Essay on How Toni Morrison Effectively Uses Flashbacks in the Novel Beloved

Published: 2021-08-11
1997 words
8 pages
17 min to read
Wesleyan University
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One can tell that Toni Morrison that, from his novel Beloved, is one of the best specialists in telling a story from which she has managed to silence many of readers and contemporary writers. In essence, he is good in narratology, which is the study of how stories work, as well as how readers comprehend them. However, it is imperative to note that the narratology elements have a substantial impact on any piece of literature, for example, the use of flashbacks which are also referred to as analepses. In the novel Beloved, Morrison capitalizes on the use of flashbacks to catch the attention of readers, thereby helping readers engage with the past.

The use of flashbacks attracts readers, thereby allowing them to read the story more. Beloved is dominated by the application of flashbacks from the very beginning of the novel when the narrator says,

Suspended between the nastiness of life and the meanness of the dead, she could not get interested in leaving life or living it, let alone the fright of two creeping-off boys. Her past had been like her presentintolerableand since she knew death was anything but forgetfulness, she used the little energy left her for pondering color" (Morrison 3-4).

From the above statement, it is clear that the narrator alludes to the past of Baby Suggs when she though in her sickbed that her grandsons had not realized that the house they were living in was different from the one on Bluestone Road. As such, the use of flashback was necessary for this aspect as it alerts the reader about the change in the life of Baby Suggs. Also, there are other flashbacks at the beginning of the novel such as when the narrator tells of Burglar and Howards escape from 124: The sons, Howard and Buglar, had run away by the time they were thirteen years old (Morrison 3). Necessarily, this flashback is of significance because it morphed into the other descriptions of why Baby Sugg craved for colors and showed how that was connected to her death and haunting the house.

Therefore, the series of flashbacks are effective in the novel as they chain some incidents and events that show how Baby Suggs craved from colors, highlighting her death, as well as other elements that haunted 124. Essentially, the way the novel starts provides readers with bits of information, as well as demands readers to desire to learn more pertaining to the story, which is also evident when Morrison goes ahead and writes about the entities that had 124: Not only did she have to live out her years in a house palsied by the babys fury at having its throat cut . . . (Morrison 4). As such, Morrison provides a description to the readers about how the baby suffered an unanticipated and violent death among other aspects that point out that the house was haunted. Readers are forced to ask themselves various questions from the flashbacks. These include who cut baby Suggs throat, why it was done, as well as why the baby haunted 124. Therefore, these flashbacks spark the inquisitiveness of the reader allowing for further reading. Besides, Morrison succeeds in using the flashback technique by allowing the narrator to tell us that the boy was murdered in a violent manner, which signifies why the house was haunted. As such, the flashbacks allow Morrison in the novel to provide a realistic picture of how the boy suffered various tortures that led to his death. The flashbacks have great significance in drawing readers into the novel. The use of flashbacks provides readers with numerous pieces of partial information that leaves a desire to read more about what transpired. Morrison proves this assertion further when he writes about the entity that haunted 124: Not only did she have to live out her years in a house palsied by the babys fury at having its throat cut . . . (Morrison 5-6). As such, Morrison tells the reader that Baby Suggs violent death might be haunting the house, and thus, makes a reader purpose to find out what happened.

Also, Toni Morrison, through the use of flashbacks symbolically broke the classical time circle, as well as the linear structure in which the resent and the past are juxtaposed. In essence, through the past flashbacks, it is possible to explain why the house was haunted, and thus, a reader will comprehend the story better, especially when the narrator goes on and articulates that: We have a ghost in here, she said. So I hear, he said. But sad, your mama said. Not evil. No sirnot evil. But not sad either. What then? Rebuked. Lonely and rebuked. I do not know about lonely.Mad, maybe, but I do not see how it could be lonely spending every minute with us like it does" (Morrison 13). From the quote, it is clear to the reader why the house is haunted, which is due to the violent death of the baby, which was already highlighted in the earlier flashbacks. As such, the past and present are interwoven in this quote, the ghost in the house was explained in the flashbacks that were articulated earlier. Morrison succeeds in swapping the past and the present, which stresses the thought that the past is still breathing in the present. Morrison through the flashbacks demands that the readers collect the pieces of information together and strains herself to interweave them, thereby showing value in each of these flashbacks. Therefore, the craftsmanship that Morrison uses is breathtaking. In essence, the text covers the various levels of the past, from the slave ship to a sweet home, which is further interwoven to the present- the haunted house. Most of the past is mostly covered in flashbacks, in stories of the narrator, and as if it was happening in the present because Morrison also uses the present tense to tell about the past.

Furthermore, it can be noted that the novel can be subdivided into parts with smaller sections in each part, and with each section having flashbacks. They are at the beginning of the story, the end, or even the middle. The narrator, however, knows where to place these flashbacks appropriately to bridge the pieces adeptly, such as when Denver and Beloved discuss Amy and Seths encounter and the birth of Denver: Tell me, Beloved said. Tell me how Sethe made you in the boat (Morrison 90). In accordance with the flashback, Denver begins recounting the story as she reminisces what Sethe had told her. From the style of writing Morrison used, the paragraph breaks, which is followed by a flashback. Additionally, all the important characters in the novel are attached to their past in some way, as well as the fact that many of the main events in the novel is fueled by past events, which can be highlighted in the quote:

For a used-to-be-slave woman to love anything that much was dangerous, especially if it was her children she had settled on to love. The best thing, he knew, was to love just a little bit; everything, just a little bit, so when they broke its back or shoved it in a croaker sack, well, maybe youd have a little love left over for the next one" (Morrison 45).

In essence, from the above quote, it is clear what Paul D feels about love. Paul D and Sethe were arguing about Denver where Sethe was defending him. Paul D, on the other hand, chastises Sethe in his mind on why he gives love to the child. Even though Paul D came to Sethe after escaping slavery, he is still scared of the thought of being brought back to slavery. Therefore, it is clear that the past and the present are connected in the way that Paul D was subjected into slavery in the past, which apparently, is not a positive encounter, and why he detests slavery in the present. Also, this also makes readers understand why he does not believe in loving anything even for children. Primarily, in the past, he had experienced the worst that slavery could offer, which is why in the present he refuses to become vulnerable again.

Besides, there is a re-memory about Paul Ds unspoken warning pertaining to love, as highlighted in the following quotation:

Look like I loved em more after I got here. Alternatively, maybe I could not love em proper in Kentucky because they were not mine to love. However, when I got here, when I jumped down off that wagon, there wasnt nobody I could not love if I wanted to. (Morrison 162)

Essentially, from the quotation, Sethe had not loved her children while in slavery, which made sense at the time. However, when she was finally free of slavery, she subsequently opened her heart to her children for the first time since giving birth. Unluckily, Sethes love backfired when the Schoolteacher showed up and took the children to be slaves. In effect, she followed her first instincts and attempted to murder them because she could not tolerate what she had experienced in the past, which explains her instincts as she had a love for her children and could not want the same to be subjected to her kids. As such, flashbacks are continually being used in the novel, which forces the reader to be engaged in both the past and the present.

Morrison used flashbacks symbolically to keep readers engaged with the past. For instance, later in the novel, when Paul D sat on the church steps, he recalled about the sweet home. The flashback, however, was introduced slightly different compared to the previous example but had similar effects of linking the past with the present. In essence, Paul Ds thoughts drift to memories of the escape from the sweet home: Sixo, hitching up the horses, is speaking English again and tells Halle what his Thirty-Mile Woman told him (Morrison 261). Essentially, one Morrison begins the flashback, he shifts the tense from past to present, and this works effectively in immersing readers in the memory of Paul D, which is by making the events seem as if they were happening in real-time. As such, Morrison succeeds in emphasizing the significance of his memories, as well as keeping the readers immersed in the past. As such, this symbolically reveals the narrators reliability in interweaving the past and the present.

As such, from the flashbacks, it is clear that Morrison catalyzes a bond between the various characters in the novel and the readers, which is because flashbacks have a significance of rendering readers to relieve the incidents that happened in the past which the characters experienced. Besides, this symbolically makes the narrator adamant in successfully capitalize on the use of the flashbacks in explaining the perceptions of the characters. In essence, the adoption of flashbacks helps readers perceive the reasoning and decisions or feelings behind the "a spontaneity which accomplishes what appeared to be impossible when we observed only the separate elements, a spontaneity which gathers together the plurality of monads, the past and the present, nature, and culture into a single whole" (Merleau-Ponty 11). Furthermore, the use of flashbacks is essential in the novel, which allows the narrator to feature habits of the characters, understand their expectations, their reasoning, and reveal a well-ordered plot that is told in rational certainty in the past and present tense, all which when coupled together, make for a passive reading experience, which also allows for witnessing of, but not participation in the story.

However, from a critique position, Morrison presents a rather confusing, ambiguous, and disjointed story whose narrator is often seen as elusive, multi-vocal speakers, and roving of the relative omniscience and inhabits the characters in the first person and haphazardly shifts tenses between the present and the past, as well as incorporation of discourses that are unexpected. For instance, the first unmarked section instantaneously defies the expectations of the readers: 124 was spiteful (Morrison 1) and full of babys venom (Morrison 3). It is clear that the narrator in Beloved provides readers with no...

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