In the novel Beloved, Toni Morrison uses memory/rememory to express the distress of slaves not “having a map”. The novel Beloved not only is a story about the accounts and the injustices of slavery, but also speaks on an additional level, educating readers how many people lost their identities and lives. Future generations to come must recognize the horrors of slavery and should not forget. Before the novel begins, Morrison dedicates Beloved to “sixty million and more” (Morrison Ⅺ).
Beloved is based on a true story about Margaret Garner. Margaret Garner was a house slave who endured the harsh conditions of slavery. Garner did not want her two-year-old daughter to experience the same grim circumstances Garner lived in, so Garner slit her two-year-old’s throat, killing and freeing her baby from the grasp of slavery (Nichols). Sethe is based on Margaret Garner and Garner’s actions that led Sethe to killing her baby. Sethe has to live with the haunting individual deed she commits. Beloved talks about cultural memory, personal memory, and the power of language through the devices of stream of consciousness and magical realism. Stream of consciousness is where a character’s feelings, reactions, and thoughts are portrayed in a stream like flow (Handler). Morrison implements stream of consciousness to bring out the chaotic reactions, feelings, and thoughts of Sethe, Baby Suggs and Beloved. Morrison uses magical realism to enhances the books features by implementing surreal images and ideas as if they were typical/standard (Handler). These devices make a point about reality and oppression. The concept of memory is created by highlighting what characters, such as Sethe, Beloved, and Baby Suggs. These characters have no type of “map” that allows each character to have a linkage to their past. The concept of having a “map” is having an identity.
Having an identity is a concept that confuses the characters in Beloved. There is an element of thought where people want to know “who they are”, “where do they come from” and “why they are who they are”. These questions can be usually answered by a DNA test, researching the past, or asking an elder in the family unit. Learning about background information as a slave is significantly difficult compared to today’s time. In Beloved, the character Baby Suggs has trouble answering questions about her little-known past. When Baby Suggs thinks about Halle and her other children, Baby Suggs contemplates how she was able to nurture the kids and also thinks how they will have more of identity than her. “… she knew more about them than she knew about herself, having never had the map to discover what she was like ( Morrison 165). This quote leads Baby Suggs to try and think of her own identity. Baby Suggs ask herself consciously, “Could she sing? (Was it nice to hear when she did?) Was she pretty? Was she a good friend? Could she have been a loving mother? A faithful wife? Have I got a sister and does she favor me? If my mother knew me would she like me?” (Morrison 165). Baby Suggs being taken away from her own mother destroys Baby Suggs’ idea of having an identity. Just like many other slaves who were forcefully dragged from their parents during slave trades, the idea of separation destroys a slave’s ability to be a person and have an identity.
Sethe is another character that suffers with knowing her identity. Sethe deals with the traumatic experience of killing her baby, freeing the baby from the brutal conditions of slavery. Sethe attempts to move pass the memory of killing her baby, but the baby comes back as ghastly woman to remind Sethe of her dealings. When Sethe’s baby comes back as a ghastly woman named Beloved, the reader gets instances of Sethe’s identity being pondered. The curious Beloved asks Sethe, “Your woman she never fix up your hair?” was clearly a question for Sethe, since that’s who she was looking at” (Morrison 72). Sethe responds with a blurred remembrance of her mother. “My woman? You mean my mother? If she did, I don’t remember. I didn’t see her but a few times out in the fields and once when she was working indigo” (Morrison 72). These lines are important because they display Sethe’s clouded memory about her past. Sethe knows hardly about her mother and if Sethe’s mother even helped her with her hair. These lines also present the fact that slavery destroys a slave’s chance of experiencing basic aspects of life like learning how to “fix up” one’s hair.
The character Beloved being killed as only a two-year-old does not have time to build up an identity. In the little time baby Beloved spent with Sethe, Beloved develops memories she asks Sethe about as the ghastly woman. Beloved asks Sethe question that gives the notion that she really could be Sethe’s daughter she killed. “The questions Beloved asked: “Where your diamonds?” “Your woman she never fix up your hair?” And most perplexing: Tell me your earrings. How did she know?” (Morrison 73). This quote demonstrates Beloved trying to figure out her own identity. Sethe killed Beloved out of pure love, saving Beloved from going through slavery like Sethe and her other children. This quote also illustrates how slaves that are killed early on in their slave life, will never grow up to know who they are and what they will become.
“This is not a story to pass on” (Morrison 324), speaks to the reader by urging the reader to remember the people who were not able to tell their own story. To interpret the quote further, it can be related to our prison system in the United States. The prison system is sometimes called modern day slavery because the prison system implemented is bounding mostly minorities in prison for extended periods of time and defying a person the qualities of being free. The film 13th explores how mass incarceration of minority groups proves the nation has a history of racial injustice and inequality. The film explores how mass incarceration of people of color have limited access to government assistance after they are branded as a criminal (DuVernay). Being branded as a criminal restricts right and aid from the government. The comparison of slave masters and police can be identified in both 13th and Beloved. Slave masters in Beloved are spiteful to their slaves by calling and treating slaves like property. In 13th, Police are discriminative of towards people of color. People of color are more likely to be stopped and searched; Communities of color are more likely to be targeted and searched; People of color are less likely than white people to have trust in the police (DuVernay). There are many examples to explore how slavery still exists in the modern day. The film 13th is a prime example of how slavery still lives through the suffering of people in the prison system. These stories need to be passed on because Morrison believes that if slavery is to be remembered as a gruesome time in history, we should remember the people who died for it and their stories.