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Even though it can cover a wide range of fields, postmodernism takes many aspects of modernism to a new, elaborate extreme that has a propensity to displace the solipsistic perspective on life. Numerous methods can be used to define postmodernism. One of them is as a collection of concepts that includes subjectivity as a style, language, and society. This is clear in Toni Morrison's novel Beloved, which embodies postmodernism's aesthetics and advances its theoretical underpinnings. In addition, criticisms of the degree of postmodernism conveyed by the work will be offered in light of Toni Morrison's use of postmodernism in his interactions with readers. As a result, this essay will seek to critique postmodernity and its elaboration in the book, Beloved by Toni Morrison.
Postmodernism focuses on the subjectivity of an answer, therefore, providing multiple answers to a question (Tai 1). Moreover, postmodernism in literature aims at being reluctant to see everything as a binary and a solipsistic way of life, but rather it aims to dissect things rather than the physical concept. It is, therefore, true to assert that Beloved is a postmodern novel as it analyzes Morrison’s achievement to challenge literary conventions and subverting the neo-American tradition. Additionally, the narrative strategies, the critique of presentation, the intertextuality presentation, the diversity of the African culture and lastly open-ended interpretations in Beloved distinguishes postmodernism from modernism and illustrates how the book shares the postmodernism features. This is to say that Morrison, diverts our view of modernism’s alienation of postmodernism fragmentation and the self to affirm the connection between others and the self, at the same time preserving itself. As a result, Beloved embraces a new idea beyond the common traditional conventions with a more focused insight into the nature of the blacks.
Break from Modernism
While the modernist aims at deconstructing the past, postmodernism generally understands that the past is essential and therefore when revisited has an ironical feature. One analysis of such is the features of narrative in a postmodernism perception in the Beloved. At one point Morrison mentions that “her past had been linked to her present –intolerable and since she knew death was anything but forgetfulness she used little energy…” (Morrison 1). The approach of utilizing multiple narratives articulates around the notion of self in a postmodern approach that is based on multiple identities and plural concepts to engage both the past and the present. Morison uses postmodernism devices through the utilizing multiplication of voices, narrative fragmentation and through participatory reading. In utilizing this aspect Morrison reveals an important feature that is the use of multiple narratives. An example of this use in the novel is when Denver, Sethe and Beloved speak and talk to each other as the three central characters, by utilizing one voice.
Beloved is smiling. But now her hand is empty. Sethe is running away from her, running, and she feels the emptiness in the hand Sethe has been holding. Now she is running into the faces of the people out there, joining them and leaving Beloved behind. Alone. Again. Then Denver, running too (Morrison 148).
As such female characters with their innermost feelings are expressed in a collective manner to appeal to the reader where their memories, minds, and voices are intertwined to bring out the imposed effect. This creates a blurring distinction between others and self where their identities merge together and therefore they integrate as a unit.
Additionally, the three voices of Sethe, Beloved and Denver have a hidden meaning. They stand for the living, dead, and the unborn in the black culture. These stories tell of the generations of black women and offer to the reader the roots to know and identify with the history of the characters in a way to categorize their voices as a representation of the past, future, and the present. Another feature of postmodernity is the fluidity of meaning where the meaning is revealed to the reader (Tai 4). As one goes through the novel, the narration becomes more ambiguous and complex and at some instant in the novel, one cannot decipher the monologue used in Beloved. Additionally, most of the sentences lack punctuation to allow the fusion of voices, identities, and minds in an elaboration of the black culture. Morrison also portrays Beloved in a plural manner with a merge of identities and faces.
In a similar manner, other passages have some characters have control over their own narrations. For instance, Paul D narrates his lonely days where he continuously drifts outside also the dreadful escape from the plant house. “the restraint they had exercised exercised because they were sweet Home men..” (Morrison 6) Additionally, Sethe narrates how she murdered her daughter when they attempted to escape together with Paul D. Lastly, there is a section where Beloved narrates her monologue during her thought process when she remembers the experience terrifying ordeals while on a slave ship where they are piled up with dead bodies. “..their sympathetic voices called liar by the revulsion in their eyes..for twelve years there were no visitors of any sort.” (Morrison 7)At the same instance, we are taken to a point where Denver relays her childhood memories where one of them is her miserable life while in school as she is oppressed because of her color. This a postmodern style where the revelation of each character is rather calming and presented in a dark mood as they reveal their past. The discontinuous fragments and narrations have a revelation of postmodernism as all the protagonists depict their side of the story as part of the black history. Regardless of all the horrendous and vile acts that are portrayed in the narration, in the end, they must all come together and remain intact.
Morrison at one point subverts the modernist aspect of literature through omniscient narration where she utilizes the use of “you” pronoun. “You Baby Suggs’ kin? Aint you?” (Morrison 142) This is a postmodernist aspect where the reader becomes part and parcel of the relevance of black history. This makes the readers empathize with the situations faced by each black character in the book. In this manner, the readers in a way participate in the text production. This is a major characteristic of the postmodernist aspect where it aims at stressing out the reading rather than the text presentation as Morrison engages with the readers. The reader becomes a part of the narration and this makes them to connect with the voices and to connect with the characters to understand their experiences. The reader, in postmodern terms, asserts their presence in the narration as their presence becomes acknowledged through the power of manipulation and not only does the reader become a passive receiver, but also a joint producer where their story is retold through true revelations and therefore they become active in participating through the discourse of the story.
The diverse African American culture portrayed in Beloved is another feature of postmodernism. The past is presented as a fixed reality rather than a single classic style that is centered on a linear plotting. In Beloved, there is nothing that denies the past and at the same time negating the future despite the fact that for Sethe, her revelation of the future was neglecting the past activities. This transformation presented by Morrison reveals the importance of self-actualization where the text used examines the black people and their culture. Through rewriting the narrative that portrays the old slave perception, Morrison in a way offers a new narrative based on slavery. This neo-classism is featured in the story from a post-modern perspective. Pluralism in postmodernism is a salient concept used to shape ideological slavery orientation in the past and Morrison uses that to reexamine the African American culture and its diversity. The black people are reminded of their heritage through the revelation of the past ancestors’ ways regardless of its repression by being ignored it eventually resurfaces in the current black American culture. In a way, this reveals the presence of American literary discourse in an intercultural manner where there is a white and black cultural matrix.
The use of a narrative structure in Beloved is a critique of representation common in postmodernism that fuses both the real aspects and magic aspects of narration. The magic aspects stand out for the enslaved African American where they transcend the oppressive reality. Beloved is portrayed by Morrison as a text of the fantasy world depicted in a spiritual and material notion intertwined between the future, past and the present. This becomes a puzzle throughout the novel as magic realism unlike traditional revelation is employed in the narrative as a substitution. At some instance, one develops the question of Beloved’s identity. Beloved might have been Sethe’s murdered baby but also it is not that convincing since we are told the baby was murdered several years ago. “where an old woman and a girl he used to know had gone.” (Morrison 153) This antagonism created by Morrison within the text highlights magic realism by describing a world that lacks significance.
Postmodernity generally asserts intertextuality. In a way, the text used in Beloved might connect other countless texts that are based on Beloved itself. The way Morrison blends the future, past and the present in the form of memories and counter memories is in a way intertextual. This interaction refereed in postmodernism as memory traces memories of Sethe, Beloved, and other characters, therefore functioning as a form of connection between the past slavery and the neo-slavery. An example of this intertextuality is when Margaret Carner retraces her past and her connection with her ancestors. This connection with the past that is presented by Morrison doesn’t come out strongly to suggest an instance of intertextuality. She ought to have reshaped the past in historical illustration and through a historical figure and merge that by rewriting a new American history that is against neo-slavery and defiance against any form of existing slavery. “…along with three hundred men captured, lent or taken coloredmen gave him a measure of free life.” (Morrison 152) This peculiarity indeed creates a different view of postmodernity through a historical depiction.
While modernism has an emphasis on self-alienation, postmodernism stresses on the fragmentation of an individual. The use of forms that seem to express or belong to postmodernity is to have the causative effect on the visions of a certain favor. This structures objectivism and develops text in an interchangeable manner to appeal to the reader. Additionally, it develops creative writing through an impersonal discourse that connects the reader to the text. Through the development of the form through periods, a cultural mode is inferred in a neo-cultural way. With the assumptions of postmodernity, critique is possible through the broad range of areas such as clear concepts and how it breaks from modernist conventions through knowledge intertwined in a traditional sense. Through engaging with postmodernist aspects, my work will reflect on symbolism and the human condition in a non-traditional literary essence so as to break away from modernist conventions.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved: Sixty Million and More. Delawere: Vintage Publishing, 1987.
Tai, Chuen. "Mapping Postmodern in Toni Morrison's Beloved." International Journal of Culture and History 2.4 (2016): 1-4.
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