Storytelling through both space and time in Beloved

While flashbacks are often used in storytelling, Toni Morrison really takes it to the next level and utilizes it to enhance both the characters and story. Beloved is a story that is fixated on the past. So much so that a central character is a literal representation of the main characters’ past.

Toni Morrison is able to move seamlessly between the past and present in order to provide background and context to important events in the characters’ lives. Memories are often told in great detail and from multiple points of view. Providing several points of view can help understand how each character was affected or shaped by that memory.

For example, Sethe’s wedding day is first told from her perspective. However, it soon becomes apparent that we can’t trust just her take on that day to be reliable. While she thinks that nobody knew she and Halle had sex in the cornfields, Paul D. and the others were quite aware. This is just one example, although these types of situations occur several times throughout the book.

5 thoughts on “Storytelling through both space and time in Beloved

  1. Karim A.

    I think that Toni Morrison does this to give us a picture of the real human mind, never staying in one place and always wandering from time to time. She never gives the past and its flashbacks a full and ordered timeline because our brains just don’t work like that, our memories are all jumbled up and we might even recall them completely different from other people who were at the same place at the same time.

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  2. JENNA S

    I also appreciated how Toni Morrison used these techniques to give the reader insight into both Sethe’s enslavement and living after it without having to write chronologically. The book reads like a story and the natural movement of thought in our brains.

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  3. Alexis S

    When I first started reading “Beloved,” I often got confused when Toni Morrison would switch from flashbacks to the present because she did it so seamlessly, as you said. Then as I kept reading I started to understand it more, but it still, for me at least, was hard to follow. However, I really appreciate her writing and this made me appreciate it more.

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  4. Olivia K

    I very much enjoyed the elegant use of flashbacks in this novel. I am surprised by this because I usually hate when other authors overuse this writing technique. I often find it insignificant and overpowering of the main plot. These authors do not have the talent and grace of Toni Morrison, though. Her flashbacks were employed in the most strategic way so that they did not take away from the story, yet empowered it.

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  5. Alex W

    We see flashbacks in a lot of movies and books, but I think the way that Beloved is written makes it a little harder to see the change from time. As we read on, we as readers get a grasp of the language and when these changes occur, but I agree with you that it enhances the story and makes it more interesting. I also liked the multiple perspective aspect of the book, you can see situations from the eyes of more than one character, which makes that certain situation more intriguing.

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