Levy was ultimately right in his suggestion that “virtually every major character in Beloved attempts to tell the story of Sethe’s infanticide of Beloved and her subsequent resurrection in a manner that confers power … or at least ensures the continued survival of an embattled black community. ” This can be seen most specifically in memories, thoughts, and conversations of the characters Sethe, Baby Suggs, Denver, Paul D and Beloved. It seems Morrison shows the inherent power struggles of self that is linked to continuation of the black community through telling the story multivocally.
Each voice explores the infanticide and resurrection differently and subsequently reveals different aspect of power of self. Morrison explores this using a range of narrative and literary techniques, including magic realism, shifting focalization, free indirect discourse, while continually moving between the present time and times in the past. Perpetrator of the multivocally told story of infanticide and therefor an outsider to the black community, Sethe places her sense and power of self in Beloved’s resurrection.
Prior to Beloved’s arrival, Sethe believed “the future was a matter of keeping the past at bay. ” The story of the infanticide was one Sethe “could never close in, pin it down for anybody who had to ask. ” So Morrison focalizes the story of the infanticide with most detail through the schoolteacher. Sethe instead tells stories of her past to Beloved, such as Denver’s birth and her mother’s death, even though “every mention of her past life hurt her. ” In this way, Sethe’s self convictions, her power of self, is slowly worn down and transferred to Beloved.
Her life became one based on fulfilling Beloved’s every demand as she tried to “talk, explain, describe how much she had suffered, been through, for her children. ” As Travis proposes, “the novel explores the conflicts of Sethe’s love for her children. ” It is this love that leads her to betray her beliefs of the past. It is not until the black community, encouraged by Denver and the sense that “The future was sunset; the past something to leave behind. And if it didn’t stay that way, well, you might have to stomp it out”, that Sethe was pulled from such an environment.
This act taken on by the black community is one that ensures it’s ongoing survival, including all members of the community to belong. Morrison also achieves an exploration of power through the voice of Baby Suggs, Baby Suggs, who can be viewed as the moral centre of the novel. Once holding a powerful sense of self that is entrenched by the black community, she is lost when abandoned by the community. Morrison, using shifting focalization, gives the reader insight into the position and power Baby Suggs once held in the black community.
A power that enabled the two floored house of 124 to be a “cheerful, buzzing house where Baby Suggs, holy, loved, cautioned, fed, chastised and soother” the community. As Sethe remembers Baby Suggs and her Sundays in the Clearing, the narration shifts from her perception to a monologue of Baby Suggs. “Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face … You got to love it, you! ” Yet the power held by this “unchurched preacher” dissipates soon after the feast at 124, due to the “reckless generosity on display at 124. This internal struggle of the black community to accept such lavishness, such a show of over abundance, leaves them, the community, angry. An internal black struggle that is representative of the wider black struggle in an ultimately white world of the time. As Hison notes of Beloved, “The community denies its propensity to focus its anger and humiliation on its weaker members. The community represses and is unable to identify the violence, white oppression, that is the root of its collapse and entrapment in cycles of violence. The day Baby Suggs died, she tells Sethe and Denver of the lesson life had taught her, a life of sixty years of slavery and ten years of freedom; “There was no bad luck in the world but white people. ” Again reinforcing the wider black struggle in a dominantly white world. Another one of Morrison’s mutlivocal storytellers, Denver does not know the specific details of Sethe’s infanticide, yet explores ideas of power through the relationships she has with the inhabitants of 124. She feeds Beloved with stories of Sethe’s past that inherently confers power to Beloved’s resurrection.
As Denver’s sense of self at the beginning of the novel is embodied in those that surround her, she takes on the role of Beloveds protector to empower herself. She believed Beloved was indeed that baby’s ghost reincarnated, and had returned her “ready to be taken care of. ” Multivocalism is evident in the “short replies or rambling incomplete reveries” Sethe tells Denver, which is then passed onto Beloved. As she does this, Denver finds herself “seeing it now and feeling it- through Beloved. ” Morrison uses of free indirect discourse to achieve this.
Denver’s monologues are coupled with Beloved’s presence, turning them into duets, yet all the while are holding Sethe’s voice. It is Denver’s realization that “The job she started out with, protecting Beloved from Sethe, changed to protecting her mother from Beloved” that ultimately empowers her sense of self. This in turn is what reunites 124’s inhabitants with the black community, ensuring ongoing survival. Through the use of mutlivocally told stories and the resurrection of Beloved, Paul D looses his once strong power of self and black community, and in this manner empowers Beloved.
Ridding 124 of the baby’s ghost, Paul D’s power of self is seen. He tells Sethe “if I’m here with you, with Denver, you can go anywhere you want. Jump, if you want to, ‘cause I’ll catch you, girl. I’ll catch you ‘fore you fall. Go as far inside as you need to, I’ll hold your ankles. ” He enables Sethe with power of self by offering his own, as he tries to build a sense of community within 124. Yet that is soon misplaced with the arrival of Beloved. Requiring the full attention of Sethe, Beloved tries of rid 124 of Paul D. “She moved him … and Paul D didn’t know how to stop it because it looked like he was moving himself. This, coupled Sethe’s infanticide told by Stamp Paid, gave way to the “roaring in Paul D’s head”, leaving him to struggling to find his sense of self. This internal struggle for power is again evident of the wider black struggle of the time that is ultimately due to white predominance of the time. The ‘resurrected’ Beloved gains power of self through the mutlivocal stories of other characters, and in turn empowers the black communities survival. She is introduced in the novel as having walked out of the water “a fully dressed woman”, with little past or history she remembers.
Rimmon-Kenan suggests, “the problem is not that Beloved does not remember the past, but that she does not remember it as a past. ” Morrison uses magic realism to place the character of Beloved, which is taken from Denver and than Sethe’s belief that she is the returned baby of Sethe’s infanticide. Beloved’s self is empowered by stories of Sethe’s past, and takes her place among it. Sethe and Denver soon find the stories become “a way to feed her. ” There are three internal monologues found within the novel, one from Sethe, Denver and Beloved.
While Sethe and Denver’s monologues open with claiming ownership over Beloved, Beloved herself opens with “I am Beloved and she is me. ” This again emphasizes the power Beloved holds, the right of her existence and place in 124 that she feels. To a great extent, the lack of black community in and surrounding 124 is what allows Beloved’s power of self to grow. It is until Denver realizes that “She was not like them. She was wild game” that the black community is called upon for help, there by ensuring the continued survival of such.
Through Morrison’s use of narrative and literary techniques, the story of Beloved’s infanticide and resurrection is indeed told in a way that confers power as suggested by Andrew Levy. These stories being multivocally told, each voice tells of the personal struggle for power of self, which is capable only with the continuation of the black community.