For many animals and people around the world, nature represents something very unique. Often times, people find nature to have a serene and calming effect on their moods. Toni Morrison explores this idea many times in her novel Beloved. In this novel, Toni Morrison uses trees to symbolize comfort, protection, peace, and emphasize the serenity that the natural world offers. Several characters in her novel believe that trees to offer calm, and the black characters especially depend on nature to aid in healing and as an escape from their troubles, thus conveying Morrison's message that trees bring peace. Besides using the novel's characters to convey her message, Morrison herself displays and shows the good and calmness that trees represent with the stirring imagery in her narration.
Toni Morrison uses trees and characters' responses to them to show many blacks that suffered through slavery felt it necessary find comfort in the simple or seemingly harmless aspects of life, such as nature and especially trees. With the tree's symbolism of escape and peace, Morrison uses her characters' references to their serenity and soothing nature as messages that only in nature could these oppressed people seek comfort and escape from the haunting reminders of their destitute lives. Nearly every one of Morrison's characters find refuge in trees and nature, but no one more than Paul D. and Sethe.
Despite the many gruesome events witnessed by Sethe in her life she chooses to remain optimistic and cheerful by thinking about sycamore trees instead. It shamed Sethe to remember the wonderful soughing trees rather than the boys hanging from them. However, try as she might the memory of the sycamores could not take a backseat to the horrors she had seen. Although Sethe wishes she would " ve remembered the boys instead, she actually prefers to ignore the pain when she asks Paul D about news of Halle, because she pictures th sycamores instead of the possibility that Halle has been lynched, "'I wouldn't have to ask about him would I You'd tell me if there was anything to tell, wouldn't you's the looked down at her feet and saw again the sycamores" (Morrison 8). When Schoolteacher whips Sethe, leaving her back leathery with scars, she refers to the scar as a chokecherry tree to soothe and to lessen the physically and emotional pain that the scar represents, "But that's what she said it looked like, A chokecherry tree.
Trunk, branches and even leaves. Tiny little chokecherry leaves" (Morrison 16). Amy Denver is a white woman who helps Sethe through labor and only appears once in the novel, however, her comparison of Sethe's scar to a tree leaves a lasting impression on the girl. "It's a tree Lu. See, here's the trunk- it's red and split open, full of sap, and this here's the parting for the branches. You got a mighty a lot of branches.
Leaves, too, look like, and dern if these ain't blossoms. Tiny little cherry tree blossoms, just as white. Your back got a whole tree on it. In bloom. (Morrison 79) Amy Denver's wonderfully constructed image of a chokecherry tree brings beauty and peace to Sethe's mind instead of the shame, pain and sadness that the scar truly represents. In an attempt to ease Sethe's pain some more, Amy Denver searches for spider webs, another product of Mother Nature, to drape over Sethe's "tree" and subside the pain.
Denver also brilliantly compares the scar to a Christmas tree to conjure up images of joy and happiness in order to divert Sethe's mind from her pain and suffering, "Amy returned with two palmful's of web, which she cleaned of prey and then draped on Sethe's back, saying it was like stringing a tree for Christmas" (Morrison 80). While Sethe thinks of trees to heal and calm her pain and suffering, Paul D comes in direct contact with trees as his escape from everyday slave life. As Paul D dealt with the hardships of slavery, he chose to love trees for their comfort and calm qualities, .".. trees were inviting; things you could trust and be near; talk to if you wanted to as he frequently did since way back when he took the midday meal in the fields of Sweet Home" (Morrison 21).
Because of these qualities, Paul D chose one particular tree, larger and more inviting than other trees as his object of affection. He named the tree "Brother" and he believed that it listened to him and was always there for comforting. "His choice he called Brother, and sat under it, alone sometimes. Sometimes with Halle or the other Pauls...
." (Morrison 21). After a long day working in the fields, Paul D would often rest under the towering but comforting presence of Brother with Halle, the Pauls and Sixo, "He, Sixo and both of the Pauls sat under Brother pouring water from a gourd over their heads... ." (Morrison 27). Not only do trees represent comfort, they also represent a place of security, a place for escape from slave life. When Sixo visits the Thirty-Mile Woman, he escapes into the secure woods before her master could catch him, "But Sixo had already melted into the woods before the lash could unfurl itself on his indigo behind" (Morrison 25).
While Paul D sits under Brother to find comfort, Sixo enters the woods at night to dance, escape slave life and to be in tune with his culture, "Sixo went among the trees at night. For dancing, he said, to keep his bloodlines open, he said" (Morrison 25). As Morrison relies on her characters' references to trees to convey her message, she herself indirectly reiterates her point by using symbolic tree imagery in her narration. In her description of the path to the clearing, Morrison describes drooping trees as if they represented towering guards seemingly bringing security to a once sacred place, "The old path was a track now, but still arched over with trees drooping buckeyes onto the grass below" (Morrison 89). The mere image of draping branches over the path to the clearing implies the security that trees bring. And to further her point, Morrison subtlety implies the sin of cutting down soothing, calming trees by describing the lumberyard's surroundings and the old sawyer, "Up and down the old lumberyard fence old roses were dying.
The sawyer who had planted them twelve years ago to give his workplace a friendly feel- something to take the sin out of slicing trees for a living... " (Morrison 47). Besides representing protection, security and comfort, Morrison also implies that trees bring good things. To Sethe and Denver, Beloved represents the best things in the world, a daughter and a sister. When Sethe and Denver first discover their "best thing," Beloved is slumped over a tree stump, Morrison's subtle message that trees bring good things, "Just as she thought it might happen, it has. Easy as walking into a room.
A magical appearance on a stump, the face wiped out by sunlight... ." (Morrison 123). Morrison also uses this implication when various townspeople leave food for Denver and Sethe on a tree stump, "Two days later Denver stood on the porch and noticed something lying on the tree stump at the edge of the yard. She went to look and found a sack of white beans. Another time a plate of cold rabbit meat. One morning a basket of eggs sat there" (Morrison 250).
Not only can trees bring good things, trees also seem to place the characters into unforgettable situations. When Paul D. leaves the woods, he finds himself in Wilmington with food and a temporary home as if Morrison implies that the woods lead him to comfort, "Crawling out of the woods, cross-eyed with hunger and loneliness, he knocked at the first back door he came to in the colored section of Wilmington" (Morrison 131). Paul D followed the "tree blossoms" to Sethe, another sign that trees help bring about favorable situations.
For Paul D, his love of trees helped his survival. When forced into Alfred, Georgia, Paul D encounters the most evil that he has ever encountered before, but despite tasting the iron bit, watching Sixo burn, losing Halle and the Pauls, and facing Schoolteacher's slavery, Paul D finds comfort in a young tree in the prison camp, "Loving small and in secret. His little love was a tree of course, but not like Brother- old, wide and beckoning. In Alfred, Georgia, there was an aspen too young to call a sapling. Just a shoot no taller than his waist. The kind of thing a man would cut to whip his horse" (Morrison 221) For Stamp Paid, an established savior, he feels the most comfortable when he helps and aids others.
Stamp Paid's picking berries for Sethe and Denver symbolizes his comfort towards helping people with the goodness of nature, .".. went off with two buckets to a place near the river's edge that only he knew about where blackberries grew, tasting so good and happy that to eat them was like being in church" (Morrison 136). A similar figure to Stamp Paid, Baby Suggs holy also finds the most comfort in helping others, giving advice, passing messages, healing the sick, hiding fugitives, loving and loving some more. She became a holy presence in town and preached from a rock in the clearing surrounded by trees, doing what she finds comfort in, helping and preaching to others, "In the Clearing, Sethe found Baby's old preaching rock and remembered the smell of leaves simmering in the sun, thunderous feet and the shouts that ripped pods off the limbs of chestnuts.
With Baby Suggs' heart in charge, the people let go" (Morrison 94). Even Sixo, the wild man went among the trees at night to "keep his bloodlines open." Each one of these characters has endured the horrors of slavery and faced this ordeal in different ways, but they all deal with slavery with the comforting and harmless aspect of nature-trees. Although people today don't have to suffer through slavery, almost everyone still experiences personal tragedies such as sickness or death of a friend, and perhaps experiencing the beauty of nature first hand is the perfect answer. Morrison's pleasing imagery brings back a time when the little secret hiding place in the woods or one's special thinking rock meant a simple healthy escape from life and it's problems.
Works Cited Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Plume, 1987.