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Monday, December 3, 2018

Beloved

Toni Morrison

• Beloved was inspired by the true story of a Black American slave woman, Margaret
Garner who escaped the Kentucky plantation. When the slave masters overcame
them, she killed her baby, in order to save the child from the slavery she had
managed to escape.

• Beloved is a classified historical fiction, gothic horror and bildungsroman (coming of


age novel). Some critics berated Morrison’s work as a ‘blackface holocaust novel’

• As Morrison saw it, slavery denied black mothers the right to feel maternal love and
eventually made them ambivalent toward their own offspring, particularly those sired
by slave ship crews, overseers and masters. “These women were not mothers but
breeders.”

They acted more like an animal than a human. (as Paul D calls Sethe) (‘you got two
feet Sethe, not four’)

• Claudia Tate calls Morrison’s act – ‘reclamation of slavery.’ through empathy with
Sethe’s will to endure and to love on her own terms.

• The book’s epigraph – “Sixty Million and more,’ dedicated to the Africans and their
descendants who died as a result of slavery.


Important Themes :


Mother-Daughter Relationship :

• The maternal bond between Sethe and her daughter prevents Sethe’s own
individuation and prevent the development of self.

• Denver too, cannot interact with the outside world. However, Denver finally succeeds
at the end of the novel in establishing her own self and embarking her individuation
with the help of Beloved.

• Contrarily, Sethe only becomes individuated after Beloved’s exorcism. She finally
forms a different relationship (with Paul D) which relieves her rather than trapped in
the Mother-Daughter relation.

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• Mothers do not know themselves to be anything except a mother. Therefore, when
children are taken away from them, they lose the identity of self.

• Sethe’s separation from her Mother at an early age (she cannot even recognize her
face) troubles her into making bonds with her own children.

• Sethe’s traumatization by the act of stealing of milk shatters the symbolic bond
between herself and her daughter.


Psychological Impact of Slavery :

• Because of the experiences of slavery, slaves repressed these memories to forget the
past.

• Dissociation from the past causes a fragmentation of self, loss of true identity. The
identity consists of painful memories and unspeakable past, kept at bay, and
becomes a ‘self that is no self’

• In order to overcome it, the memories should be reorganized and should be told. All
of the characters in Beloved face the challenge of an unmade self, composed of their
– “rememories” and defined by perceptions and language.

• The barrier which stops most of the characters in this play from remaking of the self
is the desire of an ‘uncomplicated past’ and that the fear that from remembering,
they will be shot into ‘a place they couldn’t come back.’


Analysis :

• To Sethe, the traumatic memory of her past is like the specter of her dead daughter –
full of rage and grief. A reminder of the destructive and annihilating consequences of
slavery.

• Denver feels left out of the conversation. This bonding between Sethe and Paul D.
sparks jealousy in Denver’s mind, who perceives his arrival as an intrusion in the
intimate space between her and her mother.

• The schoolmaster ordered his nephews to steal milk from her breast. According to
Bouson, Sethe in this episode is treated like ‘a sexually aggressive wet nurse and
mammy.’ Barnett adds that while Sethe is humiliated, her perpetrators ‘cruelly mock
the maternal association of nursing by treating Sethe as an animal to be milked.’

• According to Susan Corey, the tree shaped scar at the back of Sethe is an
exemplification of the use of grotesque.

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• Paul D’s 18 year old desires are now disappearing. While lying in bed, he now finds
the ‘tree’ on her back repulsive and thinks of it as an ugly clump of scars.

• For six years, Sethe was married to Halle, although now she remembers him more
like a brother than a husband.

• A full dressed woman walking out of a stream and sits under a mulberry tree. Upon
seeing her, Sethe feels an irresistible urge to urinate which reminds her of her water
breaking during the time of Denver’s birth. This symbolizes the rebirth of her
deceased daughter.

• Susan Bowers – When Beloved seduces Paul D, making love with her breaks open
the tobacco tin in his chest to release his red heart.

• Beloved is one character to whom the response of every other character in the novel
– Sethe, Denver and Paul D is different. Whatever lies at the core of each identity. 

For Sethe, mothering. For Denver, her loneliness and for Paul D, his ability to feel.

• Beloved has various incarnations – infant, a sexual woman, daughter and a sister.

• In Chapter 12, Denver is seduced by Beloved. Denver starts thinking that there is no
part of her self apart from that of Beloved.

• In Chapter 15, the feast and the celebration is like The Last Supper. Corey – “mood
of joy is diminished by the allusions to the Last Supper and its overtones of betrayal,
suffering, and tragic death – of sorrow mixed with joy.” It also reflects the class
division of the black community. The narrator says that the people enjoyed so much,
ate so much that it made them angry.

• One of the important themes of the novel is the importance of community of


collective memory and how sharing these memories can help the members of the
community heal each other.

• In Chapter 16, Four horsemen reaches for the doom. Bowers – “the four horsemen
as a allusion to the four horsemen in Revelation”

• As Sethe is about to dash Denver’s brains out, Stamp Paid rushes and grabs Denver.

• In Chapter 17, we get the Sethe’s act of killing from the perspective of STAMP PAID.

• In Chapter 19, Stamp Paid relents himself from knocking on the door of 124 as he
feels like a stranger by hearing the strange noises from the inside house.

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• She goes back to the shadow holding hands (in Chapter Four) and alters it to be her
holding hands of her two daughters, by banishing Paul D from the image and also
from her memory.

• ‘definitions belong to the definers - not to the defined.’ Schoolmaster’s lesson to Sixo
when he tries to talk out of his thievery.

• Stamp’s thoughts how slavery dehumanizes everyone including whites. By defining


Blacks as ‘animals’ and Whites ‘plant’, they become so frightened of their own
creation that they had to act brutal, like animals.

• Chapter 20 – First Chapter out of four which offers a stream of consciousness.

• The novel looks at how the lack of love can lead to destruction, and also the way
‘thick’ of love threatens to engulf a person.

• In Chapter 21, we hear Denver’s voice and the way she swallows her mother’s milk
along with the blood of her sister. As soon as she does that, she shares her mother’s
trauma and becomes her mother’s partner in the guilt of murdering her own daughter.

• Denver’s entire youth has been spent under the fear of her mother and the hope and
wait for her father’s arrival.

• For Sethe, her family consists of 2 daughters but for Denver, it is her sister and her
father.

• The only way, according to Stamp Paid, he could deal with the memory was to
change his identity.

• Stamp Paid defends Sethe’s actions by saying that she ain’t crazy. She love those
children. She was trying to outhurt the hunter.

• By Chapter 26, Beloved begins to show her tyrannical nature. She begins to swallow
Sethe. Figuratively, it suggests that Sethe is now being swallowed by her own past.
Denver realizes that her job has also undergone a change – from protecting Beloved
from Sethe to the opposite. This is also the chapter where Denver decides to step in
the outside world to help her Mother.

• Ella was the one who expelled Sethe from the community for her crime. She is who
who organizes a rescue to exorcise Beloved’s ghost.

• The reference to the image of baptism also signifies a sort of new beginning for
Sethe. The voices of women, the principle of “call and response” ultimately save
Sethe from being permanently captured and devoured by her past.

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• The image of pregnancy of Beloved, symbolically represents the bridge that exists
between past and future.


Omniscient Narrator, Fragmentation and Alienation in Beloved


• Beloved is a sense of alienation from self, which often arises out of traumatic
experience. Morrison explores this idea through a delicate balancing act of shifting
points of view – Largely third person omniscient.

• The focus shifts rapidly from one character to the next.

• When the core traumatic event is revealed, it comes from the white perspective
because they are the only ones not traumatized by the event. They are the only ones
to be able to give a coherent rendition.

• The white perspective is only needed in this scene because Sethe and even the other
black characters, would not be capable of narration.

• Sethe has become alienated from the core traumatic event as a coping mechanism,
and is thus unable to describe it.

• Progressing out of this increasing fragmentation of reality and narrative, for the sake
of the story. The narration must move to those less directly affected by the trauma,
those who function more as bystanders.

• Sethe and Denver, while never entirely clear have become less reliable as source of
information.


OTHER POINTS :

• Color is an important theme for a book about slavery. And even though colors are
harmless; they can just be as violent as people in their hidden symbolism.

• Baby Suggs used her maternal skills that she was never able to use with her own
children to become a kind of mother to the community.

• The white masters treated their slaves worse than the animals, let alone humans. The
fact that the rooster was able to escape and Paul D was caged marks a striking
contrast.

• Sethe says, “They handled me like I was the cow, no, the goat.”

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• Life of a person is difficult, it is far superior to the life of a mindless, emotionless
creature. This is the message that Toni Morrison seems to convey about Humanity in
her novel Beloved.

• As the novel comes to a close, Seth realizes her mistake. The person she should fight
is not her daughter or herself. She should be fighting against her oppressor.

• The real and spiritual world collide in the Beloved.

• The human emotions in Beloved – One love so powerful it always loses (Sethe’s) and
one love so powerful it consumes everything (Beloved’s)

• 


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