Memories are works of fiction, selective representations of experiences actual or imagined. They provide a framework for creating meaning in one's own life as well as in the lives of others. In Toni Morrison's novel Beloved, memory is a dangerous and debilitating faculty of human consciousness. Sethe endures the tyranny of the self imposed prison of memory. She expresses an insatiable obsession with her memories, with the past. Sethe is compelled to explore and explain an overwhelming sense of yearning, longing, thirst for something beyond herself, her daughter, her Beloved. Though Beloved becomes a physical manifestation of these memories, her will is essentially defined by and tied to the thoughts, experiences and emotions of Sethe. Sethe's struggle is an intensely personal process of self negation; her identity is complicated, convoluted, and nearly consumed by her memory. Morrison suggests at least implicitly that Sethe's crisis is by no means unique. Rather than a positive or negative trait, memory (and the self destructive powers contained within it) may be an unavoidable part of the human condition.
Like Mr. Bodwin who hid his childhood treasures in the yard at 124, Sethe attempts to bury her most precious possessions in order to protect them literally and metaphorically. "Whites might dirty her all right, but not her best thing...the part of her that was clean" (251). Sethe cannot bear for her children to possible suffer the pain and humiliations she has endured. She would rather live with the memories of her crimes, the memories of how her children might have been, than surrender her future and theirs to school teacher. Her decision to kill her children and her...
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..., as though he or she was doomed to repeat it for eternity. Memory represents an obstacle to such an existence;
it is both barrier and bridge between individuals. By the conclusion of the novel, memories dissipate and dissolve. They do not linger. The reader is left with a sense that some things should be forgotten or at least ignored. "Remembering seemed unwise"(274).
Perhaps, as in Housekeeping, memory houses a great paradox: the ability to create a false sense of completeness, the ability to provoke the most profound sense of loss. It is the paradox woven into the nature of memory which moves time forward. "The force behind the movement of time is a mourning that will not be comforted" (Housekeeping, 192).
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Signet, 1991.
Robinson, Marilynne. Housekeeping. New York: Bantam Books, 1982.
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