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Beloved Notes Chs. IV – VIII Trees I) Trees have always been a powerful life symbol. Remember back to The Odyssey, where the olive tree is so strongly associated with Odysseus' rebirth or salvation. In Beloved, trees are also a life symbol. Paul D follows the flowering trees to the north, to find freedom; he remembers the trees at Sweet Home as a source of warmth. For Denver, trees (her Bower) seem to be a source of comfort and privacy, but also of isolation. (34- 35). Notice the parallel to the cornfield where Sethe and Halle consummate their marriage: it's only a false privacy (p 32) And they are a symbol of death: The doomed roses and their sickly stench (p 53), the lynching of Sixo at the Sweet home Tree, the 'chokecherry tree' that is the mass of mangled scar tissue on Sethe's back. (Ch 2, 8). I) Okay. Symbols in your face. What do these mean, though, in the larger context? i) The scar, at least, seems to remind us that Sethe is trying to re-invent her past, but failing. The scars cannot become a tree of beauty, as much as she tries, and they seem forever tied to trees that the slaveowners have wrecked, in the same way that she seems unable to face her past in the broader context and create something untainted. ii) Who knows about Paul D. iii) What about Denver's Bower? Her trees nurture her, sure, but they also cut her off. Is she cut off? Apparently. Why? Is she too warped by her past? But she has no past. The Bower, so far, seems like a very ambiguous symbol. The Puzzle of Beloved (Ch V) I) i) Wait. Isn't beloved the ghost? And doesn't Paul D “excorcise” the ghost at ch 2 (24) and 3? So who is this “Beloved” who pops up at the start of Ch 5? ii) I think it's pretty clear that Beloved is some sort of physical manifestation of the ghost. This sort of “magical realism” is quite confusing. Why does TM want to confuse us in this way, or is it simply stylistic? II) Perhaps it is deliberately confusing. Just as life looks good again, and that Sethe might make a future out of her past, her past comes along again. Sethe stubbornly refuses to confront her past – her every day is an attempt to beat back the past. Is this her problem? A woman with no past has no future? But she cannot simply accept the past and move on – then the movement will be affected by the tainted past. So perhaps ths confusion mirrors the confusion about exactly how the past should be treated. III) There's another point that isn't made in the text. How is Sethe supposed to deal with her past in such a way that allows her to 'escape' it? Won't she simply face her past, as a creature shaped by this very past? Won't her reshaping of the past be itself determined by who she is now – a creature shaped by that past? Compare this with Descartes' problem in the “Method”. He wants to rebuild all his beliefs and start afresh – but won't his rebuilding process simply be shaped by his past beliefs? Memory and Identity, again “Anything dead coming back to life hurts” (Ch 3) Both Paul D and Sethe hide from their memories. Paul D becomes half a person, without his past. Sethe spends all her time beating back memory. But the only happiness they get seems to be when they confront each other – their pasts, or at least part of them. Beloved constantly draws the past out of Sethe. And Sethe seems to be unburdened by the act of retelling the past. Would this be possible if Paul D wasn't there to catch her if she falls? (Ch 3) Finally, Denver has no past (that she knows of) and she hungers for it. She hungers especially for stories of her birth. And she embraces Beloved as a sister. Is this a longing for more than simply a past, but a community? The pasts that seem important are the shared pasts, aren't they? There's sort of a meta-theme here also. There is sort of a cultural memory in America, and we have done our best to beat it back at every step. Will the same issues face us as a culture, as we address our past? Language and Humanity. What breaks Paul D and Halle? Inability to speak. Paul D wears a bit. Halle? Perhaps it is his speech, the questions he is asked. Perhaps it's that he views his wife being raped and can say nothing. Sethe complains about her rape (loss of milk?) and is nearly killed. Is the mere act of finally speaking, reclaiming a voice, part of reclaiming humanity? Paul D can only sing about it; Sethe can only stylize her agony (the chokecherry tree).
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