Questions, Intuitions, Revisions:
Telling and Re-Telling Stories About Ourselves in the World
A College Seminar Course at Bryn Mawr College

Forum - Thoughts on Toni Morrison's Beloved

Name:  Stacy
Subject:  Initial Reaction to Beloved
Date:  2001-11-12 19:48:53
Message Id:  588
“It was not a story to pass on,” claims Toni Morrison in the final chapter of Beloved. “This is not a story to pass on” (260). Why not? Does the tale not merit perpetuation? Is it not a worthy narrative? According to Bruno Bettelheim, “for a story to enrich [the reader’s] life it must stimulate his imagination, help him to develop his intellect and to clarify his emotions, be attuned to his anxieties and his aspirations, give full recognition to his difficulties, suggest solutions to the problems that perturb him, and promote confidence in himself and his future” (1). Applying this definition of an effective narrative, Beloved is more than successful; it is exemplary. In terms of imagination, Morrison leaves much to the reader’s speculation, especially the details surrounding Beloved: Whence does she originate and to where does she disappear? How does Paul D’s presence stimulate the former and Sethe’s attempt on Edward Bodwin’s life the latter? What are all the images that invade Beloved’s thoughts – the men without skin, the dead man, the laughter, the water, the faces, the hot thing? The questions, the avenues for imagination to run rampant, abound. In the realm of intellect, the novel also provides ample stimulation. The reader may ponder Morrison’s assertion that “Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another” (88) or her seeming paradox in “The box had done what Sweet Home had not, what working like a dog and living like an ass had not: drove him [Paul D] crazy so he would not lose his mind” (39), grappling with such ideas, manipulating them such that they make sense in light of the story and in light of the reader’s own experience. The opportunities for emotional clarification and association, too, are not lacking. The reader may empathize with Sethe in her intense love for her children on the one hand and her tenacious refusal to return to slavery on the other; or with Paul D in his decision not to love things too large, too much; or with Denver in her relentless desire to hold her mother’s complete attention, and then her sister’s, in her fierce conviction that her father with eventually return for her – each character provides a path down which the reader can direct her emotions, can become more responsive to her own suppressed “anxieties,” “aspirations,” “difficulties.” And in the final capacity – that of promoting confidence in the reader and in the future – the narrative has its virtues: despite the inconceivable pain of a mother’s “thick love” for her children, of a world so cruel that it would drive a human being to such ends, of a society so deranged that it maims and murders in the name of the law, despite all the suffering, there is hope – hope that Sethe will surrender her grasp on Beloved, that Paul D will finally settle down, that Denver, permanently wrenched from her childish fantasies and preoccupations, will find her place in the world.
Yet even without any formal definition of an effective story, the reader understands, albeit tacitly, that Beloved masters the art of narrative beautifully. Morrison weaves into and out of the present, the past, individual streams of consciousness, side stories and recollections, memories and “rememories,” without losing the thread, the common story that unites them all into a cohesive, meaningful whole. In the same way that Denver saw and felt the stories that she told Beloved, in the same way that she “anticipated the questions by giving blood to the scraps her mother and grandmother had told her – and a heartbeat” so that “the monologue became, in fact, a duet as they lay down together, Denver nursing Beloved’s interest like a lover whose pleasure was to overfeed the loved” (73), Morrison involves the reader so that the emotions, the struggles, the fears and the suffering of the characters are not distant but imminently significant.
Why, then, does Morrison declare that “this is not a story to pass on” (260)? She has chosen to tell it, to pass it on, has she not? The answer seems to lie in the fact that it is an undesirable re-telling, “like an unpleasant dream during a troubling sleep,” a “remembering [that] seemed unwise” (260). As a painful, troubling tale, the author realizes that it is best forgotten, that it is natural for the participants to want to bury it, to neglect to pass along its horrors. Nevertheless, in the same way that Sethe realizes that "her story was bearable because it was his [Paul D's] as well - to tell, to refine and tell again" (92), so, too, Morrison realizes that hers is a story of a whole race of people, made endurable only in the re-telling and redefining that render it manageable, conquerable.
Name:  emily price
Subject:  Toni Morrison
Date:  2001-11-13 19:28:02
Message Id:  590
Toni Morrison's novel Beloved appears to be, thus far, a product of the main character's jumbled memories. Sethe, throughout the novel, is redefining her memories of the past through recollection. I found two quotes, one spoken by Amy Denver, and one by Sethe herself that help to define the reasoning behind the book's structure. Through these quotes, it becomes apparent that for Sethe, memories never die, but they hurt when they reappear. The novel can therefore be seen as an attempt to keep and restore old memories, so they no longer have the power to hurt her.
Throughout the novel, Morrison jumps from one time frame to the next in an attempt to recreate Sethe's confused memories. The lack of clear transitions between different memories creates a sense of timelessness, as though Morrison is attempting to define each memory as important in its own right. Each memory is able to stand on its own, without relying on chronological order to uphold it. By recreating the story through a person's memory, Morrison is given the ability to illustrate each separate memory, rather than define each memory in terms of sequential order.
The lack of time helps to further illustrate the idea that memories never truly die; they are simply forgotten for unknown periods of time. Morrison quotes, "Denver picked at her fingernails. 'If it's still there, waiting, that must mean that nothing ever dies.' Sethe looked right in Denver's face. 'Nothing ever does,' she said. " (35). According to Sethe, if nothing dies, then neither do memories. Memories may be stored away and forgotten, but they never die.
The order in which different remembrances are written about in Beloved reflects the immortality of memory. Each story that is written about leads Sethe to remember another. The progression from one memory to another is not chronological, and therefore confusing to the reader. However, there is obviously a connection for Sethe that leads her to move from one story to the next. In this way, memories never die, but can be forgotten until another story triggers a person's memory of them.
In the previous quote, Sethe has established for herself that memories never die. Why, then, is she reliving her past through her memories? Morrison states, " Then she did the magic: lifted Sethe's feet and massaged them until she cried salt tears. 'It's gonna hurt, now,' said Amy. 'Anything dead coming back to life hurts.' " (33). If Sethe continues to keep her memories alive, they will never come so close to death that bringing them back will cause her pain. The novel itself is a chance for Sethe to recollect her memories, and redefine them so she is able to keep them in tact, without them causing her any pain. By disregarding and forgetting her memories, she is in a sense, letting them die. As Amy says, anything dead coming back to life is going to hurt more than if it had been kept alive. In this sense, Sethe, through the novel Beloved, is attempting to keep alive her memories, so they will be unable to hurt her anymore.
Name:  Laura Bang!
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  First Impressions of Toni Morrison's Beloved
Date:  2001-11-13 21:20:28
Message Id:  591
Beloved was spiteful. Full of an author’s venom. Okay, maybe not venom, but the novel is full of some dark presence. My first impression of this book was that I hated it. I am almost halfway through, and I think I have now grown to mere dislike (as opposed to hate) of the novel. There are several reasons for these sentiments of mine towards the novel.
The first thing that bothered me was Morrison’s style of writing. There are secrets whispering out of reach in every sentence and it is annoying (to say the least) to a reader to have to try and decipher every single sentence that falls beneath their eyes. As a writer, I do understand the value of keeping secrets in a novel to keep the reader interested, but Morrison uses this method to the extreme. A reader should not be forced to wonder at the meaning of every word in every sentence on every page. That is too much to ask. A reader has the right to understand at least one thread of the main plot without having to question it.
Another problem, which is related to the style, is Morrison’s tone. The tone of the novel is altogether dark and confusing. The plot is broken into fragments that the reader has to try to fit together, and this is very confusing and frustrating at times. On top of that, the fragments are all more or less the same dark color of the haunted past, which makes them like those especially aggravating pieces of a puzzle that are all nearly the same color. Morrison jumps between the present and memories of the past so often that the transitions are not always clear and it is often hard to determine at what time an event is occurring.
The three main characters (leaving Beloved aside for a moment) are intriguing, but they are so diverse in their similarities that it presents another difficulty for the reader. That is, they are all dealing with the same basic problem: trying to cope with their pasts while also trying to build a future that they can depend on. Yet while they are all dealing with the same problem, they are dealing with it in different ways and for different reasons. Denver’s reason for trying to cope with the past while trying to find someone she can love and depend on in the future is obviously different from Paul D’s and Sethe’s reasons because Denver was never a slave. Add to these three characters the wild card of Beloved’s character and that is quite another mess the reader has to deal with.
My hate of the novel turned to mere dislike when Beloved appeared. The reason for this is that Beloved’s character intrigues me. The idea of the ghost being given a human body again has great potential. However, there are just too many other things that are distracting me from the appreciation of this idea. The novel is too cluttered for me to enjoy it much. Cluttered with plot fragments, character conflicts, character fragments, a dark tone, and a confusing style, Morrison’s story is almost entirely lost on me. Well, that’s not exactly true. I understand the story well enough, but I have to work too hard to reach that understanding for me to be able to just enjoy it.
One last problem I had was where the story began. It didn’t begin at the beginning, the middle, or the end of the story. Rather, it began somewhere in between the middle and the end (from what I can gather, that is). I cannot say particularly what the problem is with this, as I have read other books that didn’t start at a usual place and not had any problems with them. My best guess is that the odd starting place of the novel only adds more to the confusion, especially with all the time shifting Morrison does as she uses flashbacks.
Thus far in the novel, I am intrigued by the idea of the plot, but I lose that intrigue in all the confusion that I have to sort out. There are just too many things the reader has to figure out or wonder about or remember to be figured out later on. I must confess that this is a book I would not finish if I were reading it on my own instead of for a class because, as my 11th grade English teacher said, “Life’s too short for bad books.” Not to say that this is a bad book, it’s just more trouble than it’s worth, at least for me.
Name:  Sarah Friedman
Subject:  76 pages of Beloved
Date:  2001-11-13 21:26:44
Message Id:  592
Toni Morrison’s Beloved is filled with memories. The first time that I read Beloved, I struggled to put the memories into a chronological order, enabling me to read a linear plot. The second reading filled the holes in the plot left from the first reading. This time, as I began my third reading of Beloved, the memories that Morrison shares with me through her characters take on a new shape and purpose. Rather than lying on a time-line, separated by dates and people involved, I see them as a continuous misty cloud. Memories are no longer merely a literary device used to inform the reader of the past. Rather, they show how the past constantly invades the present and becomes an integral part of it. More specifically, Sethe, the main character, lives a life in which her past is as much of the present as any “current” action is.
Sethe believes that some things in ones past never stop existing. Many events certainly live on in Sethe’s mind as real to her as when they first happened. She does not regard them as memories, but as continuations of the past that never goes away. These events live in her thoughts and feed off of the attention that she gives them. Sethe does not live in the past, but she does allow the past to live in the present. Her perception of the past influences how she thinks. It affects her relationship with her daughters. Finally Sethe’s memories yearn to grow.
One example of how Sethe thinks through her memories becomes apparent shortly after she ran away from Sweet Home, where she was owned as a slave for many years. She was six-months pregnant, with breast milk spilled all the front of her dress. When she believed that she could go no further, she lay down in a wild onion patch. Her feet were raw and dead. Her back hurt as it healed from being opened up by her master shortly before she escaped. On top of all that, she had an “antelope” inside of her kicking her swollen insides. Or at least she thought of the baby as an antelope. Upon reflection she wondered why to her the baby was an antelope. Her only knowledge of an antelope was a dance by that that name, performed by her mother and the other grown slaves. Sethe was very young, but remembered watching the adults from afar. This was also one of the only memories that she had of her own mother.
Sethe sees her fetal offspring as a version of her own mother’s image, leaping, twirling, and kicking. In her tortured state, an image from Sethe’s past takes on a new form; the form of a baby girl in Sethe’s womb. This is one example of how the past repositions itself in Sethe’s mind to become the present. When the antelope kicks, it is not a past memory of adults dancing like wild strong-legged animals kicking. It is a real baby that Sethe conceptualizes by transforming a memory. In this case, the memory comes alive to influence how Sethe sees her body and the body within.
A second example of how the past is a living part of Sethe involves her own memory being changed. Sethe did not know that her husband, Halle, saw her being attacked by schoolteacher, her owner at Sweet Home. She had planned on running away with Halle and her four children. But Halle never showed up, and she went on. When she and Paul D, one of her friends from Sweet Home, reunite 18 years after she left the plantation, he tells her that Halle had hid in the barn where she was attacked, and that he saw schoolteacher’s son take her milk. Also, Paul D. tells Sethe that after she left Sweet Home, he saw that Halle had gone crazy. He knelt in the dirt smearing butter over his face. Part of Sethe tells herself that she should not incorporate this new knowledge to the story that she had told herself for 18 years. But her mind is “greedy” for this addition, and refuses to let her leave it alone.
Sethe’s memory is so dynamic that it has the ability and yearning to change to keep currant with what the rest of her knows. Rather than existing as a single, suspended event from the past, Sethe’s entire memory blends many images, and the picture is not complete until she has included ever image. It is difficult for Sethe to imagine her husband’s spirit breaking after seeing his wife savaged. But she relies on her memories to understand and bear her own life, and in order to do this, she must update her memories, even when it is unpleasant for her to do so.
Sethe’s memories are so vividly part of her, that her living daughter, Denver, and her ghost daughter, Beloved, both want her past to be a part of them. Denver loves to hear the story of her birth. She was the “antelope” in Sethe’s belly when Sethe left sweet home. A young white girl found Sethe and soothed her with tales of velvet fabric enough so Sethe lived through the night and was able to give birth the next day in a canoe, then cross the river to safety. Denver asks to hear the story repeatedly. When Beloved takes on her human form and comes to live with Sethe and Denver, the two girls sit and try to imagine every detail of Sethe’s escape. Denver feeds Beloved the facts that she knows so well and Beloved contributes to the retelling with her passionate yearning to know more.
Denver and Beloved cling to Sethe’s story because reliving this memory is a way to get closer to their mother. Those who love Sethe know that the best way to understand her is to understand her memories, and to do this they must make her memories their own. Beloved and Denver’s telling every detail of Sethe’s escape allows them to feel that they have lived through the events that remain so present in their mother’s mind.
As I begin to read Beloved for the third time, I am thinking about the purpose of memories in literature, in people, and in myself. The way that Morrison describes Sethe’s memories seems different from the way that I would describe memories in myself. I think of my memories as images of the past that fade and are replaced as time goes by. But Sethe’s memories seem to operate as scenes, feelings and places that exist forever in Sethe’s mind. They force their way into her conscience and dictate her thoughts. They give others a fuller picture of her. And, eventually, some of these memories must be reshaped to fit the new knowledge that Sethe acquires.
Name:  Flori
Subject:  Reality Versus Memory
Date:  2001-11-13 22:28:41
Message Id:  593
The concept of tacit knowledge can be exemplified in the novel Beloved by Toni Morrison through the constant reference to memory. Memory may fall into the category of what we are only unconsciously aware of. Our minds unconsciously form pictures of our past that we may not always make total sense of. Memory is reality distorted into a perception of the past, highly controlled by our emotions. Our memories are constantly changing by these emotions and by new added information of past occurrences.
In Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, Sethe, one of the main characters, seems to hold on to only one part of herself, her past, and live in the present. She is unable to focus on the future because there are such strong parts of her past that she has not been able to overcome. She is only still putting all these memories of her past together to try to make sense of her life. When Paul D comes, he only adds more to these memories and upsets her enough that she runs out of the house to try to seek refuge from what Paul D tells her. Her past scares her and stops her from allowing herself to have hope for a better future with him. She longs for Baby Suggs’s wise words to “lay it all down” and turn her focus away from her past by letting go of the memories that haunt her (Morrison, 80).
When she goes to the clearing where Baby Suggs used to hold gatherings, she is touched on her neck by something, gently at first but then violently, and rescued by Beloved who gently massages her neck again and kisses it. She is startled by this kiss but it helps her to unconsciously realize that although she thought the touch was from the hands of Baby Suggs at first, they really belonged to the ghost of her oldest daughter Beloved. This touch makes her long for Paul D’s “trust and rememory” because it sparks something in her that she used to know so well, the touch of a daughter and a caring mother-in-law (Morrison, 92). Now as long as Paul D is there, Sethe can remember the past without losing sight of the possible happiness of the future.
Sethe had always unconsciously treated the strange girl, Beloved, as a daughter, but it was not until Paul D had gone and Beloved hummed the tune that Sethe made up and sang to her babies does Sethe actually and not just unconsciously realize that Beloved is the ghost of her first daughter. Her tacit knowledge became conscious knowledge. Sethe becomes so happy that they are finally together again and does everything she can to make up for what she did to Beloved, losing respect for the happiness she deserves for her own future.
At the end of the novel, she goes out on the porch holding Beloved’s hand when she hears the music the women were singing. She sees Mr. Bodwin coming down the road on his wagon and her tacit knowledge that all white men are evil and coming after her children surfaces. She runs after him with an ice pick. She had been so caught up in her past that she had formed a memory that kept her from the reality of the situation.
Memory as a form of tacit knowledge can be very dangerous. Our memories can be distorted into what we only feel is reality, and the scary thing about tacit knowledge is that we are unaware of it. Sethe suffered from trying to organize the reality from her distorted memory without losing the precious pictures in her head of the good things from her past, such as her husband and her two boys. “It was hard for [her] to believe in [time]” (Morrison, 34). She felt as if her life revolved around what had happened to her in her past and not in the future, but what she remembered of her past was constantly changing with each step into the future, drawing her further and further from reality.

Works Cited
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 1987.

Name:  Cathy B.
Subject:  A Brief Reaction to Beloved
Date:  2001-11-13 23:28:27
Message Id:  594

          Beloved is a dark and complex novel. It’s tone and themes are quite negative in nature and make the book difficult to appreciate the story’s finer points. Obviously, it has redeeming qualities and probably a great deal of literary value, but it is not enjoyable to read.
          The tone of the novel dark and depressing. The constant focus on the past, and memories leaves the reader with a sense that there is little to look forward to in the future. The constant mixing of past and present produces a mood of confusion and an impression of being helplessly trapped by memories.
          In addition to a dark tone, the themes of the book evoke sadness and a certain hopelessness. The idea of Sethe and Denver living alone in the middle of nowhere for years, hardly ever leaving the house, rejected by the community, is irrepressibly awful. They are scorned by the community, scarred by their past, and inexplicably unable to improve their situation. Sethe insists that they can’t leave the house, knowing that Denver is unhappy there. In short, the lives of the characters are terribly depressing and discouraging.
          The pervading themes and tone of this novel are deeply unhappy, and are apt to distress the reader to the point where they are not willing to commit their emotional energy into reading and trying to understand it. Although I’m sure that the intricacy and beautiful figurative language of Beloved appeal to all it’s readers, it is simply to morose and not compelling enough to be engaging.

Name:  molly
Subject:  beloved response
Date:  2001-11-13 23:56:53
Message Id:  595
In Toni Morison’s novel Beloved, storytelling is the vehicle that bridges the gap between past and present. Paul D., Sethe, and Denver are stunted and unable to realize and incorporate themselves into the present world. The atrocities of slavery have left Paul D. physically and emotionally battered. He is unable to attach himself to anything and has buried the past in the “rusted tobacco tin” of his heart. Seth is affected likewise. She remains outside society unable to think or speak about her life at Sweet Home. Denver, however, is a product of Sethe’s self-imposed ostracized state. Like her mother, Denver exists without a community and without a past (had Baby Sugs lived this might have been different). Because of Sethe’s situation and refusal to impart her own past unto her daughter, Denver is unable to create her own story. The nature of each character’s repression, allows them only to partially live. An unexpressed part of them always remains dead. Without it, they are unable to be whole and alive.
The character Beloved has the power to reinstate the dead part of their beings, however. She is a manifestation of the repressed past and instigates release by forcing confrontation. Her direct questioning sparks Sethe to remember and (more importantly) to tell, things she once was unable to do. Much of the narrative unfolds from these re-ignited memories. Beloved also passively facilitates release. Her presence incites Paul D. and Sethe to rediscover the past together despite the pain that is involved. This is reminiscent of something Amy says to Sethe while massaging her battered feet; “ Anything dead coming back to life hurts.” This release allows both Paul D. and Sethe to form a cohesive narrative of past events (by filling in the gaps of each other’s stories) despite the painful nature of the process.
Denver is affected in a different manner. Throughout the novel we see that Beloved has the power to resurrect, yet Denver is the only one who succeeds in obtaining an active role in the present world. Sethe sinks into madness while Paul D. remains caught in a state of doubt unable to fully incorporate himself. Denver’s escape can be accredited to the fact that she had no past to repress. Her existence was merely dormant. In a way, Beloved excised her of Sethe, thus allowing Denver freedom from her mother’s past. The storytelling in this novel is intrinsic to providing forward motion. The character Beloved encompasses the fluid entity that facilitates the restarting of the clocks through the reincarnation of Denver.
Name:  Cari C-B
Subject:  Beloved
Date:  2001-11-14 01:12:40
Message Id:  596
Cari Cochrane-Braswell
Prof. Nutting
Nov. 14, 2001

Beloved took place in a time when blacks were unable to let their emotions completely show through. They could not completely love their children, those they should have been close to, or even themselves. At the beginning of these character’s lives they owned nothing, not even their own bodies, and they therefore chose not to get to close to anyone or anything. When they left they were finally able to do this, or at least thought they could do this, but the complete control of white people followed them into freedom and continued to affect their lives, eventually taking everything from them that there was to take.
My initial reaction to the book was a result of my tacit knowledge. I could not accept the idea of a ghost causing such havoc and from the very first page I tried to explain the ghost’s actions in a ‘logical’ fashion. This was until I finally reminded myself that this is a work of fiction where ghosts really do exist. , that the ghost is the logical reason for the events. This realization helped me later as I read about the ghost coming back to life in a human body.
Beloved is a book that relies heavily on the memories of the characters; it does not take place just in the present, but in the memories of the past. This is ironic since each character was trying to escape the remembrance of their past, they were trying to live only in the present in their newly freed position. This is ironic since each character was trying to escape the remembrance of their past, they were trying to live only in the present in their newly freed position. Yet the story did not develop until the reader finally grasped at the past. The only way to make sense of the story was to look into the past. Toni Morrison is saying that the only way to understand black people’s suffering now is through the events that happened in the past. We cannot keep out all the unwanted things, just as Paul D. tried to keep all his past in the tobacco tin. The only way to understand why the characters are where they are is to see the past on Sweet Home and their trials to get where they are now, yet this past is painful and threatens to swallow each character up. There was so much for each person to live through that their natural response was to shut it out as a survival mechanism.
Baby Suggs, Sethe, Paul D. all tried to keep the past out. They were worn down by the things they remembered and as result they tried to keep the memories out. Their tacit knowledge was to fight for the continuation of each day. Each character tried to keep from thinking too much on what they had to survive through in order to get where they were today, yet the whole story only unfolds when they have remembered what they tried to keep out. We, the reader, cannot discover the whole tale without the rememoires. Through these memories the reader also sees the conditions of slavery they lived through. Working on Sweet Home they were treated better than on other plantations and in different households, at first, but it was still slavery, and while it was better each one knew it was not good. They still did not own themselves. Then with the coming of Schoolteacher, this became more apparent, after having lived in slightly rosier world, they were suddenly forced into one that was not as nice. The characters, however, still do not see any freedom in the earlier days of Sweet Home, just a lesser degree of slavery.
Beloved is a story of the effects of slavery on these people. Each character was only able to take so much. Even in freedom they were pushed until their breaking point where they could not continue any more. We see their struggle to survive in a world that does not want them and the fight they put up to keep what little they claim as theirs. In a broader sense Beloved is not just a book about the lives of these characters, but also on the affects of slavery and white people. It tells a narrative of people from whom white people took so much, and yet continued to demand more. The characters reached their breaking point where they could not go on. Just as Baby Suggs last words suggested, that white people take everything they can, and do not help black people out. Sethe comes to this realization too, even though there were nice white people in her life, she was still in the position was because of slavery. She ended up killing her own daughter and attempting to kill the others because of what she was afraid would happen to them if they lived. Baby Suggs also gave up hope because of the effect the sight of the schoolteacher had on Sethe.
The book about more than just its basic plotline, it goes beyond in its attempts to show the affect of white people on blacks at this time period. The characters tried to fight this affect, and survive like heir instinct insisted they do, but they were broken down by every little thing they experienced until it became to much for the to bear. Each character tried to keep the past out of the present in an effort to stay alive and not be drowned in the sorrows and hardships they had experienced. Toni Morrison wanted the reader to see not only the physical hardships blacks suffered, but also the emotional ones that left scars as large as the tree on Sethe’s back.
Name:  Amanda Glendinning
Subject:  Love in the Time of Beloved
Date:  2001-11-14 02:27:54
Message Id:  597
Though the story lines in Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera are very different, the novel and the novella are very reminiscent of each other. Written about two very different subjects, in two very different places, Columbia and Ohio, the aspects of the pieces of literature are quite comparable. Intersperced with mystery and magic, both works use the flow of language to pull the reader into the societies and cultures where the characters live. Through the deep characters, the reader learns much about the surroundings and what is going on. Both are about love, memories, society, and race.
Both works tell a story of love. Gabriel Garvia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, a novella about unrequited love is different in that Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza are allowed to fall in love with each other. They do not have to worry about being split apart byhaving a lover sold like the characters do in Beloved. Despite that, there is also a good deal of love in Toni Morrison’s novel. There is the love that Sethe has for her children, even those that are missing; there is the love that Denver has for Beloved; and there is the love that Sethe and Paul D. begin to let themselves feel for each other, though this is less of a love, and more of a trust. But trust is the beginning of love so that is key. Love is very important in both stories as it holds people together.
The novel and the novella also are based a good deal around memories. In Beloved Sethe is both haunted and lives in the rememories of her former life at Sweet Home and with her baby. Living within those memories makes it hard for Sethe to move on. Love in the Time of Cholera is also based around memories. This is seen in the fact that Florentino still courts Fermina after almost fifty-one years. He continues what he has left off before because he remembers how much he loved her. The memories help create the stories.
Because of the where the stories are set and the way that they are told, the readers are able to learn a good deal about the societies and cultures that they are set in. In post-Civil War Ohio, where Beloved is set, there is still a good amount of racism. There is a day at the carnival when only “coloreds” could go; the neighbourhoods were sectioned off, and it was a big thing when Amy, a white girl, helped Sethe give birth. There is also racism in Love in a Time of Cholera in that the whites are set apart from everyone else. They are not expected to socialize and do things differently than everyone else. Racism and thus the culture and society is aparent in both.
The different key points of the two works bring them together while still allowing the novel and novella to be different. One written by a Hispanic man, the other by a black woman, it is quite amazing how alike the two are. From the emotions shown to the characters painted, they are comparably, intense, strong pieces of literature.
Name:  Annabella Rutigliano
Subject:  Beloved
Date:  2001-11-14 02:45:53
Message Id:  598
Annabella Rutigliano
Professor Nutting
What was your initial reaction to Toni Morison's novel Beloved?
“Any thing dead come back to life hurts.” For me these words sum up my initial reaction to Tony Morison's novel Beloved. Reading such a tragic tail so beautifully told by Toni Morrison was bittersweet for me to read. At the same time as my mind was reveling in the books masterful prose, my heart was weeping at the constant atrocities that were inflicted upon the characters. I felt what they felt, hoped as they hoped, and found my self immersed into the dismal pall that is Beloved. The book dredged up memories of an America that are still raw, even for a person that was never a part of the carnage of slavery Beloved made me ashamed that such a thing was allowed to occur in a country where freedom is cherished.
For me the quote is the quintessential moral that Tony Morrison wanted the reader to come away with. But this understanding is only gained if you look at Beloved tacitly; In fact Tony Morrison makes it impossible for the reader to do so any other way. She uses the hodge-podge of Sethe’s memories to bring the reader to this realization. At first I was vexed at the flitting and unordered quality of Sethe's recollections, and I wondered what point was the author trying to make. What was the author trying to lure the reader into discovering? After I realized that trying to order Sethe’s memories would detract from the principle of the book, and was in-fact making it that much harder to read, I saw that there was a “method to this madness.” So relying on my newly found belief in tacit knowledge I read Beloved from cover to cover, trusting that in the end I would get the gist of it.
With my newly imparted knowledge, I set off through the despairing maze of Sethe’s memories and came to know Beloved. I found my self using my tacit understanding to sort through Sethe’s tacit knowledge, because that is what her memories are. Her memories are bits of repressed tacit knowledge that are pushing through the tortured miasma of her mind to form “the part of a greater whole.” The entire point of Beloved is for Sethe to bring back from “death,” her memories so that she can become a whole person again. As a tool to ressurect her memories, and maybe the inevitable pain that they will bring, she literally brings back her dead daughter Beloved. When this occurs the wheels are set into motion, both for the reader and for Sethe, setting them both on a path that will lead to newfound truths.
In the end Tony Morrison says that “this is not a story to pass on.” What is she trying to convey with that statement? Is she telling the reader that the sins of slavery must never occur again, or that quite literally the story we have read must remain untold? Is she trying to save her readers the pain of resurrected memories? Or trying to warn us that the resurrection of memories would be unnecessary if we as a people and nation would not bury them?
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2001-11-14 08:31:14
Message Id:  599
Jennifer Colella

The Thought Picture

It was one of the nights when the darkness just seems to take hold of you with that icy grip combining both the might of winter’s breath and the fierce obscurity of the unknown. I was asleep, wandering in a dream world where light could find its way clear to reassure my weary heart when my sister crept through the room on tiptoes. I could feel her eyes on me with this guilt and insecurity filling her, but as she turned to leave, the sight of the shadows looming large in the narrow hall brought her back to my side, and this time she woke me up. It happened a lot, both when we were children and even as we got older. The night time wake up was a sister’s duty. Together, half asleep, a fearful sister would lead a half asleep zombie down the stairs and to the television where a comedy or Disney feature film was waiting to pacify the evils of the night sky. The experience was also filled with droopy eyes and yawns, but by the next day, by daybreak and the return of safety, the memory was void of the fear, depleted of its sleepy filled resonance. It was a moment of family and love, the moment of sisterly reassurance that the night, that the shadow, would always be fought side by side, as would any other evil.
Perhaps this is a sentiment shared only by sisters, but I suspect it is more. The greatest feeling of love, of being loved, comes from the safety of distance, of memory. The present is filled with thought and response; the past is filled with safety and remembrance. The most fond, most loving memories of my family occurred without my knowing the degree of love that was spewing from my heart, without my knowing that I was, in fact, creating the sentiment of love. It is a hard concept to describe, but if you imagine the most loving memory of your family, you’ll probably realize that at the time you did not consciously realize you were being loved, or at least not to the degree that you realize it after the memory is created. Hugs, kisses, tears, and sleep are the actions of a conscious present; love is a thing of consideration, of thought, of the past.
Of course this elevates the issue of the past to new heights. Memory is no longer a biography but an emotional necessity. What are we if we are not loved? Who are we if we don’t mean anything to anybody? We become an empty vacuum with a void heart demanding its fill. The title of the book “Beloved” is just that, a statement to the importance of love. Not just referring to the character Beloved, the title speaks to the motivations of all the characters, to their vacuum and their necessity to find their fill. Beloved wants her mother, Sethe demanded, once free anyway, the love of her children, Paul D. wanted Sethe’s love, and Denver the love of a family in which she could finally feel safe. Love was not just a motivation or footnote for the story; love was the story. The book is called “the one who is loved” because they all wanted to be loved, but memory stood as an obstacle.
Memory, the past, is that chain that binds us, or, perhaps better put, the roots that keep the tree both alive and forever stagnant. Sethe’s scars in the shape of the tree were a “way [to] her sorrow, the roots of it (17.)” We are stuck with these roots. Unfortunately for Sethe and Beloved, the roots were not to love but to a much different emotion, a betrayal or loneliness. This they were forced to overcome, but you can’t escape your past. As Sethe’s says, “where I was before I came here, that place is real. It’s never going away (34.)” Our memories anchor us in emotion.
Sethe is able move on, able to find love because she is able to create new emotions, able to grow new roots. Beloved does not have this luxury. She suffers what is probably the ultimate betrayal, murder and death at the hands of the woman who gave her life. How do you even begin to overcome the memory of having your own mother hold your chin up so that she might row the teeth of a handsaw back and forth upon your veins? How do you find love when that is your last living memory? Can you find love when that is a memory at all? The two boys finally split and even Denver, who couldn’t remember her own near death, found the root to such a childhood unsettling and frightening. She didn’t hate her mother, but she didn’t seem to love her either, and perhaps she wasn’t able to love her mother. Her indifference is demonstrated by her constant dreaming for a father, for Halle. She didn’t care whether or not Sethe stayed so long as she had her father.
The confusion comes when Denver decides to protect Sethe rather than Beloved. Where did this love come from? How did Denver overcome her own fear and her own memories of a mother who tried to kill her children? Denver had enough other experiences to build new roots and new bonds with her mother, but at the same time, she was a play partner with Beloved since they were children. She lost her deafness only when she heard her sister trying to crawl up the stairs. She had roots to both of the women, but one had tried to kill her. How does she find this love when it doesn’t exist early in the novel?
Does she even learn to love Sethe? She doesn’t switch her protection roles until it becomes “obvious that her mother could die and leave them both and what would Beloved do then…It only worked with three—not two….(231.)” Beloved is still the person Denver seems sincerely worried about loosing, worrying more about what Beloved would do when Sethe died than Sethe actually dying.
Can we overcome our pasts, our memories, and grow new roots and new loves when there are such dramatic event in our past? Is that possible? Sethe was able to find love, a love claimed “too thick (156.)” If we’re able to move on with our lives, able to find new emotions and loves, then how there is this obsession with the past. Transitions between the past and present take place as though there is no transition, as though there is no need because our past is always in the present with us. It is inescapable. This would leave us like a tree, totally stationary and unable to move beyond our past. This can’t be a good thing.
Or can it be? The hard thing is moving beyond a past with blood and murder and hand saws in it. My childhood was more freeing with those night excursions to the tv with my sister perhaps the most freeing of all. I had nothing to fear. If I had a past with slavery, the story of my life would be different. I might be more anchored to those memories.
Perhaps it’s possible then that the tree is a symbol of hatred, of slavery, a hideous past while the doves and the birds within the book become a symbol of love, of a freeing past. Whenever Sethe prepares to kill someone, she “hears wings. Little hummingbirds… (248.)” She kills out of love. Paul D. brings the doves into the story as he recalls “having neither the right nor the permission to enjoy (154)” their song because “everything belonged to the men who had the guns.” At the same time that the birds take on a sense of freedom, a sense of love, stationary or low objects become limiting. By the end, Beloved is a “naked woman with fish for hair (253.)” She is with the water, water existing as a very anchored thing. But water moves too. And Sethe was still obsessed with the past when she heard the hummingbirds.
There is a major obsession with the past in the novel, but that is because the past is so essential to who we are. It is a part of us that we can’t outrun. We gather our sense of freedom, our sense of limitation from our past and the degree to which we were either loved or not. Whether we are loved has a severe affect on our lives because everyone requires someone, a sign that they mattered in some way to a life. In this way, I suppose our past is a tree, tied down and stretching towards the sun for a little affection.

Name:  Kathryn
Subject:  Intial Reaction to Beloved
Date:  2001-11-14 09:46:41
Message Id:  600
When my mother asked me on friday night what I thought of the book, I said,"it's weird and confusing." Morrison jumps from past to present, from scene to scene, place to place without warning about the transitions. This is why I initially found the book difficult to get through, it was difficult for me to place what she was talking about in many situations. I couldn't wait to get to the end of each chapter, however, when I got there I wanted to read on. Morrison uses dfferent characters' perspectives and memories to patch together her story. This means that she will start out with one story and leave it incomplete. Later, the story will be reintroduced and filled in more. I found this technique to be very interesting and suspenseful once I figured out the pattern.
A good early example of Morrison's style is the story of Denver's birth. The story is first briefly introduced on page 8, when Sethe is speaking with Paul D. She tells him that a whitewoman helped deliver her baby girl Denver, the child she was pregnant with when Paul D. last saw her. This gives the reader a tiny clue about what happened, but I found it to be frustrating at first because the beginning of the story is especially cluttered with half told or briefly mentioned stories. The reader is bombarded with information but none of it is complete or seems to fit together.
The story of Denver's birth is brought up again while Denver is alone in her secret boxwood room in the woods. It begins to snow and the snow reminds her about the story. The story is then retold through Denver's memory with so much detail it seems Denver could not possibly know so much information since she was not able to actually remember the event. Yet Denver's favorite part of the story is told at this point in the novel with explict detail. However, the reader is still only given a piece of the story. The memory stops before Denver is born so the reader is still curious to hear the ending. At this point I was less frustated though because I was beginning to see Morrison's pattern from this story and a few others. I began to see that the confusing collection of memories, facts and events that I had read about so far were going to be elaborated on later.
The most complete account of Denver's birth is found on page 71, when Denver tells the entire story to satiate Beloved's appetite for stories. This retelling is by far the most detailed because Denver knows how much Beloved loves details, and she expands her story to make it as alive as possible in order to please Beloved. Now the reader can see how all the previous bits and pieces fit together.
The fact that the story is finally told completely to Beloved brings up an important point. At this point in the novel, many stories that were only mentioned before are being told in completetion to Beloved, piecing together Sethe's mysterious past. Beloved's desire for stories seems to be a clever device that Morrison uses to elaborate on some of the information presented in the beginning of the book. In this respect I find the book to be brilliant because while some of the mysteries are being explained, Beloved herself is extremely mysterious which adds mystery. This means that the reader is understanding some previous connections, yet is still interested in reading on because now there are new questions.
Morrison's style coincides with many of the comments made in the novel about memories.
Sethe says;
"I was talking about time. It's so hard for me to believe in. Some things go. Pass on. Some things just stay. I used to think it was my memory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But its 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."
Sethe's comment is reflected in the way that Morrison uses memories along with the present to tell her story. Often the memories may seem insignificant to the reader, and the reader might even forget about them, but they will be remembered later on when they are connected to something else. The transitions between past and present can be confusing, but it works the same way that people often switch their minds from a memory to the present. By retelling the memories, it gives another person a picture of what happened, and therefore it will keep on living inside the minds of many people-the picture of it will be out there in the world.
Although I found Beloved difficult to get into, once I recognized Morrison's pattern I thought the book was very interesting. Morrison's style can appear to be disorganized, but almost every seeminly irrelevant piece of information is connected to something later on. If the reader knows this, new pieces of information are exciting, but if not it is confusing. I'm glad I pushed myself to get through the beginning because now I look foward to the end.
Name:  Joanna Simonis
Subject:  Beloved
Date:  2001-11-14 11:30:44
Message Id:  601
Joanna Simonis
Nutting, Csem

Haunting Stories of the Past

The characters in Beloved are haunted by memories of the past. They are stuck between the reluctance to remember the horror of the past and the motivation to face and fight it. In order to look to the future, Sethe had to forget the past. She needed to let the past go and loosen the hold her memories had on her. She was trying to protect her children from the life she had lived, regardless of the consequences.
Denver liked to hear the story of her birth, but she was afraid to hear other stories about her mother’s past. Like Sethe, Denver wanted to hide from the horror of the past. But hiding from it prevented Sethe from forgetting it. Beloved was enthusiastic to hear their stories. She asked Denver to retell the story of her birth, Denver became alive as she narrated the tale and it was a relief to reveal the past. The memories weighed the characters down. Beloved motivated Sethe and Denver to tell their stories. They no longer fought from keeping them back.
Paul D. was also haunted by the past. Both he and Sethe came from Sweet Home but they had different stories to tell and different ways of dealing with their memories. Paul D. sang his tales. These songs were a way for him to face his past, yet they did not hurt anyone else. They were sad, but not revealing.
Paul D. was motivated to tell Sethe the truth about him and Beloved. He was ashamed and he needed to break away from his guilt. He needed to break away from the home and the haunting past. The ghost continued to have a strong hold on 124, similar to the hold the past had on the characters.
When Sethe becomes aware of who Beloved is, she no longer needs to bear the weight of her past. She finally can come to terms with the memories of her life. She is released from the guilt that has weighed her down. She is now eager to explain to Beloved and apologize for the past. Her daughter is safe and she is ready to create a future for her she thought she had destroyed.
The characters in Beloved struggle to deal with their haunting pasts in the aftermath of slavery. The book shows Sethe’s attempts to release herself from the horrible memories of the degradation and pain she had experienced in her life. She tries to create a hopeful future for her family separate from any memories of slavery. After Beloved disappears, the past can be forgotten and Sethe, Denver, and Paul D. can begin new lives. The memory of Beloved also fades. The past has been revisited and confronted, yet the memories remain. But they no longer haunt the lives of the characters in the novel.

Name:  Mia Shea-Michiels
Subject:  Beloved
Date:  2001-11-14 13:30:09
Message Id:  602
The Allegory of Beloved
Mia Shea-Michiels
Ms. Nutting

We now know, after studying tacit learning, that there are thoughts in the back of our minds that have a large role in what we do and say. There is knowledge that we don’t need on a conscious level and knowledge that we don’t want to have on a conscious level. We may have buried some thoughts that we’d rather not think about so deep into our minds that we almost forgot they were there. What Beloved proves is that those thoughts that we think we have discarded are still there and can come back to haunt us. They will show us that we can’t get rid of the past and can’t get rid of our tacit knowledge.
Seth had covered up her past for a long time. She had even sheltered herself from the truth. She never felt a need to tell her daughter Denver the stories of slavery and the life she saved her children from. Seth didn’t talk about the past and didn’t think about it. She had thought it was over but the supernatural presence in her house didn’t. This ghost of Seth’s baby raised all her mother’s forgotten thoughts to the surface. Seth wasn’t aware of thinking about her slave days but those thoughts were there with everything she did. Her relationship with her daughter Denver, her motives for staying in 124 Bluestone Road for years and the reason Denver and Seth isolated themselves from the community are all effects of Seth’s past.
The arrival of Beloved, the young girl who is found in front of 124, signals a merging of the past and the present. Beloved seems to evoke stories from Seth that she wouldn’t otherwise remember. Beloved is the catalyst that drives Seth’s tacit knowledge into the open. She is the symbol of slavery and the fact that it won’t be shut out and forgotten. There are scars that run too deep to rub away. Seth finds that she will not be able to continue on with life and the people she loves unless she faces her demons. Though it is a battle, Seth will find that life can continue along with the memories from the past.

Name:  Sarah Eberhardt
Subject:  Beloved reaction
Date:  2001-11-14 14:17:57
Message Id:  603
Sarah Eberhardt due 11/14/01
Csem Reaction to Beloved

Most of the relationships tying together the plot and characters of Beloved are derived from the tacit knowledge of each individual person in the novel. They are linked by memories and common knowledge, of their enemies the white people, of the ghosts of the dead, and the methods by which it was possible to keep on living.
All of the characters in the novel share a common tacit knowledge of the ways of white people. Some, like Baby Suggs, drew the conclusion that there would always be the danger and unpredictability of the more socially powerful race. Others, like the Sweet Home men (except for Sixo), believed that since the white people who personally held the power over their own lives were relatively benevolent, so must all the others be. However, no matter what one’s attitude, there was at all times the awareness of that power.
Perhaps because of this shared unhappy life, nearly all the slaves or ex-slaves also believed in ghosts and spirits, the angry or grieving dead that refused to stay in their graves. Maybe it was only this belief that gave the dead the power to become spirits; maybe they would not have been able to, were it not for the altering of reality caused by these shared beliefs. Some people feared the ghost Beloved, while others loved it, hated it, or felt in debt to it. Denver, who had had insufficient company after her brothers ran away and Baby Suggs died, accepted it as an oddly-behaving but nonetheless harmless sister. Sethe greeted the spirit as a responsibility she must meet straight-backed and strong, but when Beloved appeared in her bodily form, Sethe swiftly grew apologetic and subservient to it. Were it not for the beliefs of these two, that accepted it as reality, perhaps the ghost would have given up, would have been unable to affect them as it did. Even Paul D, who was able to rout the spirit for awhile, never faced it with disbelief.
Most important to the novel was the knowledge of life accumulated through the trials of the characters. The transition from slave to free woman affected both Baby Suggs and Sethe in a similar way, causing them to be less wary of love. Baby Suggs expressed this through her meetings at the Clearing, through her help offered to any stranger that needed it. Sethe, for the first time, allowed herself to wholly love her absent husband and her own four children, a luxury that Baby Suggs had not had, that no slave woman had, for always there was the fear of being separated and sold away. This awareness of love was central to the novel. Paul D spoke of rationing love, giving one’s heart away only a bit at a time, so that when the recipient was sold or hung or ran away, you too did not give up. Loving people at all was sometimes too much; sometimes one’s love must be restricted to small things: a star, a flower, a blade of grass. The sudden swelling of emotion in the newly freed Sethe was perhaps what caused her to try and murder all of her children. She now cared far too much what happened to them, and the worst thing she knew was about to happen, was riding towards them with his hat tipped down.
The novel dealt with knowledge, knowledge of love and death and the interference of white people in both. It dealt with the ways people tried to get by in life, trying to survive so that their children could live free or at least freer than they did. It dealt with what happened if that freedom wasn’t possible.

Name:  From Emma
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  Beloved
Date:  2001-11-14 22:41:05
Message Id:  604
When I picked up Beloved earlier in the semester, I was impatient with the unfamiliar story-telling style and could not settle into the book. This time around I eased past the initial disorientation and soon found myself compelled ‘to witness’ the horror of Sethe’s experiences, which I accept as the story of a people. I found I couldn’t turn away from that story, which Morrison puts so directly and forcefully before me. I would say that, ultimately, this is why difficult transitions, unclear tenses, non-linear construction etc, stopped being obstacles (for me, personally).

I understand the story because I feel it.

As I said above, to me this book is not primarily about Sethe’s personal story, nor the story of any of the characters Morrison invents. At least, I don’t believe this is the source of the story’s power or importance. Not for me. This story encompasses the historical experience of a community of people, and that people’s story is told in the context of our country’s story. Although this context is not explicit (as might be the case if the story were in the style of social realism??) it nonetheless hangs over the story, itself a haunting out of our country’s past. This, I think, puts Beloved into a different category of storytelling. And at this time in my life, I have a preference for stories that connect to the larger community, and am less moved by storytelling that is too inward looking, “slice-of-life,” and, to my mind, obsessed with the psychology of the individual.

I believe a point was raised in class about whether this story was ‘conservative’ as in not forward-looking. I think it’s both conservative and forward-looking. This story springs from a community for whom the terrible past is part of its own, and this country’s, unfinished business. Morrison’s book suggests this unfinished business haunts our ability to move into the future. In order to move forward in a clearly affirmative, life-sustaining, way a terrible past demands attention. Not everyone wants to hear this past story retold, of course. Think of the controversies surrounding the issue of reparations for African-Americans, or the recent revelations of how upstanding Northeast companies (still open for business) as well as certain Ivy League institutions benefited from money generated by slavery. Unlike the story of the Holocaust, this story is very much closer to home and we were not, in a clear and decisive way, the heroes. Let’s face it, the story of just how inhuman humans can be to one another, wherever it happens to be set, is never an easy one to hear.

Luckily, there's more than one way to tell a story. And if Morrison's style doesn't do it for everyone, we can turn to other story-tellers working in fiction and non-fiction.

Name:  Lisa Harrison
Username:  lharriso
Subject:  Beloved
Date:  2001-11-14 23:29:03
Message Id:  605
First Thoughts – Beloved

(I've read many reviews and opinions on this novel, and so I expected it would be annoying or difficult to read. That has not been the case for me at all. I love this novel, and I am not at all disrupted as a reader to the author's style of jumping from memory to memory. In fact, if it hadn't been so often pointed out, I wouldn't have noticed....)


I feel as if I could write an essay for very nearly every sentence in this book.

It is the late 1800s, post-slavery and I find myself in Ohio. Toni Morrison has placed me there via her novel, Beloved, forcing me to bear witness to the once unspeakable details of the horrors of slavery and its aftermath. It feels as though Ms. Morrison is standing behind me as I read, holding my head between her hands turning it in the direction of each scene, insisting I watch what is so hard to accept and understand. I can almost hear her affirming what I’m seeing, because she knows I can’t believe it.

Before I have time to digest the unimaginable humiliation of a woman named Sethe selling her body for the price of seven letters on a tombstone, my head is turned to another setting and I hear the words of Baby Suggs saying, “Not a house in the country ain’t packed with some dead Negro’s grief.”

And I’m only on page 5. (Realizing there are more than 250 pages to go, I brace myself emotionally for this beautifully written yet brutally frank account of post-slavery.)

The theme of memory -- or rememory as Sethe calls it -- is constant, and I can’t help but reflect on how the body never forgets. The “tree” Sethe refers to on her back is taken so literally by Paul D; he seems to think he’ll see something physically growing out of her body. Sethe says she’s never seen the tree, and never will, but she knows it’s there. In my mind, this tree symbolizes other deep-rooted memories that have scarred her but that she does not want to remember. The memories, like limbs on that tree, are now part of her being – part of her flesh – and the author literally brings them to life.

A white woman who massaged Sethe’s bloodied feet, told her “Anything dead coming back to life hurts.” This makes me think of when Sethe said her mind was devious, because she never knows when something like the scent of cherry bark ink, or the feeling of a cool breeze on her face will bring to mind the old pictures of Sweet Home.

Even if you think you’ve buried a memory forever, it’s still inside you somewhere and you never know when it will be called to consciousness – or what will trigger its resurrection. Sethe’s repressed memory of having murdered her child arrives in the form of a ghost, and later manifests into a physical being – a young woman – who comes to live with her.

This novel also introduces me for the first time, to the humiliation suffered by the enslaved male population. My mind races to the present where I can’t help thinking of the disproportionate number of black male prisoners. They are still carrying the degradation of slavery.

I now feel I’ve been lied to for many years, since the stories about slavery that I’d heard had obviously been meticulously cleansed, and made easier to tolerate. There is nothing easy about Toni Morrison’s novel, and she seems determined to show us the truth with all the grisly details. At times I’m so overwhelmed, I find I need to close the book to escape its painful realities. And then I feel guilty because I can.

The book brings to life the dead and forgotten. It is merely one story – and so we must remember to multiply it by the thousands in order for us to even begin to understand the enormous suffering that was borne out of slavery.

Name:  Robin
Subject:  Moral Riddle
Date:  2001-11-15 00:41:40
Message Id:  606
The Moral Riddle Behind Toni Morrison’s Beloved

I don’t know where to begin writing about Beloved. It’s an enormous book. Any little facet I choose to focus on suddenly becomes the universe. I’m intimidated by the task. I fear that anything I say about the book will be inadequate. Anything I say will leave out something of vital importance. Beloved leaves me nearly speechless. At the same time, I feel the need to write endlessly about it.
The facet I’ve chosen to focus on with this particular reading of Beloved is the moral riddle behind Sethe’s choice. Sethe murders her infant child. The murder of a child, the absolute innocent, by her own mother seems like such a horrible crime that there can be no redemption from it. It’s a fundamental betrayal of a deep, primal trust. It seems like a violation of natural law.
Yet, we know Sethe, and I think most readers of the book will not judge her harshly for her choice. I identified so deeply with Sethe that I was upset with Paul D for leaving her after learning her truth. I wanted him to understand her, to pity her, to love her.
Why does understanding create such compassion in the face of horror? This seems like a profoundly important question, especially in a time of war. Should we forgive those who kill the innocent? Should we love them, pity them? Is any action completely evil? Is any person evil? Are the qualities of good and evil the products of circumstance and environment alone, or do they rest somewhere deeper? If they do arise from circumstances, how can anyone be judged or despised? If they do not, then where do they come from? Do they exist at all?
I could keep asking questions like this for pages. A long tradition of moral philosophy has wrestled with these questions. Toni Morrison poses them eloquently and beautifully in Beloved.
In Beloved, evil is dreadfully real. The face of slavery silences the question of the reality of evil. Good, too, is vividly real. Amy Denver, Stamp Paid, Halle’s purchase – these are all clear and realistic portrayals of goodness. The extremes throw sharp shadows, which make the moral blurriness of Sethe’s choice all the more pronounced.
Sethe kills her baby. This is horribly wrong for a mother. Yet, Sethe protects her baby. This is absolutely right for a mother. What can right and wrong mean under such circumstances?
The key to understanding, perhaps, comes in Paul D’s response to learning of Sethe’s choice. She pours out her story to him, tells him that what she had provided for her child was safety. He says to her, “You got two feet, Sethe, not four.” (p. 156)
Paul D is a man who knows the difference between a human being and an animal. He’s struggled to be human his whole life, while the world treats him like an animal. Paul D walks right along the borders of humanity, so when he talks about that border, he’s saying something important.
“More important than what Sethe had done was what she claimed,” Paul D realizes. Sethe claimed that she had stopped schoolteacher and saved her baby. She made a claim that she had been a good mother. She claimed goodness. She claimed that there had been a right choice that day, and that she had made it.
An animal reacts without reflection. An animal has all its choices made for it, by nature and circumstance. To be human is to make one’s own choices and to take responsibility for them. Humans can be held responsible for their actions because they have free will. Animals cannot be said to be good or evil, they just are. Sethe has two feet, not four. She’s a human being. She has volition and free will, and she is responsible for her choice.
To respect her humanity, Sethe has to acknowledge the horror of what she did. The ghost Beloved is such a rich, deep metaphor that any definition is probably inadequate, but I see the ghost as a personification of that horror. It’s there, a constant companion, creating despair and havoc in the household. Sethe cannot go on with her life as a free human until she deals with that ghost. As long as it is outside of her self, she remains a slave.

Name:  Zoe Anspacher
Subject:  Response to "Beloved" by Toni Morrison
Date:  2001-11-15 07:56:03
Message Id:  607



Beware Beloved. Beware the book that lives. What lives must consume. That book is more than paper and ink. Paper and ink and a book that’s pink, sounds like nothing, but its not. The pink and the name, Beloved, they are con artists, total imposters. Just remember the eyeless readers. Eyeless they are after lifting that pink cover, and letting their eyeballs in between the pages. Remember Tacetta, that white lady, sitting on the green tapestry sofa, all cozy, all safe. Lost her eyeballs though. Beware Beloved, if you want to keep your eyeballs. That book is alive. Living things have their way of getting what they need, and they always need to feed. People like Tacetta are such easy prey, sticking their heads in the guillotine like that. Like all those college girls at Big Bear Schools. They go asking the professors and looking for wizards to smash their skulls open or cut off their heads clean with the guillotine. They want the Big Bear professors and wizards to open their squishy brains, they want them stuffed with new meat and opened up at the same time. They don’t want them re-attached until they are done. What do they expect? They are just asking for a book that’s looking to hook itself into a nice soft open head. They don’t even notice when the needles come out of it. Tacetta didn’t. That book had already sewn one eyeball to the edge when she started to notice, when she couldn’t get her eye off of it. But, with her brain all full of holes, she thought maybe it was a good thing and besides she was already attached. So the sewing continued. That hungry book sewed her other eyeball around the rest of its cover. And there she was with two eyeballs held two feet away from the open book, the red thread making a web, a cacoon that wrapped her in front of its open pages.

Sewn in like that, she was barely moving when her husband came home. Runno was used to that. He just saw what he always saw, the snapshot his mind provided as he dashed past her. His visual shorthand said she was reading on the sofa. He went about his usual post-work bustle, thinking that Tacetta was fine. Too bad, by the time he noticed, it was too late. Way too late--beware Beloved, the book that lives. It had her good by the time Runno actually saw her, or what was left of her. He almost ran at the horror, but then he heard Tacetta’s little girl voice, the one she couldn’t control when she was excited. He had to listen.

"Hi honey. Oh my God! This book is so great! Look what it did to me," she said. He could hear her smiling tone, but he couldn’t find her mouth. All he could see on the monster was two white eyeballs, the rest was black. He tensed his biceps and his back, trying to force his body to stay standing.

"Don’t worry, I’m fine. In fact, its great! Whoa! This is incredible. See, its so powerful. First my skin flew off--its over there behind the piano–then, this warm black liquidy stuff surrounded me, except for my eyes." The monster didn’t move. Runno saw her white eyeballs, no more blue in them, sewn to the outer edges of a book.

"Wha..wa..what book is that?" He said

"Its Beloved, by Toni Morrison. Man, I can’t believe this! This is the Beethoven’s 9th of literature! I feel like she’s inside my head. I mean it feels like the way my mind is or something." Her voice was helping him calm down. It was still Tacetta, his lovely wife, thank God, but...could he touch this black jelly creature? He avoided looking toward the piano. The thought of her skin lying in a heap over there made a half groan half croak sound come out of his mouth. Act normal, just get through it. Maybe its not real. He felt his mental armor clang over himself. His breastbones hardened.

"That’s great," he managed an enthusiastic tone, "I’m glad you like it. Are you almost done?"

"No. Oh God no! I can’t stop going back over pages. Over and over again. But don’t worry. Look, this is so cool! When the pages turn back and forth and over again, it blows up my skin. See." Tacetta paused. "Its o.k. honey. Don’t be afraid to look. You’ll like it I promise. Its the coolest thing!" But, he could not look.

"I love this," she continued, "my skin gets blown up from the pages flipping and flying. Then, guess what? It goes to school for me! Huh-hu-ha!,"she laughed "Its a skin balloon!" Tacetta said the last three words so loudly, Runno could feel her breath in his ear. But wait! His chest went to ice as he turned his head toward the breath. There she was, Tacitta, all soft and peachy, and human! And eyeless. Runno’s eyes stared straight into two white sockets that looked like two sideways white almonds. Oh my God! He wanted to weep or scream or pound this nightmare to bits. He clenched his fists hard enough to get the short fingernails to scrape his palms. Oh it was real alright. Beware Beloved, the book that lives. be continued.

Name:  Louise
Subject:  Beloved
Date:  2001-11-15 08:09:36
Message Id:  608
The emotions provoked by Toni Morrison’s Beloved are of deep sadness, anger and confusion. This novel has raised my awareness to the terrible atrocities done to this community of people. I am working through each emotion as I read further into the novel.

For me the beginning of this novel was startling and painful. It made me want to slam the book shut to stop the hurt I felt for Seth and her family. As a mother myself, it made ponder on how she could have killed her own child, but I stopped myself from engaging in that vein of thinking because I wasn’t in any position even close to hers to make such a judgment.

I feel Seth wanted desperately to come to terms with the torment of taking her child’s life. She could not bear it. Because Seth loved her child so much she inflicted the most unimaginable pain upon herself by taking her own child’s life, and struggles with this haunting question that cuts in her heart like a knife. Seth struggles with how to forgive those that forced her hand and pushed her over the edge and more profoundly on forgiving herself for taking her own child’s life. She is haunted by the memories of her torture, her reaction and what could have been….

More to come…

Name:  Stephanie
Username:  sjohns
Subject:  Angel of Death
Date:  2001-11-15 08:42:52
Message Id:  609
Angel of Death? That is an oxymoron just like man’s intelligence. The two things couldn’t be further apart. Angels and dying. We try not to associate sweet cherubs with the ugliness of death. Innocent, baby-faced angels have no place associating with mean-spirited, red devils. The lines of battle are clear. Angels are good. Death is bad. Good versus bad. Good. Bad. Holiness. Evil. Yet for some, death is not bad. It actually ceases to be ugly. In fact, death becomes a thing of beauty, something to be cherished and loved. Death is cloaked in mystery, yet when death is embraced, the mysticism dissipates. The mystery surrounding death is solved. There are no more questions. Death becomes a glorious end to horrible pain and suffering. Death is a welcome respite from the terrible atrocities of life. Death is good. Death is anticipated. Death is welcomed.
The general belief is that life is good. Life is worth living. But that is not always true. Sometimes life becomes more than a person can bear. Life is meant to be lived t the fullest extent. If that living is so severely diminished, it is not worth living. Officially, in this beautiful country, committing suicide is a crime. It is not a matter of courage why so many people do not commit suicide themselves. It is not the fear of "the other side." It is not a fear of being dead. People do not commit suicide themselves out of a terror in the soul that a loved one will find the body, often times, a grotesque, mutilated body. The fear of not completing the action properly is also another factor. Trying to shoot yourself is not the easiest thing in the world. If the shot is not placed properly, a terrible mess can be made.
Most people can not understand how someone can embrace death. Dr. Jack Kavorkian has been labeled the Angel of Death. Nay, he is the Angel of Mercy. Dr. Kavorkian understands that modern medicine is an absolute wonder. Yet, some people are forced to live with agonizing pain. Pain that never goes away. Some people become burdens on their family while they wait. They wait and wait for Mother Nature to finish the task she has started. Mother Nature delights in the pain, torturing the poor souls to the cores of their beings. Dr. Kavorkian gives relief to those people. With his assistance, poor, suffering individuals are release from their torture. The courts have placed Dr. Kavorkian in prison. The courts say he is a killer. He is not. He is not a savior. Dr. Kavorkian understands pain. He understands pain much in the same way Sethe understands pain.
Sethe took the life of he child. While most sit back and gasp at the so-called atrocity she committed, I applaud her courage. Sethe believed in an afterlife. She believed that innocent child would be embraced by the arms of God in Heaven. Sethe wanted to spare her child the agony of living. Whether you believe Sethe was right or wrong, know that Sethe was trying to protect the child she loved.
Username:  mdevereu
Subject:  Beloved
Date:  2001-11-15 08:53:17
Message Id:  610
College Seminar
Meg Devereux

Beloved is not "interesting". It is full of venom. It rams ice picks through my softness and turns my pat liberal assumptions into a mess of inadequacies that stew in their own liquor like greens left to boil too long. It harasses me and then sends me soft moments of a lyric pastoral that in turn quickly descend from Eden to snake filled sloughs with gray hanging moss and black sucking mud. Sweet Home is not. 124 is a riot of illogical unnumbered chaos. And yet it is a house where the windows open to a star filled sky. It is a house of freedom and a house of enslavement. Sethe is soothing and seething. Baby Suggs is wise and energized with love and yet broken by a tragedy, one more than even she can cope with. Beloved is beautiful but as full of choking tendrils as wisteria gone wild on a host tree. Paul D. is honorable, patient respectful. He is humiliated, driven, and unable, until he arrives at 124, to still his restlessness born of running. The settings and the characters move out of their stillness and beauty and into the drumming staccato of personal and collective horrors.
Sethe appears dignified and accepting but also lifeless and inanimate worn out by all her in dwelling, unexpressed rage and grief. Beloved haunts her. She is paralyzed by the impasse of her choice (or lack of choice) in the moments of imminent capture. She is a person more dead than alive. She has less energy than the dead child, Beloved. Baby Suggs, even in death, has more energy than Sethe. She longs for color, something Sethe doesn't even miss. Sethe's sons have more energy: they run off in their fear and anger. Here Boy, the dog, even has more energy, as he physically fears the specter of Beloved. Every one has an energy with which to cope or react. Everyone but Sethe. Sethe enslaves herself by killing Beloved. She may liberate Beloved but she has sold herself to a horror that cripples her. Sethe refers to her dead child as Beloved, a name she hears at her burial, not her given name. Her given name is lost along with her life. Beloved, the name chosen at the height of a tragedy, speaks of all the nameless in nameless unmarked graves of those who went before. Those without names cannot rest or be mourned. Sethe plods through her days in a trance of routine and nameless loss. Beloved whose very name contradicts and mocks, seduces a sister, scares off brothers, breaks a grandmother and saps the vital juices of her mother. With special virulence, Beloved attacks a visitor from the past who arrives with an antidote, the healing of love. In a book mired with perversions, it almost seems surprising that Sethe didn't take her children's lives as they were born. The drive to give life is put through the grotesque twist of having it taken away by slavery. Death does seem a sort of freedom in this darkness. But because something seems a truth in the dark, doesn't mean that in the light it will hold the same reality or lack of it. That is Sethe's tragedy and the tragedy of those who love her.
Reading Beloved, I feel a wrenching, suffocating, angry, impotent, destructive, dulling, compelling and weirdly lyrical instability. Nightmarish scenes of torture and degradation shove into one at a visceral level. The inversions of humanity suck the air out of rationality. The ability of the characters to survive as recognizable albeit scarred spirits is the only impetus for reading on. Then book has small giving moments of wonder as when Paul or Sethe think of trees in their lives, Denver dances in her precious ring of boxwood, and the stars shine in through the roof windows. The contrast of limited lyricism and ongoing horror make a taut rope of counterpoint, bitterness with sweet touches of pure spirit. The sweetness underscores the lye and makes it burn like the brine blisters on Sethe's arms when she forgets the bouquet of salsify.
The tacit assumption I bring to this book is the belief that buried deeply in the most disabled being lies a small light that no amount of alienation can destroy. This novel challenges me for thinking that and pulls at my assumptions with sharp and terrible images. It takes whole incidents and turns of plot and unfolding horror upon horror to hammer home that my assumptions may be ones that come from a privileged individual history and a collective history that includes religious persecution but a persecution with the freedom of choice to start over in a new land with faith intact. Slavery in America still has not, even after its abolition, given that freedom of choice. I am listening to survival on a level I had assumed no one could ever descend to or it seems fully arise from. I have looked at my tacit optimism and brought it to consciousness and think by looking down to a deeper level of endurance am able to see a higher level of survival. My tacit understanding and compassion has been pulled out of secure space and examined in light of a less hospitable space.

Name:  Gail DeCoux
Username:  gaildecoux@
Subject:  Beloved- First Draft
Date:  2001-11-15 09:25:39
Message Id:  611
Gail DeCoux
CSem 1
First Draft

When I began reading the book “Beloved” for the first time several years ago I found that I was quickly drawn into the story of the people who lived at 124 Bluestone Road. Sethe, an ex-slave, and her daughter, Denver, inhabit a house that is possessed by the ghost of Sethe’s other daughter who died before her second birthday. This baby ghost is mean and spiteful and full of venom. Her presence has caused so much distress that Denver’s two older brothers have run away. Baby Suggs, the grandmother, who died soon after, found living with this ghost as “intolerable” as living her former life as a slave. When the story begins, Sethe and her daughter are visited by Paul D, who moves into the house with them.
The horrible circumstances of life as a slave are revealed gradually in bits and pieces through a series of flashbacks. The story is vividly and graphically re-told in brutal detail. But what makes this story different for me is that it is told from the point of view of the sufferers. We can hear their voices cry out in shock and disbelief at the atrocities inflicted upon them. Sethe says many times “They took my milk” as if she can’t quite believe, despite having borne all the degradation a slave can know, that they could stoop to this. She repeats the only words she can find to express her anger and insult. And we know what Sethe must know: that mere words are inadequate for describing the depths of her insult and outrage.
But the author has us watch the way these characters behave with the burden of their suffering. They don’t rebel. They don’t spend long hours commiserating with one another. They don’t act out in a formal, unified way. They simply forget. The loss of memory, as a recurring theme throughout the book, is a common coping mechanism used by the former slaves. They have been so traumatized by the horrors of slavery that they bury their memories of it. As we watch them trying to carry on their lives after emancipation, we can see that along with those memories they’ve also lost so much more: their emotions are blunted –Sethe says that everyone she ever loved was taken away form her or left her -–and they are unwilling/unable to commit to lasting emotional attachments. There is too much risk in that. They’ve lost joy and hope in their lives. They are simply trying to survive from one day to the next. We can begin to understand how Sethe, the embodiment of mother love, who suffered tremendous physical pain and was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to help her children escape to freedom, is now only capable of a detached relationship with her only remaining child, Denver. She has learned her lesson well; don’t care too much for you will surely lose her, just as you lost the others.
And what must it be like for Denver growing up knowing that her mother murdered her sister? Does she fear that under the right set of circumstances her mother may kill her, too? We see the aftermath of slavery played out in the nuances of the every day lives of the ex-slaves and their families. Although the focus is on the family at 124 Bluestone, Baby Suggs says “Not a house in the country ain’t packed to its rafters with some dead Negro’s grief.”
I felt so completely absorbed in the reading of this book that I wondered about my own motives for immersing myself in its tragedies. But it was more than gawking at the litany of horrors. In addition to the fact that it is a compelling story and beautifully written, I felt as though I was being given a clearer window on history. That Tony Morrison was somehow able to grab hold of this important nugget of history and present it in a way that made me not only know it, but feel it, too. I felt as though, in reading this book that I was being called upon to witness a truth about our history that goes beyond mere documentation. In this telling there is also unavoidable empathy. Sethe’s story, magnified throughout African American culture, does not belong solely to one race. We all are affected by it. If we won’t do the right thing for it’s own sake, at least recognize that discrimination, our proclivity towards “othering”, ultimately hurts us all.
During my initial reading, although fully dwelling within the story, I had some difficulty with the concept of a ghost that was treated as a real entity. I expected that Sethe would somehow be labeled mentally deranged for her belief in the presence of Beloved. And she was ostracized by her community, but not for being crazy. The former slaves knew that Sethe’s ghost was real, alright. But there was a tacit understanding among them that this was something not to be acknowledged. They all had their own ghosts to bury.
In our class discussion, I came to realize the importance of the spirit world in black culture. Tony Morrison grew up living these kinds of stories.
Ghosts tell us that the spirit does not die, that it outlives the flesh, and that it refuses to be silent. Accepting this concept is making a huge difference in re-reading Beloved, in uncovering more layers of meaning. But this leap has caused me to think that there are in fact, two leaps that those of us living in the present American culture must make in order to grasp Sethe’s story. In regard to Sethe’s murder of Beloved, we have to realize that death is not the worst thing that can happen to a person.

Subject:  Beloved
Date:  2001-11-15 09:31:25
Message Id:  612
What does it take to become a woman? Is it to live again what have been long gone. is it to suffer consciously one more time and feel the inside wounds slowly heal themseves.

It is not only the matter to be born with the right female genital or to be of a certain age that make one a woman, it is much more than that. And Toni Morrison seems to hold the recipe for guiding her main character in the cycle of development for womanhood. Morrison directly speaks to the woman inside that is dormant but yet ready to live its part. The soul is the key component of this book beloved. The frame of the story of Sethe reminds me of an experiment made by scientists on a dog. This experiment is described by Clarissa Estes in her book Woman Who Run With the Wolves, as this. “One experiment they wired half the bottom of a large cage, so that a dog placed in the cage would receive a shock each time it set foot on the right side. The dog quickly learned to stay on the left side of the cage. Next, the left side of the cage was wired for the same purpose and the right side was safe from shocks. The dog reoriented quickly and learned to stay on the right side of the cage. Then, the entire floor of the cage was wired to give random shocks, so that no matter where the dog lay or stood it would eventually receive a shock. The dog acted confused at first, and then it panicked. Finally the dog gave up and lay down, taking the shocks as they came, no longer trying to escape them or outsmart them… Next, the cage door was opened. The scientists expected the dog to rush out, but it did not flee...the dog lay there being randomly shocked.” In Beloved Sethe is the dog, the white people are the scientist and slavery is the cage in which she is being mutilated. Although Sethe killed the last emotion and feeling left in her, they would never go away. The figure of the ghost comes to replace the Sethe’s soul, which both plagues and heals at the same time. The first pages of the book is actually the critical point of her her life when changes going to occurre. Like a fairy tale the story is full of symbolic images that take their source in the woman psyche. But unlike fairy tale, the story does not develop in a direct line. The juxtaposition of her present and past life gives the impression not only of a disordered life but also it gives the impression that her life as been shattered just like the mirror in the beginning of the story. She is not in search of the mystery. The mystery has been waiting for her to discover it. 124 when add together is the number seven and seven is how many year the malediction for braking a mirror last. Paul D is the one who helped her reconstitute pieces by pieces the alienating past life of hers. Here, Paul D, the powerful male figure acts like a mage; he is her strength. he is capable of interpreting what he sees. This attitude allows Sethe to recall, replace, and comprise the pieces that her and Paul D share together. Denver her heartfelt daughter is the reincarnation of her sleepy psyche. Beneath her gentleness, she has the aptitude for fighting. She is able to affront the world that is unknown to her and she is guided by the telling of her grand mother Baby Suggs. Although at first, she is not able to articulate once out in the world, she returned home enriched from it.

I am sorry I know you liked it but it is time for me to go to Ann class. Have a good day.

Name:  Eveline A. Stang
Subject:  What do we achieve by storytelling?
Date:  2001-11-28 03:33:49
Message Id:  635
Eveline A. Stang
Professor Anne Dalke
College Seminar 01
November 27, 2001

What do we achieve by telling stories?

Through our discussions of Beloved and the articles reviewed in this morning’s class, we have been exploring how stories help us to understand the many facets of human experience. Stories can instruct, inspire, heal, make us laugh or cry, and keep us connected with one another. From the Pueblo Indian perspective (Silko 84) “ stories are always bringing us together, keeping this whole together, keeping this family together, keeping this clan together”, and experiences are shared so that one doesn’t have to endure them alone. Sometimes, however, the story may be so foreign to us, as in the case of the headhunting practices of the Ilongots of the Philippines, that understanding eludes us despite all of our education and knowledge (Rosaldo 8) and our attempts to classify the story. The article by Coles, illustrates how we, by our own limitations, are influences on the stories that want (and at times desperately need) to be told. The author describes how psychoanalytic methodology to a great extent prevented him from listening to what his patients had to say, thus limiting his understanding of them.

Two common themes seem to have emerged from the above three articles (a) the importance of the emotional accessibility of the story, and (b) the listener’s participation in or response to the story. For the Pueblo Indian, “the words most highly valued are those spoken from the heart, unpremeditated and unrehearsed” (Silko 83). The audience is also vital because “a great deal of the story is believed to be inside the listener; the storyteller’s role is to draw the story out of the listeners” (Silko 84). For Rosaldo’s understanding of the tribe he was studying, it was necessary to transcend the anthropologist’s preferences for “symbolic webs of meaning, […] thick description, multi-vocality, polysemy (2).” This transcendence was ultimately achieved through personal sorrow: the powerful emotions elicited by the loss of his wife and brother enabled him to understand how “the rage in bereavement could impel men to headhunt” (3). Coles, also, learned to go beyond the psychological abstractions and jargon of his profession, and the cataloguing of patients’ symptoms by becoming “an all-day listener” (14). By teaching himself to become comfortable with “the give-and-take of storytelling” (18), by concentrating on understanding his patients instead of trying to change their behavior, he created a space for acknowledgement and healing to take place.

Sometimes, as the following excerpt will illustrate, listening and silent acknowledgement may be the most compassionate and appropriate way to respond to a story.

Dr. Rachel N. Remen submitted this article to the Winter 2001 issue of Self-Realization Magazine. Dr. Remen is a Clinical Professor of Family and Community Medicine at the UC San Francisco School of Medicine.

Bearing Witness

“…[A] colleague of mine, a psychologist, told me this story. In the eighties, when she lived and practiced in New York City, she had decided to attend a two-day professional workshop based on twenty or so short films of one of Carl Jung’s last pupils, the great Jungian dream analyst, Marie-Louise von Franz. Between the showing of these films, a distinguished panel consisting of the heads of two major Jungian training centers and Carl Jung’s own grandson responded to written questions from the audience sent up to the stage on cards.
One of these cards told the story of a horrific recurring dream, in which the dreamer was stripped of all human dignity and worth through Nazi atrocities. A member of the panel read the dream out loud. As she listened, my colleague began to formulate a dream interpretation in her head, in anticipation of the panel’s response. It was really a “no-brainer,” she thought, as her mind busily offered her symbolic explanations for the torture and atrocities described in the dream. But this was not how the panel responded at all. When the reading of the dream was complete, Jung’s grandson looked out over the large audience. “Would you all please rise?” he asked. “We will stand together in a moment of silence in response to this dream.” The audience stood for a minute, my colleague impatiently waiting for the discussion she was certain would follow. But when they sat again, the panel went on to the next question.
My colleague simply did no understand this at all, and a few days later she asked one of her teachers, himself a Jungian analyst, about it. “Ah, Lois,” he had said, “there is in life a suffering so unspeakable, a vulnerability so extreme that it goes far beyond words, beyond explanations and even beyond healing. In the face of such suffering all we can do is bear witness so no one need suffer alone.”
Perhaps a willingness to face such shared vulnerability gives us the capacity to repair the world. Those who find the courage to share a common humanity may find they can bless anyone, anywhere.”

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