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Dara Miller

ENG 615
Dr. Laura Dawkins
21 March 2011
Not Even Past: The cars o! "istor# in Morrison$s Beloved an% &h#s$ Wide Sargasso Sea
'ccor%in( to outhern author )illia* +aulkner, -The .ast is never %ea%. /n !act, it$s not
even .ast.0 'lthou(h Toni Morrison$s Beloved an% 1ean &h#s$ Wide Sargasso Sea %eal with
vastl# %i!!erent stor# lines 22 Beloved chronicles the heartache o! a 3roken !a*il# in the
a!ter*ath o! '*erican slaver#, while &h#s$ work e4.oun%s on the un!ortunate histor# o! Jane
Eyres 5ertha &ochester 22 the conce.t o! the ever2.resent .ast haunts the .a(es o! 3oth. /n 3oth
works, the e!!ects o! the collective o..ression o! the .ast !i(ures %irectl# in the .ersonal
tra(e%ies o! the .resent. +or Morrison$s characters, the sha%ow o! slaver# an% its atrocities
*ani!ests itsel! in a veno*ous (host so .ower!ul it is a3le to take on hu*an !or*. +or &h#s$
'ntoinette, her ina%vertent association with the hate% colonialists in .ost2colonial 1a*aica
alienates her !ro* an# true sense o! i%entit# or ho*e. The %a*a(es !ro* the .ast see. al*ost
continuousl# throu(h the lives o! the *ain characters in 3oth novels6 it is onl# throu(h !inal
acknowle%(e*ent o! their trau*as that the .ri*ar# characters *ana(e to (ras. a tre*ulous hol%
over their own i%entities. /n 3oth Beloved an% Wide Sargasso Sea, the !inal con!rontations with
the sorrows o! the .ast serve as a catal#st !or (rowth.
/n Beloved, the characters are .la(ue% not onl# 3# .ersonal trau*a, 3ut 3# the
un*ana(ea3le wei(ht o! the collective trau*a o! the '*erican slave. The *#sterious character
o! 5elove% hol%s within her .erha.s2(hostl# !or* all the *ulti.licities o! .ast trau*as !or the
characters in the novel. "er interactions with the %i!!erent serve as the i*.etus !or the
-re*e*or#0 that takes .lace not onl# !or ethe, 3ut also !or Paul D., Denver, an% 5elove%
hersel!, an% it is onl# throu(h this .rocess o! re*e*3erin( their !ra(*ents .asts that the
characters are !inall# a3le to work towar%s a sense o! closure an% (rowth. "er *ani!estation,
even thou(h it is -not a stor# to .ass on,0 3eco*es the onl# wa# the others can !in% to *ove .ast
their own an% their collective histor#. 5elove% there!ore 3eco*es a !i(ure u.on which al*ost
an# tra(e%# can 3e .ro7ecte%. +or ethe, she is the secon%2chance %au(hter, 3ack !or 3oth
reven(e an% reconciliation6 !or Paul D., she is the unnervin( !orce that .ries o.en a to3acco2tin
heart6 !or Denver, she is the rival that !orces her to !inall# take on a%ult res.onsi3ilit#6 !or
hersel!, she is all o! these an% *ore. 5elove%$s co*.le4 e4istence e*3o%ies not onl# the
re!lection o! her !a*il#$s .ersonal trau*as, 3ut .erha.s *ost i*.ortantl# the re!lection o! the
collective e4.erience o! slaver#.
't 5elove%$s a..earance, the co**unit# initiall# s.eculates that she coul% .ossi3l# have
esca.e% !ro* white *en who ha% ke.t her in a cruel ca.tivit#, %e.rive% o! an# real chance o!
%evelo.in( co**unication or social skills. )ith this inter.retation in *in%, 5elove% hersel!
coul% 3e seen as a victi* o! racis*6 however, her su.ernatural .resence in the novel cannot 3e
co*.letel# rationali8e% awa#. /n 5elove%$s own strea* o! consciousness narration o! her
.ersonal histor#, the rea%ers catch a !ra(*ente% (li*.se o! the histor# o! slaver#$s 3rutalit#
throu(h the %escri.tion o! a ni(ht*are2like state o! sus.ension 5elove% %escri3es as her .revious
e4istence:
...there will never 3e a ti*e when / a* not crouchin( too / a* alwa#s crouchin(the
*an on *# !ace is %ea%...so*e who eat nast# the*selves / %o not eat...s*all rats
%o not wait !or us to slee. so*eone is thrashin( 3ut there is no roo* to %o it ini!
we ha% *ore water we coul% *ake tears...we are all tr#in( to leave our 3o%ies
3ehin%... 9Morrison 210:
This narration o! a collective e4.erience is re*iniscent o! the chronicles o! trau*atic slave shi.
vo#a(es across the Mi%%le Passa(e. 'ccor%in( to Dennis ;hil%s in his article -<=ou 'in$t een
Nothin$ =et0: Beloved, the '*erican ;hain Gan(, an% the Mi%%le Passa(e &e*i4, 0 5elove%$s
internal %ialo(ue %irectl# .arallels the 1>?? testi*on# o! &everen% 1ohn Newton, who %escri3e%
the %e.lora3le con%itions o! slaves stacke% on to. o! one another 22 even a*on( the %ea% 22 an%
o!ten %riven to eatin( their own e4cre*ent 9>:.
5elove%$s s#*3olic !unction as a re.resentation o! collective trau*a is evi%ent not onl#
throu(h this re!lection o! actual .ractices, 3ut also throu(h the 3roken s#nta4 o! this .assa(e.
'!ter her initial state*ent, -/ a* 5elove% an% she is *ine,0 her thou(hts !low !orth in a
continuous chain, 3roken onl# 3# .auses o! white s.ace. The e!!ect o! this shi!t in st#le !orces
the rea%er to listen to 5elove%$s own -re*e*or#0 in (as.s, as i! she was (ul.in( !or air or the
stren(th to continue. The !act that the .assa(e lacks the conclusive en% o! .unctuation creates the
vision o! her ni(ht*are as a never2en%in( re.etition in her *in% 2 -a hot thin(0 that *ust 3e
en%ure% 3# not onl# her, 3ut 3# an#one connecte% to the '!rican slaver# e4.erience.
i*ilarl#, 'ntoinette$s character in Wide Sargasso Sea also stan%s as a s#*3ol o!
historical trau*a. "owever, her trau*a %oes not ste* !ro* a histor# as one o! the o..resse%, 3ut
rather as one o! the o..ressors. 'ntoinette$s !a*il#, as a %eca#in( re.resentation o! white
colonialis* in a!ter*ath wake o! '!ro2;ari33ean e*anci.ation, su!!ers !ro* a con!use% sense o!
i%entit# in the new or%er o! the islan%. '!ter the %eath o! Mr. ;oswa#, 'ntoinette an% her *other
are le!t with little *ore than the stin(in( re*e*3rance o! how thin(s use% to 3e6 with their
wealth stri..e% awa#, the# 3eco*e the new victi*s o! the colonialist s#ste*. )here the# were
once 9even i! resent!ull#: res.ecte%, the# are now revile%, an% the .e7orative 3urn o! 3ein(
la3ele% a -white cockroach0 !ollows 'ntoinette throu(hout the novel. This reconstruction o! the
social nor* also involve% a -rhetorical e4ercise in recon!i(urin( 3lack2white relations...the ter*
-white ni((er0 @is use% as anA insult that conve#s the 1a*aican 5lack ;reole co**unit#$s
%isa..roval o! a...character$s 3ehavior0 9"alloran ?B:. The straine% relationshi.s 3etween the
islan%ers an% 'ntoinette an% her !a*il# ulti*atel# lea% to the tra(e%# that 3ereaves her o! 3oth
her *other an% her sense o! i%entit#.
'ntoinette$s stru((le to reclai* her racial an% .ersonal i%entit# is .erha.s 3est illustrate%
throu(h her relationshi. with Tia. /nitiall#, she i%enti!ies with Tia, an% views the* as 3oth eCuals
an% !rien%s6 however, the racial .re7u%ices o! the a%ult (eneration soon see. into their !rien%shi.,
with Tia$s reali8ation that -Dl% ti*e white .eo.le nothin( 3ut white ni((er now, an% 3lack
ni((er 3etter than white ni((er,0 9&h#s 2E:. Des.ite Tia$s ulti*ate re7ection o! their !rien%shi.,
'ntoinette continues to i%enti!# with her throu(hout the novel, as she sees in Tia a re!lection o!
the islan% .ersona she !eels that she e*3o%ies. "er association with the wil%ness o! nature an%
close ties to the realit# o! the islan% alienates her !ro* her hus3an%, while her herita(e alienates
her !ro* ever trul# 3elon(in( to the islan%, leavin( her to won%er -who / a* an% where is *#
countr# an% where %o / 3elon( an% wh# was / ever 3orn at all,0 9&h#s 102:. This voi% o! i%entit#
lea%s her to i%enti!# with the onl# conce.t she can (ras. on to 2 the love o! her hus3an%. )ith his
eventual re7ection, her last (ras. !or her i%entit# is shattere%, an% she is le!t wan%erin(, (host2
like, in the -car%3oar% house...@that isA not En(lan%0 9&h#s 1?1:. "er !atal 7u*. is .ro*.te%, not
3# a suici%al ten%enc#, 3ut 3# the *e*or# o! Tia, li(hthearte% an% !ree in the .ool at ;ouli3ri. /n
her choice to *er(e her i%entit# with the *e*or# o! Tia$s, she a3an%ons an# connection with the
En(lish worl% an% !in%s a tra(ic re%e*.tion !or her .ast trau*a.
/n 3oth Beloved an% Wide Sargasso Sea, the .rota(onists stru((le a(ainst .ersonal
trau*as that are create% 3# the historical conte4ts o! their settin(s. The i**ense tra(e%ies o!
'*erican slaver# are .resent throu(hout the .ersonal histories intertwine% in Beloved, !ro* the
characteri8ation o! 5elove% as a re.resentative !or the collective slave e4.erience to the ver#
.ersonal trau*a o! ethe$s choice to *ur%er her %au(hter to save her !ro* li!e as a slave. Wide
Sargasso Sea, thou(h set in a vastl# %i!!erent worl%, still also e4.lore% the co*.le4ities o! race
relations an% the %a*a(e that it can in!lict. Throu(hout 3oth novels, the scars o! the collective
i%entit# %irectl# correlate to the i%entities o! the characters6 althou(h in a sense 3oth o! these are
stories -not to 3e tol%,0 it is their tellin( that 3rin(s to li(ht the stru((les o! .ersonal crisis in the
sche*e o! historical u.heaval.
)orks ;ite%
;hil%s, Dennis. -<=ou 'in$t een Nothin$ =et0: Beloved, the '*erican ;hain Gan(, an% the
Mi%%le Passa(e &e*i4.0 American Quarterly 61.2 9200B:: >
"alloran, Fivian Nun. -&ace, ;reole, an% National /%entit# in &h#s$s Wide Sargasso Sea an%
Philli.s$s Cambridge.0 Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal o Criticism 21 (2006): 89
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New =ork: Pen(uin 5ooks, 1B??.
&h#s, 1ean. Wide Sargasso Sea. New =ork: ).). Norton G ;o, 1B?2.