Toni Morrison’s, Beloved, is a complex narrative about the love between mothers and daughters, and the agony of guilt. “ It is the ultimate gesture of a loving mother. It is the outrageous claim of a slave.” These are the words, of Toni Morrison, used to describe the actions of Sethe, the central character in the novel. She, a former slave, chooses to kill her baby girl rather then let her live a life in slavery. In preventing her from the physical and emotional horrors of slavery, Sethe has put herself in to a realm of physical and emotional pain: guilt. And in understanding her guilt we can start to conceive her motivations for killing her third nameless child.
A justified institution as the 19th century emerged; the infamous institution of slavery grew rapidly and produced some surprising controversy and rash justification. Proslavery, Southern whites used social, political, and economical justification in their arguments defining the institution as a source of positive good, a legal definition, and as an economic stabilizer. The proslavery supporters often used moral and biblical rationalization through a religious foundation in Christianity and supported philosophic ideals in Manifest Destiny to vindicated slavery as a profitable investment. Southerners used popular sovereignty to justify their slavery practices, ultimately slavery is supported through popular sovereignty since it is the people’s will to enslave black, or at least the Southerner’s will. Another social aspect of rationalization is the slavery institution is derived from the Southern argument, which contrasted the happy lives of their slaves to the overworked and exhausted Northern black wageworkers. In the South, benefits; whereas in the North black were caged in dank and dark factories and were released after their usefulness had served its purpose. Why work in the North when there are safe, comfortable plantations to work on in the South?
Did Beloved’s death come out of love or selfish pride? In preventing her child from going into slavery, Sethe, too, protected herself; she prevented herself from re-entering captivity. In examining Sethe’s character we can see that her motivations derive from her deep love towards her children, and from the lack of love for herself. Sethe’s children are her only good quality. Her children are a part of her and in killing one she kills ...
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...very. Sethe kills her daughter to demonstrate her love. She exhibits her selfish pride by rejecting her own guilt. All of the characters try to repress their memories, which need to be faced and exorcised as you would a ghost. The end of this novel emphasizes the importance of the community and the individual's search for self, which characterizes the survival struggle of Black Americans. Sethe is destroyed by her memories and her isolation with the ghost of Beloved, (representing the memories of slavery) until the community intervenes and saves her.
The black community and their cohesiveness and harmony is an essential factor to further the healing of 244 years of slavery and another 133 years of political abuse. When presented the notion that Sethe, not her children, is her own “best thing”, her reply takes form of a question, “Me? Me?”(273) Sethe has realized that she has loved her children too much, and herself not enough.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. Maine: Thorndike, 1987.
Louisiana Black Code of 1865
Hart, Albert Bushnell. Slavery and Abolition. New York: Negro Universities Press, 1906.
Clinton, Catherine. Half Sisters of History. Duke University Press, 1994
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