Everything Sweet

After reading the novel Beloved by Toni Morrison, it is clear that she carefully constructed this story to have deeper meanings. There is an abundance of symbolic elements, so much I most likely didn’t catch it all as a reader.

After doing the symbolism activity in class and being assigned the symbol of sugar, it opened my eyes to the recurring mention of sweetness/sugar. I was oblivious to this before but going back and looking made me realize just how carefully placed this symbol was.

Sugar was mostly mentioned when referring to the pas memories of Sethe. There was always an association with the bad memories and sweetness. One of the most prominent examples being the name of the place Sethe and Paul D escaped from, “Sweethome.” With this association of the past, sugar is also mentioned when talking about Beloved. It appears that she feeds off of sugar and is always refueling on something sweet. She is the one who brings up past memories for Sethe so it doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that she fuels off of sugar.

Another element that I found interesting is the fact that sweetness/sugar is typically associated with the good in stories. It is quite ironic that it is associated with the exact opposite in Beloved. It makes it a harder motif to comprehend as a reader and catch at first glace into the story.

Walking to Life in Beloved

Throughout all of Beloved, we see tons of motifs that have strong symbolic meaning in the book. One in particular that stands out to be is the motif of feet. Feet are quietly a very important aspect throughout the entire book.

Feet, in my opinion, are the symbol for life and death. Every time we see feet used in the text, it’s either to compare it to life and death or use it as a segue to talk about the subject. On page 42 of the book, Amy says to Sethe that “anything dead coming back to life hurts” when she is massaging her feet. A clear example of the motif, feet are the physical representation of life and death in the book.

Another example where we see this is when Beloved arrives at 124. Her feet are “soft and new” as she is revived from her past life. As she continues to experience this second life, her feet continue to grow and get fatter, as Sethe’s feet grow smaller. As Sethe approaches the end of her life, Morrison shows this with the description of her feet.


Beloved Soundtrack Suggestion

A year from now we’ll all be gone

All our friends will move away

And they’re going to better places

But our friends will be gone away

The song begins with a bittersweet note about friends moving away to better places, but still not knowing if your will ever really see them again. In Beloved, Sethe leaves behind Sweet Home to be ‘in a better place,’ knowing she may never see the people there again. Also, there is also another ‘better place’ mentioned in the story because she murders and attempts to murder her children, so they can escape slavery and die, because death is a better place than slavery.

Nothing is as it has been

And I miss your face like Hell

And I guess it’s just as well

But I miss your face like Hell

The next verse talks about how much a life can change when someone is absent. This reminds me of a lot of the characters in this story, but in specific the mothers who lost their children in the book. Never being able to see them grow up, Baby Suggs, Sethe, and Sethe’s mother all dealt with the pain of never seeing their child’s faces again because of something out of their control. To the point that ‘I guess it’s just as well’ because they had to find a way to not attach themselves to the babies.

Been talking ’bout the way things change

And my family lives in a different state

And if you don’t know what to make of this

Then we will not relate

This verse relates to Sethe and Paul D’s relationship. After so many years, they are different people, yet they still remember what they went through. However Sethe is very distant from her family, with the death of her husband and trauma ridden relationship with her kids. Paul D has to accept her for all that she is.

Rivers and Roads

Rivers and Roads

Rivers till I reach you

As the final chorus repeats, almost like a mantra, one can think of the distance, time, and death between us and those in our past. Sethe literally crossed rivers and roads to get away from Sweet Home, just like so many other slaves who made the same journey. In this context, ‘You’ might represent freedom, because there is no other choice but to keep crossing ‘rivers till I reach you’ because the alternative is unbearable.

Beloved and Harriet

After reading Beloved I was prompted to go see the movie Harriet in theaters, and it was spectacular. I enjoyed the movie and the book for different reasons. The movie centered around Harriet Tubman who was a runaway slave who helped free slaves through the under ground rail road system. The movie had an overall positive vibe to it as it centered around a heroic black woman who refused to allow slavery to win. Beloved on the other hand, had a much more direct focus on the evils of slavery, and had no real light side to it. It left me feeling dark at the end of it as opposed to the movie Harriet, which had a much more against all odds “success story” vibe to it. With that said, the book was not worse because of its different tone. It brought up a low point in American history and offered a slave perspective that was not rags to riches, but rather rags to rags with a hint of paranormal activity. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed both the book and the movie and would recommend them to audiences wanting an empowering true story, or a new perspective.

Beloved Is A Mess That You Have to Clean Up

Beloved tells the tale of Sethe and Denver and their life after the legal extinction of slavery. This book also offers the ability to take the perspective of several other characters that come into contact with Sethe at some point in her life. Flashbacks occur whenever something significant is brought up and it happens quite often. These flashbacks give the reader the puzzle pieces required to form the proper timeline of when everything occurs and at what point in someone’s life does it happen to them. However, these flashbacks create what seems like a small room filled with more toys than the room itself can hold. It’s overwhelming at times the further you read into the story and the reader is forced to clean this messy room into perfection. The story is complicated when read without much thinking, but if you read closely, you begin to realize and gain the skill of when a paragraph is talking about the past or current present. For serious readers, this is a skill required to successfully read and understand this book. Beloved starts the story in two places, one post slavery and the other during slavery. Toni Morrison does this so that the reader gains a better understanding of why everything happens in the present with our characters due to what life was like in the past. Without this, the story told in the present would leave a lot of questions unanswered, furthermore, taking the fun out of this different yet unique adventure.

The flashbacks serve more as that to wolves as a keystone species in Yellowstone park. If you remove the essential component, everything around it will soon begin to break apart. That’s why this book is so unique, so special. It takes historical events and instead of focusing on the bigger picture of the issue, it takes a close up view on how it has affected people in communities and/or families. These flashbacks only serve to explain to the reader what our characters went through and did during the times of slavery. The only frustrating thing is that the flashbacks are broken up to pieces. Whether the past be shown in little paragraphs or entire chapters, if you’re able to recognize between the past and present, then you successfully cleaned the what seemed like the impossible room.

Beloved is a roller coaster of emotions; but that is what makes it so good. Only when you understand the entire story will you realize how much life Toni Morrison gives all the characters in the book. Each one has an important role that adds to the vibe that Beloved displays. It’s a book I will always enjoy reading and cleaning up after.

Paul D, The Journey for Manhood

Paul D the wanderer and heart breaker, in my opinion is the most shady and interesting character in the novel “Beloved”. The man who carried the iron bit, with a heart of a shut tobacco tin.

Paul D was one of the other major characters in the novel alongside Beloved, Sethe, and Denver. As the reader progresses throughout the novel, they slowly learn of Paul D’s past. They learn of his adventurous journey, escaping the chain gang, surviving with Native Americans, following a path of flowers, meeting women, for about 18 years until he arrives at the door of Sethe unknowingly.

Paul D is lost during his 18 years of wondering, searching for love and for his manhood. Growing up on Sweet Home, alongside his brothers, he watched the men around him fall in love. These men being Halle and Sixo who both were able to have their own children (Seven and Sethe’s kids). Paul D admires Halle and Sixo throughout the novel for their ability to love someone when they shouldn’t love anything.

Paul D realizes upon meeting Sethe that she is a woman he can finally settle down with. After their fight when Paul D decides to leave 124 he still stays in town. He thinks and talks to Stamp Paid and realizes his faults. Paul D finally mans up and talks to Sethe on her sickbed saying “You your best thing, Sethe. You are” finally showing some compassion and emotion for Sethe. I believe they continue to live their lives together, with Paul D finally finding his manhood by finding a woman.

To Preserve Innocence

Is it ever justified to end an innocent person’s life? This question proved controversial in the classroom, as students seemed to be split on it. How could one ever rationalize killing an innocent person in any circumstance? Originally, this was my belief. That there was no way something like that could have been justified no matter what way one puts it. But after some thinking, I believe that perhaps in the case of Sethe murdering her own child, the situation may be a little more complex than our surface level assumptions lead us to think.

When a child is born into the world, the mother looks after them; their lives, unburdened and their futures, not yet written. They are free and in the hands of their loving mothers and fathers. But this was not the case for Sethe. As soon as Sethe’s child entered the world, she was a slave, just as her mother was. Sethe knew that if she were to ever be captured, her baby would be forced into slavery. She had experienced just how terrible slavery was; the scarring that came with it, and she could not bear to let her innocent child be treated as an animal like she was. In a sense, Sethe did not want her child to become like her. She wanted Beloved to stay innocent and in her power, the only way she could guarantee that Beloved would, was to take her out of the world.

The Murder of an Innocent

At the beggining of this unit, when Mr. Heidkamp gave us the questionaire, there was a question about the murder of an innocent person. The question was along the lines of “Can the murder of an innocent person be justified?” I answered that no, it could not be justified. I could not think of a situation in which the murder could be forgiven or justified. After reading Beloved, my opinion has changed.

When we got to the part about how Sethe murdered her child, I was very surprised and had to reread it to fully understand it. At first I thought it was totally wrong and it was insane that any mother would kill her child. Then, after reading on and thinking about it more, my opinion began to change. Slavery was the worst thing that this country has ever done, and we can’t truly begin to understand the conditions and how severe they were. Because of how awful slavery really was, Sethe was helping her child by keeping it from slavery. Death was a better option that needing to grow up a slave. In the end, Sethe made a true sacrifice to keep her children safe, and because of this, the murder of her innocent child was justified.

An Act of Love

When it is revealed that Sethe killed her own child in order to keep all of her children from entering slavery, the reader has mixed emotions on how to feel. After all, she did murder her own baby, how could a person do that. But Sethe’s act, as horrid and appalling as it was, was one out of love. She loved her children so much, she could not bare to see them in the grasp of slavery in their lifetime.

Under the institution of slavery, Sethe as a mother decides to express her love for her children by in her own way, protecting them from the many destructive aspects that come from slavery. If we look through Sethe’s eyes and into her situation, would we do the same? Because of her act, Denver and her 2 brothers grew up free. Was the price of one child worth the three lives it saved?

By making us consider this, Morrison is finding ways to make the reader really place themselves in Beloved and the necessities that were felt back then. As an African American woman in 2019, I could not fathom having to make a choice like Sethe. Although her choice was one that will forever haunt her dreams, Sethe’s bravery to even consider something like that in order to save her children is what I admire.

Girl Power

Beloved has many themes throughout the novel, but a theme that I noticed is the strong female presence. Throughout the Novel, woman are represented and show as strong and independent despite going through unimaginable situations. The start, Sethe was a slave and successfully escaped from her plantation. She kept pushing when she was escaping and believed in her own abilities.She was able to value her life as more than just as a slave but as a human being, choosing to escape. All of the women in the novel, despite their struggles and the obstacles they must combat, work together to make the best life possible, Denver and Sethe where doing well working together long before Paul D showed up. Denver has a good mother to look up to, I mean Sethe crawled through woods and gave birth in the middle of the woods to Denver. Although Denver quite different from her mother in certain aspects of her personality, she is able to recognize when Sethe is no longer to continue the household duties, and she must venture down the road to get food, and get steady work, to support the household. Beloved at its core is about women helping each other, and the strong bond they have with each other.

Did Sethe Really Make the Right Move?

In the story Beloved, Toni Morrison highlights the power of love throughout the text and it is shown how strong it can be in certain situations that cause us to do things we would never imagine of doing.

Sethe is shunned and ignored by the other residents of her town after she brutally ended the life of Beloved, but did the townsfolk really have the right understanding of her actions?

The only reason Sethe was able to commit something so horrible, something nobody could ever even consider doing, was because her love for her children was greater than anything else in the world. She knew that if Beloved and her other children were taken away from her and forced into slavery, they would be living lives full of torture, pain, and rape, something that would be very hard to escape from.

Did Sethe really deserve the years of ignorance she received from her neighbors? Or should she have been accepted for doing something so horrifying yet so brave so her children didn’t have to live the life she did?

Beloved’s Last Appearance

Although she disappears after Sethe left her side to attack whom she thought was Schoolteacher, Beloved’s presence is very much felt during the last chapter. Beloved has left town and the townspeople (after finally coming to Sethe’s aid) try to put the memory of Beloved to rest. They keep repeating that Beloved’s story was not one to pass on to future generations. Yet Toni Morrison concludes the novel with the word “Beloved” alone as it’s own paragraph.

This represents the everlasting reminder of the horrible past our country has. Beloved represents the pain and suffering from Sethe’s past coming back to her constantly and she is never able to escape it. Although the townspeople want to escape the past and end the memory of Beloved, she is there in the end and continues to remind people of our brutal past.

The Uniqueness of Toni Morrison’s Ghost

Every culture has its ghosts, whether it be spectral images of the deceased such as in Hamlet, the monstrous spirits of Japanese folklore, such as the ones depicted in Spirited Away, or the more modern interpretation of ghosts, zombies. Every culture has their own unique spin on the ghost. Similarly, In Beloved, Toni Morrision creates a unique spirit to haunt 124. The beginning of Beloved would have the reader believe that the ghost haunting 124 is a fairly mundane ghost, with the rather generic ability to move objects around and causing some commotion in the house. This remains true even when Paul D. somehow banishes the spirit by causing some chaos of his own, most likely scaring the baby away from the house. 

When the spirit returns in the form of Beloved, however, Toni Morrison has truly created a unique spirit to cause chaos, in a way far different from the simple movement of objects, to the inhabitants of 124. Firstly, Beloved emerges, fully dressed, from a river, having aged alongside the rest of the world, which is very different from her previous form; Sethe reminds Denver that it was less than two years old and could not speak when it died, which explains why Denver could not communicate with it. Her new form is very similar to an Obake in Japanese folklore, who can change their appearance and impersonate others. The usually have a reason for returning, such as exacting revenge for wrongs committed to them during life. After fulfilling their purpose, they usually disappear, similar to how Beloved vanishes after the town chooses to help Sethe instead of abandoning her the same way they failed to warn Sethe of schoolteacher’s arrival along with Sethe’s decision to attack to who she believes to be schoolteacher instead of taking her child’s life.

Unlike the baby’s previous manifestation, Beloved is physically in the world, similar to a zombie. However, unlike a mindless zombie, Beloved has deep and complex thoughts and harms Sethe in a far more subtle way than any zombie. Beloved appears to have memories of being in a slave ship, crossing the middle passage, even though the baby was never in a slave ship. This implies that Beloved is far more than the spirit of Sethe’s deceased child, but embodies all the suffering that Slaves experienced. Beloved’s embodiment of slavery is similar to how zombies can embody mob rule as well as the fear of people who are different, xenophobia. Later on, Beloved appears to drain Sethe of her life by usurping the role of mother from Sethe and causing her to act like a child. During this, she appears to be pregnant with a child, most likely a representation of her new role as the mother. Beloved’s control over the household can be likened to possession, a common ability of ghosts in film, but in this case it is the possession of the entire family, not an individual. In this case Denver manages to see beyond Beloved’s illusion and resist the power of the ghost. All of these characteristics create a unique and memorable character to truly personify the horrors of slavery and how the ugly past manages to reach into the present, blinding it from seeing the future.

Time after Time after Time and Again

The novel Beloved is a story of an escaped slave and her new twisted reality that is weaved into her even more twisted past. The story of Sethe and her family connects very well to the song Time after Time by Cyndi Lauper.

Time after Time begins with the lyrics:

“Lying in my bed, I hear the clock tick and think of you
Caught up in circles
Confusion is nothing new
Flashback, warm nights
Almost left behind
Suitcase of memories”

Beloved is written in a very interesting and intricate way where different perspectives from the past and present are used to complete a story. The novel goes, quite literally, back and forth between the past and the present which smoothly bridges to Lauper’s song. The part in the first verse which says “suitcase of memories” especially connects to Paul D’s tin box which held his memories.

The second verse stated,

“Sometimes you picture me
I’m walking too far ahead
You’re calling to me, I can’t hear
What you’ve said
Then you say, “go slow”
And I fall behind
The second hand unwinds”

That part strongly reminded me of when Beloved recalled when Sethe left her alone on what we think is the slave ship. The verse obviously differs from the actual event Beloved remembered but it ties into the loneliness and the feeling of being abandoned.

Although the connection is very simple, the theme of the song surrounds the topics of past, present, and love. All of those things are largely important in Beloved as well.