Please explain the concept of "re-memory" used in Beloved.

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

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The concept of "re-memory" arises in this incredible novel to point out the way in which the legacy of slavery is captured in the emotional and mental scars that the various characters in this novel bear. Again and again, the characters in this text engage in a battle with their memories, choosing to focus on only the good things that happened to them in the past and blocking out all of the bad things. Paul D., for example, has "shut down a generous portion of his head" so that he can ignore memories of Halle and Sixo. Sethe is a character for whom "re-memories" are so strong and vibrant that they almost assume a reality in their own right. Note what she says to Denver:

If you go there and stand in the place where it was, it will happen again.

The character of Beloved has managed to forget all of her past, and Sethe's reaction when she comes to view Beloved as her daugher is particularly interesting, as she was "excited to giddiness by the things she no longer had to remember." This suggests that memories for Sethe are a form of self-inflicted torture for what Sethe did in the past. The novel as a whole seems to suggest that "re-memory" is actually a bad thing, as it depicts Sethe's survival at the end of the text as something that is accomplished through putting the past behind her. The narrator is complicit in this act of forgetting, as she says "Remembering seemed unwise," and so the story of Beloved, one that is "not a story to pass on," is deliberately and consciously forgotten. "Re-memory" is therefore a force against which characters struggle, and which assumes itself in the physical character of Beloved, only to be forgotten and consigned to the past once again.