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Use Of The Female Gothic In Beloved

3007 words - 12 pages

Use of the Female Gothic in Beloved

      Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved is a slave narrative, but it encompasses much more than slavery.  Unlike many slave narratives that focus on the male perception of slavery, Morrison's novel portrays slavery from a feminine point of view.  The main characters are Sethe, her daughter, Denver, and the mysterious Beloved.  In the beginning of the novel, Sethe and her daughter live alone in 124, a house that is haunted by the ghost of Sethe's first daughter. Sethe's two older boys, "Howard and Buglar, had run away by the time they were thirteen years old. Soon after the sons have fled, Baby Suggs, Denver's grandmother, dies.  The novel centers on Sethe's past, in particular, the death of her first daughter.  This event dominates the book and the action of the novel revolves around this terrible incident.  In Beloved, Toni Morrison utilizes characteristics of the female gothic novel such as mothering, living within enclosed spaces, and the doubling of characters, coupled with dilemmas involving memory and repression, to address the issue of slavery.


Beloved illustrates the notion of the gothic mother through the character of Sethe.  Her motherly love is turned into a horrific image of mercy, one that many find difficult to understand. At the time, slaves were valued as property.  They were bred as if they were horses, with their young snatched away from them, often at birth, and no chance of having a family.  Many children were "permanently separated from any other family members, [and] did not know if or when they would ever see their mother[s] again" (King 527).  Sethe describes her own childhood experience with the woman she knew as her mother and it is typical of the experience of a slave child.  Right after her birth, Sethe's mother "went back in rice and [she nursed] from another woman whose job it was" (Morrison 57).  She describes what little of a relationship she had with her mother, saying that she was gone before Sethe woke up and when she was not working, she was sleeping.  She describes a particularly saddening moment when her mother showed her how to identify her; "she opened up her dress front and lifted her breast and pointed under it.  Right on her rib was a circle and a cross burnt right into the skin" (Morrison 57).  The young Sethe, confused about the situation, receives a slap from her mother when she says that she wants a mark too.  The reader recognizes the lack of humanity in slavery.  Like a cow, she is branded and her brand is the only way to recognize her as an individual.  It is a terrible realization, one Sethe makes later on.  It was Sethe's experience as a slave child and a slave mother that caused her to commit the act that is every parent's worst nightmare. Another event that seemed to change Sethe forever was the brutal attack committed upon her by schoolteacher's nephews.  Schoolteacher came to take care of the plantation when Mr. Garner, the original owner,...

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