Beloved Essay, Research Paper
Toni Morrison was born in Loraine, Ohio on February 18, 1931. She has accomplished many things from then until now. From writing several books to being a trustee of the National Humanities Center, she finds the time to remain grounded and stable. She has written many books, one namely Beloved which focuses on one woman?s trials and tribulations.
Beloved is about a woman named Sethe, now living in the Reconstruction-era farming country of Ohio. Proud and beautiful, she escaped from slavery, but is haunted by its heritage. She must deal with this haunted life on every level, from the fires of the flesh to the heartbreaking challenges to the spirit. Set in rural Ohio several years after the Civil War, this profoundly affecting chronicle of slavery and its aftermath is Toni Morrison’s greatest novel, a dazzling achievement. The story traces Sethe’s history back and forth through time, both as a free woman and as a young slave on a plantation known as Sweet Home. When another former slave, Paul D wanders into Sethe’s life, he stirs up memories of her past. Paul D wants to help her forget those memories, but her back carries horrible scars from the beatings of a lifetime under the control of another man, making forgetting almost impossible. The ghost of a baby daughter also keeps Sethe’s memories alive, a spirit bent on evil and destruction. One day, a strange woman appears in Sethe’s yard, covered in insects and speaking in a “possessed” voice, shall we say. This strange woman is called Beloved. Sethe takes Beloved in and ignores her disgusting behaviors like vomiting on everything and wetting the bed and trying to seduce Paul D.
“I certainly thought I knew as much about slavery as anybody,” Morrison told the Los Angeles Times. “But it was the interior life I needed to find out about.” It is this “interior life” in the throes of slavery that constitutes the theme of Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Beloved. Set in Reconstruction-era Cincinnati, the book centers on characters who struggle fruitlessly to keep their painful recollections of the past at bay. They are haunted, both physically and spiritually, by the legacies slavery has bequeathed to them. The question in this novel, Morrison told PBS host Charlie Rose, was “Who is the beloved? Who is the person who lives inside us that is the one you can trust, who is the best thing you are. And in that instant, for that segment, because I had planned books around that theme, it was the effort of a woman to love her children, to raise her children, to be responsible for her children. And the fact that it was during slavery made all those things impossible for her.”
“(My aim was to create)… a tone in which I could blend the acceptance of the supernatural and a profound rootedness in the real world at the same time with neither taking precedence over the other. It is indicative of the cosmology, the way in which Black people looked at the world. We are very practical people, very down-to-earth, even shrewd people. But within that practicality we also accepted what I suppose could be called superstition and magic, which is another way of knowing things. But to blend these two worlds together at the same time was enhancing, not limiting.”
While Beloved obviously revolves around issues of race, there are some other themes that, whether intended by the author or not, play some part in developing the story. One additional source of conflict in this story has to do with the difference in gender between some of the main characters. Also, family relationships play a very large part in the development of the plot line.
Racial issues are without a doubt one of the main issues in Beloved. The whole story revolves around the life of a former slave and her attempts to get on with her life as best she can considering what the white slave owners have put her through. However, the racial issues in this story are not unlike those read about in other stories and historical writings. All of the cruelties and abuses of the slaves by the slave owners in this story are probably even conservative compared to what actually occurred in many cases. It is for this reason that we question whether this book is about the life of an ex- slave or about something else more fundamental.
The fact that three of the four main characters are female causes one to question whether Beloved is a story about black’s issues or women’s issues. Is Toni Morrison telling the story of a woman’s or an ex-slave’s life? While there is no doubting that slavery and all its ugliness is the cause of Sethe being in the situation she is, one cannot dismiss the fact that much of what is actually occurring in the story has to do with the relationship between a single mother, her daughter, and a female stranger (Beloved) who has entered their lives. Sethe’s relationship to Paul D. seems only to provide a source of neutrality or contrast for the overall focus of the story line. (i.e. the interactions of Sethe, Denver, and Beloved.)
What significance does the ghost of Sethe’s dead baby play in this story? Are the references to this ghost simply just symbolic of the way the family deals with its death and the resulting horror that remains in their memories? Or does anyone who enters the house on Bluestone Road actually witness the presence of paranormal activities?
Slavery was a major part of the time period when Beloved was written. The Fugitive Slave Act, a portion of the Compromise of 1850, stated that since slaves were property, and ownership of property extended across state lines, owners were within their rights to cross state lines to retrieve their runaway slaves. Further, law enforcement officers were charged with the public trust to protect person and property and were, therefore, held to be responsible for the capture and return of slaves to their owners. Free state or slave state, no state was safe for slaves from capture and re-enslavement anymore.
Overall, Toni Morrison?s Beloved is a gripping tail that gives a most accurate recount of the life and times of African-American women back in the time of slavery. Sethe?s story makes us think and think again about what we mean when we say we love our children or freedom. The stories circle and are suddenly clear and horrifying. Because of the extraordinary, experimental style as well as the intensity of the subject matter, what we learn from them touches at a level deeper than understanding. We read this fiction novel to accompany a History class to fully understand and get a deeper meaning of slavery and what goes along with it.