How does Toni Morrison's structure of Beloved help reveal the characters and their conflicts?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One aspect of structure that particularly ties in to Morrison's presentation of her characters and the various conflicts they face is the point of view of this tale. Although the third-person omniscient narration remains, on the whole, fixed throughout the story, what Morrison does do is shift the point of view from which the story is told. The perspective alters from section to section, and thus the perspective in Chapter 1 shifts from Baby Suggs as the narrator focuses on her story, before moving on to Sethe and then to to Paul D. before finally ending with Denver. This changing perspective within the context of a stable narration is critical in terms of exploring and portraying the thoughts and feelings of several different characters. This allows the reader to become aware of the way in which slavery effects a wide range of different individuals, painting an overall picture that presents the devastation it wreaks in humanity at large. Note for example how Denver remembers what Sethe told her about the way that memories of the past, even if they are not your own, can be just as powerful to those in the present:

If you go there—you who was never there—if you go there and stand in the place where it was, it will happen again; it will be there, waiting for you... Even though it’s all over—over and done with—it’s going to always be there waiting for you.

Although this is written in the third person, the narrator pictures Denver remembering the words of Sethe, and this points towards the way that these characters are in conflict with the past, and how the past is so important even to those characters who were not around to face it.

In addition, the shifting perspective presents more vivid characters as the reader gains insight into what makes a number of individuals "tick" rather than just one character. This is something that the alteration in narrative style helps to cement, as the shift from third person to the first person in four consecutive sections focuses on how Sethe, Denver and Beloved where they think of how Beloved's arrival has irrevocably changed their lives. Such intimate portraits of these characters later on in the novel deepens the reader's understanding of them and the conflicts they face.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The structure of Beloved is circular in nature, and characters return again and again to events in the past in an attempt to process them. In the following quote, Sethe refers to reliving events as an outgrowth of what she calls her "rememory:"

I was talking about time. It's so hard for me to believe in it. Some things go. Pass on. Some things just stay. I used to think it was my rememory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it's not. Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it's gone, but the place—the picture of it—stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world.

In the process of remembering, which the former slaves carry out in the novel, memories exist separate from the places to which they are connected. Memories have their own kind of existence, and characters continually revisit the past in an attempt to process the trauma that occurred to them. Sethe in particular uses "rememory" to relive the trauma of killing one of her children to prevent her daughter from ever having to experience slavery.

The narrative is circular in nature and returns to the past multiple times and from multiple angles. This structure is in part caused by the difficulty the characters face in returning to memories that are so traumatic and disorienting in nature. It is only through the process of constantly revisiting these events that former slaves such as Sethe can hope to process them.