Manifestation of Memories

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Memory is the faculty of the brain by which information is encoded, stored, and retrieved when needed. Memory is vital for one’s experiences. In Beloved, memory is a dangerous and devastating for the human mind. Sethe’s memories about her being a slave puts her in this prison state, and toward the end of the book she doesn’t know if she can move on and live her life and forget or dwell and suffer thinking about all her past experiences. In the book Sethe seems to obsess over the past. One way she obsesses is by way of storytelling. The novel explores the value but also the danger of storytelling. Storytelling keeps memories alive and Sethe’s telling Denver about her family, and her miraculous birth gives Denver some sense of personal history and heritage. As stories spread between Sethe, Baby Suggs, Paul D, and Denver, personal memories give rise to a kind of collective oral tradition about the past, and offer former slaves the ability to tell their own story and define themselves, as opposed to constantly being defined by slave-owners, such as Schoolteacher (who takes notes for his own writings about his slaves). (Fredericksen, 2013) Fredericksen, Erik. “”Beloved: Storytelling, Memory, and the Past.”” LLC, 16 Sep 2013. Web. 29 Jan 2019.

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Storytelling can also bring out bad memories especially for Sethe and Paul D. When you bring up things in the past it can be hard for someone to move on with themselves, and as I stated above it was hard for Sethe to move on toward the end of the book. She questions whether she has anymore living to do, after beloved disappears which can be dangerous. “Anything dead coming back to life hurts” (3.65) Also, because Sethe tried to repress her memories she forgot the language that was spoken to her by her mother and that symbolizes the cultural destruction of Africans during slavery. Now when Beloved shows up, Sethe’s memories comes back to her and it helps her rebuild her past and better understand it. In the novel, Morrison uses memory to construct the past to be visible by making pictures and images of slavery. This plays a role of helping the reader to become an important part of the experiences of slavery which happens through memories. Arguably, Morison’s use of memory suggests that it is wise to move on in life despite how hard it is. As a result, our past experiences are too hard to forget and regardless of how horrific and devastating it was, it does not change. Therefore, the memories we develop over the past largely determines how we move on in the future. This seems to be Morrison’s key theme in the novel.

Memories in the viewpoint of other characters in the novel played a huge role on Sethe. It gives the reader a chance to view it from a different perspective. One of the most convincing elements in Morrison’s novel is the way she always references Sethe’s husband Halle, a character who is only around in memories but is very much symbolic of the trauma associated with slavery. When Paul D tells Sethe that Halle witnessed the brutal attack on her, and that he later sees Halle at the churn with “butter all over his face,” the disturbing image has an equally disturbing effect on Sethe. For one, “she could not picture what Paul D had said. Nothing came to mind.” This demonstrates her inability to see her husband in such a state of insanity and brokenness, brought on by his understanding of the ineffectiveness of his situation as a slave. (Fields, 2013)

Morrison creates a new word in Beloved: rememory. The way she uses it, seems to be a noun rather than a verb. So, my question is, what’s the difference between rememory and memory? In short, rememory can refer to traumatic memory. No matter how far Sethe goes, the devastating effects of slavery will follow her. It exists in her day-to-day life, in the food she eats, in the people around her. But if this is the only meaning of rememory, what is Beloved then? In a way, she’s also a form of traumatic memory for Sethe. Yet, what haunts Sethe is not the act of murdering Beloved, but what she could’ve become in a world without slavery, in a world where Sethe was able to fully be a mother to her. It’s because Sethe knows this world doesn’t exist that she murders Beloved. (Chen, 2018)

When we look at the connection between Halle and “broken like a twig”, “smeared with butter” and Sethe’s milk, the text seems to all relate to one another. The milk symbolizes motherhood to Sethe and “all I ever had”. The milk in which literally came from her body was stolen from her by the man with the “mossy teeth” which she thought no one could ever take from her. She wanted to be a mother more than anything else because she didn’t really have a connection with her mom. So, when someone takes her one true possession Sethe’s explains that being a slave is like living an “unlivable life” in the beginning of part two. Therefore, she feels so confused on what to do with her life because when a woman that has been through so much reaches that breaking point, she questions whether there is even a point to live. At the end of the novel Sethe is trying to “decide what to do with the day” and with that phrase a lone you the reader can see that she is lost, she has no guidance and its ultimately up to us on whether we think she makes it out or doesn’t.

Toward the end of the book we take a deeper look into Sethe’s consciousness. As the reader we see this concept of a stolen identity which is clear with the memories of Sethe’s husbands messed up face, stolen milk, and her daughters’ blood. She says, “That anybody white could take your whole self for anything that came to mind…dirty you so bad you forgot who you were and couldn’t think it up.” To me this statement here symbolizes a complete loss of self which obviously occurs because of slavery but also because of her memories. She has no purpose, psychologically she is detached from everything, and ultimately that leaves her broken. Memories have a way of hurting us beyond repair, but our pain is a part of the past. There isn’t one of us who doesn’t still carry wounds from before. Some are more horrible than others but no matter how painful these memories are we also share glorious ones as well and those are the memories that keep us alive, those are the reason we are still here.

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Manifestation of Memories. (2020, May 13). Retrieved February 7, 2023 , from

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