In the last words of Beloved, Paul D says to Sethe, "me and you, we got more yesterdays than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow"(p. 322). Throughout the course of Sethe's life, the constant focus on the past directly causes her tragic circumstances. Toni Morrison uses the focus on past and present in this novel to make a point. Living in either one without acknowledging the other will lead to disaster in the long run. Sethe lives a life focused solely on her past, and in doing so, has no present, and thus no future. In Sethe's world in the 28 days leading up to her daughter's death, she lives in the fear of her past, specifically the brutal treatment she received at the hands of the schoolteacher and the nephews. Sethe is so affected by these experiences (and who can blame her), that they drive her actions in the present when Schoolteacher finally finds her. The actions in her present result in the destruction of her future in two ways: first, literally she destroys the next generation when she kills her daughter, and second, she destroys her own personal future, which will always be haunted by her actions in the barn that day.
The entire novel examines Sethe's constant need to live in the past, and the effect that has on the present and the future. Only when Sethe is able to exist in her present, while still acknowledging the past, will she be able to have a future. Toni Morrison uses this story to illustrate the very problems plaguing America. There is a tendency in this country to either focus so much on the grit of the past (ie: slavery) that the present and future cannot improve, or, on the other hand, ignore completely the past, making a hollow and somewhat false present and future. Both mindsets lead to destruction, and only when we are able to live in the present with an honest but not obsessive view of the past, do we have any hope for a future.
4 years ago