Beloved

.. this bond. For the first time she felt she could love her children unreservedly and had a vision of true freedom: “Look like I loved em more after I got here. Or maybe I couldn’t love ’em in Kentucky because they wasn’t mine to love..A place where you could love anything you choose–not to need permission for desire–well now that was freedom” (Page 162). Gender issues are also dominant in the story.

Three of the four main characters are female, and it not only tells the story of an ex-slave but of a woman’s life. Slavery is the cause of Sethe being in the situation she is. The bulk of the story deals with the relationship between a single mother (Sethe), her daughter (Denver) and a female stranger (Beloved). Sethe’s relationship to Paul D is a source of contrast on the three women. Sethe and Paul D could symbolize the joint potential of a people united no longer held apart from slavery and a possible solution to heal everyone’s pain. The freedom to love one another. The Afro-American spirituality reflected in the novel by Baby Suggs’s character indicates the responsibility African-American women have in empowering and morally developing and sustaining the community. Such activities are showed by Baby Suggs who preaches in the clearing: “A wide-open place cut deep in the woods nobody knew for what” (Page 87). Here she urges the community to love themselves as proof of their love of god and delivers a very powerful monologue: ” ‘Here’, she said, ‘in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass.

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Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They do not love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flat it. And O my people they do not love your hands.

Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face, ’cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth..This is flesh that needs to be loved’ ” (Page 88).

Baby Suggs clearly questions the racial inferiority implied by slavery and stresses a better life on earth, which must come from the community and a re-evaluation of the physical black self. To love one self and one another. This sermon of love challenges the perversion of Christianity which had been used to further exploit the blacks and justify slavery. Self-acceptance and love are perhaps the most important points of the novel. For people whose negative up bringing and indoctrination has associated blackness with every form of evil and ugliness, self-love is difficult to achieve. Appreciation of one self and moral reconstruction can be achieved only with a rejection of all that had destroyed black identity in slavery.

The author is attempting to show the roots of this negativity in order to overcome it. The story revolves around the scars and the psychological state of African-Americans during and after slavery. Beloved materializes when Seth’s plantation past re-emerges with a visit from a fellow ex-slave, Paul D. He offers her love and the possibility of a new life. This triggers Beloved incarnation who is extremely jealous to be recognized as the proof of her mother’s deed. The signs indicating that the young woman was Seth’s child materializing in flesh and blood were many, such as her name ‘Beloved’ and her weak neck: “Her neck, its circumference no wider than a parlor-service saucer, kept bending and her chin brushed the bit of lace edging her dress” (Page 50).

The sudden emergency Sethe experienced as she noticed Beloved, remind the reader of Sethe giving birth. Beloved’s struggle to reclaim connection with her mother, could symbolize their struggle for freedom by reclaiming their past. In order to never forget their enslaved history and confrontation could be the catalyst to growth: “She had an emergency that unmanageable. She never made the outhouse. Right in front of its door she had to lift her skirts, and the water she voided was endless..No, more like flooding the boat when Denver was born” (Page 51).

Denver had never left 124 Bluestone Road and never encountered white people until forced to seek help from her community where she recognizes the danger that Beloved poses to Sethe. She begins to grow by attending to her mother and Beloved as if they were her children. Later when in the house of Bodwin a pro anti-slavery activist she sees a small statue of a black boy kneeling and with his mouth wide open to be used as a money box: “Painted across the pedestal he knelt on were the words ‘At Yo Service’ ” (Page 255). Here she realizes that help from this man who owns this ornament is helping to perpetuate racism and that her emancipation is only possible with the help of the black community. Although this novel is full of symbolism and metaphors, the ghost of Sethe’s dead baby could reflect the author’s beliefs in the paranormal.

Anyone who enters the house on Bluestone Road actually witnesses the presence of this ghost which may symbolize slavery’s “rememories” that haunt Sethe and her people throughout the story. 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.

The author has successfully developed a novel which represents the hopes, aspirations, and historical memories of black America in 273 pages. Special attention has been placed on black women, which struggle under a double burden: that of racial prejudice and that of a male-centered society.

Beloved

A Man For All Seasons
Toni Morrison’s Beloved Summary When the slave-girl Sethe is 13, she arrives at the plantation “Sweet Home”, where she gets married to Halle and has three children with him. After the farm is overtaken by a cruel master, the slaves try to escape, but they are caught and punished severely. Sethe suffers an act of abuse by two white boys and
escapes in the woods, where she gives birth to her fourth child. After a short period of recovering in the free states, her former owner tries to recapture her, which drives her in the attempt to kill her children, resulting in the death of one daughter. Finding release
from the death-penalty, she ends up living alone with her daughter in a haunted house.

When Paul D, a former slave and friend of Sethe returns, the ghost, Sethe’s murdered child, is not finally successful in drivig him away, so she disappears herself. — Cultural Milieu “Beloved” is based on an ex-slave that is living with the haunting memories of her past. The book tells of Sethe’s desire to kill her children rather than to have her and them
returned to slavery. She did not want to see them have to experience the same evils that
she and her husband had experienced at the hands of her former owner Schoolteacher.

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Sethe knew that the beatings, raping, and abuse of her and her people was wrong and she
would have rather killed her children than to let them return to that inhumane form of
life. This book also shows how one man’s desire to do right by another man only hinders
the already strained relationship he is involved in with Sethe. This book shows the reality
and the inner workings of the Underground Railroad. Sethe’s home was a way point for
that railroad until Baby Suggs’ death and Sethe’s killing of her newborn baby “Beloved”.

At that point it tells of another fundamental belief amongst people, and that is one of
spirits and ghosts. Biography
——————————————————————————– Toni Morrison(Chloe
Wofford) was born on Feb. 18, 1931 in Lorain, Ohio. She was born the granddaughter of
a former slave. Her grandfather traveled north from Alabama to settle in Ohio, by way of
Kentucky. Her father’s upbringing was during one of the most murderous times for blacks
in American history. She was raised in a household which was heavily influenced by
slavery and white supremacist’ fears, as well as the need for education. Morrison’s writing
style stems from having fallen in love with words. From that love she inspires young
writers, and also people like Muhammad Ali and Angela Davis. What the Critics Said
“Beloved” is a wonderful story about the lives of a former slave and her remaining
daughter. I shall hail this book as quite possibly one of the best books I’ve read in a while.

This tale was able to weave history, fears, ghosts, and the reality of 19th century life all
into one dramatic tale best read with a compassionate eye. Michiko Kakutani of the NY
Times wrote “there is a contemporaneous quality to time past and time present as well as
a sense that the lines between reality and fiction, truth and memory have become
inextricably blurred”. She goes onto say “This is a dazzling novel.” Margaret Atwood said
“If there were any doubts about her stature as a pre-eminent American novelist, of her
own or any other generation, “Beloved” will put them to rest”. She also goes on to say
“An epigraph to a book is like a key signature in music, and “Beloved” is written in
major”. Excerpts from the Novel This excerpt is related to the topic of discrimination in
slavery and the injustice which has happened. Chronologically, the excerpt takes place
when Stamp Paid tells Paul D. that Sethe once tried to kill all of her children. Stamp has
a newspaper that contains an article about the killing, but Paul D. does not believe its
truth, because there is only one reson a slave would be in a newspaper. “A whip of fear
broke through the heart chambers as soon as you saw a Negro’s face in a paper, since the
face was not there because the person had been killed, or maimed or caught or burned or
jailed or whipped or evicted or stomped or raped or cheated, since that could hardly
qualify as news in a newspaper.” Literary Elements Theme The theme of Beloved is
revealed in the first few pages of the novel as Sethe wants to leave her house as well as
the pain within it. Her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs tells her that “not a house in the
country ain’t packed to the rafters with some dead Negro’s grief.” Running from grief will
lead to more of the same, but by staying and facing the pain, wounds that have been
inflicted can begin to heal through grace. The grace of laughter, dance, and tears allows
the worst of the grief to pass through the “trembling red heart” and then be forgotten.

——————————————————————————– Setting The physical
setting of the novel Beloved is a farmhouse known only as 124, situated on Bluestone
Road, outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. Sethe and her daughter, Denver, have lived in this
house for eighteen years. The story begins in the year 1873, but there are many
flashbacks to the year Sethe attempted to run away, which is in 1856, four years before
the start of the Civil War. Sethe, Paul D., and Baby Suggs were all slaves on the same
farm in Kentucky, which was ironically named Sweet Home, though for them, it was
neither home nor sweet. ——————————————————————————–
Plot The plot of the novel is loosely based upon the life of a former slave named
Margaret Garner, who tried to kill all of her children when they were captured by her
slave owner, and she did succeed in killing one. When the novel begins, Sethe and her
daughter, Denver, are living with the ghost of the baby Sethe killed when she was about
to be recaptured. After another former slave, Paul D., arrives, he chases away the ghost,
but soon a young woman named Beloved comes to Sethe’s home. This woman is
strangely similar to Sethe’s dead daughter, which is ironic because the word “Beloved” is
the only word engraved on her baby’s tombstone, though it is never entirely clear if the
woman truly is the baby’s ghost turned to flesh.

——————————————————————————– Characters The women in
Beloved are the stronger characters of the story because they are the ones who stay,
despite their past. The men, however, have to run from it. When Sethe is raped by the
“nephews,” she still finds the courage to move beyond the pain and her fear. Her
husband, Halle, only witnesses the rape and this is enough to drive him to smearing butter
on his face from the insanity, never again capable of facing Sethe. Paul D. runs for more
than eighteen years from his memories. Even Sethe’s sons run when they can stand no
more of their fears. Baby Suggs withstood the agony of a lifetime of slavery and the
realization of freedom, just to watch her daughter-in-law kill her grandchildren. Though
she became weary, even in the “marrow of her bones,” she remained because she and the
other women knew what the men did not, which was that they had to “lay down the
sword and the shield by the river” in order to swim through the pain.

——————————————————————————– Irony When Sethe runs
away from from her owners, she vows that neither she nor her four children will ever be
forced into slavery again. However, when her owner finds her, Sethe chooses to kill her
children, because she could not allow her children to be owned or sold. This is ironic
because Sethe is actually committing the ultimate act of ownership by taking from her
children the freedom to decide for themselves whether to live or die. Though Sethe
knows that, as a slave, “life was dead,” her children had the right to discover this for
themselves.

Beloved

Beloved
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 a part of herself. What hinders over Sethe is her refusal to accept responsibility for her baby’s death. Does she do this because she is selfish or because it need not be justified? Sethe’s love is clearly displayed by sparing her daughter from a horrific life; yet, Sethe refuses to acknowledge that her show of compassion is also murder.

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I believe that Beloved was a vividly irregular family saga that is set in the mid-1880’s in Ohio. By that time, slavery had been diminished by the Civil War, but the horrors of slavery lived within the memories of those that were subjected to it. After President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, former slaves took on a new role in American society. This role was one of more significance and self worth than in slavery, but this class of freedmen was anything but appreciated. Without the manpower of the slaves, the south’s agricultural society would fail, and without the agriculture there would be little money or food in the south.


The passing of the Louisiana Black Code in 1865, confirmed that whites felt as if blacks could not handle the responsibility or the rights of true citizens. Whites thought they did not deserve these rights because they were inferior to themselves and simply less than human. These restrictions were so harsh; it is, as slavery had never ended. The blacks were free, however many of the Negroes everyday rights were abolished. Section 3, of the Louisiana Black Code states “No Negro shall be permitted to rent or keep a house within said parish.” Section 9 declares that “No Negro shall sell, barter, or exchange any articles of merchandise or traffic within said parish.” And one of the worst of these codes is in Section 4 of the Louisiana Black Code. “Every Negro is required to be in the regular service of some white person, or former owner, who shall be held responsible for the conductor of said Negro.” (Doc 1) This was basically returning paid-slavery. Many blacks remained on these farms and plantations because they did not know what else they could do after emancipation. However, now they were being forced into staying because few knew anything other than farming. In December of 1865, Congress voted to stamp out these codes. Testimony to the southern white sentiment showed what would have happened if states were allowed to employ their own laws in regards to slavery.
Blacks soon develop a sense of freedom and want to create lives for themselves. They do not want to remain in a place and continue to be employed by those who previously treated them as animals. Mr. Lewis, a former slave, tells a planters wife, Mrs. Henry, I want to move away and feel entirely free and see what I can do by myself.” Even kind masters, like the Henry’s, lost many slave due to the want and need of freedom. (Doc 2) Charles Davenport stated “Freedom meant us could leave where us’d been born and bred, but it meant, too, dat us had to scratch for our ownselves.” (Doc 5) Outsiders made independence nearly impossible though. The sharecropping system, in which most had worked before, was still the only employment available and certainly the only work blacks knew as familiar. Rural merchants tried to give blacks a chance for employment, but often forced them into a position where they would sharecrop. Morrison has the ability to describe the physical horrors and torments that the slaves endured in a kind of delicate way that still made my nerves twitch at the thought of such cruelties. The story does not simply tell us how one slave felt, but rather it reveals the ways in which individuals, families, strangers, slaves, and even the caregivers viewed slavery.


Throughout the work, Sethe seems to have two separate identities, which affect her actions. When reunited with Paul D., Sethe recalls her reactions to School Teacher’s arrival with no mention to her daughter’s death. “Oh, no. I wasn’t going back there Sweet Home. I went to jail instead” (42) Sethe believes she made a moral stand in not letting herself be taken into custody. In her statement she has done two things, she has disassociated herself from the act, and also morally justified what had happened. When
Paul D, upon finding out what had really happened, confronts Sethe. She again ignores the issue. “So when I got here, even before they let me get out of bed, I stitched her a little something all I’m saying is that it is a selfish pleasure I never had before. I couldn’t let all that go back to where it was.” (163) Sethe loves her children. But it’s that selfish pleasure’ which makes one question her actions. Sethe is living a life she’s never known a life of freedom, freedom from brutality, from fear, and from pain. In killing her daughter she saved herself, for the second time. Sethe was still free, and she wasn’t going back to Sweet Home, or to School Teacher no matter what the cost. Sethe’s children were a part of her, and they were a part she was not going to submit to slavery. They needed to be protected, because the loss of them meant the loss of Sethe herself. When Sethe saw School Teacher coming she “collected every bit if life she had made, all the parts of her that were precious and fine and beautiful, and carried, pushed, dragged them through the veil, out away, over there where no one could hurt them.”(163) Sethe sees no wrong here because it as though she were killing herself. Saving herself from all the terror she had already known. It was an act of love, and an act of primordial instinct.
Sethe’s needed to protect her babies because her mother didn’t protect her. Sethe never bonded or connected with her mother, and as a result she devoted her life solely to her children. Sethe’s mother “went back in rice and Sethe sucked from an other woman whose job it was” (60). Sethe and her mother never had the intimate bond between mother and daughter, therefore Sethe was hollow inside. It wasn’t until she had her own children that life and love filled within her. Sethe’s children were her lifelines, and she needed them to survive. But Sethe was not going to live her life in shackles, so she could not let her children do so. The only way to be prevented from going back into slavery would be to end her life, and she did through her daughter, Beloved. Beloved was
Sethe. This nameless child, who was buried under the headstone “Beloved,” was christened on her burial. Sethe had heard the preacher say the words dearly beloved, ‘in his prayer, and thus derived her name. (5) However, the preacher in saying these words is talking to the spectators. Sethe was the dearly beloved, and thus Beloved was named after
Sethe. Not only was Sethe and Beloved connected by blood, they were connected in name. And Beloved became the embodiment of Sethe. So it could be felt that Sethe had killed herself when escaping from School Teacher. Sethe said clearly that she would not go back to him, or to slavery, and in fright and hysteria, Sethe killed herself. Sethe does not in effect die in a physical sense but she dies in an emotional sense. She since detaches herself, and lives once again as though she were hollow. Like in childhood, she has once again lost her bond. Sethe, therefore, feels she does not have to justify her actions. Sethe escaped.


With Beloved’s return, Sethe can release all the guilt her conscious has laid upon her. And effect repents for her sin. “I’ll explain to her, even though I don’t have to. Why I did it. How if I hadn’t killed her she would have died and that something I could not bear to happen to her. When I explain it she’ll understand, because she understands everything already. I’ll tend to her as no mother ever tended a child, a daughter. Nobody will ever get my milk no more except my own childrenNow I can look at things again because she’s here to see them too.” (201) Beloved provides Sethe with an outlet for her guilt. By absorbing all her love, which should have been rightly directed at herself, Beloved is Sethe’s denial of freedom. Sethe’s guilt will not allow her to love herself, or let herself be loved. Sethe’s conscience is the ghost that plagues her house. When Paul D first enters the house, Sethe almost lets the “responsibility of her breasts, at last be in somebody else’s hands” (18). As soon as this thought occurs, the ghost attacks and wreaks havoc, the only remedy for which was its expulsion by Paul D. Sethe’s conscious, manifested in the ghost, wouldn’t allow her to be freed by Paul in his way. Through Sethe’s attempts to lessen her guilt and difficult past, she ironically worsens it. By letting Paul D sleep in the house, Sethe begins to overcome her guilt and let go of her punishment subsequently Beloved begins to fall apart. It is not until Sethe, has to decide between Paul D and Beloved that we understand her grief. Paul D was to be her only savior and she rejected him, to endure her penance. Sethe does not want forgiveness; she wishes only to punish herself in order to mollify the pain of her past. Sethe’s guilt is her hollowness and her selfishness. Selfish because although she has saved them from an institution she fears, she has avoided the actual physical death that she inflicted upon her children. Once killing Beloved, her best thing, Sethe realizes that she will never again be whole, and in effect she will never loose her feelings of guilt.
Sethe knows that killing her daughter was wrong. And she also knows that killing her was right. She killed Beloved because she wanted freedom and she wanted her daughter to have freedom. Beloved is the embodiment of Sethe, torturing her for love, like Sethe tortures herself because she does not. Her love from her children is presented when she would choose to kill them rather then allow them to be broken by an evil institution. Love is Sethe’s primary motivation for killing her children. However, her selfish fault lies in the fact that she shifted the focus of responsibility from herself to the institution that has spawned her. Ultimately, it is Sethe who is responsible for her murder not slavery. 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.
WORKS CITED
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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