The presentation of history
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"Set during the Reconstruction era in 1873, Beloved centers on the powers of memory and history. For the former slaves in the novel, the past is a burden that they desperately and willfully try to forget. Yet for Sethe, the protagonist of the novel, memories of slavery are inescapable. They continue to haunt her, literally, in the spirit of her deceased daughter. Eighteen years earlier, Sethe had murdered this daughter in order to save her from a life of slavery. Morrison borrowed the event from the real story of Margaret Garner, who, like Sethe, escaped from slavery in Kentucky and murdered her child when slave catchers caught up with her in Ohio. Beloved straddles the line between fiction and history; from the experiences of a single family, Morrison creates a powerful commentary on the psychological and historical legacy of slavery.
Part of Morrison’s project in Beloved is to recuperate a history that had been lost to the ravages of forced silences and willed forgetfulness. Morrison writes Sethe’s story with the voices of a people who historically have been denied the power of language. Beloved also contains a didactic element. From Sethe’s experience, we learn that before a stable future can be created, we must confront and understand the “ghosts” of the past. Morrison suggests that, like Sethe, contemporary American readers must confront the history of slavery in order to address its legacy, which manifests itself in ongoing racial discrimination and discord.
Morrison once said that she wanted to help create a canon of black work, noting that black writers too often have to pander to a white audience when they should be able to concentrate on the business of writing instead. Many readers believe Morrison’s novels go a long way toward the establishment of her envisioned tradition. The poetic, elegant style of her writing in Beloved panders to no one. Morrison challenges and requires the reader to accept her on her own terms."