Today’s post will deviate just a bit from our usual set because we felt that this would be an excellent time to share with you the process that our classes and discussions go through.
The following includes pictures taken by Wendy Faunce, featuring me, Mackenzie Fluharty, and the “Mind Map” I had made on the board during class time as we had our final discussion of the novel Beloved by Toni Morrison, along with my explanation for each part pictured. The discussion began after the class read a few excerpts from Avery Gordon’s chapter on Beloved in her book Ghostly Matters.
NOTE: This post is made upon the assumption that readers have some kind of understanding of Beloved.
During a class discussion earlier in the week (these pictures were taken last Friday, 11/7), we had touched on briefly the implications of the word “mine” in the second part of Morrison’s book. From when Stamp Paid is standing on the threshold of 124, hearing nothing but indistinct voices until he hears on the word “mine”, to how, as Gordon puts it, Sethe, Denver, and even Beloved herself make “Beloved their beloved” by claiming her at the start of the chapters that each of them narrate (Morrison). This claiming of people, of needing to claim each other, was something that I had picked up on during our prior readings.
(For clarity: Outside of and underneath the bubble are the quotes “The ghost is nothing without you” (pulled from Gordon’s chapter on Beloved in her book Ghostly Matters) and “I wish you wouldn’t love so much” (a variant of a quote said by Paul D when he tells Sethe that it’s dangerous to love anything too much) (Morrison). Underneath the word “Mine” on the left is one way that the word itself could be taken to mean, as suggested by Jackson Elfin, that being of “mining” or, alternatively, “grave digging.”)
At the center of the map is the word that started it all; “Mine.” Within the bubble of “Mine” are ideas and quotations and ideas that more directly interact with the word itself. Above the word is the quote I pulled specifically from the excerpt of Gordon’s that helped to ground most of this mind map, that being “[T]hey all make Beloved their beloved.” To the right of that is a section of a quote from Desmond Tutu: “We need other human beings in order to be human. I am because other people are.” Immediately above that quote is something that I pulled from reading a section of Renee Bergland’s The National Uncanny where she talks about, briefly, the spectrality of language and of telling stories. I represented this idea by writing, “I’m sorry I share my ghosts with you” (Bergland). These two quotes help me to ground my understanding of Denver and Sethe’s relationship; Sethe’s past, no matter how much she tries to forget it, how little she talks about it, or how little Denver asks about it, is still very much a part of her present and it casts a kind of several shadows over Denver’s life because of the inherited nature of ghosts and of family history, the latter being especially potent because they are freed slaves living in America in 1873.
From the central bubble branches the four uses or implications that the word had been given over the course of the novel, those being “Naming,” “Power,” “Validation/Ownership,” and “Made Real.”
During the novel, Beloved seduces and sleeps with Paul D who had previously been living in the house with her, Denver, and Sethe. The first time Beloved goes to him, she says to him, “There is no one to want me, to say my name” (Morrison). This was interesting to me because of the idea of naming and how when a person names something he/she claims it and gives it power. I also connected it to the idea of how people do not name themselves. We are given names from the time we are born which we take a kind of pride in; I know that I personally love to tell people about how my name came to be. Along with this came the idea of being named after someone and the importance that is often placed on the “family name.” When a person is told that he/she was named after someone, I feel like there is something taken away from the person, as if he/she isn’t just a “Sarah” anymore but she is every “Sarah” that came before her; similarly, when I say that I am a “Fluharty” I am claiming a group of people with the same last name and am also showing what group of people have a claim on me. Along with that, when slaves were first brought to America, they were told what they would be called, and once/if they were freed, the often took the last name of their masters. Baby Suggs, Sethe’s mother-in-law, knew this in a different way. She didn’t name any of her children, except for her son Halle, because they were taken away from her, sold to other people, who would give them a different name than what she had chosen for them. Paul D was one of at least two other “Pauls” at Sweet Home; the only difference between them was the letter after their first names. Even Sethe’s daughter, Denver, was named after someone else. Baby Suggs, Stamp Paid, and Beloved all deviate from this thread of being named for/by other people by taking control of what others call them; “Baby Suggs” is not her “real” name, neither is “Stamp Paid” his, nor “Beloved” hers, but they each have more power and therefore freedom because they have chosen these names for themselves.
(For clarity: The quote above “Validation” which reads, “People who comfort the dead can also chase after them to hurt them further–a reverse ancestor worship” is taken from the story No Name Woman by Maxine Hong Kingston. I included this quote because I thought it was interesting how Beloved, whom we are to believe is the physical manifestation of the ghost of Sethe’s first daughter, goes to Paul D for a kind of validation through sex because it was Paul D who, at the start of the novel, banishes the ghost from the house. I was not sure, however, as I continued developing my Mind Map how that fit in with the other themes/meanings/connotations given to “Mine” throughout the novel. Due to this, it will not be included in the next section of the discussion. Also, to the left of “Made Real” is the small point of “Rememory” and the sub-point underneath it is a question pulled from a textbook I had to read this year. The question was “Radical Constructivists believe that reality exists in the mind of the learner. If this is true, is there a physical world? Prove it” (Howland, Jonassen, Marra). I will not be incorporating this point into the following discussion either, as I no longer think it applies to it, however it continues to be something that haunts me, no pun intended.)
The connecting phrase between “Power” and “Validation/Ownership” is “People don’t ‘have people'” and “No one belongs to anyone else” (a variation of the line “We belong to no one and no one belongs to us” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s). The outside connection between “Validation/Ownership” and “Made Real” is the phrase “I am because you made me.” All of which can also be tied back to the idea of the importance/power of naming something. Along with this came the idea that, as the image shows, “A place only is once we name it” which plays into the fact the house that the events of the novel take place in is given a “non-name” of 124. This also can go back to something that Sethe tells to Denver when she is brushing her daughter’s hair, which is, “It’s always going to be there waiting for you” because even though a person has power over a place by naming it, the place has power over the person because of the memories, the ghosts, and the “rememories” there. “Rememory” is a word used by Sethe to describe “some things you forget. Other things you never do” (Morrison). She also describes them as something that other people can encounter when they visit a place which ties back into the idea of ghosts being something that is often a shared experience.
The idea of claiming and giving validation to people, whether by literally owning them or by just having a relationship with them, is something that permeates Morrison’s novel, and I hope that my Mind Map and my recording of the discussion has highlighted that idea.
Bergland, Renée L. “Indian Ghosts and American Subjects.” The National Uncanny: Indian Ghosts and American Subjects. Hanover, NH: UP of New England, 2000. 1-22.
Edwards, Blake, dir. Breakfast at Tiffany. Writ. Axelrod Capote. Paramount Pictures, 1961. Film. 14 Nov 2013.
Gordon, Avery. “Beloved.” Ghostly Matters. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1997.
Howland, Jane, David Jonassen, and Rose Marra. Meaningful Learning with Technology. 4th. Pearson, 2011. Print.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. Vintage, 2004. Print.