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memorybel Memory and Desire in Toni Morrison’s Beloved Toni Morrison Beloved Essays

Memory and Desire in Beloved In Toni Morrison’s pitiless fifth novel, Beloved, freedom is defined as ‘not to need permission for desire’, a freedom which is almost unattainable for the characters in this book, with their branded memories of slavery, chain-gangs, lynchings and beatings. Ella, a former slave who has crossed the river to Ohio and a kind of freedom, advises Sethe, a runaway who has just given birth to a baby girl, “If anybody was to ask, I’d say, ‘Don’t love nothing.'” The novel is set in Ohio in the 1880s. The Civil War has been won, slavery has been abolished, but not the memories of it. Morrison, with savage irony, allows Sethe and her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, to recall life under a former ‘good’ slave owner in Kentucky, whose farm was called ‘Sweet Home’ and who treated his men as something other than children or savages. This enlightenment was short-lived. The kindly-disposed slave owner falls on hard times and sells one of his men. Then he dies and Sweet Home becomes a sour hell under a new, sadistic proprietor. (Schoolteacher) Sethe escapes, perilously pregnant, from Kentucky to Ohio, gives birth on the way and when united with her other children tries to kill them when the threat of recapture seems certain. She succeeds in murdering one baby daughter, Beloved, and is able to erect a tombstone for her only by giving herself to the man who carves it. Her services are enough to pay for one word, ‘Beloved’ (rather than the full ‘Dearly Beloved’ of the funeral service) to be carved in the granite. Morrison’s style is both bleak and tender. She writes of the unthinkable without histrionics. Her triumph is that through metaphor, dreams and a saving detachment, she melds horror and beauty into a story that will disturb the mind forever.

Toni Morrison’s Jazz: Joe Trace and The Oedipus Complex

In his psychoanalytic excerpt, “The Oedipus Complex”, Sigmund Freud

ruminates on how children develop bonds with their parents. According to Freud, children develop intimate bonds with parents by adopting the roles and values of the parent whose sex they share. Conversely, the parent of the opposite sex becomes a cherished object of affection. The Oedipus Complex implies that a boy adopts his father’s identity (and roles) in the hope of gaining the affection of his mother. Inevitably, the boy’s attempts to become his father and live out the role of husband/wife between himself and his mother is bound to fail. According to Freud, these futile and misunderstood efforts cause a child to be “in love with the one parent and hat[e] the other” (NA, 919). In other words, the boy envies both his father for the love of his mother and for is own inaccessibility to that love. Freud goes on to list two literary masterpieces whose protagonists exhibit this complex: Hamlet and Oedipus Rex. By superimposing his own psychoanalysis on literary masterpieces, Freud aims to validate his own concepts. Perhaps then it is only fitting that, since the apex of Freudian psychoanalysis, literary writers have been adopting, reassessing, and ultimately modifying Freudian concepts. In Toni Morrison’s novel, Jazz, Joe Trace exhibits typically Oedipal characteristics, but for all the Oedipal tendencies Trace seems to possess, he also has psychological features that seem to go against “The Oedipus Complex”.

While much of Trace’s psychology supports “The Oedipus complex”, those opposing characteristics, apparently engendered by the circumstances of his childhood, function as plausible possibilities indicating the limits of Freudian psychoanalysis, …

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…described in “The Oedipus Complex”.

Just as Freud used literature as a foundation, or backbone, to support his psychoanalytical theories, literary writers have used Freudian psychoanalysis to build upon literature. As a result, novelists, like Toni Morrison, have often adopted and modified Freudian psychoanalysis. Specifically, Joe Trace reveals the possibilities of psychological variation and promotes a case specific reality in which psychological universals, while being relevant, prove to be narrow and limited in assessing the psychological interiors of fictional characters.

English 300 5

Works Cited

Freud, Sigmond. “The Oedipus Complex.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: W. W. Norton Company, 2001. 919-923.

Morrison, Toni. Jazz. New York: First Vintage International Edition, 2004.

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