Trauma & Emotion

Throughout elementary and middle school, I was only told about the life of slaves who died as a slave, and the work that Harriet Tubman did with the Underground Railroad. That’s it. The worst part is, I didn’t even think about the fact that there are so many other sides and points of view of slavery besides those two. Beloved shed light on an embarrassingly new area for me, telling the story of a slave who escaped and began her life outside the confinement of slavery.

Even though Sethe in Beloved did end up escaping and gave birth to her child, her story falls nothing short of traumatic. Toni Morrison uses an array of symbols and motifs to reflect the past in the current, real life of Sethe. I believe that both the ghost and reincarnated (?) form of Beloved is the biggest symbol of all, as she is a real figure that triggers memories and scenes from Sethe’s past. I also believe that one of the biggest takeaways Toni Morrison would want her readers to gain is the true effect and aftermath of living life after being a slave, a life that most people nowadays would ever even be able to imagine. She shows the differing emotional impact this traumatic life had through many characters, but especially highlights the difference between Paul D and Sethe, as they shared a similar experience. Paul D compresses his feelings and they eat away at him. He feels that his role is to be strong and someone to lean on, which includes sacrificing his own needs in the process. Sethe has strong emotions and shows many of her flashback memories to the reader, she is clearly facing serious emotional damage which will stay with her for the rest of her life.

5 thoughts on “Trauma & Emotion

  1. Marissa K.

    I was also struck by all the different perspectives of slavery in the book. Most accounts about slavery don’t focus on what they do after freedom. I also think Toni Morrison’s characterization of the characters makes the story even more gripping because the readers know their life stories, not just their escape stories.


  2. I had the exact same experience as a student in elementary school! I had always seen slavery in terms of heroes and villains, which of course is part of the story. However, clearly I have not been taught enough about the actual lives of slaves, and Morrison does a really great job of showing the complexities of the trauma and after =math of slavery.


  3. Lizzy L

    I agree that the only slave narratives I learned about in elementary school and middle school were about life in enslavement or the escape from slavery itself. It was thought-provoking to read about life after slavery. I really appreciate how few white characters there were and how infrequently they came up. It is very impressive that she can write a story about the effects of oppression inflicted by white people without giving white people power.


  4. Grace S

    I agree that we never really learn about the different perspectives of slavery especially the perspective of their life after they reach freedom. I think that we learned that it was a struggle to get to freedom but we never learned that the struggle does not stop there. This may be one of the only stories that I have read that talks about life after slavery. Like Lizzie said I think that it is very impressive that she can write this story without giving white people power because I think that white people in the North are often praised as being so great when that is not always the case. Morrison showed how Sethe was able to overcome all of this without white people saving the day.


  5. Lucy S.

    Good point! Your post made me think about how we don’t really learn much about life after slavery. What is also really important is that Beloved doesn’t just offer an outsider’s perspective, through which slavery is often taught. Morrison examines the emotional as well as the physical consequences.


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