Sunday, February 27, 2011

Escaping the past, present, and future - Identities in Beloved

"I am Beloved and she is mine."

The past seems all consuming in the novel, Beloved, by Toni Morrison. The main character Sethe cannot escape from the images and reality of her past. She allows the past to control her life, thus shaping her identity.

In this post we are looking not at what shapes our identity but instead what deconstructs it.

Throughout the story we learn that slavery is to blame for this deconstruction. The past memories of slavery haunt those characters who have escaped: making them question their identity as man, forget their identity as a mother, and destroy the new existence they have created for themselves.

Paul D saw many things as a slave and was often treated worse than many animals. After having a "bit" placed into his mouth he begins to wonder if the roosters have more freedom than he himself has. This leads to a downward spiral where he places all of himself that he has left into a "tin can" and locks it away inside his chest. When the can is opened it releases so much pent up energy that he can barely tell if it is himself screaming.

Sethe is also haunted by slavery which has caused her to ultimately loose her husband, sons, and daughter. Sethe becomes so afraid of returning to slavery that she will loose herself and commit the unthinkable. The act changes her entire existence and creates supernatural events in which she looses so much of herself that the townspeople can barely recognize her beside the reincarnation of her daughter beloved.

I believe that Toni Morrison was trying to communicate the story of slavery through the deconstruction of identities. The story is told from the "broken", the ones who no longer know who they are and are only trying to discover what their place is in this new world.