Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Beloved Four

And in conclusion.

Beloved tells the story of not just one family's attempt to deal with a tragic situation, while being constantly haunted by the victim of the tragedy, but also the story of how they got there. What drove Sethe to kill her child? And so Morrison provides for us a glimpse of the live Sethe led, the life Paul D. let, and the lives of those with whom they rubbed shoulders. We see slavery at its filthiest when we see Schoolteacher instructing on the animal characteristics of the slaves, when the women are raped, and the men hung from trees, burned alive, and broken like horses. We see slavery at its finest when Paul D and his brothers are allowed to share their opinions with their owner, who allows them to have guns, and treats them like men. Even in those moments, Paul D. acknowledges that he is only a man because the white man has said he is-whether the slavery is brutal and gruesome or simply servitude, the white man determines the worth and meaning of the black man's very existence. All of these events from the past combined create the woman Sethe was when she killed her daughter. Morrison challenges the readers with the question Who is really to blame? Sethe killed one child, the institution of slavery killed 'sixty million and more'.

Beloved Three

Self Love

In the Clearing, Baby Suggs instructs the people in a new form of worship: self worship. Baby Suggs tells them "More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. more than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart." She instructs those at the Gathering that no one else is going to love any part of them, they are responsible for this love. Self love=self preservation, according to Baby Sugfs. And then there is Sethe. Sethe loves so much that lives outside of her. She laments to Paul D after Beloved leaves that "she was the best of me", to which Paul D replies (in one of the most heart achingly beautiful moments of the book) "You your best thing, Sethe. You are". Sethe has, in her mind loved her children so fiercely and strongly; however, because she fails to love herself, from whom these children come, whether that love is too thick or too thin, it isn't enough to survive. She needs that self love Baby Sugfs preaches on in order to survive these moments.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Beloved Two

Margaret Garner- A Modern Medea
Toni Morison based Sethe's character on the real life Margaret Garner, whose story is all the more tragic because it isn't fiction, but a real life scar on America's history. Margaret and her husband and four children escaped slavery and crossed the river into Ohio only to be found and surrounded. As her husband was dragged away, Margaret grabbed a butcher knife from the table and slit her 2 year old daughter's throat. The men grabbed her before she was able to kill the other children. (interesting point here-the children of Margaret all had questionable paternity-all were lighter to white skinned, and born 6-8 months after those born to her owner's wife). "Why did Margaret Garner murder Mary, her own three-year-old daughter? According to Weisenburger, Garner had "a tangled skein of motives: despairing desires to 'save' her children, urges for violent backlash against the master who had probably made her his concubine and who might in turn victimize little Mary, and a destructive spite for her children's whiteness"(Eden, Edward: Modern Medea). While this part of the story is awful, what happens next is all the more sickening. The courts didn't know what to do with Margaret. The crime took place in Ohio, a free state, where they wanted to charge her with murder, while Kentucky, from which she fled, wanted to charge her instead with destruction of property. The southern courts won, and the judge found her guilty not of killing a child, but of destroying property. Knowing this fact illuminates the conversation between Paul D and Sethe when she defends what she did, and he responds "You got two feet, Sethe, not four" (194). According to the law, according to what her real life counterpart was charged with, whether she had two or four feet, she was property, not person, and had destroyed a piece of property, not killed a child. The indignity that must come from the courts of the country and the laws of the land saying such things about her and her children-I don't blame Sethe a bit for the forest that springs up between her and Paul D after that statement.

Beloved One


In the last words of Beloved, Paul D says to Sethe, "me and you, we got more yesterdays than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow"(p. 322). Throughout the course of Sethe's life, the constant focus on the past directly causes her tragic circumstances. Toni Morrison uses the focus on past and present in this novel to make a point. Living in either one without acknowledging the other will lead to disaster in the long run. Sethe lives a life focused solely on her past, and in doing so, has no present, and thus no future. In Sethe's world in the 28 days leading up to her daughter's death, she lives in the fear of her past, specifically the brutal treatment she received at the hands of the schoolteacher and the nephews. Sethe is so affected by these experiences (and who can blame her), that they drive her actions in the present when Schoolteacher finally finds her. The actions in her present result in the destruction of her future in two ways: first, literally she destroys the next generation when she kills her daughter, and second, she destroys her own personal future, which will always be haunted by her actions in the barn that day.
The entire novel examines Sethe's constant need to live in the past, and the effect that has on the present and the future. Only when Sethe is able to exist in her present, while still acknowledging the past, will she be able to have a future. Toni Morrison uses this story to illustrate the very problems plaguing America. There is a tendency in this country to either focus so much on the grit of the past (ie: slavery) that the present and future cannot improve, or, on the other hand, ignore completely the past, making a hollow and somewhat false present and future. Both mindsets lead to destruction, and only when we are able to live in the present with an honest but not obsessive view of the past, do we have any hope for a future.