September 19th, 2015

(Format revised 2019)
Saturday’s discussion hit on more topics than I can remember, so I’m going to cover a couple that I do.

We talked about the names of characters in Beloved, and who (or what) Beloved is. We loved the names Morrison gives her characters, and tried to figure out how they fit into the story. Beloved’s and Garner’s names drew the most attention. Some us wondered why Morrison used the woman, Margaret Garner, whom Sethe’s story is based on, for the owner of Sweet Home’s name. I’m not sure we reached a good answer beyond remembering that slaves were often given the last names of their masters, which might indirectly tie Sethe to Margaret Garner. Paul D introduces himself to Denver as Paul D. Garner. Could Sethe’s slave name have been Sethe Garner?Morrison makes it clear how Beloved is named and from where Sethe gets the idea. What goes unsaid is how the name refers to both the baby and, also, once we know where Sethe gets the idea, to all the “Dearly beloved” at the funeral. Beloved’s name not only refers Sethe’s beloved child, but to the whole community.

So who or what is Beloved? I think some of us had a difficult time pinning that down. Probably, Morrison doesn’t want to make it easy. The supernatural bothers a lot of us. Is Beloved really the ghost of the murdered child, thrown out of 124 by Paul D, who then returns as a ghost in the flesh, or is she some kind of psychological projection of a traumatized family? I think she’s real and that, like it or not, we need to suspend our disbelief or we’ll lose most of the story. Beloved is not only the ghost of Sethe’s child. She has inchoate memories of being taken from Africa, crossing the ocean on a slave ship, and watching her mother die during the crossing. At points she conflates her African mother with Sethe. If that’s not enough, some of the characters in the novel guess that Beloved has escaped from a long captivity similar to the one that Ella suffered through. We have to hold all these possibilities in mind when we think about Beloved.

In the group we talked about how much we liked Sethe’s word, “rememory”. Early on in the story she explains to Denver that memories are “out in the world” and what has happened can be seen by other people:

Someday you be walking down the road and you hear something or see something going on. So clear. And you think it’s you thinking it up. A thought picture. But no. It’s when you bump into a rememory that belongs to someone else. (page 43)

Aren’t Beloved’s returns an example of this kind of rememory, maybe even rememories of rememories?

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