The novel Beloved by Toni Morrison weaves a story about African American refugee slaves caught between remembering and forgetting what they have been through. Morrison, although evoking various complex emotions from her readers, has structured the novel so that we are unable to identify with any of the characters, especially Sethe, due to how slavery has deconstructed their lives. Slavery brings down these characters, causing them to lose their individuality. As a result of their sub-human treatment they are handled as if they were animals that are not up to the capacity of human intelligence; managed as possessions that know no freedom. Some may say that it is possible to identify with at least one character, but through Morrison’s use of third-person narrative, changing perspectives, and animal imagery, it shows that readers are not meant to identify with any characters, but rather take in the whole situation of slavery in the 1800s.
Throughout the novel, the author uses a majority of third-person narrative, otherwise known as, “narrative distancing” to keep readers at an emotional space from the characters. “Morrison reaches toward the ineffable by maintaining otherness through strategies that position the reader at the right distance from the narrative” (Travis 233). By keeping the readers at a distance, the unspeakable can be explained in such a way that readers get an overall understanding of the plot without individual emotions compromising the story. With the use of third-person narrative, there is limited access to the thoughts and emotions that are going through a character’s mind, opposed to how it would be if the whole novel were written in first person. All the characters seem to be talking about situations of other people as though they are watching or remembering and not actually there in the moment, which creates a bridge between the readers and characters. The use of the third-person helps us to stay disconnected from Sethe because her lack of emotion is something that should not be felt by anyone. Sethe’s daughter Denver describes it best:
When the baby’s spirit pick up Here Boy and slammed him into the wall hard enough to break two of his legs and dislocate his eye, so hard he went into convulsions and chewed up his tongue, still her mother had not looked away. She had taken a hammer, knocked the dog unconscious, wiped away the blood and saliva, pushed his eye back in his head and set his leg bones. He recovered, mute and off-balance, more because of his untrustworthy eye than his bent legs, and winter, summer, drizzle or dry, nothing could persuade him to enter the house again (Morrison 14).
Denver speaks about her mother and the things she has done in third person, and this shows not only a lack of connection between readers and characters, but also disconnect between the characters themselves. Despite the gruesome events that take place, they are spoken of in a dry, simple manner resulting in them being understood but not...