Thresholds Essay ENGL 431-01

Standing at the threshold to this class, that is an interesting phrase to me. I have never been in and out of a class at the same time. I am so used to being thrown into the class and having to flounder for a little while before understanding and getting my footing. The black hole of assignments and discussions and books can feel so overwhelming. This class, and the ability to breathe before falling into the dark hole is refreshing. 

The floundering and falling aspect of the first weeks of a new class stands out, why would I feel like this in a class I have only just started? I think it is because I am so used to having professors and teachers that expect I already understand and have begun reading the content for the class. The reassuring words and feelings in this class make me want to engage with the material and the active learning. Hearing other students, and even the professor, thinking out loud to understand the material makes me feel like I can understand. I have no specific time in mind, but the comforting feeling of others around me thinking through the same metaphorical and literal questions and readings. I understand that I will not understand everything, that I can be reading this material for the first time, I have the ability to think and understand for the first time without judgment. I feel comfortable around my peers and my educator because there has been a fostering of understanding and community learning that I rarely get to see in college. I am surprised to say that I have not found myself floundering or falling this semester, I have felt stable and content. Although I am excited to be challenged by materials and class discussions with peers. 

Connecting to some of the material I have engaged with so far, I understand the constant churning and looping that happens here. Much like Sethe in Beloved I also struggle with the past. Sethe explains many times in the book that the past is just too hard to think about, but she still recounts it at the begging of Beloved. “It amazed Sethe (as much as it pleased Beloved) because every mention of her past life hurt. Everything in it was painful or lost” (69). I do not want to think about the past, but the past is what helps me understand the future. Sethe hurts when she remembers the past, but it helps her cope with the present. Sethe needs to confront her past, as I have lately. The past can be a burden, but it also can help us heal and understand. 

In thinking about this class in relation to other classes I have taken, I had to remove past prejudices about 400-level English classes. I had seen this class like my other classes, it was going to be difficult, I had to already know the content and be ready to discuss, and I was not going to like the professor. I had already made up my mind and was determined to let the past predict the future, not understanding that my present, the way I think about a class, could influence my future. I was set on believing the class was terrible and I lived in the past. 

The past is also something that can be changed by how we remember things. I am going to take responsibility for my thinking here by saying that the past 400-level classes I have taken may not have been so demanding, but the struggles I went through make the class seem harder. As I remember the past, as Sethe remembers her past, things can be altered to fit our understanding. 

Standing at the threshold of THIS class, I began to see that my past was not going to help me here. This is an engaging class where everyone, including the professor, understands that prior engagement and understanding is good, but not needed. I feel accepted and understood, even when I am processing and thinking out loud. The constant looping, even this early on, also helps to solidify my understanding of both texts so far. Looping to the past, the present and the future helps me to understand that I do not have to understand. The connections and through lines will come. I will try my best to let past predictions and memories go, and to live in the present with this class and my other classes. 

Looping back to a previous topic, the past (look at the irony there), both Dante and Morrison deal with the past in a way that has the readers standing at the threshold between past and present. Sethe stands between readers and the past, she chooses to block the path to full understanding of what happened to her at Sweet Home. Sethe remembers the past, feels the pain of the past and present, but still blocks us out from the full story. Beloved only gets the satisfaction of hearing about the past by begging and pleading, which the readers do not have access to do. 

Dante does not deal with the past in any sort of direct way, opposite of Morrison. Dante gives us tastes of the past through the tortured souls of Hell. We get to see the torture and torment that souls of sinners must endure, we never are witness to the sins themselves. So the past plays an interesting role. It is still the subject of pain and loss, but it is not in the forefront of the text. What is at the front is the present torture of these sinners and the desecent into more torture. Dante makes it known that the past does not matter to these souls, they are stuck in a forever-lasting churning cycle of the present. The past is only a catalyst to what torture must be endured. The way that Dante thinks about the past and the present is more closely related to how I want to think. The past is important, but it is not completely how you will live your present or your future. 

A place in Dante’s writing where he indirectly deals with the past is in Canto 32, where the characters are walking through the field of men buried neck down in ice. “… and it might serve you well, if you seek fame, for me to put your name down in my notes. … Now I know your name and I’ll bring back the shameful truth about you (pg 365). Dante wants to know why these men ended up in Hell buried in ice, but the men do not want to relive the shame. They are living with the shame already, they do not want to relive the horrible moments of things they did. Similar to how Sethe does not want to relive the past and her pain, but she will do it for Beloved. 

Both authors do not let us as readers fully into the past. We only see the important parts that the characters want each other to understand and know about. Dante and Morrison create a threshold that the readers can not cross. Sethe recounts the past at Sweet Home, keeping the parts that hurt the most to herself, to protect herself. Dante does not care about what these sinners have done in the past, because they are in Hell for the past. The past only is a glimpse through the torture. 

This threshold between past and present in the books we are reading leads me back to the threshold between my own past and present. I feel like I relate more to Sethe’s threshold than Dante’s, Sethe wants to protect her own mind and her own self. Dante does not want to protect anyone, he is just a witness to the present and a listener of the past. Sethe does not like to talk about or even think about the past, she wants to live in the present. Living in the present can cause a loop back to the past though. Sethe sees Beloved and lives with her in the present as a figure and person in the house. Beloved is the catalyst for hurt in Sethe’s story, she begs to hear about the past, to live in the memories of another because Beloved’s memories are too painful. What Beloved does not see, or refuses to see, is the hurt that Sethe tries to bury in the past and forget about. The cycle of hurt in the past and the present, trying to cover up past hurt, past hurt causing current pain, all of these resonate with me. 

As I stand at the threshold of this class, I am constantly reminded of the past, past classes, peers and learnings. I am determined to not let the past control my present and my future, I am determined to use my past to further my understanding of the current texts and information of this class. Dante and Morrison will continue to help me in my academic journey and my self journey as I grow and change. I am excited to finally cross the threshold into this class and all that it has to offer.

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