Thresholds Essay ENGL 431

Something that I have been thinking about during these first few classes is how intertwined our lives and fates can be with one another. The idea that humans are so deeply connected with one another can be terrifying to think about, yet also so fascinating. You never know when meeting someone if they will end up being an important part of your life, whether that ends up being negative or positive. While I have not yet read the entirety of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, this already seems to be a prevalent theme throughout the novel. All of the characters’ lives are so deeply intertwined with each other, some on multiple levels, that both their actions and feelings greatly affect those around them. As the main character, Sethe has the most connections. She has deep and complex relationships with Denver, Beloved and Paul D, as well as many of the other characters in the novel. Despite knowing each character for different lengths of time and having very different types of relationship with them, Sethe still has intense connections with each one of them. 

Being in close proximity to one another causes all four of these characters’ fates to be intimately connected in ways both seen and unseen in the novel. Every decision, whether it is positive or negative, will also end up affecting the other three people who live in the house. A big example from Beloved is when Paul D shows up on their doorstep to see Baby Suggs, and Sethe lets him stay. This action not only impacts Sethe but also greatly affects Denver’s everyday life, as well as Beloved when she shows up a little while later. Almost immediately after being welcomed into their home, Paul D ends up scaring the ghost of Sethe’s dead baby away, something that very much displeases Sethe and Denver. The addition of Paul D into 124 causes immediate disruption of the daily life that Sethe and Denver have come to know. While Sethe does not really seem to have a problem with this in the beginning, Denver clearly does not like having Paul D around. Despite her daughter’s clear discontent, Sethe does not make Paul D leave or do all that much to stop him from treating her a certain way. Paul D being in the house also impacts Beloved’s life, even if Sethe does not really know it. Paul D’s presence at 124 is basically the catalyst for the entire narrative of Beloved because he scares the ghost baby away and causes Beloved to essentially rise from the dead. 

Along with this, I have also been thinking about how these connections with those around us can inform our actions and emotions in many different ways. Sethe wanted to keep her children safe and out of slavery, which led to her killing one of her children. Halle saw his wife get assaulted and did nothing to stop it, causing him to go mad. Denver immediately feels protective of Beloved even though she did not fully know that they were sisters. The people around us can greatly impact who we are and the things we do, even if we do not realize it. This can be both positive and negative, and many of the examples that Morrison gives us lean more towards negative. These connections can also end up causing tensions in relationships. The biggest example of this from Beloved that I can think of is Sethe’s difficult decision to murder her infant daughter in order to protect her from the horrendous life of slavery. This decision, while made with the best of intentions, ends up affecting Sethe’s relationships with almost every other character in the novel, as well as with seemingly everyone she knew. One of the most obvious examples of this is with Paul D, who at first staunchly refuses to believe that Sethe would have the capacity to do something so horrific. When Stamp Paid is trying to tell him about what happened, he just keeps denying what is right in front of him, saying that the woman in the picture cannot be Sethe, refusing to see her for the person who actually is: “‘This ain’t her mouth. I know her mouth and this ain’t it.’ Before Stamp Paid could speak he said it and even while he spoke Paul D said it again. Oh, he heard all the old man was saying, but the more he heard, the stranger the lips in the drawing became” (Morrison 183). When he finally comes to terms with the fact that this is something she did and that she does not seem to be very regretful of it, in fact she is almost proud of her decision, he leaves 124 and essentially abandons Sethe, Denver and Beloved. Paul D is completely unable to understand Sethe and why she does the things she does, and this misunderstanding between the two creates distance that may not ever be filled. I think it is very interesting how there are some people who you can fully understand the actions and feelings of, and then there are others who make no sense to you as people, who you are consistently baffled by. There are many people in my life who I feel that I understand pretty well, and yet there are also many who I do not understand at all and regularly am bewildered by, even if I have known them for a long time. Sometimes there are just people who you will never fully understand. While that is something that can certainly be frustrating, I think it is also really fascinating because there is always more to learn about them and their perspective. Not understanding someone completely can be a new opportunity to listen and try to see the world or a situation in a different way. It is important to keep an open mind, which is something that Paul D definitely does not have when it comes to Sethe. When Paul D looks at Sethe, all he can see is the person who he wants her to be, and the strong woman that she is does not fully fit with that idea. He is not even open to the idea of hearing her reasoning and will not keep in mind that she was put in an impossible situation. 

I am very interested to see how this theme may continue to occur in Morrison’s other works, as well as possibly in Dante or some of the other pieces that we will be reading this semester. This is a theme that I feel is often in many works of art, however it often seems to be overlooked by a lot of people. The basis of it is all about human connection, which is something that has always intrigued and interested me. The ways in which we interact and inform each other’s lives is something so beautiful and interesting that is purely a product of the human condition. Our lives can be extremely intertwined with those around us, yet we can also be completely separate from someone and know nothing about them. Much of the time we do not even know the ways in which we affect other people’s lives, especially with people we do not personally know very well. Even with people we know, sometimes those connections go deeper than we could possibly see. The fact that humans’ lives are so intrinsically weaved together is endlessly fascinating to me, and I always enjoy seeing it represented in different types of media. Individual stories always have a different way of showcasing the complexity of human relationships, and Morrison’s version of this really interests me. I am very excited to see how this theme may be relevant to the stories in Jazz and Paradise, as well as how similar yet different the connections between characters will be to those in Beloved.

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