Beloved Essay: Flashbacks
Revisit the Dry Well, Find a New Spring
Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved swims like a garden pond full of minnows with thoughts and memories of days gone by. Each memory is like a drop of water, and when one person brings up enough drops, a trickle of a stream is formed. The trickles make their way down the shallow slopes and inclines, pushing leaves, twigs, and other barriers out of the way, leaving small bits of themselves behind so their paths can be traced again. There is a point, a vertex, a lair, where many peoples streams unite in a valley, in the heart of a pebble lined brook, and it is here that their trickles of days gone by fuse with each other, and float hand in hand until they ultimately settle to form the backyard pond.
By unveiling her pond drop by drop, memory by memory, Morrison allows us to travel down the paths that converged together to create the story of Beloved. When an author uses a direct path to a story the readers tend to dismiss the unknown past of the characters, focusing instead on their forthcoming depicted futures. In Beloved however, the reader is forced to take trips back to the past, which help tie together the relationships of today. The repetitive nature of the narration also allows the reader to assimilate portions of the text that were inevidently connected to form an entwined net of relationships. For example, each time a new character is introduced, you are brought back into the memory of another character, to identify the new comers’ relationship to the story. In most text, a new character would be simply introduced with their importance to the here and now of a story, instead of the shared history amongst other characters. Most history that is shared between characters in most books is history that writes itself during the course of the book, as opposed to the memories formed so long ago, that it takes a great deal of time to bring them back to the surface. In this manner, we are also always finding out new bits of the past in one character, that turn out to tie into the past of another.
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When a person is given the opportunity to bring together that which they have just found out with previous information, a story is being conveyed. However, Morrison allows that information previously obtained be spun around to be the present, and new information be turned into the past. This happens in the most clarity in the book when Beloved brings us into her world where her present narratives turn out to be her yesterdays before her arrival at 124. This new information helps the reader to understand more of where she is coming from, and why her actions are as they are today. When new information is given that relates to earlier in the book over and over again, it makes the reader want to go back and start over, and to allow themselves to catch what floated past them the first time.
Missed ideas like these are introduced throughout the duration of the book. As an example, the first sentence in each of the parts begins with a note of the state of the house. “124 was spiteful, 124 was load, 124 was quit”. (3,207, and 293 respectively) The first two times this is brought up, it is easy to glance over it, but by the third time, it is obvious that it not only has relevance, but it gives a glimpse into the chapter ahead. Another thing that is eluded to multiple times is the significance of trees. I’m sure this isn’t an intricate part of the story, but a reoccurring theme none the less. Denver finds her peace in her ‘Emerald Closet’, while Paul D and Sethe find their freedom by following the trees. The horror of Sweet Home is masked in much of Sethe’s memory by how beautiful the trees were, and the terrible scar on her back is referred to as a cherry tree, full of life and beauty. It is images like these that characters memories draw for us, images that might not have been alluded to if their memories weren’t tapped.
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I think that the most wonderful part of Beloved, however, maybe very well be that just when you think a character has told you everything from their past that could possibly lead you up to their future, a new trickle of memories seems to begin to flow, and drop by drop, you begin to connect new parts of their past to their futures. That drop by drop, a dried up spring can return once again to its pebble-lined stream. A stream that comes together to make a pond worth looking into time and time again, because along with each new drop of water comes a new ripple to the surface, and new meaning behind depths.