Memory in Beloved

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Clariza Gutierrez

April 16, 2012

English 320

In everyone’s life there is a moment that is so dreadful and horrific that it is best to try to push it further and further back into your mind. When traumatized by death for example it is very natural to shut off the memory in order to self-defense suppresses the awful emotional experience. Very often it is thoughtful that this neglecting and abandoning is the best way to forget. In Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, memory is depicted as a dangerous and deliberating faculty of human consciousness. In this novel Sethe endures the oppression of self imposed prison of memory by revising the past and death of her daughter Beloved, her mother and Baby Suggs. In Louise Erdrich’s story Love Medicine, memory of death and the past is revealed carefully among the characters of June, Gordie, Henry and Lyman. It is apparent by juxtaposing these two novels that the theme of memory of the past and death plays a major role in these characters lives. However the theme of memory is shown and depicted for two different reasons in both these novels. In Beloved, Sethe expresses an insatiable obsession with her memories with the past to understand the causes of death and then being able to cope with them. While in Love Medicine, memory is shown through a series of episodes where Gordie and Lyman attempts to bring back things alive again by revisiting the past of June and Henry through their death.

In Beloved by Toni Morrison, Sethe undergoes a self-imposed prison of memories by revisiting the past and death of her daughter Beloved. She begins by explaining to Denver the power of memories and how they are immortal. Memories have an effect on the present because they change the way we look at the world around us. She continues by explaining that the power of some experiences can be so strong that is seems that even the memory of it is enough to make the horrible incident happen again. “To Sethe, the future was a matter of keeping the past at bay. The “better life” she believed she and Denver were living was simply not that other one. Sethe keeping her from the past, that was still waiting for her was all that mattered (pg 51). ” Here we are introduced to Sethe’s belief of keeping the past where it belongs. However it is inevitable that Sethe is brought back to her memories through her daughter Beloved, who she murdered as a baby eighteen years ago. One unforgettable memory that Sethe has of her dead daughter Beloved is when she thinks back to her stolen milk. “All I knew was I had to get my milk to my baby girl. Nobody was going to nurse her like me. Nobody was going to get it to her fast enough, or take it away when she had enough and didn’t know it. Nobody knew that but me and nobody had her milk but me (pg 19).” This memory of Beloved through the stealing of her milk is the only memory that shows a mother and daughter relationship to Sethe. Through the protection of her milk, Sethe showed that she once did protect and loved her daughter Beloved even though she tries not to remember.

Sethe tries to understand and cope with her memories of her mother’s death when she revisits the past through Beloved. In this novel there is a relationship between Beloved’s arrival and the blossoming of Seth’s memory. Only after Beloved comes to Seth’s house as a young woman does Seth’s repression of countless painful memories begin to lift. Beloved brings Sethe to speak about her mother’s death, which is another memory that she tries to keep in the past as well. Beloved asks about Sethe’s mother and she explains that she rarely saw her. Sethe mentions that her mother was hanged, and she is suddenly stunned by the recollection of a disturbing memory that she had forgotten. “Hung. By the time they cut her down nobody could tell whether she had a circle and a cross or not, least all of me and I did look (pg 73).” In this section we see how Beloved inspires Sethe’s memory of...
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