KurylloEnglish 12 AP Literature and Composition19 Dec 2017TitleBeloved by Toni Morrison is one of the most complex slave narratives of all time. ***something abt the book in general*** Beloved, a “sophisticated system of motifs”, has one motif in particular that is often overlooked: the color red (Best). Morrison claims herself that the novel has “practically no color whatsoever in its pages, and when there is, it is so stark and remarked upon, it is virtually raw” (Morrison, “Unspeakable” 397). In other words, the presence of color in Beloved literally stands out on the pages.
**add something** Through the motif of the color red, Morrison shows the traumatic effects of slavery. The color red, present in various physical forms, affects the characters so strongly that they often feel voiceless or possessive. One of the simplest ways to see the physical aspect of red in the novel is through the repeated inclusion of blood in descriptions of traumatic events. The most intense scene, and the central trauma of the novel is, naturally, filled with the most intense red imagery (Best). In the moments of Sethe’s infanticide, Morrison uses gory and vivid descriptions of blood. Rather than simply stating that Sethe killed her daughter to protect her from facing life as a slave, Morrison describes Sethe standing in the woodshed in the most gruesome way possible. Diction like “baby blood” that “soaked” Sethe’s “fingers like oil” and “blood pumping” down her dress demonstrates a clear intention by Morrison to leave the reader uneasy (Morrison 6, 177, 179). This is a key example of how the mostly monocolored novel has intense and stark uses of the color red.
**blood – red- stains – just like it stains the reader’s mind and sethes mind for the rest of her life** Sethe, viewed by Schoolteacher as a murderous “nigger woman holding a blood-soaked child with one hand and an infant by the heels in the other” (Morrison 175), is left standing in the woodshed with her daughter’s head literally falling off of her body. From this point forward, Sethe is nothing but a traumatized mother who grieves for her daughter and is shunned by her neighbors. Sethe feels “imprisoned for her deed, not physically but mentally unable to create an ongoing life for herself” (Kubitschek 167). *circles and inability to cope with trauma???*In essence, Sethe is haunted by her infanticidal actions, and is unable to forgive herself.
Sethe feels imprisoned and voiceless. “Clearly in shock, she cannot say a single word during the entire episode. She loses her voice as soon as she sees Schoolteacher’s hat coming towards her up the road.
She does not call out, does not warn any other people present” (Best 1075). Rather than warning the fellow ex-slaves in 124 Bluestone, all she is able to think is, “No. No. Nono. Nonono.” (Morrison 192). Sethe isn’t the only character who is overwhelmed and left voiceless by the situation.
Stamp Paid is described as making “grunting — making low, cat noises” as he stands “stock-still…staring at the same place — a shed” (Morrison 175/Best 1075). Thus, the stain of blood-red in the minds of Sethe, Stamp Paid, and the other witnesses of the infanticide contribute to the idea that red constitutes trauma.
The murder of Sethe’s baby segues into another key example of Morrison’s use of red to signify the traumatic effects of slavery. Shortly after the infanticide, Sethe takes her barely-surviving other daughter, Denver, and nurses her. Here, Denver nurses from the very breast that is smothered in her sister’s fresh blood. “This scene, even more than the ones mentioned before, constructs a close connection between Denver’s consumption of red and her indirect exposure to the horrors of slavery. It ties into a traumatic event which Sethe suffered while she was still a slave and causes a “transmission of trauma” between Sethe and Denver (Best 1080).
During this gruesome breastfeeding event, Baby Suggs attempts to interfere and stop Sethe from nursing her child in such a barbaric way. Morrison writes that Baby Suggs and Sethe were “each struggling for the nursing child. Baby Suggs lost when she slipped in a red puddle and fell. So Denver took her mother’s milk right along with the blood of her sister” (179). Red, seen in the puddle of blood that Baby Suggs slips in, is a clear example of voicelessness. Baby Suggs falls to the ground, unable to control the bloody situation before her, thus leaving her voiceless.
Denver breastfeeding on her sister’s blood is a powerful image of red that signifies trauma which carries through Denver’s life and causes her to develop a possessive personality (Best 1080). Chapter twenty-one most effectively portrays Denver’s possessiveness. The chapter begins with, “Beloved is my sister. I swallowed her blood right along with my mother’s milk”, and ends with. “She’s mine, Beloved.
She’s mine.” (Morrison 242/247). Clearly, the repetition of the word “my” or “mine” is an indication of possessiveness. Denver, who was once possessive and protective over Sethe, is now possessive over her sister. She justifies this with the fact that she is physically connected to Beloved through the consumption of her blood.Denver is not the only character who develops a possessive personality after the traumatic infanticide. The ghost of Beloved takes over Sethe’s life through her possessive, clingy, dominating personality. In one scene, Beloved’s ghost goes so far as to strangle Sethe.
Of course, this scene is coupled with the motif of color and voicelessness. Sethe’s bruised neck is described as, “splotches, gathering color darker than Sethe’s dark throat” (Morrison 114). Bruises, a dark shade of red blood beneath the surface of skin, is another example of color and the motif of red. In addition, Morrison’s diction of “swallow huge draughts of air”, “claws”, “choked”, “strangled”, and “moaned” indicate that Sethe can not speak and is therefore voiceless after her strangulation.The traumatic effects of slavery are depicted in the book through color symbolism. Color acts a visual reminder of Sethe’s past of slavery (Best 1070-1071).
In the scene where Sethe has sex with the engraver in order to get a gravestone for her dead daughter, Sethe has physical contact with the color red. Sethe leans against and prostitutes herself to the engraver in order to have her daughter’s name written on the pink stone, which is “explicitly denoted as a lighter shade of red in her description of the fading color progression starting with her baby’s blood” (Best 1077).Voicelessness is also tied into this scene since Sethe is regretful that she did not have the word “Dearly” engraved, only “Beloved” (1077). She wonders if she continued to have sex with the engraver for just ten minutes more, she could have more.
It is important to notice that as Sethe and the engraver have sex, they are watched by the engraver’s son. Naturally, this makes Sethe feel uncomfortable and voiceless. She had no choice but to have sex with the engraver; she had no control over the situation. “The pink tombstone can be seen as a transitional piece, starting ot as the literally cold and hard reality of slavery along with its consequences and ending up as a metaphorical device which the novel employs to illustrate the process of repression” (1077). In other words, the tombstone is a reminder of the trauma of slavery. It is a reminder of the arrival of Schoolteacher at 124 Bluestone, and the, atleast in Sethe’s mind, necessary infanticide.
It is a haunting memory of her daughter’s death.The trauma of slavery, expressed through red, haunts 124 Bluestone. In fact, when Paul D arrives at 124 Bluestone for the first time, he is overwhelmed by the color red. “Paul D tied his shoes together, hung them over his shoulder and followed her through the door straight into a pool of red and undulating light that locked him where he stood” (Morrison 10). The diction of the word “locked” conveys dramatically that Paul D is left motionless and voiceless by the vibrant red light shining on him as he entered the house. Paul D, who proceeds to back out of the house onto the porch, felt as though he had just walked through “a wave of grief that soaked him so thoroughly he wanted to cry. It seemed a long way to the normal light surrounding the table, but he made it..
.The red was gone but a kind of weeping clung to the air where it had been” (11). The “weeping” and “grief” that clings to the air is the the weeping and clinging grief of Sethe’s dead baby.
The baby’s ghost possesses 124 Bluestone, and even has the power to make it shake. “It took him a while to realize that his legs were not shaking because of worry, but because the floorboards were and the grinding, shoving floor was only part of it. The house itself was pitching” (21). The central idea that Morrison is making is that the infanticidal actions of Sethe traumatize her and haunt her life for decades through the baby’s ghost. ***Is there something interesting to say about the “Blue” in “Bluestone” as part of Morrison’s language of color and a contrast to red?***