One might wonder what sort of a mother would do that to her own children, how could she kill her own creation? The answer to this lies in the novel itself, wherein we realize that what Seethe did was wrong but it was the only thing she could do. For she has suffered the excruciating pain & trauma of being a slave, she has lived in a living hell and thus does not wish to put her children through the same life wherein being alive was no less than being dead.
‘Beloved’ is definitely ‘a saga of black bodies in pain’, but then again it is not ‘just a saga of black bodies in pain.
Beloved is not just a novel, but a prayer, a healing ritual for a country’s holocaust of slavery. There is so much more to ‘Beloved’ than just the pain & agony of the black bodies. The horrors of slavery are unmasked, the aftermath of slavery on African Americans the endless suffering & anguish which spills over to the leftover lives of the slaves, the identity crisis the slaves go through, the denial of community life, in fact the very denial of being humans is depicted in ‘Beloved’, a novel that relentlessly draws one in.
The story is perfect for all who did not experience nor could imagine how it was to e an African American or a ‘Black/Niger’ as they were called, in America circa the sass’s. The novel is set in post Civil War Ohio, when the war has been won and slavery has been abolished, but not the memories of it. Morrison, with savage irony, allows Seethe and her mother-in-law, Baby USGS, to recall life under a former ‘good’ slave owner in Kentucky, whose farm was called ‘Sweet Home’ and who treated his men as something other than children or savages. This enlightenment was short-lived.
The kindly-disposed slave owner falls on hard times and sells one of his men. Then he dies and Sweet Home becomes a sour hell under a new, sadistic proprietor (Schoolteacher). Seethe escapes, perilously regnant, from Kentucky to Ohio, gives birth on the way and when united with her other children, tries to kill them when the threat of recapture seems certain. She succeeds in murdering one baby daughter, Beloved, and is able to erect a tombstone for her only by giving herself to the man who carves it. But soon after this incident the ‘ghost’ of the dead baby comes back to avenge her death and haunts 124 Bluebonnets & its inhabitants.
The ‘ghost’ or ‘Beloved’ can be best described as nothing else but the very past of these inhabitants. To further the notion of haunting, the characters are not only haunted by Beloved at 124, but they are haunted by their past, and the novel is not only about ridding their home of the ghost, but releasing their hold on what had happened to them in worse times. There is a constant struggle to keep the past from gaining possession of their present and to throw off the long-dark legacy of their past. Morrison attempts to show us the horrors of slavery through its affect on these characters.
One way that she does this is by showing how desperate the characters are to get homeless and their loved ones away from that awful life known as slavery. Freedom is defined as ‘not to need permission for desire’, a freedom which is almost unattainable for the characters in this novel, with their branded memories of slavery, chain-gangs, lynching and beatings. Ella, a former slave who has crossed the river to Ohio and a kind of freedom, advises Seethe, “If anybody was to ask, I’d say, don’t love not inning. ” Morrison uses each character in Beloved Seethe, Baby USGS, Denver, Beloved, Paul D. Etc. ‘ as a representation of the complex ideas of the collective strife, the collective oppression, suppression and repression, that each slave in some way personally encounters – ideas that law was specifically written not to allow either expression or documentation. Further, Morrison uses her novel to bring to the foreground discussion and awareness of the collective attitude of denial, inequality, and point the finger to us, society as a whole, as culprits in the crime of forgetting the memories the “Sixty Million and more” (dedication) slaves that never completed the journey to our shores.
In the novel the most extreme case of someone avoiding enslavement comes room the main character when she attempts to kill her children. The main character Seethe, is not willing to let her children end up re-enslaved and would rather see them dead and in Heaven then in an earthly hell of being slaves. Obviously, Seethe is the most dramatically haunted throughout the novel, both by her past and by Beloved. As far as her past is concerned, so many things have happened to her and by her, it is impossible to not be haunted by something.
For starters, she is beaten so badly as slave that her back has a permanent blossoming scar, one that she calls a “chokecherry tree. The significance of this obscene scar on her back has much to do with the fact that it is just one more thing she cannot see, but knows it is always there. The load of a tree is just too much for a human to carry & one can imagine Settee’s agony for having been forced to bear the load all her life though not physically but emotionally. A black woman, who though, no longer is a slave, IS still slave to her past, which is growing and feeding off of her.
Seethe is the most traumatized out of all the characters, her anguish is one we cannot even fully imagine. She is desperate to save her children from the life f misery & torment of being a slave. She shows this desperation when she sends her children away from Sweet Home, when she travels, alone and pregnant, from Sweet Home to Ohio, and when she attempts to kill her children to keep them from school teacher. This sacrifice shows that slavery is horrid. In Settee’s mind, slavery and its affects are worse than the threat of death.
Morrison tries to relay through Seethe that slavery is horrible. The fact that one could be so desperate to get one’s self and loved ones safe from the clutches of slavery testifies to this fact. Thus, Settee’s actions, sending away ere children, making that trip alone and pregnant, and attempting to murder of her children, stand as testimonies to the evils of slavery and its affects.. Settee’s action is indisputable: She has killed her child. In preventing her from the physical and emotional horrors of slavery, Seethe has put herself in to a realm of physical and emotional pain: guilt.
Seethe symbolizes the border between slavery and freedom. Seethe loses her sense of self, and continues to haunt her through the novel, by means of flashbacks and painful remarries, most of which are a result of Beloveds presence. Seethe has borne the unthinkable of killing her baby and not gone mad. Seethe is unable to grow in the novel and escape that painful border until the very end, when her past has finally been put to rest The fact that the slaves are treated like animals, and are traded and sold like cattle is well depicted in the novel.
This does not actually shock me as a reader, but what shocks me has to do with the living conditions, and punishments that the men are put through. What am referring to in particular are the living conditions at the work camp in Georgia. The fact that he men are in little cubic holes in a trench in the ground is very disturbing. The fact that when it rains “They squat in muddy water, sleep above it, pee in it, is very shocking and unpleasant to me and not just as a reader but as a human too. The other thing that is really disturbing at the same camp is the “breakfast”.
This is disgusting and at the same time seems very weird. The white men consider the ‘naggers’ to be animals, yet they still make them perform oral sex on them. This is quite possibly the most bothersome and abhorrent thing that occurs to the slaves in the novel. Morrison demonstrates he quest for identity in names and naming. Renaming both by Baby USGS and Stamp Paid, is another way of escaping the boundaries set by someone else. Paul D, Paul A, Six, are all denied their identities by being named after their owners.
They are merely bodies, black bodies that are meant for serving the whites and are worse off than animals. Slavery’s destruction of identity is present throughout the novel, and Paul D is another example of how slavery destroys any sense of self. Paul D becomes unable to believe in his own existence, questioning his manhood and his value as a person, and as a exult, becomes emotionally depressed. This concept is difficult for the reader, because of the effect he has on people, especially on women. “There was something blessed in his manner. Women saw him and wanted to weep. Slavery also plays a large part in the Story. As Seethe and Paul D reminisce over Sweet Home, Paul D tells a story about Mister the rooster. The irony of the story is that Mister couldn’t get out of his egg himself. Paul D had to help him, yet, once he was out, he ruled the farm. “Mister, he looked so… Free. Better than me. Stronger, tougher. Son a bitchy could it even get out the shell by self but he was still king and I was.. ” Mister had all the freedom Paul D never thought he would have, and it was all thanks to him. He could save others but couldn’t save himself.
That sentence also is applied to Seethe, as she murdered her own daughter, not to kill her, but to save her from a life of misery and torture. Paul Ads post-slavery self is symbolized by the rusty tobacco tin he carries with him, memento of the cross he now bears within himself. Mentioned throughout his own thoughts a few times, it is a sad representation of his heart since Sweet Home. It was some time before he could put Alfred, Georgia, Six, schoolteacher, Whale, his brothers, Seethe, Mister, the taste of iron, the sight of butter, the smell of hickory, notebook paper, one by one, into the tobacco tin lodged in his chest.
By the time he gets to ‘124’ nothing in this world could pry it open. In the text, there is no such thing as a family, the slaves cannot be married nor are they allowed to be “mothers” or “fathers” to their children. The fact that families are split up and the slaves have no control, and thus cannot protect their loved ones. To prevent themselves from being hurt by his they learn a way to form a protective barrier against it and that barrier is not to get close or expect to be able to protect the ones you love.
The trauma, the pain, the torment of the blacks as a result of slavery can be seen in the other characters too. In the novel, Six causes his death, which can be thought of as a suicide even though he personally does not pull the trigger. The love that Six feels for freedom results in his death. Six like the other characters chooses death over a lack of freedom. Paul A, is burnt alive for he tries to escape. Whale, for all one knows might as well be dead, for it was mental torture for him to have seen his wife being milked by white boys and for him not being able to save her.
Paul D, Paul A, Whale & Six, all of the brothers are robbed off their manhood, like denying them a name, an identity, a family & freedom weren’t enough. Baby USGS represents the authentic black woman, having been freed from slavery by her son, Whale. “Suspended between the nastiness of life and the meanness of the dead, she couldn’t get interested in leaving life or living it. ” Slavery has limited Baby USGS’ self-conception by shattering her family and denying her the opportunity to be who she wants to be, which is a good wife and mother.
She is seen as wise and spiritual, throughout the novel but unfortunately towards the end even she succumbs to this torturous life of being a slave when she tells Seethe, A black slave is not treated as human, yet is required to reproduce, to read and write, some are allowed to express love. A slave is made to believe in the ideas that his purpose is to serve white-folk, yet feel human desires for companionship, love and family and is then ironically conditioned never to express those feelings. Slaves were put in a unique De- minimized state, allowed to express some, not all, human instincts.
Morrison writing reflects these conflicting thoughts, rather than explicating stating the conflict. An affect of De-humbugging slaves is that a freed slave is never truly free, psychological and societal affects of being a slave continue to plague his lives. Seethe is evidence that expression of feelings by anyone affected by slavery became extremely “risky, thought Paul D. , very risky. For a used-to-be-slave woman to love anything that much was dangerous, especially if was her children she had settled on to love. ” Expression of motion is a weakness to slaves.
To a former slave expressing emotions becomes difficult, the meaning of emotions becomes foreign. Morrison novel appears twenty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act when in many ways African Americans are worse off than they were back then. In this post-Civil Rights era the African American community wrestles with whether to tie their redemption to the white community’s redemption or whether they should instead separate, turn inward, and heal themselves Beloved is a product of the drastic restrictions that society placed upon the instincts of human beings.
As these instincts are repressed they reach a critical point, a point where, perhaps as a ghost, Beloved is brought into the lives of the characters in Morrison novel. Morrison brings back the repressed lives, thoughts, and actions of slaves on her terms. By doing so, Morrison allows the reader to experience for themselves the dramatic effects that can be caused by excessive repression of instincts, with no alternative method to satisfy what was repressed. It’s clear they don’t forget, and could never forget, their past and what had happened to them. So rather than forget, they “dismember.
They push it to the back of their mind where they won’t think about it, but it is always there, waiting for them to “remember” it. It can also be said that the readers themselves are haunted in this story. Morrison clearly depicts disturbing stories and events that had happened to the characters – stories that a normal reader would not soon be able to forget. Morrison wants us to not just live through the characters’ haunting, but to feel the pain of the past in our own thoughts as well. Morrison melds horror and beauty into a story that will disturb the mind forever. Indeed, “This is not a story to pass on. ”
Cite this Beloved as a Saga of Black Bodies in Pain
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