Beloved

by: Toni Morrison

The Past

1

“Not a house in the country ain’t packed to its rafters with some dead Negro’s grief.”

Baby Suggs declares that there is no reason to move away from 124 to get away from the baby ghost because no matter where they go, she or another black ghost will still haunt them. Her words attest to the baggage that she and the other characters who have lived under slavery carried with them from the South into Cincinnati. While Baby Suggs, Sethe, Stamp Paid, and Paul D escape their lives as slaves and take on the trappings of free people, they can’t escape their sorrowful past—they can only try to live with it.

2

“No, I think he’s dead. It’s not being sure that keeps him alive.”

When Paul D arrives at 124, Sethe explains that while she thinks Halle is dead, she can’t be sure, which means he occupies a nebulous spot neither in the present nor in the past. In a sense, Halle and his fate are haunting Sethe. He ties her to the past, and even though she does not expect him to return to her ever, her uncertainty prevents her from moving into a Halle-less future. Sethe’s complex ties to Halle symbolize the role that the past plays for Sethe. She is not only haunted by the past but her previous experiences hold her static in her present-day life.

3

It amazed Sethe (as much as it pleased Beloved) because every mention of her past life hurt. Everything in it was painful or lost.

The narrator explains that when Beloved comes to 124, she wants to hear her mother’s stories, which discomfits Sethe because she would prefer not to resurrect the past. The irony is that even though Sethe does not want to talk about the past, she lives with it everyday. Denver doesn’t leave the house because of Sethe’s past crime. Sethe has no friends because she broke with her community over what happened in the past. Sethe even negates any of the joy she once had with Halle or her friends at Sweet Home. At this point in the book, Sethe lets her offenses of the past define her.

4

“Sethe,” he says, “me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow.”

Paul D implores Sethe to stop dwelling on the sorrow and horror in her past, particularly all the ways she has failed those she loved. He finds the strength to confront his past and make some kind of peace with it, and he wants the same for Sethe. Paul D acknowledges that the past will always be part of his story but he holds out hope to Sethe that they can build a new future. Paul D made a specific choice to move forward even if that means opening his heart up again, and he wants Sethe to do the same.