Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved is a unique work of literature in its distinct focus on commemorating the trauma of institutionalized slavery in America, an often overlooked part of history. Morrison translates the trauma into literature through addressing the inspiring and heart-wrenching story of the ex-slave, Sethe. At its core, Beloved communicates the often neglected traumatic realities of slavery and the psychological trail of impact it leaves on individuals.
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Thus, the memories of the slaves are depicted as omnipresent and a deep challenge to the human consciousness. In the novel, Morrison merges the past and the present together through storytelling. The transmitted narrative gives rise to a collective oral tradition about the past and provides former slaves the opportunity to define themselves. Yet storytelling also awakens the painful realities of the past, which prevent many individuals from moving on. Morrison’s ubiquitous use of recounting the past in Beloved demonstrates the complex and dynamic relationship between the past and the present. Through the widespread use of storytelling techniques, Morrison puts forth the idea that passing a traumatic and difficult narrative is a concrete, self-reflective tool to cope with pain, preserve history and ultimately facilitate emotional fulfillment.
Storytelling proves to be a useful means for Sethe to reflect on challenging past experiences. Sethe’s daughter, Denver, interrogates Sethe and Paul D, another ex-slave, about their lives at of Sweet Home, the plantation from which they escaped:
[Denver,] How come everybody run off from Sweet Home can’t stop talking about it? Look like it it was so sweet you would have stayed. [Sethe,] Girl, who you talking to? Paul D laughed. True, true. She’s right, Sethe. It wasn’t sweet and it sure wasn’t home. He shook his head.But it’s where we were, said Sethe. All together. Comes back whether we want it to or not. (p. 16)
Denver uses rational thinking to indicate that it is odd that Sweet Home is spoken about so frequently even though it seems to be a source of suffering for everyone. Denver does not understand why Sweet Home plays such an integral role in the present if they seemed so eager to run off and leave the past behind them. The recurring storytelling of Sweet Home illustrates a central theme within Beloved” the inescapable impact of past experiences over the present-day lives of the individuals. Sweet Home may physically be in the past; however, emotionally it consumes the present. Denver cannot fathom why such a place would be called ?sweet’ or even ?home.’ Typically, the notion of ?home’ is associated with the positivity and love surrounding a personal location. This seemingly ironic description of the plantation points to the dual relationship the ex-slaves have to Sweet Home. Through defending the relevance of Sweet Home to the present, Sethe comes to internalize that although it was a cruel place full of traumatic experiences,
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