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.