Cry and tell him things they only told each other: that time didn’t stay put; that she called, but Howard and Bulgar walked on down the railroad track and couldn’t hear her; that Amy was scared to stay with her because her feet were ugly and her back looked so bad; that her ma’am had hurt her feelings and she couldn’t find her hat anywhere… —Toni Morrison
As one of Morrison’s greatest novels, Beloved is about Sethe, a woman who escaped slavery but still finds herself haunted by its heritage. The character Beloved is believed to be the ghost of the murdered daughter, who comes back to Sethe’s life to ask for a make up of her life. The sad story breaks the heart of many and reveals the dehumanization of slavery.
Morrison is absolutely a great writer. She knows how to tell a great story, create suspense, and how to make her stories the most impactful and impressive. In the book, she attracts the audience’s attention with every detail and creates a great story that prompts the audience to think and form their own interpretations. For people interested in stories that unveil the destruction of slavery, it is definitely a great book to read.
The Legacy of Slavery
—book review of Beloved
Unlike the Narrative of Frederick Douglass, which reveals the dehumanization of the institution of slavery by directly narrating the brutality of the enslavement process from a former slave’s perspective, Beloved, written by Toni Morrison, discloses the legacy of slavery by focusing on slavery’s aftermath. Even though Morrison does not tell the dreadful stories of being a slave, by focusing the story on the destruction slavery has on humanity, identity and families for freed African Americans even after emancipation, she achieves a similar effect of unveiling the cruelty of slavery.
In the book, the stories are centered around three main characters: Sethe, a former slave who killed her daughter with the belief that it was a form of protection, Denver, Sethe’s daughter, and Beloved, who is alluded to be the spirit of the killed daughter. Morrison writes, “to Sethe, the future was a matter of keeping the past at bay.” The book is a reflection of Sethe’s past as Beloved represents the past crime Sethe has done; by including the interesting character in the story, Morrison links the past of slavery to the present and even the future, showing the audience that the legacy of slavery still haunts the former slaves.
Based on a true story, the act of killing one’s child in order to save her from pain and degradation itself demonstrates the dehumanization of slavery. What brutality can force parents to commit murders to their own blood? What kind of institution would make killing more preferable than living?
Any justification for killing purports to be weak, but there is one exception: love, the justification Sethe uses. To Sethe, her daughter matters more than herself, but she still determines to kill the daughter. She said, “if I hadn’t killed her she would have died and that is something I could not bear to happen to her.” She believes that as the daughter of a slave, simply being alive is the hard part.
Sethe justifies her actions as out hurting the hurters, namely the white people who would dehumanize Sethe’s daughter and torture her. Sethe, the mom with too thick of a heart, believes that “anybody white could take [her daughter’s] whole self for anything that came to mind. Not just work, kill, or maim [her], but dirty [her]. Dirty [her] so bad [she] couldn’t like [herself] anymore.” In order to avoid that, Sethe decides to end the life of her daughter herself.
In the book, Morrison uses stories to set up the climax where Sethe kills her daughter. In one plot, Sethe remembers hearing the schoolteacher, a white man, teach his pupils to differentiate the human characteristics from the animal traits of the slaves. The experiences of Sethe as a slave and her narratives when she pleads forgiveness from Beloved account for the reasons behind murdering her own daughter. Sethe does it with the fear that “a gang of whites invaded her daughter’s private parts, soiled her daughter’s thighs and threw her daughter out of the wagon.” It was self-evident that she chooses not living at all over living a horrible life as Sethe explains that “she might have to work the slaughterhouse yard, but not her daughter…And no one, nobody on this earth, would list her daughter’s characteristics on the animal side of the paper.” The act comes from a mother’s love and protection, which humanizes the twisted nature of killing.
Every colored person in the book fears. Knowing that her mom killed her sister, Denver is afraid of the “thing that happened that made it all right for my mother to kill my sister could happen again” and that “maybe there is something else terrible enough to make her do it again.” Even though the girl does not understand that the horrible thing refers to slavery, the audience is able to comprehend the allusion: slavery is the murderer.
As Morrison unveils the destruction of slavery, she focuses her stories on the aftermath of enslavement. For example, she puts that slavery destructs identity by writing that “Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” Besides destroying identity, slavery creates a unpleasant past that still haunts the freemen by evoking memories. Sethe escaped slavery but is still in pain from “every mention of her past life”, her life as a slave.
For the characters, the free life does not differ much from the slave life: “Slave life; freed life- every day was a test and a trial” as the legacy of slavery is significant enough to degrade their souls.
More significantly, Morrison includes the destruction of family, an important aspect of the dehumanization of slavery, in Beloved. Morrison writes, “To love anything that much was dangerous, especially if it was her children” because separation always follows. Paul D, who reunites with Sethe, believes that “For a used-to-be-slave woman to love anything that much was dangerous, especially if it was her children she had settled on to love. The best thing, he knew, was to love just a little bit, so when they broke its back…you’d have a little love left over for the next one.” He understands well that slavery forces parents to discard their love to avoid future sorrow.
Morrison retells a heartbreaking story of a mother who sacrifices the life of her daughter to protect her from the legacy of slavery. Using powerful language and varying narrative techniques, the author moves the hearts of the audience by showing them what the legacy of slavery is capable of: it can tear families apart, destroy one’s spirit and identity, and even force parents to conduct the most immoral act of humanity.
Information: Beloved– Toni Morrison