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Allegorical Potentials In Beloved


Go over the aspects which keep interpretative possibilities open in Beloved. How far are these fixed or not by the end of the story?

‘… meanings belong to the definers -not the specified.'(Precious, p. 190)

When Sixo offers an explanation for shooting shoat on Mr Garner’s residential or commercial property, this is teacher’s instant and uncompromising reaction to the slave’s attempt at self-justification. In the eyes of the white man, the slaves (‘the specified’) are not entitled to the advantage of offering, or even creating, their own point of view on occasions. The phrasing of his opinion also recommends that there can just ever be one completely true version of everything: each occasion can eventually be ‘defined’ in one indisputable and finite account (his). This in itself is only one viewpoint, however, a fact that Morrison’s complicated narrative method suggests discreetly and yet unquestionably. Rebecca Ferguson observes that ‘while the language of the dominant culture and the composed word itself have all too often been powerful instruments in the injustice [of black people], not to have mastery of them is to be rendered impotent in manner ins which matter considerably’. Morrison is very knowledgeable about this paradox which she herself faces as a black author, and the force of language and communication is considerably emphasised in Beloved. The text vividly presents the substantial extent of interpretative possibilities associating with issues such motherhood, slavery and black history in particular, by utilizing a range of narratives which concentrate on the very same events. While Morrison therefore shows gloriously that contrary to schoolteacher’s position, black people are many-dimensional humans with a complete range of feelings and worths, her most striking achievement is all at once to show the ways in which limitless interpretation can end up being useless. Sethe’s expression of maternal love in the killing of her child, for instance, is misinterpreted as a savage act by both black and white characters in the book, and likewise possibly by the reader: just she can discuss it. This sense of struggling to reach the proper analysis is likewise come across by the reader on a various level, as he tries to understand an understanding of the main events of Sethe’s life from an often confused and disorderly narrative.

Morrison, who never contributes her own personal viewpoint or judgement straight to the text, portrays the horrors of slavery in a number of imaginative methods. She permits all her characters to offer their own accounts of slavery, and it is the varying levels of eagerness with which they divulge their analyses that are extremely informing. The white males of Sweet Home farm are constantly impassioned in their desire to share their viewpoints of slavery, while the slaves themselves are reluctant to speak of it at all, even after their release or escape. The degree to which Mr Garner prides himself on his treatment of slaves is ridiculous; it becomes clear that he is more concerned with discussing the issue than with the slaves’s real well-being. He thinks himself to embody ‘what a genuine Kentuckian was: one difficult adequate and clever enough to make and call his own niggers men’ (p. 11). While this might seem a more humanitarian outlook than schoolteacher’s listing of ‘animal characteristics’ in Sethe (p. 193), the contrast ends up being practically irrelevant when the real treatment of the servants is thought about. The following exchange in between Baby Suggs and Mr Garner brightens this inconsistency of standards:

“Ever go hungry [at Sugary food House]”

“No, sir.”


“No, sir.”

“Anyone lay a hand on you?”

“No, sir.”

“Did I let Halle buy you or not?”

“Yes, sir, you did,” she said, thinking, However you got my boy and I’m all broke down. You be renting him out to spend for me way after I’m gone to Splendor. (p. 146)

Mr Garner is extremely happy with his non-violence towards Baby, which he sees as an expression of his extreme kindness, instead of as a confirmation of her fundamental human rights. This passage noticeably communicates his failure to think about (or acknowledge) her shattered spirit, and the impact of the loss of her son, indicating that his understanding of the servants is hardly distinguishable from teacher’s. ‘Mr Garner acted like the world was a toy he was supposed to have a good time with’ (p. 139), observes Sethe, and in this light, his supposedly kindhearted stance on slavery can be viewed as a self-indulgent attempt to make himself seem subversive.

Mr Garner’s tiring eagerness to develop his own analysis of slavery is rendered particularly insignificant by the hesitation experienced by Sethe to face her own past. Because she was so closely and chaotically immersed in the real experience of slavery and leaving, she was never given the opportunity to reflect and form her own interpretation of occasions and their effects. For this reason she suffers from undesirable ‘rememories’ which are terrifyingly tangible:

Where I was before I came here, that location is real. It’s never ever going away.Even if the entire farm -every tree and glass blade of it dies. The pictureis still there and what’s more, if you go there -you who never was there if you go there and stand in the location where it was, it will happen again; itwill be there for you, awaiting you …(p. 36)

This ‘picture’ has been eternally lodged in Sethe’s mind, and is so effective that she is, apparently irrationally (considered that slavery has been eliminated), afraid of Denver being soaked up into the image. Like the reader, Denver can not fully value the accurate information of Sethe’s past and the haunting effect they have on her mom, however she knows their weight and significance. ‘Denver hated the stories her mother told that did not issue herself … the rest was a gleaming, powerful world made more so by Denver’s absence from it’ (p. 63). Denver is jealous of this other world purely since her mother’s accounts are accompanied with such overwhelming force, of which the girl can not understand the source.

This concept of noticing the significance of something which can not be described or represented with simple language is especially pertinent to Beloved’s treatment of black suffering. Jan Furman refers to Morrison’s ‘titanic responsibility [in] continuing an incomplete script of slavery started over two centuries ago by the very first servant narrative’, and remarkably, the author’s most reliable extension of this ‘script’ is when she powerfully withdraws the value of language in interacting the discomfort of slavery. Paul D’s account of the quiet fraternity in between the blacks who wandered around uncomfortably after the Civil War is especially moving:

Odd clusters and strays of Negroes … counted greatly on each other. Silent, except for social courtesies, when they met one another they neither described norasked about the grief that drove them from one location to another. The whitesdidn’t bear speaking on. Everyone knew. (p.52-3)

There is no space for analysis, ‘everybody knew’ the gruesome fact and anyattempts at spoken description or compassion would be redundant. Morrison herself credits this mute understanding, and so ‘sorrow’ is the only term she uses to describe their situation; its simpleness meaning the presence of a lot unutterable feeling. A similar sense of neighborhood is recognisable at the opening of Child Suggs’s preachings, when all the listeners are told to ‘let loose’ and ‘laugh, cry and dance’ (p. 89) together. Her inspirational words have a place of their own, but this substantial physical and communal release stands out in its sense of suggested joint understanding. The specific perspective is irrelevant as everybody is succumbing to the exact same sense of -momentary -freedom (simply as Paul D’s pals have equally come across the same ‘grief’).

The character of Beloved, who can be said to represent in specific ways the ‘Sixty Million and More’ of the dedication, and who certainly has much to communicate, demonstrates most significantly the shortcomings of language. ‘how can I say things that are images’ (p. 210), she muses, and the reader experiences a comparable aggravation through endeavouring to understand her muddled narrative. Disturbing revelations such as ‘the man on my face is dead his face is not mine … someone is surging however there is no room to do it in’ (p. 210) express confusion and panic, especially regarding her sense of identity. The reader’s effort to reach a clear analysis of her disjointed expressions will never be fully effective, however a sense of her bewilderment will be acquired through this very disjointedness. If her references to ‘the sea which is the color of bread’ and ‘the crouching others’ (p. 211) are viewed as representing the Middle Passage suffered by many slaves, a parallel might be drawn between the reader’s failure to understand Beloved’s story, and his failure -as somebody who has actually never gone through the experience -to comprehend the effects of slavery. In both cases, despite the degree of interest or application, an exact interpretation will be difficult. The obscurity surrounding the fact will only mean that endless impressions of it can be reached, nevertheless.

The most powerful demonstration of stopped working interpretation in the novel is Sethe’s killing of her child, the focus of numerous stories. In the exact same way that Paul D can not quite value the degree of Sethe’s embarrassment when her milk is taken (‘”they used cowhide on you?” “And they took my milk.” “They beat you and you was pregnant?” “And they took my milk!”‘ (p. 17), just she can explain the reasoning of her obviously savage act. For as soon as agreeing with the whites (a reality which can just amplify the sense of betrayal felt by Sethe), her family and friends identify her an animal. The ordinarily mild Paul D is shocked into announcing that ‘You got two feet, Sethe, not four’ (p. 165); her previous buddy Ella proclaims that ‘I ain’t got no friends take a handsaw to their own kids’ (p. 187); and most saddening of all, her daughter Denver lives in the quiet fear that ‘there sure is something in her that makes it all right to eliminate her own'(p. 206). Propelled by a worry for her own safety (and later on Beloved’s), Denver misinterprets her mom’s action as an indicator of a frighteningly vague ‘something in her’ which can not be managed. Denver’s long spell of momentary deafness, a subconscious decision to shield herself from Sethe’s account, is evidence of the strength of her fear of the reality (as she sees it). Teacher’s gleeful assumption that it was ‘all testament to the outcomes of a little so-called flexibility imposed on individuals who required every care and assistance in the world to keep them from the cannibal life they preferred’ (p. 151) takes on an especially unpleasant resonance when contrasted with Denver’s account, for she in fact does think animalistic tendencies in Sethe. His appallingly smug stance (he does not even try to understand) and her childish dread (a desperate failure to understand) show the diverse nature and effects of misinterpretation.

Sethe’s own account, which appears almost incidentally in the text, describes her actions in a style which is definitely distinct from the other renditions:

… And if she thought anything, it was No. No. Nono. Nonono. Simple. She justflew. Gathered ever bit of life she had made, all the parts of her that wereprecious and fine and stunning, and brought, pushed, dragged them through theveil, out away, over there where no one might harm them.(p. 163)

Her aesthetically allegorical description of this incredibly instinctive, definitive and fluid behaviour is loaded, to the cold observer, with apparently vague and baffling references to ‘the veil’ and ‘over there’. Just as it is tough to understand Sethe’s illogical fear of Denver reliving her experience of Sugary food House, the mental thinking which corresponds murdering her daughter with motherly love can only be comprehended by Sethe.Two things do emerge when reading her account however: first of all, that her motive was indeed love; second of all, that any effort to truly understand this is useless.

The interpretative possibilities open to the reader of Beloved are unlimited, primarily due to the presence of numerous different narratives. Linden Peach keeps in mind that ‘the fragmentary nature of the text implies that even if readers be successful in creating the occasions of Sethe’s life since 1855, it will not allow them to attain a grasp of the whole text’. His usage of ‘be successful’ and ‘allow’ intriguingly insinuates that Morrison has actually developed a complex puzzle for her readers, who are challenged into reaching one right solution. After numerous readings of Precious it becomes apparent that this does not exist. Morrison continues to worry the importance of interaction (commemorated in Denver’s strategy at the end of the novel), revelling as an author in the diversity of her characters’s viewpoints. The comparative merits of language and of a vaguer, more significant sense of understanding are sensitively explored, particularly when handling slavery. Morrison’s relationship with her reader is rather coy: while appealing him towards an all-inclusive understanding of the text, she really gradually reveals that no such thing exists. Instead Morrison proves that while pursuing comprehension is an inevitable and necessary human characteristic, searching for the ideal analysis is challenging, never-ending and generally useless.

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