Toni Morrison’s Beloved
Haunted by the past and the institution of slavery, Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved weaves a polyrhythmic frame of strands of time, seamlessly, as if they co-exist on a synchronous axis in a continuous present. As the narrator lets Sethe says:
I was talking about time. It’s so hard for me to believe in it. Some things go. Pass on. Some things just stay. I used to think it was my rememory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it’s not. Places, places are still there. if a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place - the picture of it - stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world. What I remember is a picture floating around there outside my head. I mean even if I don’t think it, even if I die, the picture of what I did or knew, or saw is still out there. Right in the place where it happened. (44-45)
And so, as Paul D walks into her life after eighteen years he does it in a casual way. Nothing in their first seeing each other indicates a long separation. No tears, no joy, no exclamations, only a simple “It’s that you?” and then they fall into everyday talk about the chamomile Sethe has been picking (8).
But, Sethe carries a “tree” on her back, scars of the past branded on her body that at once mark time passed and time present, and their division. Paul D listens to the invisible rhythms of “its wide trunk and intricate branches” by rubbing “his cheek on her back” and in that way learning “her sorrow, the roots of it” (21).
The scars evoke their common origin - the scars live on both in memory and on Sethe’s body - and their separateness - the scars differentiates them, time has left its imprint - the scars mark the time as it branches out in a synchronous mapping of a life lived in a continuous present.