The Role Of Trees In Toni Morrison

’s Beloved Essay, Research Paper

Nature often times represent a unique calmness. Toni Morrison doesn t make anyexceptions to this idea. In her novel Beloved, Toni Morrison uses trees to symbolize comfort, protection and peace. Morrison uses trees throughout Beloved to emphasize theserenity that the natural world offers. Many black characters, and some white and Native American characters, refer to trees as offering calm, healing and escape, thusconveying Morrison s message that trees bring peace. Besides using the novel scharacters to convey her message, Morrison herself displays and shows the good andcalmness that trees represent in the tree imagery in her narration. Toni Morrison usestrees and characters responses to them to show that when one lives through an ordeal ashorrible as slavery, one will naturally find comfort in the simple or seemingly harmlessaspects of life, such as nature and especially trees. With the tree s symbolism of escape and peace, Morrison uses her characters references to their serenity and soothing nature as messages that only in nature couldthese oppressed people find comfort and escape from unwanted thoughts. Almost everyone of Morrison s characters find refuge in trees and nature, especially the maincharacters such as Sethe and Paul D. During Sethe s time in slavery, she has witnessedmany gruesome and horrible events that blacks endure such as whippings and lynchings.However, Sethe seemingly chooses to remember the sight of sycamore trees over thesight of lynched boys, thus revealing her comfort in a tree s presence, Boys hanging from the most beautiful sycamores in the world. It shamed her-remembering the wonderful soughing trees rather than the boys. Try as she might tomake it otherwise, the sycamores beat out the children every time and she could notforgive her memory for that. (6) Although Sethe wishes she would ve remembered the boys instead, she probablyrationalized this thought because when she asks Paul D about news of Halle, she picturesthe sycamores instead of the possibility that Halle has been lynched: I wouldn t have toask about him would I? You d tell me if there was anything to tell, wouldn t you? Sethelooked down at her feet and saw again the sycamores (8). When Schoolteacher whipsSethe, leaving her back leathery with scars, she refers to the scar as a chokecherry tree tosoothe and to lessen the physically and emotional pain that the scar represents: Butthat s what she said it looked like, A chokecherry tree. Trunk, branches and even leaves.Tiny little chokecherry leaves (16). While Sethe thinks of trees to heal and calm herpain and suffering, Paul D directly looks for physically real trees as his escape fromeveryday slave life. During Paul D s time in slavery, he chose to love trees for their comfort and calmqualities: … trees were inviting; things you could trust and be near; talk to if you wantedto as he frequently did since way back when he took the midday meal in the fields ofSweet Home (21). Because of these qualities, Paul D chose one particular tree, largerand more inviting than other trees, to always return to. A tree which he named Brother and a tree that listened and comforted and was always there. But most importantly,Brother represents the comforting escape from slavery which Paul D didn t and doesn thave: His choice he called Brother, and sat under it, alone sometimes. Sometimes withHalle or the other Pauls… (21). After a long day working in the fields, Paul D wouldrest, often times under the towering but comforting presence of Brother with Halle, thePauls and Sixo: He, Sixo and both of the Pauls sat under Brother pouring water from agourd over their heads… (27). Not only do trees represent comfort, they also represent aplace of security, a place for escape from slave life. When Sixo visits the Thirty-MileWoman, he escapes into the secure woods before her master could catch him: But Sixohad already melted into the woods before the lash could unfurl itself on his indigobehind (25). While Paul D sits under Brother to find comfort, Sixo enters the woods atnight to dance, escape slave life and to keep his culture: Sixo went among the trees atnight. For dancing, he said, to keep his bloodlines open, he said (25). Even Beloved, thestrange human apparition of the Crawling Already Baby, seemingly finds comfort withtrees when she appears in the real world: She barely gained the dry bank of the streambefore she sat down and leaned against a mulberry tree (50). Morrison s characters referto trees for comfort, escape and safety, thus conveying Morrison s message. While the main significant characters refer to the trees serenity and comfort,characters with lesser significance or lesser prominence in Beloved also refer to trees,not to themselves though, to convey the message that nature helps provide comfort andescape. Amy Denver, the whitewoman who had helped Sethe through labor only appearsonce in the book during Denver s story. Although she only appears once, her treereference to Sethe s scarred back helps soothe Sethe s physical and mental pain: It s a tree Lu. See, here s the trunk- it s red and split open, full of sap, and this here s theparting for the branches. You got a mighty a lot of branches. Leaves, too, look like, anddern if these ain t blossoms. Tiny little cherry tree blossoms, just as white. Your back gota whole tree on it. In bloom. (79) Amy Denver uses a euphemism for Sethe s scar, calling it a chokecherry tree to ease thepain and memory that the scar brings. The image of a chokecherry tree brings spring,bloom and peaceful nature instead of the shame, pain and sadness that the scar trulyrepresents. Trying to ease Sethe s pain some more, Amy Denver searches for spiderwebs,

another product of mother nature, to drape over Sethe s tree to cool the pain and tothen refer to the scar as a Christmas tree to conjure images of peace and happiness totake Sethe s mind off her pain and suffering: Amy returned with two palmfuls of web,which she cleaned of prey and then draped on Sethe s back, saying it was like stringing atree for Christmas (80). While the whitewoman Amy Denver aided Sethe, a group ofCherokee Indians helped Paul D to his freedom. When Paul D escapes from Alfred,Georgia, the Cherokees tell him to follow cherry blossoms to freedom and escape fromAlfred, Georgia: That way, he said, pointing. Follow the tree flowers, he said. Onlythe tree flowers. As they go, you go. You will be where you want to be when they aregone (112). Nature brings a certain calmness to life and the characters references to treessupport this idea. While Morrison relies on her characters references to trees to conveyher message, she herself indirectly reiterates her point by using symbolic tree imagery inher narration. In her description of the path to the clearing, Morrison describes droopingtrees as if they represented towering guards seemingly bringing serenity and security to aonce sacred place: The old path was a track now, but still arched over with treesdrooping buckeyes onto the grass below (89). The mere image of draping branches overthe path to the clearing implies the security that trees bring. And to further her point,Morrison subtlety implies the sin of cutting down soothing, calming trees by describingthe lumberyard s surroundings and the old sawyer: Up and down the old lumberyard fence old roses were dying. The sawyer who hadplanted them twelve years ago to give his workplace a friendly feel- something to takethe sin out of slicing trees for a living… (47) Besides representing protection, security and comfort, Morrison also implies that treesbring good things. To Sethe and Denver, Beloved represents the best things in the world,a daughter and a sister. When Sethe and Denver first discover their best thing, Belovedis slumped over a tree stump, Morrison s subtle message that trees bring good things: Just as she thought it might happen, it has. Easy as walking into a room. A magicalappearance on a stump, the face wiped out by sunlight… (123). Morrison also uses thisimplication when various townspeople leave food for Denver and Sethe on a tree stump: Two days later Denver stood on the porch and noticed something lying on the tree stumpat the edge of the yard. She went to look and found a sack of white beans. Another time aplate of cold rabbit meat. One morning a basket of eggs sat there. (250) Not only can trees bring good things, trees can also bring people into good situations.When Paul D. leaves the woods, he finds himself in Wilmington with food and atemporary home as if Morrison implies that the woods lead him to comfort: Crawlingout of the woods, cross-eyed with hunger and loneliness, he knocked at the first backdoor he came to in the colored section of Wilmington (131). Paul D has also followedthe tree blossoms to Sethe, another sign that trees help bring good and calmness.Morrison s indirect implications of tree s soothing nature has strong symbolism,representing the comfort and calmness to readers. While Toni Morrison mainly uses tree imagery as a message of serenity andcomfort, she uses her characters responses to trees to show that perhaps when one livesthrough a horrific ordeal like slavery, people find comfort in the natural world for itscalmness and seemingly harmless characteristics. For Paul D, loving small thingsrepresents survival. When forced into Alfred, Georgia, Paul D encounters the most evilthat he has ever encountered before, but despite tasting the iron bit, watching Sixo burn,losing Halle and the Pauls, and facing Schoolteacher s slavery, Paul D finds comfort in ayoung tree in the prison camp: Loving small and in secret. His little love was a tree of course, but not like Brother- old,wide and beckoning. In Alfred, Georgia, there was an aspen too young to call a sapling.Just a shoot no taller than his waist. The kind of thing a man would cut to whip his horse.(221) For Stamp Paid, an established savior, he feels the most comfortable when he helps andaids others. Stamp Paid s picking berries for Sethe and Denver symbolizes his comforttowards helping people with the goodness of nature: …went off with two buckets to aplace near the river s edge that only he knew about where blackberries grew, tasting sogood and happy that to eat them was like being in church (136). A similar figure toStamp Paid, Baby Suggs holy also finds the most comfort in helping others, givingadvice, passing messages, healing the sick, hiding fugitives, loving and loving somemore. She became a holy presence in town and preached from a rock in the clearingsurrounded by trees, doing what she finds comfort in, helping and preaching to others: In the Clearing, Sethe found Baby s old preaching rock and remembered the smell ofleaves simmering in the sun, thunderous feet and the shouts that ripped pods off the limbsof chestnuts. With Baby Suggs heart in charge, the people let go (94). Even Sixo, the wild man went among the trees at night to keep his bloodlines open. Each one of these characters has endured the horrors of slavery and faced thisordeal in different ways, but they all deal with slavery with the comforting and harmlessaspect of nature, trees. Although people today don t have to live through slavery, peoplestill have to face their own tough personal situations. Instead of having nature to sootheone s problems, people today drown their sorrows in material possessions and controlledsubstances, unfortunately a problem plaguing society. Readers can only remember a timenot too long ago when the little secret hiding place in the woods or one s special thinkingrock meant a great deal more than material items, a simple healthy escape from life andit s problems.


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