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.

1 comment:

  1. I saw a really interesting quote in relation to the last bit about the crime being "destruction of property," not the taking of a life. It is from Roger Ebert's review of the film, where he states: "In a society with those values, to kill can be seen as life-affirming." In this way, perhaps Sethe's action were more a celebration of her daughter's life than anything she might have otherwise experienced in a life of slavery.

    Although, as was pointed out in "the trial," there is no way to know how much good or bad Beloved's life would have contained had she lived. She might have escaped from slavery somehow, for instance, and had the opportunity to live a free life. But we'll never know. And neither will Sethe. A fact which I am sure torments her every day.