Symbolism in Beloved
In the novel Beloved, the author, Toni Morrison, attempts to promote a variety of different themes and ideas by symbolizing them in minor events and situations. This symbolism is evident throughout the entire novel and is very crucial to the understanding and analyzing of the text. A good example of this is the ice skating scene. Morrison uses this scene to represent the slow, but consistent, deterioration of the family living in 124 and to foreshadow the ultimate demise of the family unit. Morrison writes repeatedly, “Nobody saw them falling,” yet in all reality they were falling, and falling fast (Morrison 174). There are a number of details, including the setting, Sethe’s emotions, the choice of shoes/ice skates worn by each of the three female characters, and the ultimate goal of reaching heaven, which demonstrate this idea.
The ice skating scene takes place on a frozen stream, not too far from 124. The ice is apparently solid, therefore providing a somewhat firm surface on which to skate. Unfortunately, the ice is slippery. This is symbolic of the three females in the story. They all have a strong base, a sincere love for each other, yet no matter how hard they attempt to stay upright and proud, they always end up slipping and falling on the ice. The frozen stream represents the future of the family. The ice will slowly, but consistently, melt as the weather gets warmer, as time passes by. As the ice melts, so does the firm base that supports the skaters and the family members will have no where to stand.
As the story unfolds, it becomes increasingly evident that Sethe is emotionally unstable. Beginning with her life at Sweet Home, dealing with the everyday trials of slavery, and then being forced to live with the ultimate emotional anguish that she was responsible for the death of one of her own children, Sethe’s mind is no longer able to confront life as a rational person should be able to do so. Her mind is clouded with emotions and “rememories.” But in the ice skating scene this appears to change as Morrison writes, “Anybody feeling sorry for [Sethe], anybody wandering by to peep in and see how she was getting on would discover that the woman... was sailing happily on a frozen lake” (Morrison 174). Sethe appeared to be happy once again. At one point, Sethe takes on the qualities of some kind of wild animal, having four legs. After falling on the ice “Sethe rose to her hands and knees, laughter still shaking her chest, making her eyes wet. She stayed that way for a while, on all fours” (Morrison 175). Paul D also refers to her as being an animal and having four legs later in the novel. It is also interesting that Morrison writes, “Sethe couldn’t skate a lick...” (Morrison 174) Sethe did not know how to skate, just like she did not know how to be a parent. This inability later leads to the downfall of the family.
Morrison takes great detail in describing which shoes...