. . [I]f you go there—you who was never there—if you go there and
stand in the place where it was, it will happen again; it will be
there, waiting for you . . . [E]ven though it’s all over—over and
done with—it’s going to always be there waiting for you.
This passage is from Chapter 3.
In her “emerald closet,” Denver remembers what Sethe once told about
the indestructible nature of the past. According to Sethe’s theory
of time, past traumas continue to reenact themselves indefinitely,
so it is possible to stumble into someone else’s unhappy memory.
Accordingly, although Sethe describes for Denver what “was,” she
turns to the future tense and tells her that the past will “always
be there waiting for you.” Sethe pictures the past as a physical
presence, something that is “there,” that fills a space. Beloved’s
arrival confirms this notion of history’s corporeality.
The force of the past is evident even in the difficulty
Sethe has speaking about it. She stutters, backtracks, and repeats
herself as though mere words cannot do justice to her subject matter.
Even in this passage, as she warns Denver against the inescapability
of the past, Sethe enacts and illustrates the very phenomenon she describes.
She repeats her warning several times in a manner that demonstrates
the recurrence of ideas and her inability to leave past thoughts
behind. Sethe’s warnings are the main cause of Denver’s fears of
leaving 124 and of the community. Only in
Chapter 26 does Denver finally venture out
alone. She realizes that even if she succeeds in preventing chance
encounters with the past, the past may nevertheless actively begin
to come after her.