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

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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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.