Notes on Beloved Themes

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Beloved Topic Tracking: Memory

Chapter 1 & 2

Memory 1: Baby Suggs discusses the sadness of remembering only scraps and fragments of her eight children. When someone dies or disappears, those who loved that person feel his or her presence with their memories. When there aren't even memories to pay tribute to their existence, it's almost as if they were never really alive.

Memory 2: Denver asks why Paul D and Sethe keep talking about Sweet Home if it was so terrible a place that they had to run away from it. Sethe explains that memories sometimes come back without permission. Memory has a way of sneaking up at the oddest moments and sometimes the memory of a bad thing has elements of goodness in it. Sethe and Paul D remember that Sweet Home wasn't a good place, but the people they knew were good people. In order to picture friends and relatives, they must remember Sweet Home because that's where they knew each other.

Memory 3: Paul D remembers how much he wanted Sethe when she was at Sweet Home, adding to his desire when he arrives at 124. The memory of his desire affects how he looks at her eighteen years later. It's almost as if he's having sex with his memory of her. His desire is fueled by his memory of her.

Chapter 3 & 4

Memory 4: Sethe explains to Denver the power of memories and how they are immortal. Memories have an effect on the present because they change the way we look at the world around us. The power of some experiences can be so strong that it seems that even the memory of it is enough to make the horrible incident happen again. Remembering what happened at a place generations before, if the event was powerful enough, can bring back the horror of what happened. "'The picture is still there, and what's more, if you go there -- you who never was there -- if you go there and stand in the place where it was, it will happen again; it will be there for you, waiting for you. So, Denver, you can't never go there. Never. Because even though it's all over -- over and done with -- it's going to always be there waiting for you.'" Chapter 3, pg. 36

Chapter 7 & 8

Memory 5: Paul D tells Sethe about how Halle went crazy after he saw schoolteacher and his nephews nursing milk from Sethe's breasts. Although she has no memory of this event, the picture of it becomes like a memory in her mind from which she can't get escape. The image she conjures up is just as haunting as her memories of Sweet Home."Why was there nothing it refused? No misery, no regret, no hateful picture too rotten to accept? . . . I don't want to know or have to remember that. I have other things to do: worry, for example, about Denver, about Beloved, about age and sickness not to speak of love. But her brain was not interested in the future. Loaded with the past and hungry for more, it left her no room to imagine, let alone plan for, the next day." Chapter 7, pg. 70

Chapter 9 & 10

Memory 6: Paul D thinks about how survival means not thinking about the past. It means to lock away all the memories; he decides to put them all away and keep the lid closed tightly. Remembering the pain of Sweet Home and his past would only bring him lower; he must forget to survive in the harsh and degrading conditions of Alfred, Georgia. Paul D's memories are significant because he must lock them away and forget about them in order to survive each day without going crazy.

Chapter 11 & 12

Memory 7: Paul D unwittingly opens the box of his memories when he has sex with Beloved. He now must face the horror of the past, fight with it, and bury it again before he can move on.

Chapter 21 & 22

Memory 8: Beloved remembers her life before arriving at 124 in fragmented pictures. The strongest of these pictures is her reaching for a woman's face. She believes this picture signifies a memory of Sethe leaving her. These memories are the basis for her anger and accusations of Sethe's abandonment. Some of the memories she sees aren't her own, though, because she was locked away in a closet for most of her life. Some of the pictures she describes signify memories of other slaves before her. She seems to be a sort of medium for the memories of other lost souls to channel through.

Chapter 23 & 24

Memory 9: Paul D is forced to relive all the moments of the past he has tried to forget. His memories are the story of slave life, and they are brutal. All the things he has spent so much time trying to forget are resurfacing and now he has to face them down before he can find a way to move forward. He has to make peace with his horrible past.

Chapter 25 & 26

Memory 10: Sethe's memory plays a trick on her when she sees Mr. Bodwin driving up to 124 in his wagon. She confuses the past, when schoolteacher came to take them back to Sweet Home, with the present in which Bodwin is coming to take Denver to her first day of work. Because the traumatic memory of schoolteacher is so strong for Sethe, she sees a whiteman at 124 and immediately assumes that he's there to harm her or her children. That's why she rushes at him with the ice pick. This time she's going to kill him instead of her child. In Sethe's mind, the past and present have converged. Her memory of the day schoolteacher came to take her back to Sweet Home is so powerful, a whiteman at the door instantly vaults her mind back to the past, and she is relives the day she killed her daughter.

Memory 11: Beloved is also overcome by the memory of the past when she sees Mr. Bodwin. She believes him to be the whiteman coming for her, and she sees Sethe rush at him and remembers being abandoned again. She believes that the past is recurring in the present, and she runs away to escape it. Her strongest memory has also caused her mind to lapse, believing she is being hunted by a man who is already dead.

Chapter 27 & 28

Memory 12: Because there is no memory of Beloved, it seems that she never existed. Her life is unrecorded and unacknowledged once she is forgotten. As painful as memories often are, they act as a record of life, a mark of existence, and make people and events immortal. Because Beloved is not remembered, she never existed.

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