Beloved Essay, Research Paper
Beloved in Light of Flannery O Connor s Essay
Flannery O Connor lectures, in her essay on the virtues and vices of writing a novel. In her essay, she describes those certain characteristics in good literature. Toni Morrison s novel, Beloved can be examined in light of Flannery O Connor s ideas on the characteristics of good literature. Among these characteristics are the role of imagery in literature, meaning as it pertains to an experience, and a sense that the story is unfolding around them. Beloved meets the first two of these characteristics, but it fails to conquer the third.
The first characteristic is imagery in literature. Beloved is a novel rich with imagery and symbolism. O Connor says in her essay that imagery is what gives a story depth. Imagery, according to O Connor, is supposed to take the reader s mind to depths that the book s symbols naturally suggest. The images, which portray the power of human love in Beloved, do, in fact, take the reader s mind to greater depths. Not only is the reader exposed to the superficial plot of the novel, but through images such as the touch between two people or the tin can that is Paul D s heart, the reader is able to experience an added depth to the novel. In this fashion, Morrison accomplishes the criteria, which O Connor sets. O Connor goes on to explain in her essay that a good novel is able to give the reader true symbols, which open up a deeper meaning. The symbols in Beloved, such as blood and the life giving milk from a mother s breast, are intrinsic to humanity. The symbols they represent, death and life, are intrinsic to the human spirit.
O Connor also says that these symbols must naturally suggest their meanings. Images in Beloved are naturally linked to that which they represent. The blood combined with breast milk is a powerful image, which naturally evokes the reader into seeing that which it represents. Blood represents death and is commonly associated with death. In this case, death is linked to not only Beloved, the baby, but it is also correlated to humanity as a whole. Death is natural, and humans are exposed to death in life. This image fits into O Connor s criteria of being natural. Breast milk representing life is also natural. All mammals, not just humans, naturally give milk to their young. Without the milk the babies would not survive. Therefore, breast milk as a symbol for life is also naturally correlated in the novel. Morrison, through her images, links ideas such as these naturally, which meets O Connor s ideals.
A second characteristic, which O Connor has ideals on, is meaning as it pertains to an experience. O Connor suggests that the meaning of a story is the story itself. According to O Connor, the whole story is the meaning, because it is an experience, not an abstraction. In light of this, Morrison accomplishes the task, which O Connor places. Beloved, the novel is meaning. The experience the reader feels because of the novel is the meaning, which the book conveys. One cannot help but to feel for Sethe and Denver. These feelings are the experience that the book conveys to the reader. Meaning comes from the fact that these characters are human. Even Beloved, herself, is a reincarnated person. The emotions the reader feels while reading the novel only add to the experience. The meaning attained from these experiences forces non- apathetic readers to reflect on the situations that these humans face. The harsh realization comes from the fact that humans during this era were forced to undergo these extreme situations. Humanity is the bond, which allows for the novel to become an experience rather than an abstraction. Granted, on the surface, the idea of a reincarnate person would figure to be an abstraction, but upon true reflection, the reader cannot help but feel that Beloved is a human, and at one time, she was also a baby murdered before she could live. Death and life in humanity make the experience meaning, not an abstraction.
The third characteristic, which O Connor puts forth is having a sense that the story is unfolding around you. She suggests the fiction relies heavily on drama, and it must be presented rather than reported. In this light, Morrison fails to accomplish the task. Beloved is not unfolding around the reader. While the reader does experience the novel through the bond of humanity, the novel itself does not envelop the reader. The style, which Morrison uses, lends itself to be more a report than a representation. The vagueness, between time periods in the novel, prevents the reader from achieving a sort of solid foundation from which to be enveloped by the novel. Instead, by going back and forth between time periods the reader feels the facts of the story reported little by little rather than having the novel, itself, unfold to the reader. Also, in accordance with O Connor s ideals, drama is supposed to be an element of good fiction literature. The constant shift in time periods prevents the novel from gaining any momentum in the drama it needs. Instead, the shift causes an anti- climactic effect, which dilutes the drama, instead of contributing to it. O Connor says, novel as an art form has developed in the direction of dramatic unity. Beloved lacks the dramatic unity, which O Connor mentions. This, again, is due to the consistency and vagueness in the shift of time periods.
Besides this final characteristic, Morrison s novel, Beloved, fits into the mold, which O Connor sets forth. Beloved does, indeed, use natural imagery and symbolism to create new depths to the novel. It also does convey meaning through experience rather than abstraction, but it fails to unfold the story around the reader and present it rather than report it. Toni Morrison s novel, according to the criteria set forth by O Connor, meets the requirements for good fiction. However, the shift in time periods or more exactly the vagueness of the shift detracts from the drama of the novel as well as its ability to unfold around the reader.