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Toni Morrison’s Beloved – Bold but Unsuccessful

The Bold but Unsuccessful Beloved

Toni Morrison’s fifth novel, Beloved, a vividly unconventional family saga, is set in Ohio in the mid 1880s. By that time slavery had been shattered by the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation and the succeeding constitutional amendments, though daily reality for the freed slaves continued to be a matter of perpetual struggle, not only with segregation and its attendant insults, but the curse of memory.

Morrison’s heroine, Sethe, is literally haunted – by the baby daughter she killed in a gesture of terrible mercy, when threatened with recapture after her escape. Though robbed of friends by the poltergeist, she is living in the survivor’s state of stunned calm until one of her fellow slaves from Kentucky turns up on her doorstep after eighteen years. Paul D Garner, with his special quality of empathy, is “the kind of a man who could walk into a house and make the women cry.”

In the first few hours of his visit he rids Sethe’s house of the poltergeist, makes love to Sethe, and hugely antagonises her teenage daughter, Denver, not only by his interest in her mother, but because the poltergeist was her one companion.
The ghost, however, loses little time in effecting a more solid manifestation, as a young woman runaway whom Sethe shelters, and by whom she comes to be dominated. She gives up her job to be with Beloved and while the girl ghost thrives, she and Denver are reduced to near starvation. It is only when Denver dares to come out of her isolation and invoke the help of the rest of her black community that Beloved can be sent back to her grave and Sethe and Paul D. reunited.

Interwoven with this rather obviously symbo…

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…n her description of her escape from the grave – the hold of a slave-ship seems fleetingly invoked – the detail remains too vague for it to have as powerful and effect as those harrowingly physical journeys undertaken by the flesh-and-blood characters elsewhere in the novel.

As a family saga, ‘Beloved’ is somewhat lop-sided and suffers from gaps. The reader is left with several unanswered questions: what has happened to Sethe’s sons, Howard and Buglar, who though frequently invoked do not appear on stage? What will happen to Denver, whose new life is beginning as the novel ends?

In a ‘Guardian’ interview, Morrison spoke of her reluctance to end the story, and it certainly seems that there is more to be told. It may well be that Beloved’s story will turn out to be the painful, moving, but relatively minor part of a much larger narrative.

Literary Motifs in Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown

Literary Motifs in “Young Goodman Brown”

A literary motif “is a conspicuous element, such as a type of incident, device, reference, or formula, which occurs frequently in works of literature” (Abrams 169). Incredibly, this one tale, “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, contains an array of familiar literary motifs (Axelrod 337).

First of all, the tale involves the common motif of a journey in quest of something. The young Goodman Brown, at the beginning of the story, takes leave of his wife, Faith, in order to journey into the woods where he keeps an appointment with the devil: “My love and my Faith,” replied young Goodman Brown, “of all nights in the year, this one night must I tarry away from thee. My journey, as thou callest it, forth and back again, must needs be done ‘twixt now and sunrise.”

The journey continues circuitously through the narrow paths of the forest (“He had taken a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind.), involving encounters with the devil, Goody Cloyse, Deacon Gookin, the local minister and his wife Faith – all of whom have been on a journey into the deepest part of the woods to attend the annual coven or witch-meeting. After considerable misgiving regarding the journey, Goodman arrives at the end of the hike in the most remote and isolated part of the forest where he and Faith are to be baptized into the devil-worshipping group and thereby learn the evil secrets hidden in the hearts of everyone:

Herein did the Shape of Evil dip his hand, and prepare to lay the mark of baptism upon their foreheads, that they might be partakers of th…

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…e such a thing possible, that he recognized the voices of the minister and Deacon Gookin, jogging along quietly, as they were wont to do, when bound to some ordination or ecclesiastical council. While yet within hearing, one of the riders stopped to pluck a switch.

“Of the two, reverend Sir,” said the voice like the deacon’s, I had rather miss an ordination-dinner than tonight’s meeting.

In conclusion, it is obvious that there is a proliferation of familiar literary motifs in “Young Goodman Brown.”


Abrams, M. H. A Glossary of Literary Terms, 7th ed. New York: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1999.

Axelrod, Rise B. The St. Martin’s Guide to Writing, 2nd ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown.” 1835.

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