Confronting the Past, Living the Present, and Enjoying the Future in Toni Morrison's "Beloved"

Confronting the Past, Living the Present, and Enjoying the Future in Toni Morrison's "Beloved"

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So often, the old adage, "History always repeats itself," rings true due to a failure to truly confront the past, especially when the memory of a period of time sparks profoundly negative emotions ranging from anguish to anger. However, danger lies in failing to recognize history or in the inability to reconcile the mistakes of the past. In her novel, Beloved, Toni Morrison explores the relationship between the past, present and future. Because the horrors of slavery cause so much pain for slaves who endured physical abuse as well as psychological and emotional hardships, former slaves may try to block out the pain, failing to reconcile with their past. However, when Sethe, one of the novel's central characters fails to confront her personal history she still appears plagued by guilt and pain, thus demonstrating its unavoidability. Only when she begins to make steps toward recovery, facing the horrors of her past and reconciling them does she attain any piece of mind. Morrison divides her novel into three parts in order to track and distinguish the three stages of Sethe approach with dealing with her personal history. Through the character development of Sethe, Morrison suggests that in order to live in the present and enjoy the future, it is essential to reconcile the traumas of the past.

At the start of the novel, Sethe tries to avoid the past and bury the traumatizing memories of her past. Part one opens with the words "124 was spiteful" (3) which sets the tone for the first portion as it associates a Sethe's home with a failure to face the past and thus, bitterness and pain. Sethe appears to realize the impossibility of escaping from memories and tells Denver, "`The picture is still there and what's ...


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...from slavery as well as the misery slavery itself causes her. Ultimately, Sethe makes a choice to let go of the past as she releases Beloved's hand and thus moves on to the future. In the very last segment of the novel, the narrator notes that finally "they forgot [Beloved]. Like an unpleasant dream during a troubling sleep" (290). Sethe no longer represses history but actually lets it go. As a result, Beloved becomes nothing more than "an unpleasant dream," suggesting that she does not exist as a real person, but rather has no substance as a mere fantasy or hallucination which has no value to the community or to Sethe, Denver, or Paul D. Sethe moves on with her life as she has already faced the past, tried to make amends for her mistakes, and finally realizes her own value in life.

Works Cited:

Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Penguin Group, 1988.

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