BURYING THE DEAD
The Pain of Memory in Beloved
Memory has played a special role in the shaping of African American culture generally and in contemporary literature specifically, as can be seen in the three chapters of this section. It affects the way the individual relates to the group, especially in an environment where both personal and group identity have been denigrated, as in much of the history of the United States. It also affects the group's sense of itself, as the stories of the past are repeated from generation to generation. As will also be seen, in the context of a traumatic history, memory also plays a complicated role as events are both repressed and recurrent. Scenes of violence, humiliation, and dehumanization are blocked out by both individuals and communities, but they cannot thereby be erased. In the works of Toni Morrison, Ernest Gaines, Gloria Naylor, and Sherley Anne Williams, we can see the dynamic of memory's repression and its return, as characters and communities struggle to come to terms with trauma. We also see the ambiguities inherent in efforts to achieve recovery and healing from that trauma.
The dedication of Beloved is to the “Sixty Million and more” who were victims of the European slave trade. The number of Africans directly affected by that trade has been variously estimated by historians from fifteen to a hundred million. The choice of sixty million, I would suggest, is an act of signifying by Toni Morrison. The number echoes and multiplies the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust. It suggests simultaneously a connection to and difference from that more recent horror. Both events have been historically contentious in recent years, with arguments made about their realities and effects. Both have also served to create a sense of a special people shaped by a legacy of suffering. Such a legacy is important for group identity in a time when science has discredited biology as the basis for such identity. The trauma