Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Beloved IV: Biblical Allusions

I would like to conclude my blogging on Beloved by examining some more biblical allusions. I find it fitting because if Morrison chose to begin her novel with one, it seems appropriate to end with a similar tactic.

To begin with, the story of Denver’s birth continually reminded me of the story of the infant Moses being taken down and placed in the river. While there is not a precise textual echo, and Denver does actually stay with her birth mother, both accounts rely on the help of a foreign woman. Also, one could argue that Denver grows up to be a kind of Moses, as she first escapes the prison of 124 (Egypt) and then gathers her people around her to vanquish slavery as it is embodied in Beloved.

Another compelling biblical reference comes in the form of Stamp Paid. We learn that his name used to be Joshua, the name of the character, of course, who in the Bible led the Hebrew people across the Jordan River into the Promised Land. In this text, Stamp Paid functions as a Joshua to Sethe, delivering her through the waters to the “freedom” of Ohio, the Promised Land of life without slavery. In addition, the name of Jesus in Hebrew form (Yeshua) is a derivative of Joshua. Since Jesus is thought to have “paid for our sins,” the name Stamp Paid is quite interesting. He does perform some “saving” activities in the community, though he is not the town’s exclusive “Savior.” To tackle a demon as large as slavery and its aftershock, it takes an entire community.

Lastly, Beloved begins her monologue section with the sentence: “I AM BELOVED and she is mine.” This is a fascinating alteration, I think, of Song of Solomon 6:3 – “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” In that text, the two lovers in question refer to a man and wife, or, metaphorically, perhaps to God and his people. Obviously, Beloved’s declaration is not to a husband, but is it directed towards Sethe? Is she speaking of herself? Is she incorporating all of black experience, particularly female black experience, into herself? I also am intrigued by the capitalization of I AM, since that is the normally accepted rendering of God’s name as revealed to Moses in the book of Exodus, as well as the title Jesus applies to himself in John’s Gospel. Once again, then, we have very appropriate echoes of biblical themes of escape from slavery and salvation.

Beloved III: Parallels

I noticed the following very interesting parallels between Beloved and Saunders’ “Sea Oak.”

Leaving 124, Stamp Paid thinks that “the undecipherable language clamoring around the house was the mumbling of the black and angry dead” (234).

Similarly, in “Sea Oak,” after Aunt Bernie’s second death, the narrator reflects on the story’s strange occurrences, saying “Maybe it happens all the time. Maybe there’s angry dead all over, hiding in rooms, covered with blankets, bossing around their scared, embarrassed relatives” (123-124).

This seems like a deliberate allusion on Saunders’ part, especially since his plot of the irate deceased “bossing around their scared, embarrassed relatives” is exactly what happens in Beloved.

The clincher for me, though, is that Aunt Bernie’s tombstone ultimately contains the phrase: BELOVED AUNT.

While Beloved is an intense examination of black slavery, Saunders uses the same template in a more postmodern and satirical way to open up an examination of another group of people enslaved, not this time by whites but rather by poverty (not that race and socioeconomic status are completely separate entities).

Beloved II: Musings On Title

I am intrigued by the book’s title, especially in relation to Morrison’s epigraph, one portion of which quotes Romans 9:25. Let me repeat that verse here, along with a little bit of its wider context:

“what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory — including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea,
‘Those who were not my people I will call “my people”,
and her who was not beloved I will call “beloved”. ’
‘And in the very place where it was said to them, “You are not my people”,
there they shall be called children of the living God.’ ”

In its original context, these verses are talking about the incorporation of Gentiles into the people of God along with Jews. Taking this with the other portion of Morrison’s epigraph – Sixty Million and more – is instructive. The African American race is also incorporated into the people of God, even in the face of oppressors who deny their humanity. Despite their slavery, “they shall be called children of the living God.” Beloved, then, is more than just an individual; she is representative of the entire black race.

Beloved I (1-86)

To me, the most memorable thing so far is the bladder accident Sethe has when Beloved first appears at their home. If this Beloved is truly the embodiment of her deceased daughter, then how fitting for Sethe to, at this moment, ‘give birth’ again. Sethe even makes a comparison to labor, saying,

“Like a horse, she thought, but as it went on and on she thought, No, more like flooding the boat when Denver was born” (61).

Sethe, however, does not yet suspect that Beloved is actually her daughter, though this happening is a large clue for the reader who wants to see it that way.

I also think it’s interesting that Sethe is worried that Paul D. will come looking for her and find her in such an embarrassing position. If, metaphorically, she is giving birth, and Paul D. is in some ways functioning as a husband, then the occurrence ought to be one of pride for the new father as well. Maybe I’m being anachronistic with that sentiment, what with all the labor and delivery education husbands receive these days. However, the incident still shows the disconnect between Sethe and Paul D. Though he is doing nice things for her, can he ever really understand her?