History and Space in
Contemporary North American Women's Fictions

by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison: General Introduction
    1. Born in 1931 in Lorain, Ohio, a steel town on lake Erie. bio with photos
    2. Her grandmother was born a slave.  Her family were sharecroppers who lost their land and, at the turn of the century, were forced to the mines and mills of the industrialised north. 
    3. In 1949, Morrison went to Howard University, took a graduate course at Cornell and then returned to Howard to teach.  It was at this time that she began The Bluest Eye(1970)
    4. Other novels include Sula(1973), Song of Solomon(1977), Tar Baby(1981),  Beloved(1987) and Jazz (1992)
    5. Winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature.  
  Beloved: Setting and Timeline: 
1873 (the present) Cincinattie, Ohio; the past--a Kentucky plantation called Sweet Home. 
1855 Beloved born--> 1856 S's arrival at 124 --> 28 days after--the tragedy; Baby S's faith collapses--
--> 1864 Baby stays in bed --> 1866 Baby S's death  -->  1873 (the present time of the novel)-74
  Beloved: Backgrounds middle passage; images (Civil War 1861-1865); etc.

  Main Themes:

I. Slavery and its Influence on family and motherhood; 
2. Memory and Language (syntax, use of symbols)
3. Rememory and Community; 
4. Beloved as a postmodern history.

I. References to Historial background: 
  • the drifting after the civil war--52-53; the whites didn't bear speaking on.  pp. 66-67; 1874 a lot of lynching and deaths of Blacks--> the red ribbon p. 180 
II. Slavery and its Influence on family and motherhood: 
A. Slavery's influence on the Black's sense of identity: 
  • dead negro's grief in every house 5
  • treated as objects: Baby Sugg's past--people treated as checkers 23; marks on the body of Sethe's mother, 
  • categorized as animals p. 193; 
  • no hope for God: Sethe: does not pray, talk instead 35; Baby Sugg's last view of God  p. 179;  
  • no dignitiy: Paul D: cannot compare with a rooster (71-72)
  • no name: Baby Sugg called Jenny (142); 
B. Sweet Home which is not Home: 
  • the Garners and Sweet Home  Sweet Home men 10; Paul D's memory p. 125; Halle's interpretation of Sweet Home pp. 195-96
  • hunger for sex: the five negro men and Sethe, 9-10; "Wasn't Sweet and wasn't home."14
C. Sethe as a mother and as a daughter: 
  • the breaking up of family/mother-daughter pp. 60-61 Sethe's mother; Nan's words 62; memory of her mother 29
  • the tree on Sethe's back 16-17; 79

  •   of their wedding 26-27;
      of the school teacher 37; 
      how she was almost found by the school teacher and then jailed 42
      her crystals 58-59--marriage no ceremony
  • Cannot remember her children (sycamores beat out the children p. 6)
  • Sethe's  love for Beloved, her grave 4-5; 
  • her love for her daughters 45-46 (risky for Paul); calls herself "baby's moma" 93-94
  • her view of the house (need to like "Sweet Home"; cannot leave 124): 22. 
  • clues to her killing the baby--no more powerful than the way I love her 4-5

  •  cost too much to take one journey 15; jail 42; 
     she could do and survive "the things" 47; 
     Baby's S's collapse of faith 89; 
     28 days 95; 
     the perfect death of her crawling already? baby; 
    Lord's question 104
D. Denver's isolation: Denver & her green bower 

E.  Paul D --his pride as a man --annoyed by and proud of Sethe 8; his skepticism 10; 
      Paul D's--tree and potato p. 21-; of Sixo 24-25; of Alfred, Georgia, which closed one portion in his 
      mind 40-41; her jail=his Alfred; Paul's bit--rooster p. 71--Mister beating him
      Paul D's experience of the chain gang, being rescued by the Cherokee pp. 106- 

F. Resistance and retaining the little dignity they can have;

  • Six-O's going out at night, meeting his Thirty-Mile Woman; (22; 24-25); singing before his death, laughing 226-27; 
  • Sethe's wedding dress and their "wedding."
G. Re-gaining humanity and reconstructing family: 
  • no more running away 15
  • Baby Suggs--her interest in color 4; and her children 5; becomes an unchurched preacher 87 of heart and self-loveb
  • history of 124 and Baby Sugg 124 (sec 9); Baby Sugg's last words 104

  • at the carnival--48
3. Memory, Identity and Language (syntax, use of symbols)
    experience of slavery --unnameable, 
    e.g.  tree & milk, green bower, rooster, tobacco tin box, red ribbon (180); jungle inside (198-99); Seven-O (228-29), color (harmless colors), crystal earrings, 
II. Rememory and Community: 

A. Narrative point of view --> establishing individual and then communal memories

1. stream of consciousness of Sethe--e.g. her memory of the men nursing her 6; Denver'v view of Sethe 12; Denver's view of Sethe and Paul D 13; Denver's feeling of loneliness (her missing her brothers) 19
2. shifting of point of views--e.g. sec 2  from their love-making to their memories  (Paul 21-22--Sethe 22--Paul D 24) --> among the three first, and then to a historical third-person view point, and Baby Sugg's
3. Part Two: where the three women are most isolated (talking to each other or about each other) -->  Framed by Stamp Paid's perspective and action.  
B. Remeory
1. Memory Repressed or unknown: 
  • different views of the past

  • --  42 Sethe keeps the past at bay; Denver cares only about it
    -- Denver's memory of Sethe's walking while being pregnant 29-30 
    -- Amy's 35--"anything dead coming back to life"
1) Sethe: tries not to remember
--"she worked hard to remember as close to nothing as was safe" (6) 
-- does not go inside 46
--"the serious work of beating back the past" (73).
2) Paul D

2. Rememory & Emergence of the past: 

-- Rememory: "Anything dead coming back to life hurts" --> ", , ,nothing ever dies"  (35-36); things that never go; not just in the mind, but out there; 
-- Sethe's thoughts
-- 124 (spiteful pp. 3-4); Denver's view of the house:--like a person 29; Sethe's being constrained by 124 39; 

3. The Beginning of active memory: 

1. Paul D's arrival: 

2. Beloved:
a) Who is Beloved? 
  -- Beloved sec 5--pp. 50-51--Sethe waters like water breaks 51; 
 -- drinks a lot; the three's different responses to her 53; 55;
 -- her eyes 55; her attention to Sethe (sec 6); her eyes bottomless longing 58
-- Is she the crawling already? 98 

b) What are her influences? 
-- Upon seeing her, Paul D thinks of "the War" pp. 52; 68
-- B's need for storytelling --Sethe starts to want to tell stories; pp.58 (marriage); 69-70 (talk with Paul D about Halle in the barn seeing Sethe 69); p. 76
-- Denver of S's memory of her birth and S's escape: pp. 77-

3. Beloved's past p 75

C. Forming a Community: 
1. Paul D's influence on Sethe 
--start to remember (sec 2);
-- temptation to trust 38; 
-- find how barren 124 is 39 ;
-- assures her she can go anywhere she likes, "we can make a life" 46 
-- 95-96--drive away one ghost, brings another haunting; get over this image 97
-- her willingness to start a new life with him 99--trust and rememory (their secrets would come)

2. Beloved and Denver: 
--her care for Beloved, possessive,54
-- dances with Beloved--knows where she is from 74-75
-- solitude makes her secretive; dull her in some ways and sharpens her in some others 99
-- think BL was hers 104; 
-- the question makes her watch for the baby and withdraw from everything else 105
-- see BL watching two turtles 105

3. Sethe, Beloved and Denver

Sethe (after going to the Clearing) p. 87--get off the wagon-p. 90
Denver's her going to school, Nelson Lord's question 102--two years in silence
--return of her hearing--the presence becomes spiteful 104 

4. community BS's ; 
the one that helps her cross the river and get to BS's, that welcomes S 95;

Plot: Plot

Chap I

sec 1  Paul's arrival and beating the ghost
sec 2  P and S making love and remembering
sec 3  D's secret place; her seeing B with S;
   Denver asks S about the past;
   S's and P's changes after seeing each other
sec 4  the trip to the carnival 46-49
     Sethe's seeing their shadows holding hands 47
sec 5  Beloved's arrival
sec 6  B asks about the diamond
sec 7  P v.s. B shining; P and S about Halle, and P's bit
sec 8 Denver and Beloved dancing, reconstructing D's birth
sec 9 Sethe goes to the Clearing; remembers her arriving at BS's; seeing her kids (93);  being stroked by BS, almost strangled, stroked again by BL;
sec 10 Paul D trembling; his past --in tabacco tin box;
sec 11 She moved him (from Sethe's room to the kitchen, to BS's room, to the cold house, etc.  "red heart, red heart")
sec 12 Denver as a looker, in need of Beloved;
sec 13 Paul D goes to Sethe for help (asserting his manhood, grateful for two women)
sec 14 Beloved pulls out a back tooth, and cries.
sec 15 Baby Sugg's freedom --> her feast (started out with Stamp Paid's berries); she smells disapproval.
sec 16 the capture, told from the catchers' perspective, then Baby Sugg's.
sec 17 Revelation to Paul D
sec 18 Sethe's version (her views of motherhood)
Part Two
sec 1 124 was loud.   Stamp Paid's visit; the three women skating, taking flavored milk; Sethe's discovery  176;  Stamp Paid's memory of Baby Sugg and her fatigue; Sethe starts to talk to Beloved pp. 183 -(jail and gravestone) ; pp. 191 -(notebook -->escape)  , SP to Ella and John
sec 2  Sethe's monologue; about the escape, the Misery, and her getting close to Saturday girl.
sec 3 Denver's; about her fear of her mother, missing her angel Daddy, about Baby Sugg
sec 4 Beloved's; about the middle passage;
sec 5 chorus of the three women;
sec 6 Paul D's memory of his escape and Six-O;
sec 7 Stamp Paid goes to Paul D
Part Three
sec 1 Denver takes action

Links: Toni Morrison