Tragedy And Redemption In Toni Morrison's Beloved

2390 words - 10 pages

Tragedy and Redemption in Beloved

"This is not a story to pass on."(1)

With these enigmatic words, Toni Morrison brings to a conclusion

a very rich, very complicated novel, in which slavery and its

repercussions are brought into focus, examined, and reassembled to

yield a story of tragedy and redemption.

The "peculiar institution" of slavery has been the basis for many

literary works from Roots to Beloved, with particular

emphasis on the physical, mental, and spiritual violence

characteristic of the practice of slavery in the South.

A far greater shame than slavery itself is the violence that was

directed against slave women in the name of slavery. Slave women bore

the heaviest burden of slavery, forced to be not only fieldhands and

domestic workers, but to satisfy their masters' sexual appetites.

Frederick Douglass wrote that the "slave woman is at the mercy of the

fathers, sons or brothers of her master."(2)

Slaveowners considered their slave women to be fair game, forcing

themselves on their female slaves with impunity, and any resulting

children were considered property, to be sold like the calves from a

cow. The family institutions of the slaves meant nothing to their

owners; the children of slaves were likewise considered property and

could be sold at their owners' whim. Schoolteacher referred to Sethe

and her children as "...the breeding one, her three pickaninnies and

whatever the foal might be..."(279) Slave children often did not know

who their fathers or even their mothers were. Such basic instincts as

maternal love, however, were impossible to eliminate from the slaves,

who grew to treasure and guard what little they were able to get - the

core of the novel Beloved.

At the center of the novel is Sethe, a former slave who escaped

to the North before the Civil War. When the novel begins, a dark,

terrible secret hangs over Sethe that keeps her apart from the rest of

the people in her neighborhood. As the novel progresses, the story of

her life emerges in a complex patchwork.

Sethe's life for the most part, had been relatively sheltered;

at fourteen, she was sold to Sweet Home, where she was a domestic

servant rather than a plantation worker. She also had the "amazing

luck of six whole years of marriage to that "somebody" son who had

fathered every one of her children"(29) - a rarity for a slave in the

South. Given these circumstances, the abrupt arrival of schoolmaster

and his tyrannical methods was a shock to the sensitive Sethe. For the

first time in her life, she is whipped; even worse, she is subjected

to a forced suckling by...

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