Beloved as a Saga of Black Bodies in Pain

Topics: Slavery, Slavery in the United States, Black people Pages: 7 (2690 words) Published: May 15, 2013
“Inside, two boys [Howard and Buglar] bled in the sawdust and dirt at the feet of a nigger woman [Sethe] holding a blood-soaked child [Beloved] to her chest with one hand and an infant [Denver] by the heels in the other. She did not look at them; she simply swung the baby toward the wall planks, missed and tried to connect a second time…” (page. 149). "It is the ultimate gesture of a loving mother. It is the outrageous claim of a slave"(Morrison 1987). These are the words that Toni Morrison used to describe the actions of the central character, ‘Sethe’, within the novel, Beloved. 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 Sethe 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 be an African American or a ‘Black/Nigger’ as they were called, in America circa the 1860'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 Sethe and her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, 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). Sethe 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 Bluestone & 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 hauntings, 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 themselves 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 Sethe, "If anybody was to...
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