader interpretations, so I will also be attempting to answer one of the most controversial questions the novel arises. Who (or what) is Beloved?

Some argue that Beloved is the ghost of Sethes third child, that she murdered to protect from slavery. Others feel that Beloved never even truly existed that she was simply a fabrication of the other characters troubled lives. One thing is for sure the presence that appeared on a stump in the front yard of house 124 did exist and changed, in extreme, life saving ways, everyone that surrounded her.

The character of Sethe, has an...

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