Red in Beloved

A few chapters into Beloved, I realized that I associated the color red strongly with the novel. I couldn’t tell if it was because the cover is solid red or because of the large number of times red is mentioned in the book. But I knew that, for me, the novel just felt red.

Color in general is important to the book. This is especially clear in the character of Baby Suggs. Because white people (white being the absence of color) took everything from her, she craves color. In the time leading up to her death, she spends the days thinking about color. Both Stamp Paid and Sethe say they hope Baby Suggs never focused on the color red (page 213 for Stamp and 237 for Sethe).

I think that the color red represents the past and trauma. This became clear to me when Beloved opens Paul D’s “tobacco tin” heart (bringing back his memories), and he starts saying “red heart” over and over again (138). Later, when Stamp Paid is thinking about Baby Suggs and the history in 124, he finds a red hair ribbon (213). When these two characters think about the past and trauma, the color red comes into their lives.

So it Goes

Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five is primarily an anti-war novel, but it was also influenced by existentialism. In the novel, American soldier Billy Pilgrim becomes “unstuck in time” while fighting in WWII. This essentially means he goes through life out of order, constantly time travelling and never knowing when or where he’s going to end up next.

Pilgrim knows everything that happens in his life (and what death is like) and understands that his life has no purpose. Like Meursault, Pilgrim experiences life with little emotion (even when he’s abducted by aliens!). Both Meursault and Pilgrim are completely in the present. They never search for a purpose or for a bigger meaning.

Before reading The Stranger, I thought Slaughterhouse-Five was incredibly depressing. I would probably still find it sad, but reading it through the existentialist lense might give the book a new feel. Maybe Billy Pilgrim is actually the most free and happy person because he doesn’t have to worry about life, death, or what it all means.

Vonnegut uses the phrase “so it goes” throughout the novel. I think it’s a very existentialist phrase, as it recognizes that the things happening in life are random and have no meaning.

Coffee, Coffee, Coffee!

During the first few chapters of the novel, I felt like Meursault was constantly drinking coffee. Looking back at part one, I realize it’s only mentioned on three or four different occasions, but it definitely stood out to me. In addition to coffee, he talks about smoking, eating, and washing his hands more often than I feel like most narrators do. All of these things are part of many people’s daily routines.

Routines are very important in The Stranger. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that Meursault talks about coffee a few different times in the first three chapters, but it is not a coincidence that the concept of routine keeps popping up.

Routine is mentioned for the first time on the first page of the novel: “I ate at the restaurant, at Celeste’s, as usual,” (3). When Meursault is at the old people’s home for the vigil the caretaker says “As is usually the case, the funeral is set for ten o’clock in the morning” (6). The vigil and funeral are obviously routine for the nurse and caretaker; Meursault even says the funeral seemed to happen “so deliberately” (17), which also made me think of routine. Meursault describes a Sunday morning, finishing by saying “It was Sunday all right” (22). The old man and his dog have a routine of abuse, as do Raymond and his girlfriend. The “strange little woman” described has an odd and specific routine that she’s done so many times she seems “robotlike” (43).

I don’t really know yet what the importance of routine is to the story. Meursault’s entire life seems like a routine. I think that in part two of the novel we’ll learn what Albert Camus is trying to say about routine. I’ll definitely pay attention to coffee and other symbols of routine while reading the rest of the story.