Beloved By Toni MorrisonToni Morrison’s novel, Beloved, reveals the effects of human emotion and itspower to cast an individual into a struggle against him or herself.
In thebeginning of the novel, the reader sees the main character, Sethe, as a womanwho is resigned to her desolate life and isolates herself from all those aroundher. Yet, she was once a woman full of feeling: she had loved her husband Halle,loved her four young children, and loved the days of the Clearing. And thus,Sethe was jaded when she began her life at 124 Bluestone Road– she had lovedtoo much. After failing to ‘save’ her children from the schoolteacher, Sethesuffered forever with guilt and regret. Guilt for having killed her”crawling already?” baby daughter, and then regret for not havingsucceeded in her task.Order now
It later becomes apparent that Sethe’s tragic past, herchokecherry tree, was the reason why she lived a life of isolation. Beloved, whoshares with Seths that one fatal moment, reacts to it in a completely differentway; because of her obsessive and vengeful love, she haunts Sethe’s house andfights the forces of death, only to come back in an attempt to take her mother’slife. Through her usage of symbolism, Morrison exposes the internal conflictsthat encumber her characters. By contrasting those individuals, she showstragedy in the human condition.
Both Sethe and Beloved suffer the devastatingemotional effects of that one fateful event: while the guilty mother who livedrefuses to passionately love again, the daughter who was betrayed fights heavenand hell- in the name of love- just to live again. Sethe was a woman who knewhow to love, and ultimately fell to ruin because of her “too-thicklove” (164). Within Sethe was the power of unconditional love for herchildren– she had “milk enough for all” (201). Morrison uses breastmilk to symbolize how strong Sethe’s maternal desires were.
She could neverforget the terror of the schoolteacher robbing her of her nurturing juices, shecrawled on bleeding limbs to fill her baby’s mouth with her milk, and finally,she immortalized that grim summer day when she fed Denver her breast milk–mingled with blood. The bestial image of milk and blood further fortifies theeminence of maternal instinct by portraying the value of a mother’s milk asequal to that of her blood. And the great depth of Sethe’s maternal love isexpressed through the course of all events: she loved her children so much shewas willing to die with them, so much she would rather kill them than have themsuffer, and so much that after that one fateful afternoon, her entire life’shappiness dwindled away to near-nothingness. When the schoolteacher came forthem, Sethe “just flew. collected every bit of the life shemade.
. . a place where no one could hurt them” (163). It was Sethe’soverpowering love for her children that drove her towards a desperate attempt tokill them. Tragically, she would live in guilt for the rest of her life, foreverdistrusting love, and finally giving up everything for a chance to make rightwhat she’d done wrong.
Beloved, on the other hand, was a sad and angry spiritwho fought death in order to return to life so that she could assuage hervengeful, obsessive love for Sethe. Never quite sure what had happened, the twoyear-old spirit believed that Sethe had left her behind and came back “tothe one to have” (76). In the beginning, Beloved longed toreceive Sethe’s attention. She seemed tranquil sitting near Sethe, as the olderwoman prepared breakfast in the morning. It wasn’t until the day in theClearing, when Beloved’s fingers “had a grip on that would not lether breath” (96), that the reader could see how conflicted she was betweenlove and hatred for her mother. Most importantly, Beloved’s true intention isrevealed: to utterly and completely take possession of Sethe.
Although Belovedwanted and needed her mother, albeit to a disturbing degree, her bitternessquickly turned into revenge when Sethe began to indulge her; and by slowlydraining the life out of her mother, Beloved could truly possess Sethe, bothbody and soul. Both mother and daughter seemed to have loved too much; whileSethe wanted to save her child from pain, Beloved wanted to satiate her ownravenous love. At first overjoyed that her daughter had “come back like agood girl” (223) and that she would get a chance to make up for her sins,Sethe soon realizes that Beloved would not be understanding. Beloved’s demandsgrew increasingly urgent and destructive, as Sethe grew weaker from having herguilt further incensed. Much like the symbolism of breastfeeding, Beloved slowlysuckled away all of Sethe’s life, all of her natural juices.
Trying to makeamends, Sethe would cry “that Beloved. . . meant more to her than her ownlife. . .
Beloved would deny it” (242). One woman was killing herselftrying to make the other understand, while the other was selfishly destroyingeverything in her way of happiness. In this way Morrison captures the tragedy ofhuman emotion: one love so powerful it always loses, and one love so powerful itconsumes everything. Sethe lost in the game of love by killing her daughter outof instinct; she lost again in the game of live by forever suffering for it.
Beloved fought to live again and took the life of the woman who loved her enoughto die for her. Towards the closing of the novel, Sethe’s eyes “bright but dead, alert but vacant, paying attention to everything aboutBeloved” (242-243). Beloved characterizes the tragedy of love: so strong itcan kill, so strong it can become hate.