Sound in Beloved

(Plot Spoiler if you haven’t finished the reading for 9/26) On Wednesday, Ken brought up that Morrison might have chosen Paradise as the title for the final work in her trilogy simply because she likes the way it sounds, and Dr. Beth wrote the word “sound” on the board. I was instantly reminded of some thoughts on the usage of sound in Beloved that I had when I first read the novel, and I thought I would share them here. In Dr. Beth’s class, I was introduced to Bernice Johnson Reagon who observed that “sound is a way to extend the territory you can affect…so people can walk into you way before they can get close to your body.” Morrison mirrors this extension of our beings in Beloved.

Baby Suggs continues to influence the characters through her words even though she has passed away. Sound, in the form of her voice, made a direct impact when she was alive, but her voice was preserved where she spoke even after she left. Denver can clearly remember the stories that Baby Suggs told her in the room in which she passed away (247) and her advice to “know [the dangers of the outside world] and go on out the yard” on the porch of 124 (288) because the words themselves reverberate in those places forever. Likewise, Sethe can clearly recall Baby Suggs advice when she nears her “preaching rock” (101). Baby Suggs’ sounds cling to their places of origin, leaving an impact not only on those who heard them directly but also on those who can feel their significance in the air.

Beloved (the haunting), too, utilizes sound to make herself known. She knocks things around and shakes 124, causing sound to reverberate through the house and reminding everyone of her presence. 124 is constantly “loud” (199), even to those outside the home. Hearing and feeling are conflated there, and Stamp Paid can hear/feel the loudness of 124 from down the road. Beloved’s loud, thrashing noises convey her anger and confusion about her violent parting by/from Sethe, allowing the reader to meet Beloved and hear her vengeance before we understand her story.

In Morrison’s work, sound is without limit; it echoes unimpeded by death. Here, its intangibility actually makes it more powerful than physical force; sound is able burn a lasting place in the memory of the characters, keeping them within the churn.

I’ll end here with a section from Beloved that pretty much sums up all I wanted to say, but in more elegant terms:

“Someday you will be walking down the road and you hear something or see something going on. So clear. And you think it’s you thinking it up…But no. It’s when you bump into a rememory that belongs to someone else …if you go there—you who never was there—if you go there and stand in the place where it was, it will happen again; it will be there, waiting for you…even though it’s all over—over and done with—it’s going to always be there waiting for you.” (43-44)


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