Aveneu Park, Starling, Australia

In illustrates how the legacy of slavery,

In A Litany for Survival, black poet Audre Lorde says, “So it is better to speak / remembering / we were never meant to survive.” Lorde highlights how people in power impose eternal marginalization upon oppressed groups, subduing them to silence. Thus, the oppressed internalize the notion of their muteness, passing on the collective silence across generations. However, Lorde recognizes that through collective silence, the oppressed can emerge with a stronger collective voice, empowering the oppressed to regain their own experiences, story, and identity. Toni Morrison expands on Lorde’s idea of transgenerational memory—”rememory”—in Beloved, where, through Sethe and the collective black community, she illustrates how the legacy of slavery, silence, and inferiority impedes the formation of black identity.For a society to collectively believe that the black community is destined to never “survive,” it must subscribe to the notion of white hegemony over blacks. Mr. Garner, a seemingly benevolent slave-owner, reinforces the cultural hegemony of white dominance through the names of his slaves “Paul D. Garner, Paul F. Garner, and Paul A. Garner” (13); that Mr. Garner names the Pauls “Garner” seems to imply the existence of a father-son relationship. It is ironic, then, that Mr. Garner’s treatment of his slaves, far from being well-meaning, is in reality exploitative and dehumanizing—the three Pauls are only distinguishable by a single initial, revealing slavery’s silencing effect. The lack of variance in their stories mutes the identities of the three Pauls; it implies their expendability—one Paul can easily be replaced by another—and minimizes the importance of their survival. Additionally, Mr. Garner refers to his slaves as “Sweet Home men” (13), lulling the slaves into believing that they are superior to other slaves who are called “boys” (12) and not “men.” However, this sense of masculinity gilds the truth behind Mr. Garner’s manipulative actions. By subduing their will to resist his dominance, he further reinforces white hegemony over the black community. In addition to psychological manipulation, they experience physical manipulation as well; slaves at Sweet Home are subjected to “the bit,” a torture device to “hold down” the “tongue,” an organ instrumental to speech and survival (84). The “bit” subdues the slaves, muting them physically by tying them down, and psychologically by reinforcing the notion of black silence. Additionally, the “bit” likens them to unruly animals in need of confinement, dehumanizing and silencing their humanness. Schoolteacher, whose objectification of the Sweet Home men exceeds that of Mr. Garner, highlights the societal silencing of black people by reinforcing the notion that “definitions belonged to the definers—not the defined” (225). Sixo, a man “defined” by society to be “silenced” (Lorde), is under “some illusion of some safety” (Lorde)—the illusion of masculinity—and asserts himself, suggesting that what Schoolteacher defines as “stealing” (224) is in reality “improving… property” (224). Sixo attempts to reverse the cultural hegemony of white dominance by voicing his true self; unlike the Pauls, Sixo is bold and vibrant, openly defying “the definers” of their oppression. However, Sixo is singular in his resistance, and thus he is ultimately silenced by Schoolteacher (267). Sixo asserts himself, forgetting that he is “never meant to survive” while his fellow slaves remember; they have so internalized the notion of white hegemony that they fail to emerge from silence.paragraph about silence and dominant slave narrative ? no identityThe black community overcomes the societal hegemony of white dominance by embracing themselves, and consequently heal and reconcile their collective past. Baby Suggs leads the black community to reconciliation; she embraces her own identity, Baby Suggs, and transforms her assigned slave identity, as Jenny Whitlow, to strengthen herself and the black community. Baby Suggs’ identity, as “defined” (225) by white people, is “Jenny Whitlow” (167), an americanized name that is unrooted from Baby Suggs’s memory. The name “Jenny,” other than being an etymologically white name, recalls the spinning jenny, a multi-spindle machine which spun more than one spindle, or “story,” at a time. In contrast Baby Suggs, the black community’s religious leader, is the root of the community, and preaches her belief of self-love: “You got to love it, you!” (104). Her action of “putting her stick down” (103) to signal the beginning of the gathering is similar to the growth of a tree: she is the “root” grounding the community, which “branches off” of her base in multiple ways; as a spinning jenny spins multiple spindles, Baby Suggs provides a space for her community to establish multiple stories and identities of their own. She recognizes that in order to establish a solid identity and heal slavery’s wounds, she must deny the notion of her inferiority and “love” freely. She allows the former slaves to vocalize their pain through “laughter,” and “crying” (103); under the protection of Baby Suggs, the former slaves abandon “silence,” and emerge with a “perfect” “four-part harmony,” reflective of their unified strength (104). Stamp Paid, a former slave who finds a voice to emerge from oppression, illustrates the power and freedom that accompanies the transcendence of the internalized perception of inferiority through the struggle to assert his own self and freedom. As a male, Stamp Paid faces the societal pressures of being his wife’s protector; however, as a slave, he also must accept that he does not have any rights to his wife. Unable to reconcile these contradicting expectations, Stamp Paid is tempted to “break” (275) his wife’s “neck” (275)—a place of vulnerability—as a way to retaliate against his master’s son for raping her, which is symbolized by the “black ribbon” (275) she is forced to wear. The “black ribbon” elicits an image of a choker necklace, which not only emphasizes the fatal grip the white master’s son has on Vashti, but also draws a parallel between Vashti’s ribbon and Beloved’s “ribbon”—the red line on her neck where Sethe slit Beloved’s throat. However, unlike Beloved’s red “ribbon,” a bold and assertive color, Vashti’s ribbon is black, a dull color, reinforcing the idea that she is dulled and silenced by the white master’s son. Because of the cultural hegemony that demands Stamp Paid’s submission, he cannot reclaim Vashti, who then joins the scores of slave women who are silenced by their masters through sexual exploitation. Instead of killing his wife and “seek a now” (Lorde), a temporary solution to his suffering, Stamp Paid voluntarily chooses to forget the injustice, running away and changing his name from “Joshua” to “Stamp Paid”; he asserts his belief that his freedom has been “paid” for by his suffering in bondage and the resulting emasculation, “stamping” his own freedom by renaming himself and asserting his own identity. As he is free from slavery, both physically and mentally, he forms his own self, surviving as an individual in a society where he is seen as subhuman. From his former name that recalls the biblical Joshua who led the Israelites to the Promised Land, Stamp Paid adopts the role of mediator in the black community (Israelites), leading slaves, “beaten runaways” (218), to their “Promised Land”: freedom. Forcefully, the power of unity and a collective voice is revealed through the exorcism of Beloved by the community of the 30 black women. As the company of women pray to drive Beloved away, Denver can only hear the unified voice of the group, not the lead prayer: “Yes, yes yes, oh yes. Hear me. Hear me, Do it, Maker, do it. Yes,” they chant (304). That the voice of the single lead prayer is drowned by the group’s collective voice emphasizes the power of solidarity and its ability to propel a group from silence. The women bring closure to the pain and and unfinished business of generations of slaves—epitomized by Beloved—by accepting the horrors (“Yes, yes”) and breaking free of their prescribed silence. In addition, the repetition of “hear me” establishes a tone of desperation, mirroring the Litany for Survival, where Lorde asserts, “When we speak we are afraid / our words will not be heard.” The women have so internalized the notion of their silence that they are “afraid” that their “words” and actions will be muted, allowing the ancestral pain and trauma to overcome their lives and continue to haunt generations of black women. Moreover, the ‘call and response’ structure of the prayer emphasizes the women’s unity and recalls the structure of Lorde’s Litany, which is likewise structured as a ‘call and response.’ As Lorde illuminates, the women were “imprinted with fear” of speaking out against the “heavy-foot” of white hegemony, choosing solitude instead; this action, however, of silencing themselves and their past, is what causes Beloved to return in corporeal form and haunt the community. Through the solidarity of the thirty women, Beloved is successfully exorcised; their strong emergence from silence signals their reconciliation with the horrors of slavery: the near-genocidal nature of slavery that claimed the lives of “sixty million and more.” They drive away the memory, and thus the possibility for “rememory” to occur through Beloved. By healing their mental and physical traumas, they end the memories that had haunted their community for generations.Transgenerational memory is perpetuated by lack of closure; the haunting memories of the trauma of past generations of slaves are neglected wounds that fester in the minds and bodies of “free” blacks. Throughout Beloved, Sethe involuntarily experiences compulsive episodes, “rememories,” which are memories that “stay” with her and haunt her. Sethe describes a “rememory” as a thing that “stays…even if I don’t think it, even if I die, the picture of what I did…is still out there” (43). “Rememory” is neither a memory possessed by Sethe (“even if I die”) nor amnesia (“even if I don’t think it”), but rather a collective memory that has the ability to transcend generations of people who would otherwise be unaffected —even after her death, Sethe is aware that the rememory will stay “out there.” Additionally, the word “rememory” is both a noun and a verb: Sethe uses it as a verb,”to rememory” (226) and as a noun, “my rememory” (43). The dual grammar of “rememory” emphasizes Sethe’s disregard for English conventions and white culture; Sethe persists as an individual, speaking out against a culture that tries to silence her.  Sethe’s invention of the word “rememory” illuminates the cultural silence and amnesia that surrounds the remembrance of slavery; Sethe adopts the role of the “definer” (225), because the traditional, white “definers” have no word for the transgenerational haunting that (unfortunately) accompanies the black experience. Sethe attempts to remember the memory of slavery not as the dominant slave narrative that is perpetuated by the whiteman, but as a story and history of the oppressed. However, in trying to reconcile the past and atone for unnatural actions —Beloved’s murder —Sethe is oppressed by the “rememory” of killing Beloved: her home, 124 Bluestone Road, is a constant reminder of Beloved’s “spite,” which is demonstrated by her vengeful pranks—the “shattered” “mirror” and “hand prints…in the cake” (3). Rather than seeing Beloved as a malevolent phantom in need of exorcising, Sethe complies with Beloved’s haunting, at the expense of maintaining healthy relationships with her living children; Sethe condemns her living children to a life of not “surviving” (Lorde) because they are forced to live in a dysfunctional family unit. As a result of her poor motherhood, “Howard and Buglar…run away” (3), further adding to the brokenness of Sethe’s family and eliminating the element of familial bonds, which are essential to heal Sethe’s pain and trauma. Furthermore, because of Sethe’s inability to confront her painful past and reconcile her actions, she is denying catharsis not only to herself but also to Beloved, who continues to haunt Sethe until the strength of the community of black women “breaks over” (308) her obsession with Beloved. Sethe’s return to the present is signaled by the shift in tense: after the women’s voices “broke over Sethe and she trembled like the baptized…Sethe feels her eyes burn” (308). Sethe’s “baptism” into the realm of the present is as a result of her transition from the past (“broke”) into the present (“feels”)—her “eyes burn” because she finally confronts trauma surrounding Beloved’s murder, turning away from the comfort of the past. She ‘rememories’ the day she murdered Beloved, mistaking Mr. Bodwin for Schoolteacher (both of whom approach Sethe in her yard, “coming for her best thing” (308).) Mr. Bodwin, however, is “coming” to save Sethe rather than to “take her back” (176) to slavery as Schoolteacher did, and thus Sethe is able to change her course of action; rather than commit murder, she “runs into the faces” of the thirty women, beginning to reconcile her relationship with the community, and ending the generational “rememory” that had so consumed her life. Institutionalized silence of a certain community rebounds from parents to child, muting generations of “free-born” African-Americans who still struggle to “survive” in a white-dominated culture. The harmful mentality that slaves adopt in oppression is illustrated through Baby Suggs’ initial confusion in freedom: when she first encounters Janey and is treated as a human being, she “marvels” at “water” despite it tasting unpleasant (169). That Baby Suggs is so enthralled by water suggests that she had never been given anything—even her freedom had to be bought (165). Baby Suggs then remembers the names of her fellow slaves—”Patty and Rosa Lee…Ardelia…Tyree…John…Nancy…Famous…”—and tries to silence them by “covering her ears with her fists” (169). The words of “Patty and Rosa” (and the other “sixty million and more” slaves who suffered under slavery) are not “heard / nor welcomed” (Lorde) by Baby Suggs, who forcefully protects herself from the memory of their stories. Baby Suggs, a product of slavery, had so internalized the notion that black history must be muted that she “covers” the history of her own community in her initial moments of freedom. Likewise, Morrison struggled with her perception of freedom after losing her job; she describes the discomfort with her freedom, as “an edginess instead of calm,” similar to Baby Suggs’ initial anxiety and “apprehension” in freedom (XVI) . However, as Morrison realizes, her discomfort was a result of her newfound freedom: “Then it slapped me: I was happy, free in a way I had never been, ever.” (XVI). That Morrison was shocked, or “slapped,” by her freedom suggests that, while working for the publishing house in the late twentieth century, she experienced an echo of the oppression Baby Suggs experienced a century earlier; Morrison’s parallel experience reveals how institutionalized silence and oppression transcends time, affecting generations of people who are born ‘free’ but who are nonetheless oppressed by the continuing memory of slavery.As Morrison’s experience reveals, contemporary African-Americans carry the weight of slavery’s past in their minds and bodies, which hinders the development of the African-American identity. They memories of the objectification and ownership of their bodies and involuntary silence transcend generations of ‘free-born’ African-Americans who are nonetheless haunted by the continuing legacy of oppression. Morrison ambiguously says, “this is not a story to pass on” (324), playing on the equivocality and duality of language to suggest that the “story” of slavery is both one to “pass on”—to remember—and one to “pass on”—to forget. The formation of the black identity can only occur when contemporary African-Americans reconcile their trauma by simultaneously remembering the story of their ancestors and oppression, but also by forgetting the pervasive societal notion that African-Americans are “not meant to survive”; only when the cultural hegemony of white dominance is dismantled will the transgenerational suffering of the “sixty million and more” end.


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