Beloved (Day 2)

Comment here to finish off Part I of Beloved.  I had hoped we could start on Beloved today, so that I could at least clear up some problems people were having with the text.  You’re all absolutely right to observe that Morrison is doing weird things with time in the story, though the two main poles for Part I are “Sweet Home,” the Garner plantation during the 1850s in Kentucky (run by John and Lillian Garner, and home to 20~-year-old slaves Paul A, Paul F, Paul D, Halle Suggs, Sixo, and Sethe) and 124 Bluestone Road across the Ohio River in Cincinnati in 1873, home (now) to a middle-aged Sethe and Paul D, her 18-year-old daughter Denver, and home once to Halle’s mother Baby Suggs (who has died shortly after the end of the Civil War), Sethe’s sons Howard and Bulgar (who have run away), and her deceased daughter Beloved, who haunts the house in several forms now.  (Presumably, you’ll understand why at the end of Part I.)

Let’s ask this for a question.  We’ve all observed that Morrison jumps freely back and forth in time, especially between those two poles.  Of course, the characters in the novel, sort of, observe that as well–I’m thinking in particular of how Denver complains about how Paul D and her mother are always talking about Sweet Home.  Especially given the events that happen later in the novel, why do you think Morrison chooses to construct the narrative this way (instead of, say, telling the story in chronological order, or even neatly separating the time periods into different chapters), especially given what we learn towards the end of Part I?

Incidentally, once you’ve finished Part I, you might be interested in the real historical situation on which Sethe’s story was based, the Margaret Garner incident.

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18 Responses to “Beloved (Day 2)”

  1. nmulet says:

    I think Morrison shifts time to make the point that you can never really escape your past. It’s what made you the person you are today. I also thought maybe she used time in this way to make Sethe seem more sympathetic. The constant jumping from past to present is jarring and confusing. It almost makes Sethe seem manic or maybe only just a little crazy. Perhaps, if we see Sethe as a delusional/crazy person, we won’t judge her so harshly for doing what she did.

  2. jkauffman says:

    I think the reason that Morrison has time shifts in between the telling of the story is to give the readers a better understanding of Sethe’s character. It would be easy to hate Sethe but since Morrison gives us a glimpse into her past, it is easier for the reader to better understand Sethe and be able to empathize with why she has turned out the way she has. (I wrote a comment but I had mistakes in it. Sorry!)

  3. hamidah says:

    As my classmates make a point about the order of which Morrison writes this story, I think I have to agree because there is a point of writing in this way. They keep going to the past so we can understand why Sethe is alone in the present. We can get a better understanding of their actions. Also, we could know what happened in the past with Sethe, Halle and Baby Suggs.

  4. mhealy101 says:

    I think Morrison uses the whole notion of “time shifts” to avoid a bulky summary of each of the characters backgrounds. So instead of spending chapters upon chapters on all background gibberish , Morrison uses the concept of “time shift” to avoid that unnecessary summary.

  5. khaff88 says:

    After reading all of Part I, I feel like Morrison bounces between Sweet Home and 124 because it is Sethe’s thought process. The reader gets different character perspectives but most of it comes from Sethe’s point of view. I don’t think Sethe has put Sweet Home out of her mind because it was so traumatizing and seeing Paul D. has made her think about the past more frequently. Their entire family is based on story telling; Denver is obsessed with the story of her birth and even that has an association with Sweet Home. The two locations give the reader a better understanding of each character. We can only appreciate Morrison’s technique because it wouldn’t be as interesting if it was done chronologically.

  6. javeriasid says:

    I believe Morrison chose to write the book in poles because it gives a greater understanding of the characters. In order to understand the characters, we must understand their past, because the past shapes the future. Seth’s past clearly haunts her and her ability to move on because she cannot let go of her dead daughter. The pain that she experienced her whole life because of slavery has become the pain of her existence.

  7. marissae17 says:

    I think that Morrison chose to jump back and fourth inbewteen the two time periods so we as the reader would be able to relate with the characters. By Morrison switching back and fourth, we are able to understand how the characters in the story at experiencing these memories. As they experience them as they come up, we are able to experience them as well.

  8. jkauffman says:

    I think the reason that Morrison has time shifts in between telling the story is to give the readers a better understanding of Sethe’s character. It would be easy to hate Sethe but since Morrison gives us a glimpse into his past, it is easier for the reader to better understand Sethe and be able to empathize why he has turned out the way he has.

  9. andycrazn says:

    The way Morrison constructed his novel was harder to do and it makes the story much more interesting because it can fill in background information relating to the characters with a flashback. This can help the reader have a better understanding of the characters and build a connection towards the characters when the story progresses and have a understanding why x did y.

  10. The way Morrison constructs allows readers to see the horrors of the characters past. What they are becoming is due to what they went through as slaves. Each character that lived through “Sweet Home” can not break free from these memories. I believe that Morrison’s intent is to show the world that these characters are products of the slave culture. Part 1 really deals with shocking images of the past and a reader can appreciate the resiliant characters and how they all need each other to survive. Also this bouncing back and forth from past to present allows the reader to take a trip into how a free slave thinks and the stuggles they overcame.

  11. hernandez says:

    I totally agree with my classmates. When the readers have an idea what the past was like, then we as readers can fully understand or at least have an idea why the character is the way they are. I truly believe the past has a great part of a persons present and future actions. If that makes any sense. Sethe doesn’t seem like someone who would kill her children for no reason. Sometimes people do drastic things to protect the ones they love.

  12. jeanine says:

    I think Morrison wrote this story the way he did so that we the readers can keep what’s happening in our minds while the story keeps going on. The structure of it was so that we can know who they were before they became the way they did for instance Sethe. She murders her children so they won’t suffer the way she did. Morrison is trying to get the reader to feel some type of sympathy for her. Which I think Morrison did a good job for making some readers feel sympathy for her.

  13. Jamie Rohr says:

    The choice to construct the narrative in a non-chronological order is a strategic one. The haphazard jumping from past to present is a way to keep us as the readers in check with the emotions of the characters. Emotions are not by any means logical, and they do not flow in a specific order and they dont necessarily make sense. They come at you from all angles and you could be feeling things just as strongly as you did the first time. As readers, we are brought into the intensity and craziness that her emotions bring.

  14. The story is not told from the beginning to an end, but pieces of stories that the reader have to place together, like a puzzle. The stories told by Sethe and Paul D. reflects on the past but at times recalling the past as if it was happening in the present time.
    By reading the text in the way it is structure, allows me to have bit of tolerance over Sethe and the fact that she committed murder. Morrison definitely tries to convince the reader that she is no criminal but a victim of society , by justifying her actions.

  15. gvelella says:

    I thought it was meant to bring about the structure of their past, and to let us know who they were then, and to remember them this certain way now. Beloved is also asking them questions about their past, so it’s much more idealistic to jump back in time when they lived in Sweet Home.

  16. cbergmann says:

    After finishing part one I believe Morrison decided to write the novel in this manner to help the reader understand and connect with Sethe. If Morrison told the events in chronological order the reader would never be able to emotionally connect with Sethe and instead distant oneself because of what she did. I believe the jump between the past and present really aides the story because as Sethe and the other characters are living their daily lives, the reader slowly learns that the events that occurred in the past are now responsible for how they act and think in the present. It is almost like Morrison is telling us their stories from inside their own minds; we understand their lives just as well as the characters themselves. The reader is experiencing their present states while simultaneously remembering the past as if it were their own.

  17. GordonWTam says:

    If we’re JUST talking about what we learn at the end of Part I, I think that Morrison made such strange temporal shifts so that we wouldn’t hate Sethe. The way the story is told it’s hard to hate anyone minus the slavers. If we had learned everything in order, it’s easy to judge Sethe and other characters. But since we see how Sethe has lived since her “acts” the reader generally feels remorse. On another note, it seems a little less absurd that the house is haunted now.

  18. Erika says:

    I think she decide to tell this story this way because it’s actually helping the reader to keep things in mind as the story is moving along. The story cannot be as effective if the past is not recalled or recounted every now and again. It keeps the past alive while the present is still in motion.