From the Past to the Present

In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, the past haunts the characters and exerts its influence on the present in many ways. Arguably, memory in Beloved takes center stage. 

In Beloved, memory is conveyed as a painful part of the human consciousness. In the novel, Sethe is haunted by her past and cannot seem to move forward. Thus, she teaches her daughter that “nothing ever really dies” (44). Additionally, she believes that “the future was a matter of keeping the past at bay” (51). 

For example, Sethe and Paul D are haunted by their memories of slavery. Yet, after years of repressing these memories, Paul D finds the strength to confront his past and make some kind of peace with it, and he wants the same for Sethe. 

“Sethe,” he says, “me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow” (322).

Paul D implores Sethe to stop dwelling on the pain of the past, particularly all the ways she has failed those she loved. Paul D acknowledges that the past will always be part of his story but he holds out hope to Sethe that they can build a new future. Paul D made a specific choice to move forward even if that means opening his heart up again, and he wants Sethe to do the same.

I believe that one of the principal messages of Beloved is that the past should not be the impediment to the present. While painful parts of our pasts must be acknowledged before we are able to lay them to rest, it is important not to dwell. The past is something that is hard to forget and regardless of how horrific it may be, it can not be changed. Significantly, what is chosen to be done by the memory of the past certainly shapes our futures and our ability to move forward.

Exit West: Doors to the Unknown

In Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, migrants find themselves searching for safety despite constant threats from people who want to enforce borders, such as the militants in Saeed and Nadia’s city or the nativists in London. Yet, for Saeed and Nadia, the world has opened itself up in a mysterious but beautiful way, as doors are appearing that transport anyone who walks through them to other parts of the world. In this way, the doors transcend boundaries set by governments to restrict movement between nations. Although, using these doors leads to new kinds of divisions that have less to do with physical divisions than with socially constructed separations.

Typically, stories about refugees/migration focus on the transit, the journey to their destination. Yet, in Exit West, Hamid tells a story of migration in which the migrant’s journey is compressed into an instant. Hamid uses the symbol of a door, through which migrants pass almost seamlessly from one country to another as Nadia and Saeed do, from their unnamed city, to the Greek island of Mykonos, then to London, and then to Marin County, in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Throughout the novel, Hamid intersperses vignettes, or doors, to other people and places around the world. For example, while contemplating suicide, a man in England comes across a portal to Namibia, where he remakes his life. Also, when refugees emerge from doors in San Diego, an elderly veteran asks the police if he help; they ask him to leave, and the veteran realizes that he, like the migrants, doesn’t have anywhere to go.

Particularly, I think Hamid’s way of writing the novel is very interesting. While most stories about migration focus on the transit rather than the destination, Hamid wrote about the destination rather than the transit. I think the symbol of the doors was an intriguing part of the story, and it gives the reader a peek into the lives of other characters, many whose lives are completely different than Saeed and Nadia’s.

Is Absurdism Inherently Atheist?

All human beings seem to desire meaning and purpose in their lives. Religion may be the most popular source of meaning for people; believing in God, an afterlife, or just an overall higher power makes life meaningful for many people. 

According to absurdism, religion is constructed by society in order to give meaning to a purposeless existence. Acceptance of religion would mean that humans effectively escape death in a sense because of the hopefulness/reliance on the idea of afterlife.  Absurdists think this is a self-destructive belief, because only the realization and acceptance of impending death allow humans to live life fully. 

In Camus’ The Stranger, Meursault often states his denial of God and the possibility of an afterlife. He directly accuses the chaplain of “living like a dead man” (120). Meursault refuses religion even before his own death, stating that he had little time left and refused to “waste it on God” (120). 

The chaplain expresses confusion at Meursault’s seeming lack of care for his own situation, but Meursault is unwavering in his beliefs. He does not attempt to explain his position to the chaplain to the fullest extent possible, merely answering the questions that are asked of him, and later getting annoyed at the amount of questions being asked. He believes that there is no life after death, and the fact that there is no life after death does not concern him.

Additionally, Camus is often described as an absurdist philosopher, believing that individuals should embrace the absurd condition of human existence while also continuing to explore and search for meaning, for many, this meaning is religion. 

Camus suggests that while absurdity does not lead to belief in God, neither does it lead to the denial of God. Camus notes, “I did not say ‘excludes God’, which would still amount to asserting” (Myth of Sisyphus). 

With the absurdist belief that religion is created by society in an attempt to bring meaning to a purposeless existence, is absurdism inherently atheist? Based upon Meursault’s atheism and Camus’ absurdist perspective, do atheism and absurdism go hand-in-hand? 

The Power of Fire in “Barn Burning”

In William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning,” fire represents both Abner Snopes’ inherent powerlessness and his quest for power. Snopes asserts his defiance and his own view of justice through fire, by setting fire to the barns owned by those he feels have slighted him. 

Fire is a central symbol to “Barn Burning.” In the story, the Snopes family are poor tenant farmers. Because of their social class, the Snopes family lack power and influence. In result, Abner Snopes feels powerless. He does not have money or any other forms of power, so he feels the need to act out against authority figures and assert his own version of justice. 

After Snopes’ family was run out of town because he burned down a barn, Snopes steals a split rail from a fence and builds a small fire by the roadside. Described as a “small… shrewd fire,” the fire is barely functional (147). He builds one so small it’s practically useless and doesn’t provide warmth for his family. This shows that Snopes is ultimately in a position of powerlessness. While before he created a fire so large it burned down an entire barn, he cannot make one that is sufficient for his family. Snopes had committed a fiery crime in a desperate grasp for power, but now reveals how powerless he is to adequately caring for his family. 

Additionally, after Snopes’ employer and landlord De Spain’s rug is ruined, Snopes is forced to pay De Spain in crops. Again realizing his powerlessness, Snopes turns to arson again and plans on burning De Spain’s barn. 

For Snopes, fire is a means of maintaining his integrity and enacting vengeance on those who have slighted him. Powerless and poor, Snopes turns to fire to tilt the balance in his favor, even if it is only for one quick, fiery moment.