The Idea of Memory in Beloved

Only available on StudyMode
  • Download(s) : 229
  • Published : April 24, 2013
Open Document
Text Preview
In Toni Morrison's Beloved, the idea of memory is so connected with the novel that it is

becomes a character. In numerous events in this novel memory affects the story, impacting the

figures of Baby Suggs, Sethe, Denver, Paul D., and particularly Sethe. Memory can both take

and provide independence. Sethe is affected emotionally by her encounter at Sweet Home, and

her unidentified deceased little girl, yet she still deals with, or rather reduces her reminiscences.

For Sethe, her previous and her current state are both unstable, and this issue only

improves with the appearance of Paul D., a man who has closed up reminiscences of Sweet

Home. Beloved, as a unpleasant but pitied soul, cannot endure her stay at 124 without feeding off

of Sethe. Beloved attaches to Sethe and her memory is like a leach - the more Beloved wants, the

less Sethe is able to move forward. To 'live' on her own, Beloved needs Sethe's memories: “It

became a way to feed her. Just as Denver discovered and relied on the delightful effect sweet

things had on Beloved, Sethe learned the profound satisfaction Beloved got from storytelling,

“(69). Beloved's need to listen to of Sethe's previous lifestyle was so intense, Sethe herself could

see it: "The longing she saw there [in Beloved's eyes] was bottomless" (69). For Beloved, her

own memory is not absolutely her own - a lot of Sethe's gathered reminisces of slaves that who

were ultimately discontinued in memory otherwise. Beloved's knowledge and awareness is a

development of images and facts; the only memory of her own is still not independent of Sethe

as she recalls being deserted as a baby by Sethe.

Sethe's mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, the community's religious motivational speaker, can

only experience a deep sadness when remembering her eight kids, the four that approved away,

and the four that remain through but were lost: "My firstborn. All I can remember is how she

loved the burned bottom of bread. Can you beat that? Eight children and that’s all I

remember,” (6) Baby Suggs's memory is loaded with short lived memories - once they were

absolutely forgotten, any proof of her kid's existences removed. When those memories are

neglected, nothing fills in the emptiness for that missing memory. In the eyes of Baby Suggs,

once someone goes and no one in existence has memory of them, it is almost as if they were not

in existence to start with. Like Sethe, Baby Suggs values memory and teaches other people to

remember those lost, but unlike Sethe, she doesn't hold on to the past as if it were the present.

Baby Suggs likes to remind the community to value what they can feel and remember now when

she is losing the memory of those lost.

Denver requires Sethe to tell her stories of her past like Beloved, to provide proof of

something that is already gone, and as Denver said, "Anything dead coming back to life

hurts" (42). Denver's role in the story is mostly that of a listener. She takes on these second-hand

memories as her own. Denver takes pleasure in hearing the account of her birth, at the expense of

her mother having to recall the terror she felt escaping Sweet Home: “… because every mention

of her past life hurt. Everything in it was painful or lost” (69). For Sethe, there is no death, no

ending of what she experienced at Sweet Home because she is constantly asked to recall it for

her children; Although letting the past go is what Sethe really needs, she cannot because her kids

rely on her reminiscences for their own lifestyle. They substitute Sethe's identification with the

need of their own. Neither Beloved, nor Denver, have an lifestyle that is

individual from their mom's memory.
Sethe cannot remain without stimulating reminiscences of Sweet Home and her deceased

little girl, but Paul D., is remarkably attracted to Sethe, not as much of the...
tracking img