Toni Morrison depicts the physical and psychological effects slavery has on anAfrican American woman and her family following the civil war in her famousbook, Beloved. Throughout the novel, Morrison uses various themes to capture theimpact of slavery had on the various characters portrayed in Beloved. Theeffects on these characters were not just physical but psychological as well.
The impact of slavery has left a great impression on this family even long afterthe civil war. Slavery has led to physical damage, the killing of ones child,families being broken up, characters going crazy, and not being able to move onfrom the past that haunts them.
Slavery has had a physical affect on manycharacters. School teacher made one open on my back, and when it closed itmade a tree. It grows there still, (17) states Sethe describing the scar of atree on her back. Sethe was whipped with cowhide for telling Mrs. Garner thatthe boys of the schoolteacher had taken milk from her that was for her baby.
Sethe was whipped so hard that he had touched every ridge and leaf of itwith his mouth, none of which Sethe could feel because her back skin had beendead for years (18). Even though years had passed Sethe is still effected bythe punishment that was dealt to her during her time as a slave. Below herbloody knees, there was no feeling at all; her chest was two cushions ofpain, (34) describes Sethe of her body as she lied in the woods pregnant andin severe pain. The fear of slavery and hope of freedom had led her to run awaypregnant into the woods to try to save herself and her unborn daughter from thechains of slavery. Slavery also affected Sethe psychologically because thethreat of slavery onto her children lead to the killing of one of her ownchildren. Sethe did not want one of her children, Beloved, to live like how shehad and to suffer like how she had suffered. Sethe believed that Beloved wouldbe better off dead then to have been a slave to someone. Sethe believed that.what she had done was right because it came from true love (251).
Slavery had to have affected Sethe psychologically because no mother in theirright mind would kill their own children, but the negative affects of slaveryand having been through the life of a slave, Sethe strongly believed thatBeloved should not have to live the life of a slave. Sethe felt rather thanhaving to suffer, Beloved would be better of dead. In Beloved, we see evidenceof the affects of slavery on families during that time. Slavery has lead to thebreak up of many families. Going back to when Sethe was a slave, she did nothave any parents herself, and lost her husband when she ran away to Ohio tryingto free herself. Slavery also led her to kill one of her children, and the ghostof that dead child, Beloved, led to both of her sons running away. Inattempts to break free from the chain of slavery, Sethe had to put her familyaside to gain freedom for herself and her one daughter Denver. Baby Suggs lostall of her eight children due to slavery, four children were taken from her andfour were chased away. She tells Sethe that she should be thankful that she hadthree children left but it was because of these conditions that many formerslaves were able to grow into a closer bond with each other. Being a slave hasnot put Sethe in the right state of mind. The act of slavery stills lingers inher mind, as she cannot get over the years of her living as a slave. Like asoldier who fought in war would have flashbacks, Sethe often experiences aflashback of her own kind trying to forget all of the horrible memories. Sethecharges Edward Bodwin with an ice pick in the deranged belief that he isschoolteacher come for her babies (Furman 269). Being a slave and rememberingher horrible past has led Sethe to believe that a white man who was there togive her daughter Denver a job was the schoolteacher that had mistreated herwhen she was a slave. Seeing Edward Bodwin standing in front of her house sheflashed back to how the schoolteacher forced her to kill her own child and justwent after Edward Bowin to kill him. Some characters like Ella has tried tocompletely forget the past. The past was something to leave behind. And if itdidnt stay behind, well, you might have to stomp it out (256). Ella feelsthat the past being so terrible its not even worth remembering and is best tojust forget about everything that had happened. The affects of slavery is sogreat that the characters in this story have a hard time moving on with theirlives even after the end of slavery. Even though Denver did not live as a slave,the fact that Sethe her mom was slave, affected Denvers life greatly. Theghost of Beloved living in the house leads Denver to say, I cant livehere. I dont know where to go or what to do, but I cant live here. Nobodyspeaks to us. Nobody comes by. Boys dont like me. Girls dont either(14). The events that occurred years ago during slavery still affects Denver whowas not even born when her sister was killed. Furman Says But withoutfriends, neighbors, a church, without involvement in the community, she haslittle potential of rehabilitating her life beyond a woodshed (Furman 266).
Slavery has led Sethe and Denver to live a secluded life in which they do notassociate with other people. The lingering effects of slavery have slowed downthe growth of Denver as a strong black woman and have prevented Sethe frommoving on from the past that haunts her. Through the novel Beloved, we canunderstand the physical and psychological effects that slavery had on peopleduring that time. The harshness of slavery made people do things that theynormally would not do and kept many from living the life that they would havewanted to live. We can also see that slavery not only affect those who wereslaves but their children as well, as many had to grow up without parents,children, siblings, or spouses. Like the imagery of birds flying together in thestory, what the African Americans wanted was just their freedom, to fly awayfrom all the racial injustice.
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