Fracturing and Distorting . . . continued
Section Three.  Author: Elizabeth Brunner
       Toni Morrison and Fractal Geometry
In contrast to Thomas Pynchon's background, Toni Morrison's biography reveals no knowledge in advanced mathematics -- and yet the novel Beloved opens with numbers. The dedication to "Sixty Million and more" frames Sethe's suffering in the context of massive racial injustice, suggesting that the characters will represent countless untold stories, a degree of pain that surpasses exact quantification. The opening paragraph of the novel begins with "124" to introduce a house personified or haunted by emotion, but within three sentences Morrison moves backwards to a time when street addresses in that part of Ohio lacked numbers. This narrative strategy use numerals to combine the concrete with the metaphysical, the present with the past. In a web page dedicated to number symbolism in Beloved, undergraduate Anders Liljeholm argues that the absent three in "124" represents the death of the third of Sethe's four children. The missing numeral also anticipates the forthcoming trinity, the merging of Sethe and Denver with the resurrected Beloved. 
Beyond the mystical properties of number symbolism, Morrison uses techniques of iteration and replication -- terms borrowed from fractal geometry -- to show how the enslavement of ancestors haunts future generations of African-Americans. Developed in 1975 by Benoit Mandelbrot, fractal geometry "explores rough, irregular shapes" and the "replication of jagged patterns in smaller and smaller scales, pattern within pattern" (Strehle 220). Often celebrated in psychedelic computer images, this discipline examines repeated geometric curves as mathematicians move from macro to micro perspectives on such natural phenomena as planet topography, coastlines, tree bark, or even human intestines. Mathematician Theoni Pappas defines a fractal as "an object whose detail is not lost as it is magnified" because the substructure "looks the same as the original" (78). 
Applying fractal magnification, we can trace how Schoolteacher's cruelty replicates the barbarity of the slave traders, how the rocking of a haunted house replicates the tumultuous ship ride of the middle passage, how the tobacco tin enclosing Paul D.'s heart replicates his imprisonment in a 5'x5' box on the chain gang, how Denver's refusal to hear replicates Baby Sugg's refusal to preach, how Sethe's voiding of urine replicates the breaking of water during childbirth, how the cutmark on Beloved's neck replicates the scar on Sethe's back, and ultimately how the blood spilled through infanticide replicates the African blood spilled in slavery. By looking deep into the hearts of Sethe's family, Morrison gives us the detail to attempt comprehending the fate of sixty million others. 
In addition to the replication of plot sequences, Morrison's experimental narrative technique resembles the intricate folding and twisting of fractal images. In a dissertation on chaos theory, Marcella Mahoney Greening lists characteristics of Mandelbrot's geometry: "broken, irregular, fragmented, grainy, rarified, strange, tangled, wrinkled" (147). Such terms aptly describe the gradual focusing of memory and rememory, of sensation and knowledge, in Beloved. From fear made irregular, Paul D. begins to tremble "like rippling ­ gentle at first and then wild" (106). From grainy emotion, Sethe feels "the notion of a future" with Paul D. "beginning to stroke her mind" (42). And from tangled memories, Sethe's "smile broke in two and became a sudden suck of air" (160). 
The fragmentation extends beyond isolated phrases as Morrison wrinkles chronology. In a controversial review in The Village Voice, Ann Snitow explains how plot sequence emerges: "Bits and pieces . . . leak out between the closed eyelids of her characters, or between their clenched fingers"  while Morrison "twists and tortures and fractures events until they are little slivers that cut" (27). Within the first seven pages, the novelist begins in 1873, travels back to when the sons fled the house, recalls Baby Sugg's death, slips back to the carving of Beloved's headstone, returns for Baby Sugg's advice about the house, hints at the horrors of Sweet Home, and allows Paul D. to rejoin Sethe after eighteen years of separation. By retelling, replaying, and remembering events resulting from slavery -- pivoting and spiraling around the central act of infanticide readers are pulled into a vortex with Sethe, immersed in violent immediacies but also surrounded by the whirling past. In an interview pre-dating the publication of Beloved, Morrison described the rhythm of her fiction as a "building up, sort of in and out, explosion" with an underlying beat based on "something in the blood, in the body, that's operating underneath the language . . ." (Koenen 76). This replication of bodily pulses or heartbeats in a creative work resembles the intricate similarities between natural phenomena when magnified through fractal geometry. 
This iteration or repetition intensifies in Part Two as Sethe, Denver, and Beloved merge into the "loud hasty voices" and "mumbling beyond" which prevent Stamp Paid from knocking at 124 Bluestone Road (172). Sethe claims her daughter Beloved as mine; Denver claims her sister Beloved as mine; Beloved claims her mother Sethe as mine. The voices traverse the fragmented ridge of Beloved's splintered, unpunctuated, repeated phrases and emerge into an overlapping, lyrical song of "You are mine / You are mine / You are mine" (217). As Greening explains, fractals can convey "the concept of infinity contained within a finite time or space" because replication can continue for eternity on a smaller and smaller scale (147). Similarly, Morrison's merging of the three voices allows an eternal replication of emotion, a joining of consciousness in a spiritual realm which transcends human brutality.