When facing an event so dreadful and psychologically damaging one tends to shut their memory off and repress it as a defense mechanism. Trying to block out these memories causes a difficulty in an attempt to reconcile with the past. In Beloved, Toni Morrison meticulously establishes events that coincide with the human mind by the means of which the reader can understand the occurrence of memory. Through this concept of “rememory” Sethe is forced to return to her past and become engrossed by her memories of Sweet Home and how it all led up to infanticide. Christina Rossetti’s, The Poor Ghost resembles a speaker having to once again face their deceased spouse that comes back to life. The speaker is then forced to remember the memories of his loved one, but begins to be fearful and has great difficulty facing his deceased partner. In Maxine Hong Kingston’s No Name Woman, it begins with the history of how her family had discarded her aunt as ever having been born. This discard of her aunts existence had been due to the ignominy and dishonor she had brought upon the family. These three authors demonstrate the toll that the past could have on the present through the common thread of memories.
When losing a loved one people often wish that they could see them once again for one last time. In both Rossetti’s The Poor Ghost and Morrison’s Beloved this situation commences among the main characters. In Rossetti’s The Poor Ghost, the speaker gets to see his partner once again for the last time as she comes back to him in the real world. Although the narrator gets a second chance to see his loved one, he feels fearful as he “shrinks…with fright” and begins to “cover up his eyes” “Oh whence do you come to me, my dear friend”, he says. Seeing his loved one once again after death made him realize that she is no longer the same person he had loved before. She is not the same because when one comes back to life they are no longer the same person as they were before. This is due to the fact that they can no longer exist in the present, but only in the memories of the past. Because memory is just that, a memory. In Beloved, Sethe also wishes to see her deceased child once again. This occurs, although, not how she had expected it to occur. During Beloved’s return she comes back as “a fully dressed woman”(pg 62) Although she is a grown woman, she acts as if she is a child. Beloved’s return is also not what they had expected, not only because was she is a child in a woman’s body, but also the ghost of all former slaves. This relates to the narrator in The Poor Ghost as Denver also begins to fear Beloved. She begins to fear Beloved because she had begun to choke Sethe at The Clearing. In both these stories it illuminates the fact that dead is dead and that death it is not a force that can be reckoned with.
Darkness is a common term that is associated with the deceased .In both stories, Beloved and The Poor Ghost share the fact that they had both come out of the darkness and out of deep pits of water. In Rossetti’s poem, the ghost appears from “the dark” with “dripping drenching dew” and her voice “as hollow as the hollow sea.” This “dew” that she is covered with resembles the fact that she came out of the sea. Similarly, Beloved also appears from “the dark.” When Denver asks, “What’s it like over there, where you were before? Can you tell me?” Beloved responds with “Dark”. “Were you cold?”, Denver asks. “Beloved curled tighter and shook her head. Hot. Nothing to breathe down there an no room to move in.”(pg 90) Beloved also states that she had risen from the river. “Oh, I was in the water”, she says, “the water back at the woods.”(pg 91) Both of these characters had risen from the dead out of the water in order to pursue their unfinished business with their loved ones. Rossetti’s ghost came back in order for her loved one to be able to move on from the past and look to the future, while Morrison’s ghost Beloved came back for her mother Sethe.
In her memoir No Name Woman, Maxine Hong Kingston accentuates the subject of Chinese-American culture and the role of females to point out just how precarious familial approval could be. She unveils that it does not take very much for a woman to bring shame upon her family. She does this by exploring her family history as her mother begins to tell her the forbidden “cautionary tale” of her forgotten aunt. This “No Name Woman” is an aunt that the family fails to acknowledge as ever having been born due to the humiliation she had brought upon her family. This humiliation was the fact that she had become pregnant while “her husband had been gone for years.” Since the baby had not been her husbands, the villagers had decided to raid their home. “Like a great saw, teeth strung with lights, flies of people walked zigzag across our land, tearing the rice” says her mother. “They threw mud and rocks at the house”, slaughtered the stock, and had cursed the home. Similarly, Morrison uses magical realism to convey a similar occurrence in Beloved. The villagers in Beloved had began to come and walk “slowly toward 124”(pg 297) “They grouped, murmuring and whispering, but did not step foot in the yard.”(pg 298). “They make a hill. A hill of black people” and “above them all, rising from his place with a whip” was “the man without skin”(pg 302) The villagers had performed an exorcism and had caused Beloved to disappear back into the river. The end of the novel suggests that Beloved’s disappearance, “was not a story to pass on”(pg 316), just as the story of Kingston’s aunt was not a story to pass on. But nonetheless, both stories end up being passed on, suggesting that there still is some value in learning about the past.
Identity refers to the ways in which one is identified and known as an individual in comparison to all the other people. Socially, identities are based and formed upon how others perceive you to be. In Beloved, Toni Morrison explores the spiritual, physical, and emotional effects on the former slaves’ senses of self and identity. Paul D, for instance, becomes so alienated that he cannot tell whether the screaming he hears is his own or someone else’s. Since slaves were seen as subhuman and were often traded as commodities, they never really grabbed a sense of their true identity. They just acquired the knowledge of their identity from their owners. For example, “Paul D” was just a title given to him by his owner. The other slaves had their own titles as well, “And so they were: Paul D Garner, Paul F Garner, Paul A Garner, Halle Suggs and Sixo…”(page 18) This causes them to ponder about their worth as a human being. In Kingston’s no name woman the Chinese emigrants must establish new identities in order to “fit in solid America” They established these new identities in order to “confuse the gods by…misleading them with crooked streets and false names.” Socially, identity is based and formed on how others perceive you to be. These perceptions may not always be true but in reality that doesn’t really always matter. This, unfortunately, causes ones identity to be built up on the view of others, or built to meet the standards of others, in order to fit into a society.
During Baby Suggs’ gatherings the community came together to deal with the lingering pain and consequences of slavery. Sethe’s memories of these sermons intrude on her thoughts involuntarily. This memory reminds Sethe of Baby Suggs’ rock and causes her to seek for The Clearing . Sethe going back to the clearing is a fundamental event. Sethe deciding to go to The Clearing causes her to try and heal the wounds of her past. In the Clearing, Sethe sits down on Baby Suggs’ rock, and finally forces herself to accept the truth that Halle would never come back. “There will never be a day, she thought, when Halle will knock on the door.”(pg 112) As the affliction of this notion sinks in, Sethe silently calls out to Baby Suggs, asking her to rub her neck one last time. As she lowers her head, she feels a light, childlike touch on her neck. Soon these “fingers touching the back of her neck were stronger”. The fingers began to tighten around her throat and she feels herself being strangled. These fingers “had a grip on her that would not let her breathe.” (pg 113) Denver, seeing her mother’s suffering, rushes to her aid, followed by Beloved. Whether or not the strangling was from Baby Suggs or the spirit of Sethe’s dead daughter, the fingers are another supernatural embodiment of Sethe’s past. Sethe seeks consolation through the memory of Baby Suggs, but dwelling on memories is dangerous and constraining, just as Baby Suggs’ fingers were soothing at first, but then suffocating.
The entire narrative of Beloved as a whole seems to be the consecutive occurrence Sethe recollecting on her past. Sethe seems to live in her past and this obsession with Beloved is the embodiment of what Sethe calls her “rememory”. Sethe believed that once Beloved would appear she could be able to abandon her past and move on, when in actuality, Beloved’s presence had caused Sethe recall additional memories. We are even told that “to Sethe, the future was a matter of keeping the past at bay.”(pg54), and that “her brain was not interested in the future. Loaded with the past and hungry for more.” (page 85). Due to the agony of her past, she had “no room to imagine, let alone plan for, the next day.”(page 85) Despite her yearn for “beating back the past” (page 88). This is also reason why stories spread between Sethe, Paul D, and Baby suggs, as their memories provide the ability to tell their own story and define themselves, opposed to constantly being defined by their slave-owners. It helps keep their pleasant memories alive, although, it also awakens unpleasant memories which prevent the characters from moving on. This can be displayed through Sethe as she is constantly tormented by her past proving that memories often have a way of coming up in our lives whether we like it or not.
In order to survive, one must depend on the acceptance and amalgamation of what is past and what is present. In her novel Beloved, Toni Morrison fastidiously contrives events that correspond with how the human intellect functions. This is used to serve as a way in which the reader could apprehend the occurrence of memories. ‘Rememory’ is what enables Sethe to be able to reassemble the realities of her past. Through “rememory”, Morrison brings Sethe on a peregrination from being a woman who only identifies herself with being a mother, to a woman who identifies herself as a human being. Cultures are also able to configure the identification of individuals. Kingston displays that the identity of her aunt was shaped by Chinese culture due to her immoral act of being impregnated by a man other than her husband. The idea of gender roles plays a key role in Chinese culture as it displays the patriarchal views that had condemned her aunt. Rossetti displays this role of memory as the ghost finally accepts her deceased status.Towards the ending of the poem, Rossetti emphasizes how one should not dwell on the past as they can not forever remain in a memory. This common thread of memory is what synthesises the stories of Beloved, The Poor Ghost, and No Name Woman together as a whole.