The Salt Eaters
Rosalyn Tomlin English 316-040 Professor B. Greene Final Essay 5/16/13 Finding Self-Love by Healing and Remembering Your Inner Self In my reading of Toni Cade Bambara’s novel The Salt Eaters, I found myself at first disconnected and missing the real meaning behind the text. After reading it and putting it down and then picking it back up. The novel contains many variations of characters and different storylines that soon intertwine into each other. Woman’s quest in search for identity and freedom but not forget the importance of the black community values.
In the novel, I found several important themes throughout the novel but my main focus will be on the healing power its focus on the community and female aspects finding self-love. In comparison to Bambara’s work, Toni Morrison’s Beloved uses the act of remembering to deal with the past. The story gives brief understanding of the supernatural world. Beloved is the ghost of Sethe’s daughter who has came in the significant time of her life to bring Sethe to peace with her past.
In both novels, the determination of finding inner peace become very hard to find, where rememory and salt are used as symbols to help both protagonist come to a close. But we have to ask ourselves would we be able to overcome our past by always remembering it? The novel opens in clinic room where Velma Henry, the activist in the community attempted suicide. Along with Velma a spiritual healer by the name Minnie Ransom companies her and works on Velma. Velma attempted suicide because of her inability to deal with the conflicting demands of the black community.
Her continuous interaction of groups of women committed to women’s liberation, black capitalism, voodoo, and astrology, intimidate her sense of self because she believes in succeeding selfhood through work in the community, and each group insists on her faithfulness to segregation of the others. This also falls under with her growing with unhappiness with her marriage to Obie. Her dissatisfaction with life proves the compound for the other characters to mirror upon their own lives.
Velma shows her merging needs by closing off herself from the dangerous realms of personal relationships. If we look at the definition of “the self” we think of a person or thing referred to with respect to complete individuality. The self is viewed as a carefully bounded physical space, a country with borders that can be opened and closed at will. The irony of this shows that the more she closes herself off it increases the fear of interference. While she protects the self from closure, she simultaneously stops the possibility of relief and healing.
Minnie doubts that Velma wants to recover: “Are you sure, sweetheart? I’m just asking is all”, Minnie Ransom was saying, playfully pulling at her lower lip till three different shades of purple showed. “Take away the miseries and you take away some folks’ reason for lining. Their conversation piece anyway” (15). Velma has constructed her innermost identity by toughening herself against vulnerability and suffering; her suicide attempt shows her crucial sign at self-protection. To keep that in mind, Velma needs to keepo alive the pains and disorders that jusify it.
In other words Velma finds security in maintaining a constant state of antagonism, that helps generate and completing a cycle, by withdrawals from love and happiness. Minnie attempts to break this self destructive, self oppressive pattern through the use of all her folk arts. She expresses Her view of Velma and the world through a conversation with old wife: Dancing in mud with cowries. Mmm. Twisting and grunting for the reward-applause of a bloody head on a tray. Lord, have mercy. What is wrong with the women?
If they ain’t sticking their head in ovens and opening up their veins like this gal, or jumping off roofs, drinking charcoal lighter, pumping rat poisons in their arms and ramming cars into walls, they looking for some man to tear his head off. What is wrong, Old Wife? What is happening to the daughters of the yam? Seem like they just don’t know how to draw up the powers from the deep like before. Not full sunned and sweat and more. Tell me, how do I welcome this daughter home to the world…? (43-44). The women have ignored the ancient beliefs in spirits and healing and instead pursue power though ideological groups.
The problem lies not in the value of such groups, but in their separation from the black folk roots of the ideas. Velma’s healing follows the pattern of the troupe, but because that pattern demands concreteness, that she must inquire into her own personal and cultural past, with Minnie Ransom, to find an identity deeper than any of those meet the expense of her different beliefs: Day of Restoration, Velma muttered, feeling the warm breath of mine Ransom on her, lending her something to work the bellows of her lungs with. To keep on dancing like the sassy singer said.
Dancing on toward the busy streets alive with winti, coyote and cunnie rabbit and turtle and caribou as if heading for the Ark in the new tidal wave, racing in the direction of resurrection as should be and she had a choice running in the streets naming things cunnie rabbit called impala called little deer called trickster called brother called change naming things amidst the rush and dash of tires, feet damp dressing swishing by the Sprits of Blessing way outrunning disaster, outrunning jinns, shetnoi, soubaka, succubi, innocuii, incubi, nefarii, the demons midwifed, suckled and fathered by the one in ten Mama warned about who come to earth for the express purpose of making trouble for the other nine. (263-264).
Her vision begins in the view of the urban black with blues singers and busy streets, then moves to a natural world where life signifies some greater truth. From there she enters a spiritual space that is very alive with those who bless and those who haunt. but this space is itself a part of the concrete reality of the streets. Velma wants to live in a world that is free of constant running, shape shifting, and renaming. The whole idea of a self must be reconceived and the safety of an everlasting identity sacrificed. The world of joint harmony is also the world of demons and succubi, who seduce with their attractive but life rejecting forms. Velma must give up the safety of the various ideologies to follow the path of the “crazy woman”. She is aware if this change:
Velma would remember it as the moment she started back toward life, the moment when the healer’s hand had touched some vital spot and she was still trying to resist, still trying to think what good did wild do you, since there was always some low-life gruesome gang bang raping lawless pesty last straw nasty thing ready to ponce, put your total shit under arrest and crack your back but couldn’t. And years hence she would laugh remembering when she’d thought that was an ordeal. She didn’t know the half of it. Of what awaited her years to come. (278). This quotation shows flexibility of time characteristic in the magic of the voodoo woman, signifies success of Velma’s healing, but it also demonstrates that recuperation makes it possible greater, not reduced struggle.
She made whole by her willingness to open herself to the world and identify the self with the world that results in no resolution. Bambara touches base with the understanding between the female self and her community. The self can only reach its fullness through it embrace of the world; withdrawal from the world with its self-realization and self-destructive ways. The author shows us the understanding of selfhood, and the extension of the self into the world makes it vulnerable to the dangers. She also shows us the female self as being a model for the community, which often disintegrates in its efforts to define itself as one thing. This novel shapes a new definition of identity and cultural relevance and traditions of black women in the sense of community and of self. The characters in this novel are both individuals and a part of a community which takes the idea of community very seriously. The characters are depicted as standing at a moment of decision where there may be a change in the community environment, and they have no way of foreseeing how this will develop. To re-establish a balance and gain a firm grounding before any such change, they need to reaffirm community and link themselves to something outside themselves. This means, in the folklore people need to sit down together and eat salt. Sophie Heywood says clearly, “you never really know a person until you’ve eaten salt together” (Bambara 147).
Eating salt brings the people together, and it does so at the same time that it helps keep the body’s chemistry in harmony. So long as individual eats just the right amount of salt, the body will maintain its equilibrium, which is why Ahiro advises Obie that crying is also therapeutic: “the body needs to throw off its excess salt for balance” (Bambara 164). Salt is a cure-all which can also be a poison. It is also suggested that salt can be an antidote for snakebite (Bambara 257 58), and since this is a region where there are many snakes and even snake-handlers, this may be one of the reasons why salt was adopted as a communal element for the townspeople. Salt is a symbol of healing, purification, and of danger.
In this story, and countless others well known to the masses, salt is used to heal bites and wounds. In everyday life it is used to purify meats and keep them editable for longer periods of time. Salt also has its unhealthy or undesirable results from its use. Too much salt in food will give both a bitter taste and cause health issues. Many people suffer from hypertension as a direct result of too much salt intake. Salt, along with the rest of the symbols is used to bring a deeper meaning and understanding to the story. In comparison to the novel Beloved shows a great deal of the similar want to be connected with your inner self and self healing.
I use beloved as my example because she is in constant reminder of her past which she uses to help her self heal. To survive, one must depend on the acceptance and integration of what is past and what is present. In Beloved, Toni Morrison carefully constructs events that parallel the way the human mind functions; this serves as a means by which the reader can understand the activity of memory. “Rememory” enables Sethe, the novel’s protagonist, to reconstruct her past realities. The vividness that Sethe brings to every moment through recurring images characterizes her understanding of herself. Through rememory, Morrison is able to carry Sethe on a journey from being a oman who identifies herself only with motherhood, to a woman who begins to identify herself as a human being. Memories are works of fiction, selective representations of experiences actual or imagined. These internal resonances are so profound that even if one is eventually freed from external bondage, the self will still be trapped in an inner world that prevents a genuine experience of freedom. As Sethe succinctly puts it, “Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another” (95). The novel wrestles with this central problem of recognizing and claiming one’s own subjectivity, and it shows how this cannot be achieved independently of the social environment.
Morrison’s characters, African-Americans in a racist, slave society, there is no reliable other to recognize and affirm their existence. The mother, the child’s first vital other, is made unreliable or unavailable by a slave system which either separates her from her child or so enervates and depletes her that she has no self with which to confer recognition. The consequences on the inner life of the child – the emotional hunger, the obsessive and terrifying narcissistic fantasies- constitute the underlying psychological drama of the novel. “124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom. ” The opening lines of the novel establish its psychic source: infantile rage.
A wounded, enraged baby is the central figure of the book, both literally, in the character of Beloved, and symbolically, as it struggles beneath the surface of the other major characters. Even the elderly grandmother is significantly named “Baby,” and the ferocity of a baby’s frustrated needs colors the novel’s overt mother-child relationships as well as the love relationship between Sethe and Paul D and that between Beloved and her sister Denver. “A baby’s frustrated needs” refers here not to physical needs but to psychic and emotional ones. The worst atrocity of slavery, the real horror the novel exposes, is not physical death but psychic death.
The pivotal event, or crisis, of the novel is Sethe’s murder of her baby daughter Beloved. The reader is allowed to feel, however, the paradoxical nature of the murder. Sethe, having run away from the sadistic slave-master Schoolteacher, is on the verge of being recaptured. Her humanity has been so violated by this man, and by her entire experience as a slave woman, that she kills her daughter to save her from a similar fate; “if I hadn’t killed her she would have died and that is something I could not bear to happen to her” (200). Sethe kills her baby because, in Sethe’s mind, her children are the only good and pure part of who she is and must be protected from the cruelty and the “dirtiness” of slavery(Morrison 251).
In this respect, her act is that of love for her children. The selfishness of Sethe’s act lies in her refusal to accept personal responsibility for her baby’s death. The infantile rage in the novel is a form of frustrated, murderous love. The baby ghost of Beloved wreaks havoc in Sethe’s home, prompting Denver to comment, “For a baby she throws a powerful spell,” to which Sethe replies, “No more powerful than the way I loved her” (4). The power of Beloved’s rage is directly linked to the power of Sethe’s love. The intimacy of destructive rage and love is asserted in various ways throughout the book – Sethe’s love for Beloved is indeed a murderous love.
Within my studies of Literary theory, we have learned about the Psychoanalytical theory, where Sigmund Freud has uses different stages of a childs life that projects behavior of their later life. The infant self has an essential, primary need to be recognized and affirmed as a whole being, as an active agent of its own legitimate desires and impulses, and the fulfillment of this need is dependent on the human environment, on other selves. According to this theory, human beings are not innately sexual or aggressive; they are innately responsive and relational. Harry Guntrip explains, the “need of a love-relationship is the fundamental thing” in life, and “the love-hunger and anger set up by frustration of this basic need must constitute the two primary problems of personality on the emotional level”.
Because the first physical mode of relationship to the mother is oral, the earliest emotional needs in relation to the mother are also figured in oral terms in the child’s inner world. Frustration in this first oral stage of relationship leads to what object relations theorists call “love made hungry,” a terrifying greediness in which the baby fears it will devour and thus destroy mother and, conversely, that mother (due to projection) will devour and destroy the self (Guntrip). A preponderance of oral imagery characterizes Morrison’s novel. Beloved, in her fantasies, repeatedly states that Sethe “chews and swallows me” (213), while the metaphor of Beloved chewing and swallowing Sethe is almost literal: “Beloved ate up her life, took it, swelled up with it, grew taller on it” (250).
Denver’s problems of identity and self-cohesion, too, are often imaged in oral terms: leaving the house means being prepared to “be swallowed up in the world beyond the edge of the porch” (243). When Denver temporarily loses sight of Beloved in the shed, she experiences a dissolution of self-“she does not know where her body stops, which part of her is an arm, a foot or a knee”- and feels she is being “eaten alive by the dark”(123). Beloved, in the second part of the novel, is said to have two dreams: “exploding, and being swallowed” (133). Everywhere in the novel, the fantasy of annihilation, is figured orally; the love hunger, the boundless greed, that so determines the life of the characters also threatens to destroy them. Sethe repeatedly asserts that the worst aspect of her rape was that the white boys “took my milk! ” (17).
She feels robbed of her essence, of her most precious substance, which is her maternal milk. We learn that as a child, Sethe was deprived of her own mother’s milk: “The little whitebabies got it first and I got what was left. Or none. There was no nursing milk to call my own” (200). Sethe was not physically starved as a baby – she did receive milk from another nursing slave woman – but she was emotionally starved of a significant nurturing relationship, of which the nursing milk is symbolic. The craving for mutual recognition – for simultaneously “seeing” the beloved other and being “seen” by her – propels the central characters in the novel.
Beloved says she has returned in order to “see” Sethe’s face, and she wants “to be there in the place where her face is and to be looking at it too” (210). When, as a child, Sethe is shown the brand burned into her mother’s skin and is told that she will be able to “know” her by this mark, Sethe anxiously responds, “But how will you know me? How will you know me? Mark me, too, . . . Mark the mark on me too” (61). Love is a form of knowing and being known. The hunger is to be touched, recognized, known in one’s inner being or essential self. Beloved demonstrates, finally, the interconnection of social and intrapsychic reality. The novel plays out the deep psychic reverberations of living in a culture in which domination and objectification of the self have been institutionalized.
If from the earliest years on, one’s fundamental need to be recognized and affirmed as a human subject is denied, that need can take on fantastic and destructive proportions in the inner world: the intense hunger, the fantasized fear of either being swallowed or exploding, can tyrannize one’s life even when one is freed from the external bonds of oppression. The self cannot experience freedom without first experiencing its own agency or, in Sethe’s words, “claiming ownership” of itself. The free, autonomous self, Beloved teaches, is an inherently social self, rooted in relationship and dependent at its core on the vital bond of mutual recognition. In both novels, the struggle of finding your inner self and healing comes into play. In both novels, the determination of finding inner peace become very hard to find, where rememory and salt are used as symbols to help both protagonist come to a close.
While both main character go through similar but different situation the main focus is clear, their search for inner self, identity. The salt present the need to clean out the system but it also could represent the obstacles we face. As we know salt burns the wound we hold. Memories run through our minds each and every day, but to continue letting it become a bothersome to us will continuously hold us back and affect us in the near future. we have to learn to let go and move on for a better life. Work Cited Bambara, Toni Cade. The Salt Eaters, Random House, 1980. Guntrip, Harry. Schizoid Phenomena, Object Relations, and the Self. New York: International Universities P, 1969 Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: New American Library, 1987