The Dichotomy of Me

Collaboration is a process meant to bring together different individuals for the purpose of producing work that transcends the abilities of one, singular person. That being said, many collaborations can fail to do this, the process being a double-edged sword. Where a positive, successful collaboration can allow each individual to shine, giving them the opportunity to highlight the thing they do best when propped up by the best of someone else, a negative collaboration will relegate some, if not most, collaborators to the shadows. When Morrison introduces new characters in each book of her trilogy, there is always someone who is caught in the throes of toxic collaboration. In Beloved, there is Denver; In Jazz, Felice; In Paradise, Mavis. At the start of each of their journeys, every one of these women are forced to silence their voices and quietly long for a peaceful existence that appears constantly out of reach. While these women embarked on their own quests of self-discovery, I went through my own metamorphosis, learning to thrive alongside them. I embraced the tenacity of Denver, the persistence of Mavis, and the independence of Felice. Most of all, I saw myself in the way Morrison brought these characters into the light as they learned to assert themselves and embrace the concept of positive collaboration, eventually using these tools to confront the wider world with their hearts on their sleeves.

The first of the characters the reader encounters is Denver. Denver is the daughter of Sethe, and is the only one of her children to not have died or abandoned her. Prior to the present day of Beloved, Sethe entered a self-imposed exile as punishment for killing the baby Beloved. Since Sethe is in exile, Denver is as well, leaving this quiet girl in a stifling environment where she cannot learn the power of collaboration. For so much of her life, she has been stuck with only her mother for company, and while she sticks by her out of a sense of love and duty, there is no room for fresh perspectives to blossom. This is how I thought my first collaboration would go: me, following a group blindly, voice snuffed out in favor of those who had multiple semesters to forge relationships with each other.  Additionally, once someone hits their mid-twenties, “the brain’s plasticity solidifies… this can mean it’s tougher to learn new skills” (Virtanen 2022). As a recently turned twenty-year old, this means that my capacity to break out of a toxic mindset and learn to collaborate is on the clock; in other words, if I do not rectify my mistakes now, like Denver, I will be cemented in the firmament as one who perpetuates a toxic collaborative mindset. It is at this moment that Dante can be turned to, shedding a light on the fate of both Denver and myself. In the early Cantos of the Divine Comedy, Dante and his guide Virgil prepare to cross the River Acheron, truly kicking off the pilgrim’s voyage from the depths of Hell to the doorways of Paradise. As Dante looks on the impending journey with fear, Virgil says, “… they want to cross the river, they are eager; it is Divine Justice that spurs them on, turning the fear they have into desire” (Canto III, lines 124-126). The main idea of this quote is that in order to overcome the toxicity of one’s mindset, they must desire change more than they fear it. In fact, wading through a river of pain and coming out on the other side can go as far as being rejuvenating. This is certainly true for Denver, who braves the outside world for the first time since she shut herself in for the sake of saving her family. Now, I must turn that question inwards: is my desire to participate in a positive collaboration stronger than my self-doubt? It should be said that stepping out of one’s comfort zone is the most daunting aspect of collaboration, but as demonstrated by Denver, sometimes it is necessary to achieve one’s goals. After all, knowing when to speak up and exercise one’s own judgment is just as important as sitting back and listening. In the end, Denver comes to the conclusion that she needed to leave the toxic collaborative cycle within her household for her own sake. By doing this, Denver has taken charge over her own destiny and sense of self, armed with the knowledge of how to put herself out into the world and find the pieces to create a positive collective in the future. Through her, I can learn to do the same. 

While Denver gets the opportunity to choose positive collaboration for herself, others such as Felice are forced to learn via life’s circumstances. I certainly know what this is like, having to adjust my personal concepts of collaboration as I’ve progressed through time. If there is one thing I have come to know, it is that flexibility is key; that is why I can relate to Felice, who represents another facet of a toxic collaboration: complacency. When Morrison introduces Felice, it is in the context of a grieving best friend. Initially, this is par for the course, however as the plot moves along, it is revealed that Dorcas had the tendency to steamroll Felice. Whereas in Beloved, all characters played a role in the collaboration, regardless of how healthy it was, in Jazz, Dorcas is in the driver’s seat, and it is not until her death when Felice’s true feelings become known. This makes sense, as Felice was a lonely girl, and when one is lonely they tend to gobble up any scraps of relationship they can get, as it is better than solitude. While Felice had suspicions about the true colors of Dorcas for a while, she chose to remain compliant in favor of maintaining the short term remedy of companionship. There is something to be said about someone who realizes when it is time to leave a toxic collaboration and is resigned to loneliness, however I, like most humans in this situation, am a masochist. Caught in an unbalanced friendship until the day of Dorcas’ death, Felice felt nothing but anger. Dorcas never took her ideas, thoughts, and opinions seriously, so why should she care that she died? One might say she got what she deserved. By holding onto this anger, Felice bottled up her emotions, effectively closing herself off to the possibility of rediscovering the joys of collaboration in the future. It is not until her final conversation with Joe, where he encourages her to forge her own path, that she regains direction that she previously lost. Collaboration is all about the balance between taking center stage and fading into the background. Felice has been in the background for too long, and now that she has met the likes of Joe and Violet, who will not ignore her strengths, she finally has the chance to shine. As Felice begins a new chapter focused on her own wants and needs, Dante can be turned to once again. While Felice is an independent figure, Dante says “the other three, who see more deeply, will instruct her sight.” (Canto XXXI, lines 109-110). Even though Felice deserves to focus on herself, going through life without anyone to lean on can be a burden. As this quote reminds the audience, it is important to recognize that through collaboration, we achieve self-betterment through seeing another’s point of view. It can be hard to change if you deliberately surround yourself with people who will stifle your voice. I, like Felice, have learned the hard way that it is necessary to find those that will prop you up. Without that mutual respect between collaborators, it is impossible for any meaningful collaboration to take place. 

The last character to be released from the clutches of a toxic collaboration was Mavis in Paradise. Much like Felice before her, Mavis was a passive participant in the collaborative process. Similar to Denver, she realized the harm of the collaborative cycle whilst she was entrenched in it. The thing that sets her apart from these two is that while the aforementioned girls were able to make amends with people who contributed to the unhealthy environment, Mavis realized that in order to flourish, she must remove herself from the situation entirely. Once again, this is extremely brave, as knowing when to remove oneself from a mentally debilitating situation is hard. I know firsthand that in a toxic collaboration, seeds of paranoia will be planted in your brain and continue to grow until you reach your breaking point. Mavis certainly reached this breaking point, knowingly remaining in her abusive marriage, the guilt of her past sins haunting her, ensuring that she would never break this cycle. Because of that, it is not until she reaches the Convent when she is able to reassess her life and approach to collaboration. Over the course of her time at the Convent, Mavis gradually lets go of her rigid nature and cautious approach to collaboration, letting loose and discovering who she really is. In the section Divine, following one of her many spats with Gigi, Mavis sits in the bathroom, thinking idly about her daily errands and arguments with the other girl. Through this moment of self-reflection, Mavis realizes she has grown so much, “that the old Mavis was dead” (Paradise 171). To quote a prominent figure from the twenty-first century who echoes this sentiment, “the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now/ “Why? Oh, ‘cause she’s dead!” (Swift 2017). Seeing as both these modern lyrics and Morrison’s sentiments from 1997 carry the same message, it shows how the idea of reinvention through collaboration is transcendent. It is one thing to know when one is caught in a toxic collaboration, but it is another thing to use that knowledge as motivation to become a better version of oneself. Mavis is able to do it, going from a passive participant to an outspoken contributor. In fact, the lesson Mavis learned is perhaps the most profound: collaboration can be as simple as surrounding oneself with people who will bring out the best in them. If these characters can do it, why can’t I? 

As I learn from these characters, observing their trials and triumphs, I have to remember to look inward. I can relate to the independence, persistence, and tenacity of these characters all I want, but it is not until I apply these tools to my own collaborations that any meaningful work can be done. It does not matter if I see myself one way, in the shadows, if I do not actively work to bring that side of me into the light. I can confidently say that if I succeeded at nothing else in this class, I have succeeded at that. Self-doubt may be the most toxic inhibitor to collaboration of all. However, with each group collaboration, that inner voice was silenced. I know this essay will not be the most technically brilliant, nor will it contain revolutionary ideas that change how we perceive the texts covered in this class. This essay will not even be the one most littered with flowery metaphors. That is okay. I know who I am, and I know the writer I want to be. I am aware of what I bring to the table, and I know how those thoughts can help my fellow collaborators reach inside the well of creation to make an imperfect masterpiece. I have the power of my own self worth, and that knowledge is the most powerful tool of all. 

Works Cited 

Dante. “Canto III.” Inferno , edited by Mark Musa, Penguin Books/Penguin Group, New York, NY, 2003, pp. 89–96. 

Dante. “Canto XXXI.” Purgatorio  , edited by Mark Musa, Penguin Books/Penguin Group, New York, NY, 2003, pp. 330–342. 

Morrison, Toni. Beloved. Vintage Books, 1987. 

Morrison, Toni. Jazz. Vintage Books, 1992. 

Morrison, Toni. Paradise . Vintage Books , 1997. 

Swift, Taylor. “Taylor Swift – Look What You Made Me Do (Lyric Video).” YouTube, 24 Aug. 2017, 

Virtanen, Aurora. “The Magic of Brain Plasticity: Why It’s Never Too Late to Learn!” Growth Engineering, 23 Nov. 2022,’s%20strongly%20believed%20that%20once,tougher%20to%20learn%20new%20skills. 

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.