Leeman Thresholds Essay ENGL 431

Throughout the past three weeks of class, I’ve become intrigued with a number of themes and interpretations on Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Right now, in accordance with the class structure, I’ve been focusing on Dante Aligeri’s Divine Comedy and seeing how Morrison, in the twentieth century, drew from these texts and used them as inspiration for her characters in the trilogy that begins with Beloved. I suspect these comparisons will become clearer as the semester goes on and we move forward with the rest of the novels, but for now, I find myself lost in the woods, so to speak, with interpreting this story inside this set context. I know that this prompt and course interpretations are meant to be more open ended, but I like to set strict guidelines for myself in writing. I’m a person who requires a plan, and this is, admittedly, throwing me for a bit of a loop. Morrison’s work necessitates careful examination and study, and every day I dig deeper, but I’m still struggling a bit with mapping Dante characters and major themes of the Divine Comedy onto Beloved. There are a few major ones I’ve noticed at this point, but I feel its prudent to remind any reader that this analysis is already necessarily in the preliminary stages. The mapping of Dante and Morrison’s trilogies onto one another has just embarked beyond its threshold.

For this paper, I chose to focus on the idea of exile and the pain that this causes. Dante, in Inferno and beyond, moves through worlds where he does not belong as of yet. At the end of Inferno, he remarks “through a small round opening ahead of us/I saw the lovely things the heavens hold,/and we came out to see once more the stars” (Inferno, Canto 32). This maps, albeit loosely (a caveat that applies to most comparisons here), onto Paul D’s internal thoughts when he hears Sethe talking about love while enslaved versus in freedom. He feels, rather than thinks, “so you protected yourself and loved small. Picked the tiniest stars out of the sky to own” (Morrison 191). All of Morrison’s characters in Beloved are inherently in exile. Forced from their families and their lives, Sethe and Baby Suggs, in an attempt to regain what they have both lost, settle at 124 to build themselves back up once more. Baby Suggs, after her son Halle purchases her freedom, is ‘taken in’ by the Bodwins, white people connected to the Gardeners who claim that they detest slavery. Yet they require her to perform domestic labor for them in exchange for renting 124. She is not truly free, even if she is no longer considered enslaved. She has been taken from one bad situation to another, knowing that they are different but neither good nor truly allowing for her own independence.

Nevertheless, she persists, carving out a life for herself in Cincinnati. She makes a reputation for herself, much like a preacher one might encounter in Paradiso, as a pillar of the community. Things start to feel dangerous, though, after she is given blackberries by Stamp Paid, an arguable candidate for Virgil’s counterpart. Stamp takes responsibility for the entire community, “[extending] this debtlessness to other people by helping them pay out and off whatever they owed in misery” in much the same way that Virgil cares for Dante, focusing on his charges with a single minded love and affection (Morrison 218). They both acknowledge that the journey for the protagonists will not be easy; “‘But you must journey down another road,’/he answered, when he saw me lost in tears,/ ‘if ever you hope to leave this wilderness’” (Inferno, Canto 1). Baby Suggs’ ideals and tentative peace begin to dissolve when Stamp Paid gives baby Denver 2 buckets of blackberries, and she prepares a feast; soon after, she notices the frostiness and even anger of those around her, noting that “her friends and neighbors were angry at her because she had overstepped, given too much, offended them by excess” (Morrison 163). But the last straw for her idyllic freedom comes, of course, when the schoolteacher and his posse come to attack and kidnap Sethe’s family, leading her to take the drastic but understandable act of protection her attempted murder is. Afterwards, “strangers and familiars were stopping by to hear how it went one more time, and suddenly Baby declared peace. She just up and quit” (Morrison 208). Her heart has shattered, and she, like Dante, experiences the words of Dante in Paradiso, “You shall leave everything you love most dearly:/this is the arrow that the bow of exile/shoots first. You are to know the bitter taste/of others’ bread, how salt it is, and know/how hard a path it is for one who goes/descending and ascending others’ stairs” (Paradiso, Canto 17).For instance, when Baby Suggs sees that baby Denver is still alive, grabbed from Sethe’s grip just before her death, she breaks down, making “a low sound in her throat as though she’d made a mistake, left the salt out of the bread” (Morrison 178).

Like Baby Suggs, Sethe originally has high hopes for 124, hopes that are seemingly confirmed when she arrives. Upon recollection, she describes her arrival off the wagon as the time when she finally feels that she can love her children with all her heart, her heart that is no longer taken from her and locked away. She remarks, “maybe I couldn’t love em proper in Kentucky because they wasn’t mine to love. But when I got here, when I jumped down off that wagon- there wasn’t nobody in the world I couldn’t love if I wanted to” (Morrison 190-191). This optimism, of course, is crushed by the reality of their situation. Forced into a hellish situation, Sethe made an impossible choice, and has spent the time since her child’s death paying the price for it every moment of every day. Ostracized by both her community and her family, Sethe is left to linger in her sorrow for eighteen years; as Dante states, ““I did not die -I was not living either!/Try to imagine, if you can imagine,/me there, deprived of life and death at once” (Inferno, Canto 34, 25-27). How can her remaining children trust her? Her former friends now rebuke her for the killing of her child, and are careful to keep their distance, although they started to inch away before this.

Yet how could anyone condemn her? It is only when Paul D arrives that Sethe is confronted with the reality of someone who shares her past experience in the brutality of enslavement and simultaneously does not yet not know what she has done, what she would have done. Her life seemingly becomes idyllic, with her Beloved daughter returning. Beloved, however, only scares the community more. Denver, initially excited for her sister and only friend to return in a physical form, not merely as a companion in the river, reminding her, “‘don’t you remember we played together by the stream?’” (Morrison 89). But Beloved lives up to her name, particularly with Sethe, who begins neglecting Denver in favor of the baby that she lost and has seemingly been returned. Denver, separated from her self proclaimed purpose of protecting others and herself from Sethe, is lost and without purpose. In her exile, she feels without purpose, just as Dante feels when Virgil discovers him in the woods, fearing the she-wolf “that in her leanness/seemed racked with every kind of greediness” she sees hidden in Beloved (Inferno, Canto 1). Denver is the one character who makes it out of the ordeal relatively unscathed, and yet even she is traumatized by the supernatural horrors and greed that she has seen. Much like Dante, this journey is required for her to grow into the woman she becomes, but this baptism by fire is disheartening for readers of the Divine Comedy and Beloved alike.

My question therefore is, how can we move forward from here? Are we as readers “getting closer to the center/of the universe, where all weights must converge,/and I was shivering in the eternal chill” (Inferno, Canto 32). It is clear that there is more to come, both in the Divine Comedy and Morrison’s trilogy, but I am curious to see if parts of Inferno will come back into play in Morrison’s work, as well as looking back and seeing the parts of Purgatorio and Paradiso that we may have missed by virtue of simply not having the context to understand Morrison’s clever usage of Dantean principles and themes in her work. I am aware that we have not yet finished Inferno, so this may also impact my interpretation of this relationship in the future. Overall, as we stand at the threshold of both the class and the trilogies, I find myself thinking more than analyzing what can come next. The themes of exile and leading/being led through the darkness are already so prominent, but I wonder how much farther they can extend.

Thresholds Essay

The predicament with an essay such as this one is that the prompt is so open ended that it causes the mind to wander in a multitude of different directions. Where should my focus be found? Should it lie in the evidence I found in the text or the ideas burgeoning in my brain, begging to be penned on a piece of paper? In the end, I have decided to go with the train of thought that inspires the most passion in me; a thought that I have been itching to put in writing and explore: the connection between Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.

On the surface, this connection I have drawn seems odd or inconsequential since it appears completely unconnected to anything we have been discussing in class. After all, what does a course about Morrison and Dante have to do with Marquez? When interpreting the prompt, I have decided to do so somewhat abstractly, applying the concept of connecting two texts that seem to come from vastly different worlds, and am excited to share the links I have uncovered. Similarly to how there is no way Morrison wrote Beloved without being heavily influenced by Dante, I also believe she has taken note of Marquez’s novel, which was only published 20 years prior to hers. There are too many similarities in some of the characters between the novels for this connection to be denied, and I believe this essay, which serves as a time capsule for my mindset at the start of this class, is the perfect vehicle for it to be explored. 

The most obvious connection, the one that struck me the most, is the similarity of relationships between Denver and Beloved, and Amaranta and Rebeca. To start out, neither of these girls are biological siblings, as Rebeca and Beloved are both orphan characters that are adopted by the matriarchs, Ursula and Sethe respectively.  At this point in Beloved, Denver is a lonely girl desperately trying to hang on to any scrap of love or companionship she can get. When Beloved arrives, a seemingly quiet and complacent companion for the solitary Denver, she jumps at the opportunity to be a part of something; to be a part of someone. Denver, despite nursing Beloved back to full health and serving as a constant ally, can never seem to surmount the pedestal Sethe holds in Beloved’s eyes. Anytime Denver deigns to say something remotely unbecoming or tinged with annoyance about her mother, Beloved’s demeanor darkens. Beloved’s secret, passionate, and protective underbelly is hidden by the weak, quiet, and frankly childish demeanor she tends to portray, content to sit and suck her thumb while the world spins around her. These are direct parallels to the relationship and archetypes of Amaranta and Rebeca. As mentioned previously, Denver is the embodiment of Amaranta, a young girl whose countless disappointments in love only serve to harden her heart for generations to come. Beloved, on the other hand, has clear connections to Rebeca, an orphan who finds her way into the Buendia household as a child who carries a bag of her parents’ bones, has a tendency to eat earth, and is constantly seen sucking her thumb. In Marquez’s novel, these motifs associated with Rebeca boil down to sex, love, and passion. Rebeca never wanted to settle down; she only wanted to maintain a level of carnal, animalistic desire that can never be satisfied on a human plane.

 It is the different ideas of love that tear the relationship between Amaranta and Rebeca apart. Both are infatuated with a man named Pietro Crepsi, however he ends up choosing Rebeca and the two become engaged following a passionate love affair. Rebeca pushes off the engagement for years, before abandoning him and starting a new, even more passionate and savage affair with her adoptive brother. Crespi then decides to woo Amaranta, the sister who was initially burned, but she is still so full of hate from the aftermath of the love triangle, that she rejects him and he kills himself. In my mind, if Denver is the Amaranta figure and Beloved is the Rebeca, that makes Sethe the Crespi. When thinking back to the point in Beloved where I am right now, it seems like Beloved is merely using Denver to get to Sethe, and that when given the chance, Sethe would choose Beloved over Denver. When the strength of Beloved’s affection for Sethe becomes obvious to Denver, it may cause the latter to discover a hurt she had no idea existed, one that surpasses any sliver of pain, love, and loneliness she has ever felt before. Not only would it cause Denver’s downfall, but the possibility of Sethe losing Beloved and the new passion she brings to her life would be detrimental, leading to either a physical or spiritual death akin to that of Crespi. I feel as if something big is going to happen. Whether it be a shattered relationship that cannot be pieced back together or lost love that may never be recovered, all I know is that somebody (maybe everybody) is going to get irreversibly hurt. 

When comparing Beloved to Dante’s Inferno, one large theme that drew me in and has remained prevalent in my mind is the idea of selfless love versus selfish love. Is it selfless for a mother to love her child, to make a choice for them that they do not have the capacity to make? Is it selfish to give into the throes of desire, regardless of consequences? These themes are also examined in One Hundred Years of Solitude, showing that passionate love cannot survive, and that where fire sparks, a storm will come to snuff it out as soon as it has arrived. So far, it seems the same can be said for Beloved. Where there is passion, there is destruction. It is only a matter of time before I see which characters escape from the flames, and who gets consumed by the burn. While the sheer idea of connecting Dante to this text may have inspired me to explore another possible text connection by giving my observations merit and me the confidence to explore a train of thought that I desperately needed to get down on paper, this is a good point, I feel, to remember why the Dante connection is so important in the trajectory of Beloved. Although it is a complex story with many themes, the primary purpose of Marquez’s novel was to show how families and societies get stuck in the same cycles. That purpose does not necessarily align with that of Dante’s Inferno and Morrison’s Beloved

If there is anything I have learned at the threshold of this class, it is that when one reaches the pits of hell, they eventually will reach a point where they cannot do anything but go up. Marquez’s novel does not have this climb, which is the linchpin to Beloved and its relationship with Dante. Regardless of whether my thoughts can be considered correct or incorrect, I am happy I was able to explore this whim, which I had picked up on from the second I began reading Morrison’s novel. The prompt for this essay was purposefully vague, making it simultaneously frustrating and a gift. For all that it is annoying to not have much direction, I am grateful I was given the chance to allow a glimpse into my brain, my thought process, and how I write. I am ready to move on to the next phase of the semester. I am now ready to cross the threshold.

Thresholds of Understanding and of Departments (ENGL 431 Thresholds)

            This semester, we will be diving into three works by Toni Morrison, Beloved, Paradise, and Jazz. I’ve never read any of Morrison’s work, so such a focused look into a completely new author is an exciting chance to learn for me. At the same time, the coming semester presents me with some apprehension from multiple sources. We are connecting many of the themes in Morrison’s work to the writing of Dante, another author which I have never read. While it is exciting to explore new works, that much new material in such a high level class does bring a level of concern that I may not be able to keep up with the reading or with the comprehension of the rest of the class. In addition, I have recently been grappling with a feeling of “otherness” in my English classes this semester stemming from my STEM major and my focus on different studies. While we study the idea of thresholds in the writing of Dante and Morrison, these worries leave me, ironically, at two of my own thresholds to consider as we move into the spring semester.

             The first threshold to consider is that of understanding. Now that we have read some of Morrison and Dante, I have the beginnings of an understanding of why the two might be grouped and studied together. The themes present in Dante’s Inferno are starting to pop up in Morrison’s Beloved, and they interact in increasingly interesting ways. Dante’s idea of Hell in Inferno centers largely around the idea of contrapasso, that sinners’ punishments are fitting for their sins. Since Sethe killed her child, that sin would put her in one of the circles of Hell, most likely Caina, in which sinners are held under frozen water with only their heads sticking out. Despite her sin, after reading most of Beloved I would venture to say that Sethe does not deserve this kind of punishment, since the circumstances of her life before and after the supposed sin show her to be a good person put in a bad situation. Dante would seem to disagree, since the sinners in Hell refuse, or are unable to, answer Dante the Pilgrim when he asks for their stories and are condemned to Hell without concern for the context under which their sins were committed. If my interpretation of Sethe’s life is in line with what Morrison intended, I am interested to see how or if this apparent disagreement between Dante and Morrison over what sinners deserve is resolved. Not knowing anything about either author at the beginning of the semester, I feel like I am moving towards a greater understanding of the two authors and how they overlap, but I acknowledge that I still have a lot to learn and a lot of material to read. This leaves me in a state of both understanding and not understanding at the same time, an idea that struck me as ironically fitting due to our focus on different kinds of thresholds in our readings this semester. I have no doubt that a semester worth of reading and good-faith conversation with my classmates will push me through this threshold and lead me to a greater understanding and appreciation of both authors.

            I am much less certain of overcoming my second threshold. As a biochemistry major, I have felt more noticeably out of place in my English classes this semester than in previous semesters. After thinking on the feeling, it makes perfect sense. I had recently remarked to a friend that my chemistry classes had become much smaller and more competitive as we moved into junior year, since the only students left in chemistry classes this advanced are upper-level chemistry and biochemistry majors that really care about and love the subject. With that in mind, it makes a lot of sense that I feel out of place in my two four hundred level English classes. My classmates are largely English or English education majors who have decided to dedicate their college education to a subject that they really care about. This is not to say that I do not care as much as my classmates do, but I have realized that they have dedicated a much more significant part of their lives to the subjects we are studying than I have, in exactly the same way I have dedicated more time to chemistry than they have. That dedication showed in the first few days of my English classes, in which my peers were much more ready to tackle difficult readings and discussions of interpretations that had not even occurred to me yet. While I was a little discouraged that I was lagging behind my peers in some discussions, knowing that my peers are expected to have developed their reading skills more than I have is a comforting thought that provides me the motivation to catch up with my peers’ comprehension of the texts we are reading. My minor in English leaves me at my second threshold; both in and out of the English program. While I’m currently enrolled in two high-level English classes, I am now aware of the difference between me and my English major peers and how that is starting to manifest in the classroom. This semester, one of my goals for this class, as well as Professor Rutkowski’s Herman Melville class, will be to push myself to the level of my peers and share some of the dedication and the extent of the love that they have for English literature.

            As we move past the threshold and into the class itself, I am challenging myself to take these difficulties as a challenge more than an obstacle. It is true that I feel behind my peers in comprehension and skill, but that gives me a framework to center my improvement around. I have never read the two authors we are focused on this semester, but new authors give me an opportunity to both expand my literature lexicon and catch up with my peers in my reading and analysis. The thresholds I find myself in currently provide a fitting link to the class curriculum and an impetus to grow beyond my previous education and attitudes, a prospect that excites me as much as it does intimidate me.

Abandon All Previous Conceptions Ye Who Reads Morrison’s Books

Before the start of this class, before I looked upon the threshold, before my eyes glazed over any words of Dante, I had attempted to read Toni Morrison. I was a high school student, trying to walk through that doorway of adulthood, and I found that the only way to truly understand what it meant to be an adult was to read the stories and authors that everyone else was reading. The first Toni Morrison book I purchased was God Help The Child, and I read about half of the book then I decided that I wasn’t the right audience to enjoy the content, so when I was recommended to read Beloved I jumped at my chance to finally enjoy a Toni Morrison book. I wanted to read it simply because it was seen as a classic, not the sort of classics that we were taught in those days––not the canon––but a classic in its own right. It was a book to read if you truly wanted to be a reader. A book that would open you up to ideas and content you never bothered to read or think about. I was ready for that––or at least I thought I had been. Looking back, I realize that I never cared to read Morrison’s work because of her genius, rather, I wanted to complete it. I wanted to tell everyone that I had read a Morrison book (and Beloved nonetheless). 

I also thought that seeing what the works of a successful Black author were like would help me become the writer that I wanted to be. But I couldn’t make it through the book. I found myself at the threshold, a few pages into Beloved, excited to continue reading, but still not having the mindset or the energy to pick it up and continue. To learn about Sethe or Denver or Sweet Home. To find out if Beloved was the “crawling-already?” baby. To study Morrison’s writing and enjoy her books. I never made it past the third or maybe the fourth chapter (or maybe it was the fourth page), and the book became buried in the crates and bins with all of my other books. Long forgotten until I fished it out in response to taking this class. I was very thrilled to be reading Toni Morrison again, but I found a creeping feeling there that I would get to that initial point in Beloved where I could no longer continue for the sake of enjoyment and it would become a task simply for this class. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to walk through that doorway, that I would be stuck at the threshold. 

However, as we finish up Beloved, I find myself excited to read ahead. I find that first intrigue bubbling back up and encouraging me to read until I have reached the last page. I look back at my initial try and I think it was because I didn’t have peers to contemplate the contents of the book with that stopped me short of enjoying it fully. In the last class, we discussed what circle of betrayers would Sethe, Paul D., Denver, and Beloved fall into. From this discussion, I have been doing a lot of thinking about the main character’s motives and desires. Since Caina is the part of Cocytus dedicated to people who betrayed their relatives, we originally deemed Sethe as a member of this group since she killed her child, and attempted to kill the others––betraying the trust and love of their mother. However, when you take into account her reasoning for performing infanticide––helping her children escape slavery and the life that she had run away from––things become a bit less black and white. With that being said, can one fault her for this? As Toni Morrison said, “[Sethe did] the right thing…but she had no right to do it.” While morally, she had betrayed her children, her husband, and even Baby Suggs, how could she not have had that right when white people during this time period had the right to lynch black people? What is the difference? Where is the law? Taking all of this into consideration, I believe that Sethe may have fallen into this particular place in Cocytus, however, I also believe that Denver could be seen as a betrayer of her relatives––specifically Sethe. Denver has an inkling of who Beloved might be, but she keeps it to herself. She even goes as far as to say that “the choice between Sethe and Beloved was without conflicting,” insinuating that she would choose a stranger over her mother. That she would watch Beloved choke her mother on Baby Suggs’s rock if it meant having company and companionship because Denver refuses to go back to the overwhelming loneliness she felt before the arrival of this stranger. Could Sethe not also find herself in Tolomea––the part of Cocytus dedicated to those who betray their guests? While she doesn’t betray Paul D. or Beloved outright, can’t a withholding of information be indicative of a betrayal? She knew why all of her neighbors and the Black people in the town avoided her and Denver, but she never uttered anything of the unfortunate events surrounding her child’s death to Paul D. She allowed him to remain ignorant in his knowledge of everything and is that not a betrayal? 

Aside from the talks of the Cocytus, I am starting to understand the vast parallels between Beloved and Dante’s Inferno. When we look at the characters who mirror Virgil, acting as a guide for other characters, many people stand out. In Sethe’s life, Amy acted as a Virgil on the night surrounding Denver’s birth, guiding Sethe through the fields toward the house they spent the night in, and even further on toward the boat. Amy protects Sethe from impending death, soothing her swollen feet and beaten back, and making a makeshift sling for Denver. I also thought Amy had characteristics of Charon since she ferried her through the terrain toward the water for freedom, however, looking back now, I think someone who encompasses Charon more would be Stamp Paid. His entire job centers around carrying runaways by boat to Ella and John in hopes of helping them find freedom. He is just as much of a guide (a Virgil), but his job is done when they get across the river, which makes him more akin to the mythological character than to Dante’s companion during his trip through hell and purgatory. I have also come to think of Beloved herself as a guide for Denver. There are things that Denver never bothered to learn about her mother’s time at Sweet Home, but now she finds herself eager to know simply because Beloved wants to know. She also looks to Beloved for everything, including friendship. When Beloved disappears in the shed for a split second, Denver has a fit, not wanting this to be the end of what they have because if Beloved left––truly went back to wherever she walked out of––then Denver would find herself alone yet again and with no one’s company to enjoy. In a sense Beloved is guiding Denver’s loneliness, helping her feel like she belongs not only at 124, but also in others’ company. 

We’ve talked quite a bit about contrapasso’s which, according to Dante, is the idea that the punishment fits the crime equally. In this idea of the contrapasso, Dante the pilgrim believes that those who are in hell deserve to be there due to the makings of their own choices. This idea is brought up in Beloved when Amy is talking to Sethe and she says, “You must of did something,” which is in response to the tree on Sethe’s back. This line alludes to the idea that Sethe’s lashings were a fitting punishment for whatever crime she must have committed to deserve such a thing. This opens one’s eyes to the overall idea of slavery: that enslaved people have committed some crime to have been enslaved, which we know not to be true, but reasons well with Dante’s idea of contrapasso. We can see Dante’s inability to accept other people’s crimes and set them apart from their punishments when he goes through Cocytus. Dante relentlessly asks the suffering souls why they are there––what act they had committed––and then proceeds to pull their hair or threaten them until they tell him. He is neither sympathetic nor caring, not believing that they deserve his pity because whatever life they led is represented by the space they occupy in hell. 

All of this thinking and interpreting brings me to the forefront of this class: how are Dante’s Divine Comedy and Morrison’s Beloved (and Jazz and Paradise) coincide with one another? Is it in the form of the characters themselves? Do Morrison’s characters represent one specific character in Dante’s Divine Comedy or are there just bits and pieces of their characteristics sprinkled throughout Morrison’s trilogy? As we continue to delve into this subject and the course material, I find myself making my connections, not only to the works presented to us but also to the things I have learned in other classes. The scene when Beloved leaves the water reminds me of what happened in Lagoon when the Ayodele walks out of the water for the first time and the two witnesses watch her. While it isn’t the same thing, this can be seen as an alien (Ayodele)––or a spirit(Beloved)––taking root in not only the lives of the characters, but also in the place where everything is happening. As I stand on the threshold of this class, continuing to delve deeper into Morrison’s other works, I hope I can discard my initial thoughts of reading her books just to say I have read her/to say I am a reader of classics. I hope to find further connections between Morrison’s works and Dante’s works, and connect them back to many of the other things I have discussed, interpreted, or come across while here at Geneseo.

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.