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    Mental Abuse in “Beloved” (1351 words)

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    Physical wounds can be treated by doctors. When bones break, they can be repaired through medical care. Mental wounds can be treated by psychologists but they do not have the power to erase memory. Therefore do mental wounds ever really heal? Throughout the novel Beloved, Toni Morrison exemplifies the results of mental abuse due to slavery. The effects are highlighted through setting, point of view and conflict. When analyzed through a postcolonial lens, Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved illustrates that mental abuse significantly impacts people more, than physical abuse.

    When examining Beloved, it is evident that the time and place mentally impacts the characters. The setting of the novel takes place just after the American Civil War. During this time, the cruelty of white supremacists forces slaves to view themselves as less than human. As Sethe, the protagonist of the novel and former slave is recalling some memories of the past, she remembers a situation that took place back at the plantation where she used to live called Sweet Home. The situation occurs as Schoolteacher, one of the men in charge of Sweet Home instructs two of his students to “put her human characteristics on the left; and her animal ones on the right” (Morrison 2.19, 228). During this time, there was segregation between races and religions in the United States. Through the use of double consciousness, Morrison displays that Sethe, a person of colour, and all other slaves during this post-colonial period, are treated unequal and are forced to view themselves through the eyes of privilege caucasians. This post-colonial setting influences the way Sethe views herself, ultimately proving that the ignorance of the privileged society mentally manipulates Sethe, and other slaves to dehumanize themselves. Another instance where this mental manipulation is a factor occurs between Paul D and Sethe. Paul D is another former slave from Sweet Home, who ventured to find Sethe at her new found home, house 124. One night as Sethe and Paul D finish having intercourse, Paul D is reminiscing upon his time at Sweet Home where he recalls the love story of a man who travels great lengths to see his girlfriend. Paul D’s intercourse with Sethe makes him think about his longing fantasies about being “a man” and living a good life with a family (Morrison 1.2, 26). Paul D is very insecure about ever being able to be a real “man” and he constantly questions his integrity. Slaves in this setting are told they are less than human and are viewed as commodities that are only there for profit. This mentally convinces Paul D that he is just a slave and will never be more than just a slave. Thus hinting that he will never be a family “man” or the “man” of the house. The mal-treatment from higher figures demonstrates the emotional and mental toll it lays upon slaves during this period. The cruelty that slaves experience progresses from internal conflict to an issue that externally affects others.

    The severity of abuse causes slaves to take immoral measures. Another factor that contributes to this mental abuse is the main conflict of the novel where Sethe’s past experiences force her to kill her children. As Stamp paid, a former slave who rescues Sethe from slavery, arrives, he is nervous to see Sethe again considering that the last time they saw eachother Sethe almost kills her fourth child Denver along with the other three, out of fear that they would end up as slaves as well. When he finally collects the courage to knock on the door of house 124, nobody answers and the women in the house are left alone. During a monologue, Sethe realizes that Beloved, a woman who mysteriously crawled out of a pond near house 124 is her late daughter, one of the children that Sethe kills back at Sweet Home. “[I]f [she] [does] [not] [kill] [Beloved] she would [die] and that is something [Sethe] could not bear to happen to her” because according to Sethe’s knowledge, living and dying within slavery is worse than facing death now. These extreme actions showcase Sethe’s belief that the corruption of her children’s minds through mental abuse at a young age will be much worse than her children dying young. Through the conflict between slaves and the privileged, Morrison displays the severity of impact that is conceived through mental abuse. The extent that Sethe is willing to go to assure that her children will not experience what she did, exemplifies that mental abuse is worse than a mother slaughtering her own children. Similarly, these extents are further elaborated upon through Beloved’s return. As Sethe, Paul D and Denver return from a carnival, they find a woman lying by a stump. This “fully dressed woman [who] [is] [walking] out of the water” immediately took the representation of Sethe’s deceased daughter Beloved (Morrison 1.4, 60). The instant Beloved rose from the water, the main conflict was presented once again. By resurrecting Beloved from the dead, Morrison added to the concept of immoral measures. The reason Beloved returns is because of the actions brought upon by her mother. Moreover, her mother’s actions are the physical result of mental conflict involving slavery, as slavery is what caused Sethe to aquire the belief that what happens to her within slavery will happen to her children as well.

    Additionally, through point of view, Morrison demonstrates that no matter how much Sethe tries to ignore the past and move forward in the present, Sethe is constantly facing reminders of her time as a slave. The memories of the horrors constantly come back, making it impossible to forget what being a slave was like. Prior to Paul D’s arrival at house 124 Sethe and Denver thought the house was being haunted by Beloved, as abnormal instances would occur. During a conversation with Sethe, Paul D explains his concerns about Denver and how she thinks the arrival of Paul D at house 124 interrupts the ghost baby presence of Beloved. The arrival of Paul D is now forcing Sethe to recall the events of the past. Sethe’s relationship with Paul D can give her an opportunity to move on with her life and “[t]o Sethe, the future [is] a matter of keeping the past at bay” (Morrison 1.3, 51). From Sethe’s perspective, she escapes from slavery and is now free to restart her life, a good life without all the pain and distress that slavery brought upon her. Unforgivingly, Sethe will never truly be able to do so, as her memories will not disappear. This indicates that the memories of mental abuse will forever be with her. Furthermore, the memories are brought to light once again as Paul D opens up and shares his painful memories with Sethe. However, Paul D is reluctant to share everything as he is afraid that showing an excessive amount will render both he and Sethe into a never-ending dark hole of rememory. In order to effectively conceal his past emotional and mental wounds, Paul D “would keep the rest where it [belongs]: in [a] tobacco tin buried in his chest where a red heart used to be. Its lid rusted shut” (Morrison 1.7, 94). From Paul D’s perspective, it is better to hide the past then have the pain from it resurface and interrupt is newly found freedom. This exemplifies the amount of mental pain and traumatic experiences that Paul D has had to cover up in his mind. This also illustrates just how horrid these memories are, and justifies the impossibility of erasing them.

    Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved clarifies the effects of mental abuse within slavery and how the results are far more devastating than those of physical abuse. Through the use of setting, point of view and conflict, the effects of maltreatment, rememory and harshness of abuse are all displayed as a factor of slavery. Overall these concepts clarify that mental abuse is worse than that of physical abuse. Traumatizing events stay implanted through emotional memory within the novel, never to be forgotten, it is safe to assume that it is the same for reality as well.

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    Mental Abuse in “Beloved” (1351 words). (2022, Jun 06). Retrieved from

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