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The Novel Beloved By Toni Morrison

1431 words - 6 pages

In Toni Morrison's novel Beloved, memories and past experiences play an important role in the daily lives of most, if not all, of the characters in the novel. Many of the characters in Beloved had to live through slavery and the evils that accompanied it. The traumas that the characters have experienced in their time as slaves and even after have changed who they are forever. In the case of Stamp Paid he gets a whole new identity and name. He takes on the name Stamp Paid because he had to give up his wife to his master's son and therefore believes that he doesn't owe anyone anything anymore. We are told that "freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another." It's one thing to attempt to repress and forget about the horrors that one has gone through, but it is another to overcome those horrors and not let them affect who one is and how one lives. This cannot be a more accurate description of what happens to the protagonist, Sethe. Although Sethe has long left behind the shackles of slavery, she continues to be enslaved by her own experiences and memories from her time as a slave in her childhood and at the Sweet Home plantation. She carries these experiences with her like the chokecherry tree on her back.
The relationship between Sethe and her mother was virtually nonexistent, which has her compensating for it at every turn. She didn't see her mother "but a few times out in the fields and once when she was working indigo" (72). Nan, a one-armed wet nurse, tells Sethe of her and Sethe's mother's voyage across the middle passage and about how her mother "threw all of them away but you" (74). She killed all of her children that were of white fathers, but kept Sethe because she was of a black father. "Sethe was angry" (74) at this because it showed how she acquired the power to commit infanticide: it was inherited from her mother. A tolerance to infanticide, in order to "protect" their children, has been planted in Sethe. Sethe's anger also stems from the fact that her mother allowed her to live, while she killed all of her other children. By "saving" Sethe from the same fate as her other siblings, Sethe's mother condemned her to a life of slavery, filled with traumatic experiences. Could she have been better off thrown away like the others? Sethe's fascination with feeding her own children begins with her only being fed by her mother for a few weeks, ". . . she went back in the rice and I sucked from another woman whose job it was." (72). She then had to be breastfed by Nan, but "the little white babies got it first and I got what was left. Or none. There was no milk to call my own" (236). From infancy, she was engaged in a one-sided power struggle for nourishment. Having to fight to be breastfed by a woman that isn't even her mother has a lasting impact on how Sethe views motherhood and how she interacts with her own children.
Sethe, like many other slaves, worried about what their...

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