English 521 Final Project In Progress

Tess Farnham

Professor Cali

English 521/Final Project


Capuano, Peter J. “Truth in Timbre: Morrison’s Extension of Slave Narrative Song in

    ‘Beloved.’” African American Review, vol. 37, no. 1, 2003, pp. 95–103. JSTOR, JSTOR,


In this essay, Capuano explores the connections that establish Morrison’s novel as response “deliberately and exhaustively to the description of slave song in Frederick Douglass’s 1845 Narrative” (96). The reason for such a strong response, according to Capuano, is that Morrison was fast to identify Douglass’s predicament in writing for an 1845 white audience and eager to use her 20th century stance to finish telling his story.  “Through her exploration of the black experience within slavery and beyond, Morrison shows how song defines and affirms slave “personhood” in a world where slave humanity is constantly challenged and denied” (96). Capuano continues by explaining the importance of song in the silenced lives of Morrison’s characters: “Song offers slaves the opportunity to express their personal testimonies while remaining within the framework of their larger cultural experiences—all without actually speaking of their shame and trauma” (96). Interesting to note later is the inclusion of a passage from Douglass’s Narrative that explains the nature of improvisation in the composition of the slave song with a description of the way the words just came spilling out the lips of spontaneous story-telling.  Also interesting to note is Douglass explaining the ways in which slaves layered their words and melodies with conflicting meaning and emotion in order to keep the truth safe.

Capuano also cites examples of song topics in Morrison’s text, topics that are important in that they speak to the song’s reassertion of humanity against the inhumane and horrifying context of slavery.  The song not only establishes personhood to the slaves themselves, writes Capuano, it also identifies a slave as human to the captors: “Slave catchers are trained to kill animals in leg irons with bits in their mouths—not human beings with singing songs.  Morrison acknowledges this discrepancy as the white men wait” with five guns trained on [Sixo] while they listen to his song. Realizing that his song makes him far too human to shoot, one white man finally “hits Sixo in the head” to make him stop singing. (100)

Childs, Dennis. “‘You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet’: ‘Beloved,” the American Chain Gang, and

    the Middle Passage Remix.” American Quarterly, vol. 61, no. 2, 2009, pp. 271–297.

    JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27734990.

Eckstein, Lars. “A Love Supreme: Jazzthetic Strategies in Toni Morrison’s ‘Beloved.’”

    African American Review, vol. 40, no. 2, 2006, pp. 271–283. JSTOR, JSTOR,


Hall, Cheryl. “Beyond the ‘Literary Habit’: Oral Tradition and Jazz in Beloved.” MELUS,

    vol. 19, no. 1, 1994, pp. 89–95. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/467790.

Hall begins this essay by addressing the wide range of critical response to Morrison’s non-traditional, non-linear approach to prose-writing in Beloved:  “Perhaps even more powerful than the story Morrison tells, however. . .is the way she tells it, the innovative choices she makes that have driven many critics to find a new generic or structural model for their interpretations.” Hall moves on to cite Morrison explaining her creative intentions: “I wanted the sound to be something I felt was spoken and more oral and less print.”   According to Hall, what is most important for critics in this instance is listening to experience what is being communicated rather than just listening to experience traditional fiction.  Such expectations just get in the way of appreciating the true beauty of Morrison’s unique style.  Hall cites Anthony J. Berret in “[suggesting] that jazz is central to Morrison’s work” (90).  She expands on this theory through a process of naming the elements of jazz and identifying these elements in Morrison’s text.  These elements include: repetition and repeated motifs but also circular narrative that involves listening and responding, which leads to re-telling and embellishing.  Hall further explains the connection in explaining the jam session and its relevance in Morrison’s work: “One of the mainstays of jazz performance is the jam session. . .often marked by a series of solo performances by different musicians, almost always improvised, created out of the musician’s stock of knowledge about the possibilities inherent in a particular range of notes for every standard key, and featuring a number of recognizable ‘riffs.’  The soloists draw on the performances that preceded theirs, and usually incorporate certain elements from those performances into their own, varying them and surpassing them in a productive kind of one-upmanship that is designed to highlight the particular capabilities of each different instrument.”  From this explanation, Hall makes the case for the latter chapters of Beloved’s “Part Two” as jam session.  “The opening lines of each section are convincing enough evidence that each speaker is pursuing her particular variation on the same theme.”

Reed, R. R. “The Restorative Power of Sound: A Case for Communal Catharsis in Toni      

    Morrison’s Beloved.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, vol. 23 no. 1, 2007, pp. 55-

  1. Project MUSE,  muse.jhu.edu/article/215450.

Sale, Maggie. “Call and Response as Critical Method: African-American Oral Traditions

    and Beloved.” African American Review, vol. 26, no. 1, 1992, pp. 41–50. JSTOR, JSTOR,


In this essay, Sale defends Morrison’s stance as a non-monolithic Black artist who wishes to “distinguish her approach from those that actively utilize Western or European literary forms and traditions” (Morrison qtd. in Sale 41).  In saying this, Sale points out, Morrison does not wish to distance herself from African-American oral tradition; instead she means to focus on its most distinctive elements: “’antiphony, the group nature of art, its functionality, its improvisational nature, its relationship to audience performance. . .’” (Morrison qtd. in Sale 41).  Sale further asserts that Morrison’s novel Beloved is a work that attests to this aesthetic in that its text is rich with “call and response patterns” and “improvisation” all of which are composed and shared in communal settings (42).


Snow Melt

It’s been a sleepy time in Tessland, lots of hiding between teaching gigs (that are oh so very life-affirming and it makes me feel so blessed to watch things grow and change over the course of  a semester). Down time is necessary but hard.  In the meantime, it is good to be reminded of the infinite possibilities that exist out there for oneself, there for the taking.  Not just the hopeful stuff. . .but all the facets, the lights and the darks and shadows.


Gustave Caillebotte

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring





Spiritual Paths: The Te of Piglet

“Thousands of years ago, man lived in harmony with the rest of the natural world. Through what we would today call Telepathy, he communicated with animals, plants, and other forms of life-none of which he considered “beneath” himself, only different, with different jobs to perform. He worked side by side with earth angels and nature spirits, with whom he shared responsibility for taking care of the world.”
Benjamin Hoff, The Te of Piglet

“Without difficulties, life would be like a stream without rocks and curves – about as interesting as concrete. Without problems, there can be no personal growth, no group achievement, no progress of humanity. But what mattes about problems is what one does with them.”
Benjamin Hoff, The Te of Piglet

“In the Age of Perfect Virtue, men lived among the animals and birds as members of one large family. There were no distinctions between “superior” and “inferior” to separate one man or species from another. All retained their natural Virtue and lived in the state of pure simplicity…In the Age of Perfect Virtue, wisdom and ability were not singled out as extraordinary. The wise were seen merely as higher branches on humanity’s tree, growing a little closer to the sun. People behaved correctly, without knowing that to be Righteousness and Propriety. They loved and respected each other, without calling that Benevolence. They were faithful and honest, without considering that to be Loyalty. They kept their word, without thinking of Good Faith. In their everyday conduct, they helped and employed each other, without considering Duty. They did not concern themselves with Justice, as there was no injustice. Living in harmony with themselves, each other, and the world, their actions left no trace, and so we have no physical record of their existence.”
Benjamin Hoff, The Te of Piglet

“Wherever Gandhi went, he transformed situations and lives. As one friend and biographer wrote, “He…changed human beings by regarding them not as what they thought they were but as though they were what they wished to be, and as though the good in them was all of them”
Benjamin Hoff, The Te of Piglet

Cut Lilies by Noah Warren

Cut Lilies

Noah Warren

About This Poem

“‘Cut Lilies’ came during a nadir of loneliness in the early spring. Though I’m not religious, each year I find I need Easter more and more. Blake’s ‘Holy Thursday’ was heavy in my mind as I tried, through something like the pathetic fallacy, to trace the contours of the guilt behind my self-pity and my need.”
—Noah Warren

Noah Warren is the author of The Destroyer in the Glass (Yale University Press, 2016). He is a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and lives in Palo Alto, California.


Photo credit: Ana Flores

This is for a friend who is struggling with something scary and for whom I have no words . . .




blessing the boats


                                    (at St. Mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back     may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

Comfortably Dumb

--Edward Hopper, "High Noon"

–Edward Hopper, “High Noon”

Suicide.  It’s been over six months since I’ve had this urge to google it.  Six months ago, I put that urge away. . .put it in a strongbox and swallowed the key.

This is the last time you haunt the house of my brain .  Here’s your hat . ..don’t let the unlocked door hit you on the way out.

And  here, I hesitate to say,  it is six months later and he’s back, Jack. That asshole with the hobnail shoes, exhausted, nauseous, spent. Stomping around in the kitchen again. . .rummaging through the produce drawer, looking for palpable courage.

The long hallway with all the family photos: every last one of those faces emaciated, expressionless.   You want to save them. . . load them all into boats, bound for anywhere

but here, where the hurt is.

I mean it is one kind of unholy to go there yourself, but you look into that sea of faces. . .so far from shore.  Hands and arms aching all the way to umbilicus that keeps you tethered to heavy heavy heavy.

Holden Caulfield in a Coast Guard boat, waving a white flag.  Enough already.  Uncle.

Uncle uncle uncle.