Beloved Questions and Answers
by Toni Morrison

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In Beloved, what does the narrator mean by the warning at the end: "this is not a story to pass on . . ."?

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bianchijoe eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The phrase has several different connotations, depending on how one interprets the word "pass." Morrison could be saying that this is not a story to "pass on"—that is, bequeath or hand down, passing from one person to the next—perhaps because of its potential to re-ignite the horrors of slavery. But it's also a story that one shouldn't "pass" on—that is, refuse—because its historical and emotional truths, however painful, deserve to be remembered and honored. Thirdly, it's not a story to "pass on"—that is, die—because, like Beloved herself, the legacy of slavery and its horrors will continue to haunt us as a nation and a culture. As David Lawrence states in Studies in American Fiction, "While the painful heritage of slavery cannot simply 'pass on,' cannot die away, enslavement to that heritage, Morrison implies, must 'pass on,' must die away, in order to undertake the task of remembering and re-articulating the individual and communal body."

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Susan Smith eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The statement that comes in the last lines of Toni Morrison's Beloved is certainly a puzzling one.  Since the novel is telling the story about the reprecussions of slavery  through the pasts of her characters, Morrison is certainly "passing on the story." 

Yet, if you read closely, this line that is repeated at least three times in the last chapter refers specifically to Beloved.  Each of the main characters--Sethe, Denver, Paul D--has confronted Beloved, and somehow come to terms with the past.  Paul D, through his contact with Beloved, is able to release the emotions that he had stored away in his tobacco tin; Denver, who clung to Beloved out of loneliness, forsakes her to save her mother; and Sethe, who nursed Beloved in an attempt to attone for the murder of her child, is finally able to let her go with the support of her daughter, Paul D, and the rest of the community. 

There is no need to pass on the pain of the past--which, I believe, Beloved symbolizes.   It is time to continue the process of healing and looking ahead.  It is time for each of the characters to start anew and realize that they can transcend the dehumanization of slavery and recognize that they "got more yesterday than anybody.  We need some kind of tomorrow." 

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repesek | Student

On one level, Morrison is saying that story of Beloved is not one to be passed on to the next generations. She shows the dangers of literally conjuring up the ghost of the traumatized past as she narrates the confrontation between the mother and her murdered daughter, a confrontation which threatens to engulf them both.

Beloved had always haunted 124, but her embodied form returns on the precise day that Denver, Sethe, and Paul D. appear to be moving on a family, a part of the community for the first time. Right before Beloved appears, Paul D. took Sethe and Denver to the carnival where, “Sethe returned the smiles she got. Denver was swaying with delight. And on the way home, although leading them now, the shadows of three people still held hands” (Morrison, 59). The embodied shadow of Beloved destroys the shadows of the other three, replacing them with another trio that brings back the past with such ferocity that Sethe cannot bear it.

While there is danger in reliving the trauma of Beloved's story, there is also danger in forgetting it. The other meaning of "not a story to pass on" means that it's not a story to forget or overlook. In writing Beloved, Morrison is bringing this traumatic story from past into the present, and she dedicates it to the "sixty million and more." This novel shows us both the dangers of traumatic rememory and its importance in the present.