Memory in Toni Morrison's Beloved Essay

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Memory in Toni Morrison's Beloved

Memories are works of fiction, selective representations of experiences actual or imagined. They provide a framework for creating meaning in one's own life as well as in the lives of others. In Toni Morrison's novel Beloved, memory is a dangerous and debilitating faculty of human consciousness. Sethe endures the tyranny of the self imposed prison of memory. She expresses an insatiable obsession with her memories, with the past. Sethe is compelled to explore and explain an overwhelming sense of yearning, longing, thirst for something beyond herself, her daughter, her Beloved. Though Beloved becomes a physical manifestation of these memories, her will is essentially defined by and tied to the
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Memories, however, persist. They remain, lurking in places like 124 and Sweet Home to remind Sethe that the punishment she suffers is self inflicted and self perpetuating. First as a poltergeist and later as a mysterious young woman, the memory of Beloved remains unrequited. Beloved's appetite is insatiable. She "never got enough of anything... the more she took, the more Sethe began to talk, explain.." (240-1). No effort, no amount, no explanation is adequate. Sethe gives her face to Beloved and still she demands more. Beloved eventually becomes bloated with Sethe's loving excesses, but her thirst remains unquenched. Paul D. understands the dangers inherent in this kind of love when he warns Sethe, "Your love is too thick" (164). Beloved has no distinct identity separate from Sethe. Without Sethe, Beloved is ultimately left "crouching in a dark, dark place, forgetting to smile" (252). Likewise, Sethe's own identity is nearly lost or completely surrendered in her fusion with Beloved.

Though short of ultimate union or reunion with Beloved in death, Sethe is unable and unwilling to challenge Beloved's place in her mind and in her home. Only help from others can save her. Denver makes the first humble appeals for help on behalf of her mother. In doing so, she begins to understand and appreciate the vital necessity of a concept of self, influenced by but not completely dependent upon memory. Though Denver does not directly impart this
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