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