Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

"The Beauty and the Pain": Image of the Tree in Beloved/LA BEAUTÉ ET LA DOULEUR: IMAGE DE L'ARBRE DANS BELOVED

Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

"The Beauty and the Pain": Image of the Tree in Beloved/LA BEAUTÉ ET LA DOULEUR: IMAGE DE L'ARBRE DANS BELOVED

Article excerpt


This thesis explores the complicated images of the trees in Beloved. The archetypal image of the tree as tree of life reflect the pastoral "beauty" in the south by its regenerative power which assists the black slaves to gain physical flight from the slavery and the former slaves from the psychological grip of the slavery past. The "strange fruit" of the southern trees and the tree-like scar in Sethe's back reveals the "pain" in the slavery south. Beloved's seemingly perverse image as the residue of the slavery past aggravates this "pain", but her foils to a revived tree stump representing the tree of history and to the metamorphosing tree-god Dionysus help the former slaves rebuild the bond with their past, thus retrieve the lost "beauty" in the south. In this sense, the continuity between the two seemingly contradicting concepts-"beauty" and "pain" is established.

Key words: beauty, pain, life; history, continuity

Résumé: Le présent article explore les images compliquées de l'arbre dans Beloved. L'image archétypique de l'arbre, comme l'arbre de vie, reflète la « beauté » pastorale du Sud par sa force régénératrice de l'arbre qui aide les noirs à acquérir la liberté et à se débarrasser du joug mental imprimé sur leur coeur par l'esclavagisme. Le « fruit insolite » sur l'arbre du Sud et la cicatrice en forme d'arbre sur le dos de Sethe révèlent la « douleur » du Sud sous l'esclavagisme. Et Beloved, qui représente l'ombre laissé par l'histoire esclavagiste dans la vie des noirs, aggrave cette douleur. Mais l'image de la souche de résurrection et l'image du dieu de l'arbre permettent aux noirs de rétablir le lien avec le passé pour retrouver la « beauté » oubliée dans le Sud. En ce sens, la continuité entre la beauté et la douleur, deux notions apparemment contradictoires, semble être établie.

Mots-Clés: beauté, douleur, vie, histoire, continuité


Toni Morrison's Beloved is the first of her trio combing the history of African American history. It narrates a gothic story of Beloved, the incarnation of Sethe's murdered daughter, to frame the former slaves' arduous struggle in the post-bellum period with their traumatic past. Morrison ingenuously uses various symbols for the revelation of theme and development of characters. Particularly, the image of tree has its pervasive presence and complex implication in this novel.

This involved image of tree can find its connotation in the idea of "the pain and the beauty" in African American history explored by Jean Toomer. The blacks contribute their toil and blood to this pastoral "beauty" of the American southern land, but they suffered from the "pain" of persecution and oppression; they settled on this alien land and partly regarded it as their homeland in that the ashes of their deceased ancestors who had been abducted here nourished this land, but they were still treated as the exiled. The southern land attributes its pastoral beauty largely to the beautiful trees just as the Bible recognizes "the oasis imagery of trees and water" (Frye 142). In Beloved, the hell-like plantation "Sweet Home" got its ironical and illusionary name from "those beautiful trees" (Morrison 6). The exiled African American blacks have thought they could settle down in this oasis. Nevertheless, the harsh slavery reality presented by the lynched corpses hanging in the tree marred this pastoral image presented by the tree. Indeed this is one contradiction of pastoral image in African American eyes - the pastoral tree offers them salvation hope and establishes their bond with their homeland, but the harsh life under enslavement represented by the corpses of the lynched blacks always stings their eyes. Beavers view the South as a "place of origin and curse" for the characters in Morrison's fiction (61). This thesis will be a quest of the tree's seemingly contradictory images.


The crystallized symbol of the tree lies in its archetypal image as the tree of life whose origin could be traced in the Genesis. …

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