Ortiz-Vilarelle sheds new light on Morrison’s ‘Beloved’

What is the best way to spend a rainy Thursday? For English majors and Toni Morrison lovers alike it was delving into an analysis of “Beloved” for a quick pick-me-up.

Associate professor of English Lisa Ortiz-Vilarelle explored and analyzed the style and language of “Beloved” to a packed crowd last Thursday at one of the English Department’s Close Readings.

“This is a passage about pasts . and memory,” Ortiz said.

The setting for the passage involved the female protagonist, a slave woman named Sethe talking to God when her daughter, Denver, overhears her.

Ortiz deftly picked up on mechanics and patterns that might seem trite to a non-English major, but had all of the heads in the audience nodding in agreement at her findings.

Ortiz noted the simple sentence structures, declarative sentences and monosyllabic words as well as Morrison’s ambiguous pattern in mentioning “things” six times, “places” six times, and “there” 11 times.

Ortiz commented that the repetitive use of these ambiguous words is a deliberate action by Morrison so as not to name places, things or people. This action is done to illustrate the slave woman’s complex of identifying and remembering her past.

One’s “rememory,” as phrased in the passage, is a “physical manifestation of memory based on lived experience,” Ortiz said.

Remembering the past but not placing or naming it is part of the irrepressible history of slavery.

“‘Beloved’ exists as someone or something neither here nor there,” Ortiz said. She then quoted literary critic Marsha Darling: “‘Beloved’ is also those black slaves whom we don’t know, who did not survive that passage (Middle Passage) . and didn’t show up on the other shores.”

After Ortiz’s reading, many of the attending professors also chimed in with their thoughts on the novel.

The ambiguity regarding memory serves as a universal context and collective conscious for everyone. Therefore, the concept of rememory can act as a memorial for history and the past, argued assistant professor of English Cassandra Jackson.

Others noted that since memory is a place that is everywhere, “Beloved” focuses on how it is important to go to your past on your own terms rather than be pursued by it.

“I thought it was very interesting, although I have never read the book,” junior English major Rachel Scupp, said.

Scupp now plans to read “Beloved” and see if her close reading of the text will decipher the same ideas shared at the reading.