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What is the overriding theme presented in Beloved?

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tinkybear94 | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 21, 2011 at 2:20 AM via web

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What is the overriding theme presented in Beloved?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 21, 2011 at 7:15 AM (Answer #1)

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Part of what makes Morrison's work so intricate is that it takes the history of enslavement and the narrative of social and self hate into different psychological avenues.  I think that you can pull many different themes from the story.  In my mind, the tension between remembering the past and being trapped by it is probably one of the most telling elements of the narrative.  It distinguishes itself from other works in depicting characters who are mindful of the past, but also struggling to overcome it.  Sethe is a prime example of this.  In seeing her world in black and white and devoid of emotional interaction, she is both a product of slavery and struggling to overcome its horrific effect.  It is Sethe's character and her relationship with Beloved and Paul D where this dynamic is most evident:

Beloved seems to have 'disremembered' almost all of her past, and when Sethe comes to believe the girl is her lost daughter she 'was excited to giddiness by the things she no longer had to remember.' Her words seem to imply that Sethe tortures herself with memories as a sort of punishment..." The conclusion of the novel seems to imply that finally putting the past behind her will enable Sethe to survive. 'We got more yesterday than anybody,' Paul D. tells Sethe. 'We need some kind of tomorrow."

It is the need for "some kind of tomorrow" that compels Sethe to recognize herself as "her best thing."  This is a balance that Morrison brings out in the work, causing pain to turn into a source of strength.

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