Scarring the Black Body: Race and Representation in African American Literature

By Carol E. Henderson | Go to book overview

Four

Dis-Membered to Re-Member Bodies, Scars, and Ritual in Toni Morrison's Beloved

And the purpose of making her [Beloved] real is making history possible, making memory real—somebody walks in the door and sits down at the table so you have to think about it.

—Toni Morrison, “In the Realm of Responsibility”

If Dessa Rose represents, for Williams, a “meditation on history, ” then Toni Morrison's fifth novel, Beloved, represents, for Morrison, the very materialization of that history. Morrison weaves a haunting tale of past and present remembrances, of futures contemplated in the here and in the afterlife. Set in the post—Civil War era, the novel focuses on one community of ex-slaves who are drawn together by a common horror— their memories of slavery. Polyrhythmic in its narrative dimensions, the novel revolves around the life of one particular ex-slave, Sethe, who, as a fugitive, cut the throat of her infant daughter in order to prevent her from being sold back into slavery. Haunted by the guilt of this act, and the violent recollections of her former life in slavery, Sethe is literally consumed by these memories. The fleshly manifestation of her dead daughter some fifteen years later makes Beloved a unique literary venture; it is as much a story about history as it is a tale of ghosts and haunted houses. But Morrison's ghost appears in the flesh, and this specter proves that Sethe's memories are not her own; they have taken on their own life. The resulting literary interplay is powerful. It is as disheartening as it is hopeful; it is likewise as judgmental as it is understanding. In the end, Morrison not only creates a novel that questions our concep

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