However; the characters are able, through music and dance, to not only define homeless, but are able to retain some of their African culture while enslaved, and creating a unique culture of their own. Toni Morrison uses the ideas of song and dance to show how through an oral tradition in the slave culture they are able to retain some of the culture of their African ancestors despite attempts by the slave masters to rid them of their own identities as people, and strictly relegate them to objects of possession to be bought or sold.
Quinoa describes dances, or traditions, that the enslaved people brought with them across the Ocean in those slave ships. Every great event… Is celebrated in public dances, which are accompanied with songs and music suited to the occasion. The assembly is separated in to four divisions… The first division contains the married men… To these succeeded the married women… The young men occupy the third; and the maidens the fourth. ” (Quinoa 34).
These traditions were then passed down through the generations and across the different plantations through that oral tradition as shown in some of the traditions that the characters in Beloved perform. “Let the children come”… “Let the grown men come” she shouted… Finally she called the women to her… It started that way: laughing children, dancing men, crying women and then it all got mixed up. Women stopped crying and danced; men sat down and cried; children danced, women laughed, children cried until, exhausted and river, all and each lay about the Clearing damp and gasping for breath.
In the silence that followed, Baby USGS, holy, offered up to them her great heart. ” (Morrison 103) In this passage we see how the traditions that were brought to America from Africa by these enslaved people are passed down to people that were born in America and he new generation is able to take the traditions of old and add their own flavor and uniqueness to make it their own. Music and Dance as a Means of Self- Definition and Cultural Retention in Toni By metal ancestors and making it their own, but it is also about resistance to the majority and taking the margin that they have been relegated to, and creating something new.
Six is told by the schoolteacher that “definitions belonged to the definers – not the defined” (Morrison 225). Morrison uses this mode of definition as a means to show how the enslaved characters and the real slaves of the time fought against this benefiting, and used the margin as a means to create something new and unique. With a sledge hammer in his hands and Hi Man’s lead, the men got through. They sang it out and beat it up, garbling the words so they could not be understood; tricking the words so their syllables yielded up other meanings.
They sang the women they knew; the children they had been; the animals they had tamed themselves or seen other tame. They sang of bosses and masters and misses; of mules and dogs and the shamelessness of life. They sang lovingly of graveyards and sisters long gone. Of pork in the woods; meal in the pan; fish on the line; cane, rain ND rocking chairs. ” (Morrison 128) Even on a chain gang relegated to the lowest part of the lowest part of society at that time these men were using the situation that they were in to create something new, something that was uniquely theirs and no one could take that from them.
The men on the chain gang were using the tradition of song passed down from their ancestors, but by using the world around them, their feelings, and their unique experiences they were able to defy the definers and then define who they were. It is through these traditions of using your emotions to help define your struggle that the lees we know today was created. Morrison uses the structure of the modern blues and the call and response aspect of the African musical heritage to illustrate that this tradition of self definition is alive today.
Morrison a twentieth century African American writer uses these structures in her novel to help keep these traditions alive. Morrison uses the text “It rained” (Morrison 129) to help illustrate possibly how these men on the chain gang might have felt being locked up and chained together forced to work hard labor at gun point. The idea of it rained, elicits the picture of tears, sorrow and pain. She beats this line after each paragraph on this page as if meaning to continue to draw on the idea of sadness. Also by repeating this line she brings forth the idea of call and response.
Morrison describes a little of this intense scene where Paul D is locked up in a cell that is filling with water, the call part of the tradition, then uses the line “It rained” (Morrison 129) as the response. She describes a little more of that scene, call. It rained, response. The use of the call and response tradition elicits a deep emotional reaction by the reader. Song and dance was the most effective way of continuing and passing on radiations throughout the slave communities. Song and dance were parts of their heritage they wanted to remember.
So many bad things had happened to so many people that part of themselves shut off the bad and only remembered the good times they had while singing and dancing. Nan was the one she knew best, who was around all day, who nursed babies, cooked, had one good arm and half another. And who used different words. Words must be why she remembered so little before Sweet Home except singing and dancing (Morrison 74) Music and dance were also ways that the oppressed people could express homeless without as much fear of reprisals and punishments as other forms, especially reading and writing which were forbidden.
The power of expression through the singing and the dancing is evident throughout the novel. Nearly all of the characters at one time or another participates in public or private expressions of their feelings and thoughts. Hear me know, love your heart. For this is the prize. ” Saying no more, she stood up then and danced with her twisted hip the rest to what her heart had to say while the other opened their mouths and gave her the music. Long notes held until the four- art harmony was perfect enough for their deeply loved flesh. Morrison 104) Throughout this novel Morrison uses many examples of music and dance as a means for these oppressed slaves to determine who they are and not allow the slave masters and the white people of that time to dictate who they are. By following the traditions of their ancestors, modifying the old traditions for the new generation, and by creating something entirely new and unique they were able to take the margin in which they had been placed and turn it into their center. For a lot of slaves in that mime all they had in the whole world was their culture and traditions.