Page 1 of 8==================================================================Name: Jesullyna C. Manuel                    ...
Page 2 of 8son bought her freedom by working “Five years of Sundays”. Facing recapture, Sethedesperately tries to kill all...
Page 3 of 8indicating a need to confront and interpret the past in ways that enhance the survival inan altered present. Ba...
Page 4 of 8the slave plantation (ironically named Sweet Home) stems from her desire to keep the"mother of her children ali...
Page 5 of 8       Sethe’s mother, the slave who kills her children because they are products ofsexual violation of white m...
Page 6 of 8trace of a psychic racial memory; while reader-response criticism places her in thecategory of the stubborn, or...
Page 7 of 8and were still shooting ourselves in the foot." Elsewhere, discussing Beloved with MarshaDarling, Morrison says...
Page 8 of 8their color, there is no male dominance in the novel rather the relationship is one ofcomradeship. In this rega...
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Beloved analysis (final paper in feminist writings)

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Beloved analysis (final paper in feminist writings)

  1. 1. Page 1 of 8==================================================================Name: Jesullyna C. Manuel Date: May 18, 2009Subject: Feminist Writings Prof. Jennie V. Jocson================================================================== LOVE, MURDER AND INSANITY: THE PORTRAIT OF A BLACK MOTHER IN TONI MORRISON’S BELOVED A black woman in Ohio, in the mid- nineteenth century, slashes the throat of herinfant daughter and lets her bleed to death. This is basically the tragic story of the motherin the novel Beloved written by Toni Morrison. We are going to ask ourselves, what kindof mother can commit such act of violence against her own children? Killing one’s child isconsidered as the most callous and unnatural act of which a woman could be thoughtcapable. In the conventional wisdom, motherhood is the most sacred vocation for allwomen. It is the shrine at which every woman must dedicate their lives. In the familiardiscourse of the governing patriarchy, maternity is projected as woman’s biologicaldestiny, as well as her assigned role in the society. At different historical moments, acrossdifferent cultures, this idealization of motherhood has been variously deployed, to reaffirmthe patriarchal framework. Published in 1987, and set in the post civil War Ohio of the 1870’s, Beloved is thestory of Sethe, a black woman haunted by the ghost of the baby daughter she have killed,to save the child from enslavement. In a narrative that moves back and forth between thepast and the present, we piece together the main events of Sethe’s life. We learn that, asthe only child of the black father, Sethe is spared the fate of all her other siblings,drowned by their mother on board a slave ship. We are told of the apparently idyllicconditions at Sweet Home, the plantation owned by the Garner family, before the arrivalof Schoolteacher, whose brutality drives the slaves to attempt escape. Sethe’s storyincludes the death of her mother on the slave plantation; her marriage to Hale; a whippingwhich leaves the scar on her back with the shape of the chokecherry tree; the act akin torape in which the white slave owner take her milk; her subsequent escape; and the birthof her daughter while she is on the run. Assisted in childbirth by a white girl named AmyDenver, Sethe later takes refuge in the house of her mother-in-law Baby Suggs whoseBeloved – Toni Morrison Final Paper in Feminist Writings Jhess Manuel (MAed Lit)
  2. 2. Page 2 of 8son bought her freedom by working “Five years of Sundays”. Facing recapture, Sethedesperately tries to kill all her children to save them from being slaves. She succeeds inkilling only the infant who is later then referred to as Beloved, after the tombstone erectedin her memory. After a period of imprisonment, Sethe returns to live at the house called124, haunted now by Beloved’s ghost. Her sons, Howard and Buglar, are frightened awayby this ghost, who becomes a member of what is now an all-female household. Into this household comes Paul D., once Sethe’s fellow slave, whose presencecompels Sethe to remember or rather to “rememory”- the past that she has tried torepress. Paul D. finds it equally hard to confront the story of his own sufferings as a slave.His heart is compared to a sealed tobacco tin. Jealous and possessive, the ghost ofbeloved reappears as a young woman, bent on seducing Paul D as a double act ofrevenge on and the control over her mother. Trapped in his mutually destructiverelationship with her daughter, Sethe is rescued by the community of black women. Herother daughter Denver, succeeds in exorcising the ghost after Sethe attacks Mr. Bodwinin the mistaken belief that he is the schoolteacher, come to enslave the daughter sheonce killed. Other characters- mothers and daughters- complicate the double narrative ofSethe and Paul D. Baby Suggs, the black ancestor figure with prophetic overtonesexercises a great influence as a preacher. Referred to as “Baby Suggs, holy” shecombines the sacred with the secular in her role as a preacher with special magicalpowers. She belongs to the long line of strong powerful matriarchal figure created by ToniMorrison. At one point, she antagonizes the community by her act of presumption whenshe lays out a lavish feast in celebration of Sethe’s return. She then withdraws from activelife, retiring into a world of silence, only two colored patches on her quilt signaling herdesire for life more imaginatively fulfilling. Baby Suggs decline has been to represent thesilencing of the African Great Mother by the discourse of slavery, or the subjugation of theblacks in America. However, she continues to exert a powerful influence after her death.Sethe and Denver sense her ghostly presence when they revisit the spot where she usedto preach. Later, Denver hears her grandmother’s voice urging her to break out of hersense of bondage, Baby Sugg’s posthumous agency thus triggers Denver’s awakening,Beloved – Toni Morrison Final Paper in Feminist Writings Jhess Manuel (MAed Lit)
  3. 3. Page 3 of 8indicating a need to confront and interpret the past in ways that enhance the survival inan altered present. Baby Suggs is also portraying a powerful feminist role in the story. Inthe clearing where she was heading the cathartic ritual of crying, dancing and talking, sheurged the women to start loving themselves. She urged them to kiss every part of theirbody to show their acceptance. Loving oneself according to baby Suggs is the only way tobe free from the ghost of the past. By accepting who you really are will mean that otherswill also accept you. No one can love yourself first but you. This for me is a powerful callfor women to start realizing their value. In Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics she said that in terms of activity, sex role assignsdomestic service and attendance upon infants to the female, the rest of humanachievement, interest, and ambition to the male. The limited role allotted the female tendsto arrest her at the level of biological experience. Therefore, nearly all that can bedescribed as distinctly human rather than animal activity (in their own way animals alsogive birth and care for their young) is largely reserved for the male. Of course, statusagain follows from such an assignment. (P. 26). Inherently, women are nurturing, caringand capable of giving life like the allusion of a woman to Mother Nature. Based on thecontext of Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics, she repudiates the role of maternal ideal aslimiting and false. Women must not be boxed in the stereotyped that women are onlythere to give birth and care for their children. In this contention, we can clearly see it theway Toni Morrison created the main character in the novel Sethe. The idea of the maternal is clearly one of Morrison’s preoccupations, butrepresentations of motherhood in her novels defy easy analysis on account of their rangeand complexity. Traversing the fractured space of the maternal, Morrison’s mother comesup against a range of contradictions central to the crisis of feminism: Identity of theotherness, freedom and responsibility, nature and culture individualism and collectivity,love and anger, silence and speech, creation and destruction. These contradictions arereally quite apparent in the novel Beloved which is the subject of my analysis in thispaper. The concept of motherhood within Beloved is as an overarching and overwhelminglove that can conquer all, strongly typified within the novel by the character Sethe, whosevery name is the feminine of "Seth"- the Biblical father of the world. Sethes escape fromBeloved – Toni Morrison Final Paper in Feminist Writings Jhess Manuel (MAed Lit)
  4. 4. Page 4 of 8the slave plantation (ironically named Sweet Home) stems from her desire to keep the"mother of her children alive" and not from any personal survival instinct. Sethesmaternal instincts almost lead to her own destruction. Readers can assume theinterpretation that Beloved is a wrathful character looking to wreak revenge on Sethe forkilling her, despite the fact that the murder was, in Sethes mind, an entirely loving act.Sethes guilt at Beloveds death means that she is willing to "give up her life, everyminute, hour and second of it, to take back just one of Beloveds tears". The strength ofher love leads her almost to the point of death as she allows Beloved complete freedomto destroy her household and relationships; the roles of mother and daughter arecompletely reversed. "Was it past bedtime, the light no good for sewing? Beloved didntmove, said, Do it, and Sethe complied". To show her love, to save her child from thebitter world of slavery that she once experienced, she chose to kill her daughter Beloved.She justifies her action in the latter part of the novel as she explains to Beloved as an actof love and not a premeditated murder. She is willing to see her daughter dead ratherthan experience the same horror that she had in her life as a slave. This act to me is quitebold. This is radical feminist. Sethe boldly defies the stereotype of a woman. She movedout of the box of being meek and submissive. She is willing to do everything to protect herchild. We can also see the nature of a mother. The unconventional way of Sethe indemonstrating her love to her child clearly repudiates the stereotypical role of a mother inthe patriarchal society. The concept of motherhood then showed by Sethe is differentfrom the common concept of the stereotype. The stereotype mother is nurturing, forSethe, killing is an act of motherhood to her children. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak drawsattention to the heterogeneity and complex women’s experiences, especially in terms oftheir varying cultural locations. Resistance to hegemonic constructions of motherhoodthus emerges as common goal for feminists from widely divergent background. In thediscourse of feminism, the space of the maternal accommodates contrary elements suchas victimhood and empowerment, submission and authority, creativity anddestructiveness. The idea of motherhood contains within both repressive andemancipatory potentialBeloved – Toni Morrison Final Paper in Feminist Writings Jhess Manuel (MAed Lit)
  5. 5. Page 5 of 8 Sethe’s mother, the slave who kills her children because they are products ofsexual violation of white men, cannot nurse her children because they are products of herslavery. This loss of maternal care perhaps explains Sethe’s desperation to get her milkto her children when separated from them during their attempt of escape. In economicterms (Marxist Feminism) Sethe’s mother demonstrates the dependence of the whitehouseholds on the denial of family rights to the blacks. Morrison uses the tropes ofmaternity to highlight the grotesque denial of human rights within slavery. Sethe doesn’tknow her mother’s name, but she remembers her by the mark on her body, a circle and across that denotes her identity. “This is your Ma’am. This, she pointed I am the only onewho got this mark now. The rest dead.” (Beloved page 62). For Sethe, this maternalabsence signifies separation from her black cultural heritage, just as the speech of herfoster mother Nan embodies a trace of her lost of mother tongue. “What Nan told her shehad forgotten, along with the language she told it in. The same language her ma’amspoke, and which would never come back. But the message in that was and had beenthere all along.” (Beloved 62). Perhaps the most baffling figure is Beloved herself. A multiple figuration, sherepresents not only Sethes dead baby, but also the collective sorrow of the "Sixty Millionand more" who perished, unnamed and unremembered, during the Middle Passage.Twice marked, by tomb engraver’s chisel and handsaw, Beloved reappears as the wordmade flesh, representing the persistence of personal and collective memory in the face ofdominant discourses that seek their erasure. She represents the reality of experience aswell as its textuality, its openness to interpretation. A supernatural entity, she is both ademon to be exorcised, and a healing force compelling other characters to confrontrepressed problems. The appearance of Beloved acts as a catalyst that enables Sethesliberation from her bondage to guilt about the past through a process of atonement, whileforcing Paul D. to face his `blocked emotions. The process is not easy. Paul D. mustcommit an act akin to incest with the daughter of the woman he loves. Sethe must nurturethe ghost of the daughter she has killed, dwindling into a shadow of her former self, whileBeloved flourishes, pregnant, presumably, with Paul D.s child. Psychoanalytical criticsinterpret Beloved as an exemplar of the pre Oedipal, the return of the repressed, or as aBeloved – Toni Morrison Final Paper in Feminist Writings Jhess Manuel (MAed Lit)
  6. 6. Page 6 of 8trace of a psychic racial memory; while reader-response criticism places her in thecategory of the stubborn, or that which defies explanation. More story than character,African mythological pre-text as well as Western ghost, and Beloved’s resistance tocomplete explanation signals the multiplicity of levels at which her text must be read. If Beloved signifies the presence of the past, hope for the future finds a locus inDenver, the other daughter, who suggests the possibility of adapting the legacy of thepast to the demands of the present. Trapped in a haunted house and unable to relate tothe community outside her home, Denver at first withdraws into a silence that must bebroken, for her to function as an effective agent of change. The turning point comes withher decision to educate herself and look for work. "It was a new thought, having a self tolook out for and preserve" (Beloved 252). Denvers response to the written word isepiphanic, embodying the possibility of writing into history the repressed narratives ofblack suffering. What makes such narrative possible is made from the mixture of the milkand blood that Denver drank at the moment of her sisters death, signifying theconjunction of love and violence that is her mothers legacy. It is Denver who rescuesSethe from the ghost of Beloved, before setting out on a quest for connection with thelarger world outside her community. The desire to rewrite history haunts this violentnarrative of mother-daughter relationships, the fragmented stories of the variouscharacters creating an alternative to official versions of history. Sethes murder of herchild is based on a real-life incident. In 1850, Margaret Garner, a runaway slave fromKentucky, tried to kill her children when facing recapture in Ohio. The epigraph dedicatesthe novel to the victims who died in the Middle Passage. As a trace of the past, Belovedstraddles both public and private domains. Though set in post abolition days, thenarrative suggests that the persistence of racism has made freedom a perilousproposition for blacks in America. This freedom has a gendered dimension. Despitechanged historical circumstances and increased availability of choices, Morrison feels thatthe female weakness for voluntary self-sacrifice remains a stumbling block in the path tofreedom. In an interview with Gail Caldwell, speaking of womens vulnerability to"displacing themselves into something other than themselves", she says, "Now in themodern and contemporary world, women had a lot of choices and didnt have to do thatanymore. But nevertheless, theres still an enormous amount of misery and self-sabotage,Beloved – Toni Morrison Final Paper in Feminist Writings Jhess Manuel (MAed Lit)
  7. 7. Page 7 of 8and were still shooting ourselves in the foot." Elsewhere, discussing Beloved with MarshaDarling, Morrison says: "This story is about, among other things, the tension betweenbeing you, ones own Beloved, and being a mother... It seemed that slavery presented anideal situation to discuss the problem. That was the situation in which Black women weredenied motherhood, so they would be interested in it." Gender, especially as figured inthe maternal dimension, is thus central to the novels conception, though complicated byissues of class and race, the interlocking grids of oppression to which black women areoften subjected. Amy Denver, the `white girl who assists at Sethes childbirth,demonstrates the pervasiveness of womens oppression across the barriers of race, aswell as the emancipatory potential of female bonding. In the novel Morrison pointed out that stereo-typed gender roles were discardedunder the pressures of slavery. Instead of being treated as weaker than men, womenwere also required to do physical labor in competition with men so that their relationshipwith each other is not male dominance and female subordination. The all femalehousehold at 124 challenges nuclear male headed family. Later, Paul, Sethe and Denverform a temporary home that defies the usual definition of the family as biologicallyconnected social unit. To an extent, Paul D carries the visionary weight of the novel,because in his sensitive and nurturing role he presents alternative traditionalconstructions of masculinity. His story in paralleling with Sethe’s establishes thepersuasiveness of the after-effects of the slavery even as it highlights the gendereddifferences that leave him free to wander, while Sethe remains trapped in her maternaland domestic obligations. The difference, Morrison suggests, is not necessarily innate.Paul D. can adopt the role of caregiver, and Denver can leave home s the femaleadventurer setting out to explore the world. Morrisons revisions of traditional models ofthe family reveal that she is not a radical feminist. Her egalitarian ethic envisages asituation of harmonious cooperation rather than a simple reversal of gendered powerstructures. Paul D. is also the agent of Sethes self-renewal, making her conscious of thepossibilities inherent in acquiring subjectivity independent of the maternal role. In Marxist Feminism as women are seen as profitable. In the novel this is quiteclear. As we have pointed out earlier the male and female characters in the novel, exceptfor the Schoolteacher who dominates not basically because they are male but by virtue ofBeloved – Toni Morrison Final Paper in Feminist Writings Jhess Manuel (MAed Lit)
  8. 8. Page 8 of 8their color, there is no male dominance in the novel rather the relationship is one ofcomradeship. In this regard female during the time of slavery are regarded as commodity.They have a price. They have value. There was a part in the novel during the escape ofPaul D he realizes that he has a value when somebody paid him to do a work. With thisrealization, he thought of Sethe’s value is more than his because Sethe can reproduce.Sethe and the other women in the story like Baby Suggs are not allowed to feel anything,but they are there as a labor tool and a source of production. As the Marxist feministpointed out the womb is also a place of production. This is basically true as seen in thenovel.REFERENCESBeauvoir, Simone de. The Second Sex 1945; Harmondsworth: Penguin 1972Chakravarty, Radha Poisonous Love and Haunted Houses: The Maternal Problematic inToni Morrison BRAC University Journal, vol I no 2, 2004 pp 13-20Morrison, Toni, Beloved, New York: A Division of Random House Inc. June 2004Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty Feminism and Critical Theory taken from the handouts givendated April 16, 2009Internet sourceswww.sparksnotes.comwww.wikipedia.comwww.gradesavers.comwww.bookrags.comwww.projectguttenberg.comwww.slideshare.comBeloved – Toni Morrison Final Paper in Feminist Writings Jhess Manuel (MAed Lit)

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