How is syntax used in Beloved?  

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Toni Morrison uses non-standard English syntax in Beloved. "Syntax" refers to the order of words and phrases used to make sentences. Many of the characters use non-standard or disordered syntax, and much of the narration in the novel is told with non-standard syntax. For example, in Chapter One, the house in which Sethe and her daughter live is described in the following way:

"It had been a long time since anybody (good-willed whitewoman, preacher, speaker or newspaperman) sat at their table, their sympathetic voices called liar by the revulsion in their eyes. For twelve years, long before Grandma Baby died, there had been no visitors of any sort and certainly no friends. No coloredpeople. Certainly no hazelnut man with too long hair and no notebook, no charcoal, no oranges, no questions" (page 7; page numbers may vary according to the edition).

In this passage, Sethe's house is described as empty in a very interesting, fractured way. The syntax in the book is disordered in part to replicate dialogue and the way people in the book, brought up mostly as slaves, would speak. Some sentences are not full sentences but fragments to show the way people might have told this story orally rather than in writing. In addition, the confused syntax expresses the confusion and disorderly nature of the characters' world. The African-American characters in the book are all affected by slavery, a horror that created lives that aren't orderly or neat. The characters' language and syntax reflect their life experiences in a cruel and disorderly world.

pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Toni Morrison uses language to express the culture of the black community.

"In Beloved, Morrison makes use of idiom to help re-create the sense of a specific community, that of African Americans in Reconstruction Ohio. When the characters use words like "ain't" and "reckon" and phrases like "sit down a spell," it helps place their characters within that community."

"One particularly interesting example of this idiom is the way in which it describes people of different races. In compound words such as "whitegirl," "blackman," and "coloredpeople," a person's race is actually part of the word that describes them."