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.

3 comments:

  1. Excellent connections--I'm so glad you brought these up both here and in class!

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  2. Well, I did almost 2 years in seminary but never finished, so I'm glad I can put it to good use somewhere.

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