The Murder of an Innocent

At the beggining of this unit, when Mr. Heidkamp gave us the questionaire, there was a question about the murder of an innocent person. The question was along the lines of “Can the murder of an innocent person be justified?” I answered that no, it could not be justified. I could not think of a situation in which the murder could be forgiven or justified. After reading Beloved, my opinion has changed.

When we got to the part about how Sethe murdered her child, I was very surprised and had to reread it to fully understand it. At first I thought it was totally wrong and it was insane that any mother would kill her child. Then, after reading on and thinking about it more, my opinion began to change. Slavery was the worst thing that this country has ever done, and we can’t truly begin to understand the conditions and how severe they were. Because of how awful slavery really was, Sethe was helping her child by keeping it from slavery. Death was a better option that needing to grow up a slave. In the end, Sethe made a true sacrifice to keep her children safe, and because of this, the murder of her innocent child was justified.

An Act of Love

When it is revealed that Sethe killed her own child in order to keep all of her children from entering slavery, the reader has mixed emotions on how to feel. After all, she did murder her own baby, how could a person do that. But Sethe’s act, as horrid and appalling as it was, was one out of love. She loved her children so much, she could not bare to see them in the grasp of slavery in their lifetime.

Under the institution of slavery, Sethe as a mother decides to express her love for her children by in her own way, protecting them from the many destructive aspects that come from slavery. If we look through Sethe’s eyes and into her situation, would we do the same? Because of her act, Denver and her 2 brothers grew up free. Was the price of one child worth the three lives it saved?

By making us consider this, Morrison is finding ways to make the reader really place themselves in Beloved and the necessities that were felt back then. As an African American woman in 2019, I could not fathom having to make a choice like Sethe. Although her choice was one that will forever haunt her dreams, Sethe’s bravery to even consider something like that in order to save her children is what I admire.

Girl Power

Beloved has many themes throughout the novel, but a theme that I noticed is the strong female presence. Throughout the Novel, woman are represented and show as strong and independent despite going through unimaginable situations. The start, Sethe was a slave and successfully escaped from her plantation. She kept pushing when she was escaping and believed in her own abilities.She was able to value her life as more than just as a slave but as a human being, choosing to escape. All of the women in the novel, despite their struggles and the obstacles they must combat, work together to make the best life possible, Denver and Sethe where doing well working together long before Paul D showed up. Denver has a good mother to look up to, I mean Sethe crawled through woods and gave birth in the middle of the woods to Denver. Although Denver quite different from her mother in certain aspects of her personality, she is able to recognize when Sethe is no longer to continue the household duties, and she must venture down the road to get food, and get steady work, to support the household. Beloved at its core is about women helping each other, and the strong bond they have with each other.

Did Sethe Really Make the Right Move?

In the story Beloved, Toni Morrison highlights the power of love throughout the text and it is shown how strong it can be in certain situations that cause us to do things we would never imagine of doing.

Sethe is shunned and ignored by the other residents of her town after she brutally ended the life of Beloved, but did the townsfolk really have the right understanding of her actions?

The only reason Sethe was able to commit something so horrible, something nobody could ever even consider doing, was because her love for her children was greater than anything else in the world. She knew that if Beloved and her other children were taken away from her and forced into slavery, they would be living lives full of torture, pain, and rape, something that would be very hard to escape from.

Did Sethe really deserve the years of ignorance she received from her neighbors? Or should she have been accepted for doing something so horrifying yet so brave so her children didn’t have to live the life she did?

Beloved’s Last Appearance

Although she disappears after Sethe left her side to attack whom she thought was Schoolteacher, Beloved’s presence is very much felt during the last chapter. Beloved has left town and the townspeople (after finally coming to Sethe’s aid) try to put the memory of Beloved to rest. They keep repeating that Beloved’s story was not one to pass on to future generations. Yet Toni Morrison concludes the novel with the word “Beloved” alone as it’s own paragraph.

This represents the everlasting reminder of the horrible past our country has. Beloved represents the pain and suffering from Sethe’s past coming back to her constantly and she is never able to escape it. Although the townspeople want to escape the past and end the memory of Beloved, she is there in the end and continues to remind people of our brutal past.

The Uniqueness of Toni Morrison’s Ghost

Every culture has its ghosts, whether it be spectral images of the deceased such as in Hamlet, the monstrous spirits of Japanese folklore, such as the ones depicted in Spirited Away, or the more modern interpretation of ghosts, zombies. Every culture has their own unique spin on the ghost. Similarly, In Beloved, Toni Morrision creates a unique spirit to haunt 124. The beginning of Beloved would have the reader believe that the ghost haunting 124 is a fairly mundane ghost, with the rather generic ability to move objects around and causing some commotion in the house. This remains true even when Paul D. somehow banishes the spirit by causing some chaos of his own, most likely scaring the baby away from the house. 

When the spirit returns in the form of Beloved, however, Toni Morrison has truly created a unique spirit to cause chaos, in a way far different from the simple movement of objects, to the inhabitants of 124. Firstly, Beloved emerges, fully dressed, from a river, having aged alongside the rest of the world, which is very different from her previous form; Sethe reminds Denver that it was less than two years old and could not speak when it died, which explains why Denver could not communicate with it. Her new form is very similar to an Obake in Japanese folklore, who can change their appearance and impersonate others. The usually have a reason for returning, such as exacting revenge for wrongs committed to them during life. After fulfilling their purpose, they usually disappear, similar to how Beloved vanishes after the town chooses to help Sethe instead of abandoning her the same way they failed to warn Sethe of schoolteacher’s arrival along with Sethe’s decision to attack to who she believes to be schoolteacher instead of taking her child’s life.

Unlike the baby’s previous manifestation, Beloved is physically in the world, similar to a zombie. However, unlike a mindless zombie, Beloved has deep and complex thoughts and harms Sethe in a far more subtle way than any zombie. Beloved appears to have memories of being in a slave ship, crossing the middle passage, even though the baby was never in a slave ship. This implies that Beloved is far more than the spirit of Sethe’s deceased child, but embodies all the suffering that Slaves experienced. Beloved’s embodiment of slavery is similar to how zombies can embody mob rule as well as the fear of people who are different, xenophobia. Later on, Beloved appears to drain Sethe of her life by usurping the role of mother from Sethe and causing her to act like a child. During this, she appears to be pregnant with a child, most likely a representation of her new role as the mother. Beloved’s control over the household can be likened to possession, a common ability of ghosts in film, but in this case it is the possession of the entire family, not an individual. In this case Denver manages to see beyond Beloved’s illusion and resist the power of the ghost. All of these characteristics create a unique and memorable character to truly personify the horrors of slavery and how the ugly past manages to reach into the present, blinding it from seeing the future.

Time after Time after Time and Again

The novel Beloved is a story of an escaped slave and her new twisted reality that is weaved into her even more twisted past. The story of Sethe and her family connects very well to the song Time after Time by Cyndi Lauper.

Time after Time begins with the lyrics:

“Lying in my bed, I hear the clock tick and think of you
Caught up in circles
Confusion is nothing new
Flashback, warm nights
Almost left behind
Suitcase of memories”

Beloved is written in a very interesting and intricate way where different perspectives from the past and present are used to complete a story. The novel goes, quite literally, back and forth between the past and the present which smoothly bridges to Lauper’s song. The part in the first verse which says “suitcase of memories” especially connects to Paul D’s tin box which held his memories.

The second verse stated,

“Sometimes you picture me
I’m walking too far ahead
You’re calling to me, I can’t hear
What you’ve said
Then you say, “go slow”
And I fall behind
The second hand unwinds”

That part strongly reminded me of when Beloved recalled when Sethe left her alone on what we think is the slave ship. The verse obviously differs from the actual event Beloved remembered but it ties into the loneliness and the feeling of being abandoned.

Although the connection is very simple, the theme of the song surrounds the topics of past, present, and love. All of those things are largely important in Beloved as well.