The Impact of the Past Keagan Castles

Sethe's Rememory

“I was talking about time. It’s so hard for me to believe in it. Some things go. Pass on. Some things just stay. I used to think it was my rememory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it's not. Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it's gone, but the place-the picture of it-stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world. What I remember is a picture floating around out there outside my head. I mean, even if I don't think it, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there. Right in the place where it happened" (Morrison 35-36).

"I told you to put her human characteristics on the left; her animal characteristics on the right. And don't forget to line them up" (Morrison 193).

Sethe's "tree" of scars symbolize her experiences and the pain she endured as a victim of slavery.

Sethe believes that she will always remember certain events that took place in her life, even if she does not want to. Throughout the story, Sethe struggles with speaking and remembering her past, describing why it is so hard for her in this passage. She will always remember places, because the "picture "of it stays in her mind. Morrison uses the word “rememory” to emphasize a memory's replayed or reimagined state—it is something that's being recalled again. However, it is made clear by Morrison through repetition that it is not Sethe’s rememory that causes her to become frustrated with remembering her past. No matter how much time goes by, Sethe believes that because of certain places, she will always remember the events that took place there. It is so hard to explain why certain memories stick and why others are forgotten.

Baby Suggs' Memories

As Baby Suggs was born into slavery, "...a sadness was at her center, the desolated center where the self that was no self made its home. Sad as it was that she did not know where her children were buried or what they looked like if alive, fact was she knew more about them than she knew about herself, having never had the map to discover what she was like" (Morrison 140).

"The last of her children, whom she barely glanced at when he was born because it wasn't worth the trouble to try to learn features you would never see change into adulthood anyway. Seven times she had done that: held a little foot; examined the fat fingertips with her own—fingers she never saw become the male or female hands a mother would recognize anywhere. She didn't know to this day what their permanent teeth looked like; or how they held their heads when they walked" (Morrison 139).

Baby Suggs never got to know her children, for they were all taken from her (except one). Even though Baby Suggs was bought out of slavery, she still feels the impact of how she was treated . However, because of these experiences, she is allowed to be a different person when she arrives at 124; loving and inclusive.

“When warm weather came, Baby Suggs, holy, followed by every black man, woman, and child who could make it through, took her great heart to the Clearing--a wide-open place cut deep in the woods nobody knew for what at the end of the path known only to deer and whoever cleared the land in the first place. In the heat of every Saturday afternoon, she sat in the clearing while the people waited among the trees” (Morrison 87).

The Clearing was very important to Baby Suggs because it allowed her to be the leader of her own congregation and help others escape their past and find acceptance.

Paul D's Memories

Paul D lives a lonely and unsatisfying life. Since he escaped from Sweet Home, he is still unsettled so he cannot develop roots or restore his belief in humanity. His memories of Sweet Home constantly make him question his manhood and he has an inability to believe in his own existence.

Paul D questions his humanity and role in the world as a result of the way he was treated by slave owners.

“Whitepeople believed that whatever the manners, under every dark skin was a jungle. Swift unnavigable waters, swinging screaming baboons, sleeping snakes, red gums ready for their sweet white blood. In a way, he thought, they were right. The more colored people spent their strength trying to convince them how gentle they were, how clever and loving, how human, the more they used themselves up to persuade whites of something Negroes believed could not be questioned, the deeper and more tangled the jungle grew inside. But it wasn't the jungle blacks brought with them to this place from the other (livable) place. It was the jungle whitefolks planted in them. And it grew. It spread. In, through and after life, it spread, until it invaded the whites who had made it” (Morrison 198-199).

This passage puts into perspective how slaves did not know who they were without their masters. The whites defined who they were, even making them question their own character. They were often unable to find their own identity within the world. This message is evident throughout the entire story, as Paul D and Sethe remember their past at Sweet Home. Paul D is not satisfied with his “own manhood,” questioning the slave owners definition of a man. Even though he was allowed some freedoms and responsibilities at Sweet Home, he is not sure if he was ever truly a man there.

Paul D describes his heart as a “tin tobacco box.” Given the inhumane treatment he experiences at Sweet Home, he locks away his feelings and memories in the box. He also alienates himself from his emotions, hoping to protect himself from further emotional damage. In order to secure this protection, Paul D sacrifices much of his humanity by giving up his sense of self and repressing his memories and feelings.

Paul D describes his heart as a "tin tobacco box"

Impact of Memories on Characters

Each character in the novel Beloved has their way of dealing with the past. Sethe tries to repress her memories by running from them. She allowed the past to take over her present. However, she eventually learns that she must confront her past and forgive herself in order to truly be happy. Baby Suggs has a healthier way of dealing with her past. After she is freed from slavery, she has the capacity to open her heart up to anyone since she has no family around her. She is able to provide an outlet for healing for those scarred by slavery within her community. Finally, Paul D tries to start a new life while forgetting his time as a victim of slavery. He tries move beyond his past to envision a future of hope. Even though he hides his memories in a tin tobacco box, he is able to accomplish hope and settlement by supporting and understanding Sethe as well as believing in himself.

Credits:

Created with images by Republica - "forest trees light" • summonedbyfells - "THE PRETTY WAY" • Akuppa - "Chain"

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