Choose Your Adventure
Authors develop their stories in different ways to create a particular impression. Approaches they use are discussed in the framework of narratology. This study analyzes plot peculiarities for the readers to understand how the text works. The structure of a story is often altered with the help of jumps forward and backward in the time.
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Morrison, for example, uses analepsis in her Beloved to tell her readers what has happened to her characters in the past through flashbacks. Even though she could have narrated the entire novel in sequential order, she resorted to flashbacks because they provide an opportunity to unexpectedly reveal how the characters are connected, grab the reader’s attention, and ensure their understanding of the described events. Morrison’s novel is written before Beloved is Tar Baby that depicts the romantic relationships between two African-Americans.
The plot of Beloved is rather complex due to the flashbacks that are revealed with the help of storytelling and provide the reader with the opportunity to go back in time for several decades. This approach is mainly used to allow the former slaves to focus on their memories about those painful events that took place in their past. Negative experiences are often repressed by people’s minds. If Morrison had revealed them through simple conversations between her characters, this element would be lost. In Beloved, the stories are told not as whole events but as pieces revealed by different individuals. As a result, readers can obtain an understanding of the same event from different perspectives. They can realize what made the characters act in a particular way and gather pieces of a puzzle to find a complete whole.
Beloved is a novel that is not linear at all, and it can be understood from the very beginning. Almost from the very beginning, a flashback reveals the escape of 13-year-old Howard and Burglar from 124 Bluestone. Then it transforms into other stories, including those connected to Baby Suggs and the entity that haunts 124 Bluestone. Using this technique at the beginning of her novel, Morrison manages to make a profound influence on readers. In this very case, an analepsis allowed her to draw them in.
The text is structured so that readers deal with the information that is separated into different portions that do not stick together because they are associated with diverse events. As a result, they are willing to get to know more about the characters and their experiences. For example, with the description “not only did she have to live out her years in a house palsied by the baby’s fury at having its throat cut…,” the author does not simply reveal the fact that a baby that was murdered is an entity that haunts the house (Morrison 2). She makes readers more interested in the story, encouraging them to wonder who would have cut a baby’s throat and under what circumstances, as well as, why did the baby start haunting 124 Bluestone. Thus, further reading can be promoted through the emphasis made on readers’ curiosity awoken by the analepsis.
Flashbacks can occur not only at the beginning of a text but in any other part. In Beloved, they constantly occur throughout the novel. In this way, readers remain engaged in the past and the present at the same time, which makes it simpler for them to understand the connection between various events and characters. For instance, during the conversation between Beloved and Denver, the first one said: “tell me how Sethe made you in the boat” (Morrison 45). Here, Denver tells the story from Sethe’s point of view but focusing only on some information that she managed to remember. However, when Beloved starts helping her, she already sees and feels everything as if she was Sethe. In this way, the paragraph turns into a flashback.
An intentional loose structure makes the reads wander through the period between 1835 and 1875 even though the majority of the events happen in 1873. In addition to that, flashbacks provide readers with an opportunity to change locations. From 124 Bluestone, they go to Kentucky, the Ohio River, Delaware, and the land outside of Sweet Home. In this way, it becomes possible to see the difference between the slave and the free states and explain the present with the help of the past.
For example, saying that “by 1873, Sethe and her daughter were [the ghost’s] only victims,” the narrator places the main action in a particular year (Morrison 1). However, the following paragraphs are focused on the way Baby Suggs escaped the ghost previously. What is more, when Paul D first sees Sethe, a flashback is used to present his memories and reaction to her arrival more than two decades ago. As they spend time together, they also discuss past events through flashbacks to share experiences at Sweet Home. Beloved is also full of direct flashbacks. For instance, the story of Denver’s birth and recalls on the Plan’s failure are not aligned with any present-day comment.
Further in the text, flashbacks also allowed the author to connect both characters’ present and past. Sitting on the church steps, Paul D recollects some information about his past. The flashback about Sweet Home and his escape from it is introduced in a slightly different manner but has the same purpose and effect as the previously discussed one. Paul D recollects: “Sixo, hitching up the horses, is speaking English again and tells Halle what his Thirty-Mile Woman told him” (Morrison 125). With the beginning of the analepsis, the tense shifts. This is an interesting characteristic of this very moment because it provides an opportunity to differentiate the past and the present. As those events that took place previously become discussed in the present tense, readers start treating them as current ones, which affects the quality of their understanding. Perceiving events as if they resort to real-time, readers immerse in the character’s memories.
At first glance, it seems that understanding the story in the course of reading can make some difficulty. However, it can be noted only about those who crave instant clarity. The plot is not straightforward and not retrospective. It is divided into large blocks of scenes one after another almost chaotically. Nevertheless, it is rather an impression. It becomes evident that such an approach becomes the only possible logic in a person’s life advancing towards insanity. The past of Morrison’s characters affects them greatly that is why readers should experience it not through simple retelling but by engaging in those events through the analepsis. As a result, the understanding of the whole story and the message the author wanted to convey enhances enormously.
The discussed scene has successfully coped with this task because the analepsis provided greater detail than storytelling ever could. In other words, with the help of this analepsis, the author manages to underline the importance of particular events and ensures that readers remain engaged with the past. In this way, readers obtain an opportunity to find out something new about the characters throughout the whole novel. Bits of new information reveal unknown connections between them and amaze readers. The use of the mentioned device provides the author with an opportunity to bridge those events she considers to be critical for the understanding of a particular experience, emotion, and action. Morrison repeats meaningful images as if she heals the wrenched parts of the plot. This narrative strategy reflects important themes through the emphasis, which it puts on them.
The device of analepsis illustrates that some events are never forgotten because the places where they took place did not disappear. That is why the main heroine cannot allow her children to return to the South where she lived because then they would have gone through all the trials that fell to her lot. Morrison uses the specific word of “memory”: “you bump into a memory that belongs to somebody else” (43). It describes and explains this picture, existing simultaneously in the human consciousness and in the reality that does not disappear even after the death of all the people who participated in this event, thus expecting new victims that it can immerse.
All in all, Morrison manages to convey the story she wants to tell because she uses flashbacks and allows readers to combine previously acknowledged information with the information that was obtained recently. Still, she makes this process rather complex as she resorts to the interrelations between the present and the past. This complicity can be discussed in the example of the events that happen when Beloved familiarizes readers with her world. Her real-time stories turn out to be past ones as they took place a day before she arrived at 124 Bluestone.
As a result, the author allows readers to understand where Beloved comes from and why she acts in a particular way. As some pieces of new information can be found throughout the whole novel, readers want to read it again so that they can catch those parts they have missed and fill in all the gaps in the plot. With rare exceptions, Morrison describes relations not between black and white, but only between blacks or their relationships with the community. It is possible to state that the author leads a good literary game, intertwining Negro myths with reality, folk dialect, and cultural speech. The mythical and poetic threads of her chronology are also naturally integrated into the fabric of the novel along with reasoning, allusions, and free quoting.
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In this way, it cannot be denied that even though Morrison uses various elements of narratology in her novel Beloved, the most prominent device is an analepsis. With its help, the author manages to grab readers’ interest and attention and ensures their understanding of the described events and connect with the past throughout the whole text of the novel.
Morrison, Tony. Beloved. Random House, 2014.