All Volumes (2001-2008)


Volume VII, 2008

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I know that my effort is to be like something that has probably only been fully expressed perhaps in music . . . Writing novels is a way to encompass this-this something. Toni Morrison (Mckay, 152) In an interview with Christina Davis, Toni Morrison describes her writing as “aural literature . . . because I do hear it” (230). Beloved is a particularly rich example of Morrison’s “aural literature”, literature which sounds and resounds. In an interview with Paul Gilroy, Morrison elaborates that these sounds are primarily musical: “My parallel is always the music, because all of the strategies of the art are there . . . music is the mirror that gives me the necessary clarity . . .” (81). In Beloved, music is the medium through which the characters express their innermost painful memories, memories otherwise unable to be expressed in language. In fact, in a world where black were called animal and subhuman, words were weapons against slaves. Therefore, blacks in the novel turn to music to find expression. Though special attention has been paid to the music in Beloved of late (at least four articles in 2006), these critics have failed to note the extent of music’s role in the novel and its relation to the novel’s overarching theme, namely how music expresses what cannot be said in words. Maggie Sale has noted that Morrison uses the musical technique of call-and-response but has not explained how this technique is significant to the plot and the outcome of conflicts, and to the existential vision of the novel. Instead in Sale’s article, “Call and Response as Critical Method: African-American Oral Traditions in Beloved,” she argues that “call-and-response patterns provide a basic model that depends and thrives upon audience performance and improvisation, which work together to ensure that the art will be meaningful or functional to the community” (41). In essence, Sale argues that call-and-response is a technique dependent of the reader’s participation outside the novel and does not render meaning in itself through the characters. Against Sale, I argue that the meaning of the novel is not a product of musical techniques but is in the music itself. The following sections investigate the aural in Beloved is all its significance.