Motherhood Under Slavery In Tony Morrison’s Beloved
Tony Morrison’s novel Beloved, explores how slavery effects of the lives of former slaves. Morrison focuses more specifically on how the women in these situations are affected. One of the main areas affected in the lives of these women is motherhood. By describing the experiences of the mothers in her story (primarily Baby Suggs and Sethe) Morrison shows how slavery warped and shaped motherhood, and the relationships between mothers and children of the enslaved. In Beloved the slavery culture separates mothers and children both physically and emotionally.
Sethe has a strong maternal instinct and sees her children as a part of herself. They rightfully belong to her. However her maternal ownership of her children is not recognized by the culture of slavery. As a slave she cannot own anything (Mock 118). Therefore while they are enslaved neither Baby Suggs nor Sethe really own their children. In the slavery culture both the mothers and the children are considered as property of their white owners. As property, their rights as mothers are made void and they have no say about the lives of their children. To the owners a slave woman’s primary value is in her reproductive ability. The female slave is seen as giving birth to property, and therefore capital in the form of new slaves. (Liscio 34). The owner has the ability to use and dispose of this new property as they wish. Therefore children could be sold without any regards for their feelings of the feelings of their mother. In the novel Baby Suggs states she has given birth to eight children, however she only gets to keep one that she sees grow into adulthood. By the end of her life slavery has stolen all of her children from her:
You lucky. You got three left. Three pulling your skirts and just one raising hell from the other side. Be thankful, why don’t you? I had eight. Everyone of them gone away from me. Four taken, four chased, and all, I expect, worrying somebody’s house into evil . . . My firstborn all I can remember is how she loved the burned bottom of bread. Can you beat that? Eight children and that’s all I remember (Morrison 6).
It is evident from this quote that Baby Suggs believes that all eight of her children are dead and that she believes they likely died as they lived in unhappy circumstances, and are now likely spirits who haunt the places they died. However, Baby Suggs does not know for sure what happened to each of her children. She tells Sethe to be thankful because at least Sethe knows where all of her children are (at this point in the novel), even if one of them is dead. Unlike Baby Suggs, Sethe at least still has memories of her sons long after they leave. For Baby Suggs most of the memories of her children are as dead and gone as she believes they are. As time goes on Baby Suggs repeated physical separations from her children eventually lead to her emotional separation from them as well:
What could it be? This dark and coming thing. What was left to hurt her...
Loading: Checking Spelling0%
The Influence of Slave Life on Motherhood and Family Interaction Explored in The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and Beloved3376 words - 14 pages In her 1987 novel Beloved, Toni Morrison explores the complexity of slave life and its influence on motherhood and family interaction. Morrison utilizes the some aspects of Frederick Douglass’s 1845 Autobiography to create her account of slavery but that is where the similarity ends. Beloved is a neo slave narrative and like other neo slave narratives it attempt to “rip the veil drawn over proceedings too terrible to relate” (Morrison, XV- XIX)....
The American history of slavery has been conveniently shrouded by a comfortable state of "national amnesia". By what means and how far successful is Morrison in addressing this issue in Beloved.641 words - 3 pages Toni Morrison contends that American history of slavery has been conveniently shrouded by a comfortable state of "national amnesia" However, this has brought about destructive effects which are highlighted through the symbolism and character developments. By not...
The Goddess in Toni Morrison's Beloved1706 words - 7 pages The concept of the goddess--especially in her three-fold embodiment as maiden, mother, and crone-is amazingly persistent for writers who want to explore gender roles. In particular, Toni Morrison uses the triple goddess to consider varieties of "male" and "female" thinking and to see how many roles an individual may wind up playing. The goddess we are concerned with in this Essay is many and yet one. She is a moon goddess, with triple aspects....
Toni Morrison1927 words - 8 pages Toni Morrison In the mid twentieth century, the Civil Rights Movement influenced African-American writers to express their opinions. Most African-American writers of the time discussed racism in America and social injustice. Some authors sought to teach how the institution of slavery affected those who lived through it and African-Americans who were living at the time. One of these writers was the Toni Morrison, the novelist, who intended to...
Religion in "Beloved"790 words - 3 pages Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved, explores the physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering that was brought on by slavery. Several critical works recognize that Morrison incorporates aspects of traditional African religions and to Christianity to depict the anguish slavery placed not only on her characters, but other enslaved African Americans. This review of literature will explore three different scholarly articles that exemplifies how Morrison...
Morrison's Writing Style in Beloved1342 words - 5 pages Not too long after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, Sethe, the mother who murdered her child to protect her baby from a lifetime of slavery, has yet to know the true meaning of freedom. Such a controversial, hard to swallow plot is certain to stimulate a reader’s mind. Too often, however, critically scrutinized for its symbolic story and not adequately appreciated for the vivid metaphors, imperative to the understanding of the...
The Association of Maternal Bonds and Identity in "Beloved"1706 words - 7 pages Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved, is a “haunting stray of a mother’s love that frames a series of irrelated love stories by multiple narrators” (Bell 61). The main character Sethe is a mother who fails to realize her children’s needs. She attempts to protect her children from the community amongst many other dangers such as slavery and love, however ultimately isolating them. Sethe’s character as well as actions confirms the “struggle and...
Analysis of Beloved, by Tony Morrison1992 words - 8 pages Beloved is a novel written by Tony Morrison and is based on the American Civil War. The plot of the novel is based on the effects, consequences and the results of the Civil War. The author uses characters that would effectively bring out the Civil War theme in terms of social circles and occupations in the society. The novel is based on the characters regarded as slaves or have undergone capture, slavery and escaped from their masters (Haskins...
Analysis of Sethe in the Novel Beloved by Toni Morrison1020 words - 4 pages “Mothers are all slightly insane.” This quote by acclaimed American writer J.D. Salinger accurately describes the nature of all mothers. The innate nature of mothers to be insane, or to think without logic or reason is vividly displayed in Toni Morrison’s Beloved through the protagonist Sethe. Sethe, an Ohio infanticide, displays loving traits throughout Beloved, and often leads the reader to question her motivations behind the killing of her...
Sethe's Children1048 words - 4 pages Motherhood is an integral theme in the work of Toni Morrison. She uses the experiences and perspectives of black women to develop a view of black motherhood, that is, in terms of both maternal identity and role, very different from how motherhood is practised in the dominant culture. Whilst the African view of motherhood claims that all mothers...
Essay on Toni Morrison's Beloved - Freedom and Independence1516 words - 6 pages Freedom and Independence in Beloved Toni Morrison’s important novel Beloved is a forceful picture of the black American experience. By exploring the impact slavery had on the community, Beloved evolves around issues of race, gender, and the supernatural. By revealing the story of slavery and its components, Morrison declares the importance of independence as best depicted by Sixo. The combination of an individual amongst a community...
Mother love is supposedly the strongest and strangest love there is. For example, Sethe maintains throughout the novel that murder was a better alternative than slavery for her children. How may her statement be supported?
I.Thesis Statement: In Beloved, Toni Morrison’s protagonist—Sethe—believes death for her children is superior to a life lived in slavery.
II. Treated as Animals in Slavery
Sethe’s animal characteristics listed alongside her human ones as an exercise in schoolteacher’s classroom
B. Schoolteacher’s nephews suckle Sethe’s milk from her breast
C. Thirty-Mile Woman is almost old enough to “breed”
III. Denied Dominion over Self in Slavery
A. Baby Suggs’ seven babies sold without her consent
B. Sethe’s mother branded
C. Paul A sold from Sweet Home to meet expenses after Mr. Garner’s death
IV. Torture Used on Slaves
A. Sethe whipped when schoolteacher discovered she has told Mrs. Garner that his nephews stole her milk
B. Paul D forced to wear the iron bit and three-prong collar after his abortive attempt to escape
C. Sixo burned and shot to death after his escape attempt
V. Usually Denied Family Life in Slavery
A. Sethe’s mother “given” to many different men
B. Baby Suggs permitted to keep only one of her children
C. Nan, rather than their mothers, cared for all the slave children
An argument exists that while the body may be enslaved, it is possible to keep the soul free. Sixo effectively demonstrates this argument. What does this statement mean in terms of the novel?
I. Thesis Statement: Sixo’s spirit was never enslaved.
II. Refusal to Do Without Love
A. 20-years-old with no women available at Sweet Home
B. Thirty-Mile Woman was just that—thirty miles away
C. Sixo found a way to convince her to meet him half way
III. Refusal to Accept Mental Dominance
A. When accused of stealing food, reasoned that he was only “improving the master’s property”
B. Successfully pilfered blankets for the escape
C. Had his own unique theories about the ways of the masters
D. Made a convincing argument that Mr. Garner died of being shot in the ear rather than from an exploded ear drum caused by a stroke
IV. Refusal to Behave like an Animal
A. In no way disturbed Sethe when she came to Sweet Home as a girl of 14
B. Chose Thirty-Mile Woman for himself and with her agreement
C. Rejoiced that Thirty-Mile Woman was pregnant with his child
D. Sacrificed himself so that Thirty-Mile Woman could escape the white men hunting them
V. Refusal to be Limited by Constraints of Slavery
A. Would sneak out at night to meet Thirty-Mile Woman
B. Devised new and different ways to bake the potatoes he stole
C. Laughed as he was being burned as punishment for trying to escape
(The entire section is 1267 words.)