Blog Question 11/16

The book is typically narrated by an omniscient, third-person narrator, but Morrison writes four chapters on pages 236-56 narrated by Sethe, Denver, and Beloved. What is Morrison doing with these shifting perspectives? Beloved narrates in the third person in two consecutive chapters. Why did Morrison write it this way, and what is the significance of lack of punctuation in the first of Beloved’s chapters?


10 Responses to Blog Question 11/16

  1. Siobhan McKenna says:

    I think one reason Morrison does this is so that we can get the inside perspectives of the three women living in 124. As stated on page “Mixed in with the voices surrounding the house… were the thoughts of the women of 124, unspeakable thoughts, unspoken”. In that sense, shifting the narrator for those four chapters allows the reader to learn those unspeakable thoughts that each woman has. It wouldn’t be make much sense for their unspoken thought to be narrated by an omniscient, third-person narrator because that narrator isn’t inside the mind of these women, and these hidden thoughts are not something that can be deciphered just by observing the women from an outside perspective. Therefore, Morrison switches to write from the perspectives of the three women to make it easier for the reader to discover what those unspeakable thoughts actually are, because she wants us to know what those thoughts are.

    As for Beloved’s two chapters of that section, the way I read it and made sense of it is that maybe she is speaking in third person because the ghost Beloved is the one narrating as she watches over her physical self. She says “I would help her but the clouds are in the way” (248), to which I interpreted as her looking down from above on this situation. Also, in later chapters, there is discussion of how Beloved is very similar to Sethe, and the two seem to become one and the same, so I’m not sure if maybe that’s a little what is being addressed here too? Maybe she is also watching over Sethe, and wants nothing more to be reunited with her. Although I’m not entirely sure, as that chapter was definitely one of the most confusing chapters for me. The lack of punctuation seems to just enforce a kind of stream of consciousness. Beloved is just explaining things as she sees and experiences them, and since those experiences, it seems, aren’t entirely clear to her, and all seem to be happening at once, the lack of punctuation, and the stream of consciousness add to the confusion of the whole situation/chapter.

  2. Abigail Gardener says:

    I agree with Siobhan that Morrison writes these pages this way because immediately prior she writes about the “unspeakable thoughts” of the women of 124. The following chapters can then be taken as the unspeakable thoughts of Sethe, Beloved, and Denver. I think it is important that these are included because it gives us insight into the true feelings and motivations of the women. For example, we learn that Denver is actually scared of her mother, scared that Sethe is going to kill her like she killed Beloved. Beloved’s stream of consciousness chapters are the most intriguing and the most confusing. From my perspective, it seems like Beloved is describing her time in a sort of limbo. She is not in life or death, but in a place in between. I think the lack of punctuation signifies her immaturity and her literal youth. Beloved is the ghost of a two-year-old, and does not have words for everything or understand how to speak properly because she never grew old enough to learn. So it makes sense that one of the first times we are given her perspective, it is relatively garbled and it isn’t always clear what she is trying to say.

  3. Noah says:

    What’s really captivating about Morrison’s writing style to me is how unafraid she is to break with convention. I think we’ve already discussed in class how, from a structural standpoint, she zigs when you expect her to zag, and these three chapters with Beloved, Sethe, and Denver are no exception.

    Perhaps one reason that Morrison intentionally changes the perspective and tense of these sections is that she’s trying to signal how important the family dynamic between the three is. Had Beloved not been killed eighteen years before, she would have grown up with Sethe for her mother and Denver for her sister. Entire relationships and histories were forgone because of the Misery, and I think the beginning sentences of each chapter, a variation of “I am Beloved,” depending on perspective, are effectively calling attention to this.

    • sydneyex says:

      I completely agree that Morrison’s appeal is the distinct and unique style she brings to her stories. I think this even further emphasizes her necessity to present first-person narrations – it seems that she simply could not convey the interiority of these characters within the framework of a typical storyline. Therefore, while we highlight her complete lack of adherence to traditional rules of writing, I think her divergence from this classic style is what ultimately allows her work to become as highly acclaimed as it is. It absolutely takes a certain element of innovation and out-of-the-box thinking to craft a storyline that is not necessarily meant to be completely understood and internalized as a reader; as a result, Morrison maintains the ability to craft a novel that stands independent from reader’s interpretations, as we are forced to understand and accept that we our understandings will constantly be complicated.

  4. Sarah Terrazano says:

    I agree with Abigail that the shifting perspectives in this section are a way to see the true thoughts of these women, like the fact that Denver is scared that Sethe is going to kill her like she killed Beloved. It is also interesting to note that in each chapter, each woman is staking a claim to Beloved – they all say something to the effect of, “Beloved is mine.” They each have different reasons for this ownership of sorts, making Beloved into more of a symbol than a person. For Sethe, Beloved’s return shows that the murder has been partially forgiven, and now she can be at peace. For Denver, Beloved is someone she feels the responsibility to protect, and also a “sister come to help me wait for my daddy” (246).

    Beloved’s two chapters are the most disjointed in terms of narrative style. The first chapter describes what seems to be a slave ship crossing the ocean. I think one reason for Beloved’s stream of consciousness format here is to show the impossibility of reconciling something like the Middle Passage, let alone depicting it on a page. It is unclear if the narration is from Beloved the ghost or Beloved the person at 124. But the repetition of “You are mine” throughout this section, especially in the final one, emphasizes that whoever Beloved is, each character has a different claim on her and what she represents to the family.

    • Anonymous says:

      I agree with Sarah, possibly the change in narration is used to give inside into each persons’s relationship with beloved, with the house and with each other. An omniscient narrator would not be able to convey feelings and thoughts as powerfully. I also think that giving each women a voice is a black feminist practice because often black women are not allowed to speak for themselves and tell there stories. They are the ghost in the machines yhat everyone needs to use but never talks about.

    • Laura Katz says:

      I agree with Sarah, possibly the change in narration is used to give inside into each persons’s relationship with beloved, with the house and with each other. An omniscient narrator would not be able to convey feelings and thoughts as powerfully. I also think that giving each women a voice is a black feminist practice because often black women are not allowed to speak for themselves and tell there stories. They are the ghost in the machines yhat everyone needs to use but never talks about.

  5. Ryan Spencer says:

    I agree with a lot of what other people are saying here. These chapters are certainly giving us insight into “unspeakable thoughts, unspoken” by placing us, quite literally, in the minds of these characters. I think it is important to note that not only do these chapters change in tense but they lose progressive plot action. They are not so much a narration by these characters of the story itself but a reflection on the past. There is no singular setting in these other than the character’s mind. There is little or no physical action by the characters and no real passage of time. In short, these chapters seem to serve as a reflection by the characters on their own life and situation. Throughout the novel we’ve been able to draw our own judgement about actions but these sections serve to provide personal judgement of the characters about their actions and other’s actions.

    Furthermore, I think the lack of punctuation in Beloved’s section juxtaposes it physically with the other character’s sections. Where there is an (over)abundance of periods in Denver and Sethe’s sections, there is a lack of periods in Beloved’s section. The period is literally an end stop. Indicative of an end. Beloved is something un-ended. Un-ended by the ending we know as death. This is indicated very literally by Morrison through the use (in Sethe and Dever’s case) of periods and the lack of use (in Beloved’s case) of periods.

  6. Aly Thomas says:

    These shifting perspectives are powerful to me because we get more access to the interiority of Sethe, Denver, and Beloved, in a specific way about how they feel about the current situation, and of Sethe killing her baby. It is powerful to see the ways they love each other and to be introduced to Beloved and Denver’s fears, and that they are waiting for Halle. In Beloved’s chapter, the lack of punctuation seems to signal the natural and emotional flow of thoughts. I’m also thinking back to The Bluest Eye and wondering if how we talked about the Dick and Jane story might have some relevance here?

  7. LaShawn Simmons says:

    As stated before, the multiple perspectives in this text renders complexity to the characters as we are only presented initially through a narrator. To add to this post would be repeating all of the insightful elements contributed to this blog. I also want to talk about Morrison’s bold decision to a writing a story through multiple perspectives. This task often makes writing for the author hard though it comes with so many rewards when executed gracefully. This is especially true considering the fact Beloved won so many awards including the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988. It is extremely hard to achieve this task while captivating the audience. As many of you stated, reading Beloved’s parts were one of most challenging chapters of the book. There are very intense themes in this novel including the topic and fragility of masculinity, approaching these topics through a narrator as stated before is not enough. Readers in this text for example, have opportunity to gain diverse and complicated concepts outside of the surface level. Paul D’s story for example offers validity to the character’s actions. The other perspective also restores agency, this is especially true with Denver as we watch her mature in to an independent woman. The multiple perspectives highlights the inner self of each character that would other wise be invisible.

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