Narrative of the Life of Sethe

In the novel Beloved, Sethe and Paul D recount their journey through slavery and the reprocussions of freedom. Although author Toni Morrison didn’t have first hand experience, her descriptions and experiences in slavery accurately portray a variety of true stories. In particular, Morrison’s stories of Paul D and Sethe reflect a lot of the key themes and experiences in Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.

To start, both Sethe and Paul D don’t have many familial connections and rely on the other slaves at their plantation for a sense of comradery. Frederick Douglass was also separated from his family at a young age and found it hard to build relationships due to him fearing their separation. As seen in Beloved, Sethe has a similar anxiety around trusting that Paul D will stay with her. After Sethe had lost her mother, Halle, and multiple kids out her life, she struggled with relying on people.

Another of many similarities between the two narrations is the restrictiveness of humanity under slavery. Paul D’s bit in his mouth reflected a lot of the physical barriers causing Frederick Douglass to feel inhumane. Frederick Douglass recounts the songs the slaves would sing as they were allowed to run errands off of the plantation. The songs retained their freedom of speech again as they could express their cries of sadness, hope, and any other suppressed emotions. The bit in Paul D’s mouth is restricting his freedom of expression and compromising his humanity like the slaves in Frederick Douglass’ autobiography. 

Interconnection Through Media

Throughout Exit West, Nadia and Saeed are confronted with disconectivity due to the lack of cellular reception. At the beginning of their relationship when the war isn’t too severe, the two can plan meetups, discuss their wellbeing, and have a presence in each other’s lives when they’re separated. As the severity of the war results in increased government control, Nadia and Saeed’s connection is limited to face-to-face interactions. They had to plan ahead and make their time spent together worthwhile. 

After leaving their hometown to Greece, Saeed immediately tries to call his father on the phone. Due to his service not reaching the distance, Saeed cannot communicate with or know anything about the health of his father. Although he knew he would most likely never see his father in person again, Saeed still hoped he could contact him through their phones.

In our current society, those who have access to the internet and phones often take the amenity for granted. While one could communicate with their friend from across the world at any point, some don’t have the fortune of being able to hear from their loved ones. 

Hamid’s inclusion of the absence of media between Nadia, Saeed, and his father reflects the lack of connection migrants often have from their hometown. When the face-to-face interactions are cut off due to location, one can only rely on phones or letters to bridge the distance. If access to media is unattainable for the migrant, their connection with a loved one is diminished to memories and thoughts.

Meursault’s Passivity Dies

During the novel, the narrator, Meursault, tends to passively agree with things people are asking. Whether he’s accepting Raymond’s proposal to write an angry letter to an ex-girlfriend or apathetically saying I love you to Marie, Meursault does what is wanted of him. 

While Meursault can be seen to have an existentialist mindset, he does not have a care for things that “normal” people have an opinion on. Even when his boss asks him to transfer to Paris as a promotion, Meursault has no ambition or passion about the promotion. His mindset towards traveling and job opportunities do not hold the same value as they would to a normal person, but he still accepts the offer. 

However, Meursault switches his passivity after being imprisoned for his murder.  When talking to his lawyer, Meursault couldn’t give him any insight to prove he wasn’t a callous human. Even when the lawyer asks if he can say that Meursault held back natural feelings, he rejects the proposal. 

Although Meursault continued to not hold the same values as the lawyer, like wanting to make a good case for himself, he wasn’t just submissively agreeing now. Meursault’s mindset of having to conform and value typical thing’s switched during his imprisonment and could be seen as his ultimate demise.

Pedagogy of the Terrans

Although Octavia Butler did not intend for “Bloodchild” to be perceived as a futuristic mirror to slavery, many readers, including myself, could draw the parallels between the two. In both the Tlic’s systems of oppression and the Terran’s coping strategies, the power dynamic is clearly unbalanced and enduring. 

Since the short story alludes to previous failed rebellions by the Terrans, their obedience to the Tlics is not voluntary. The Terrans use slight resistances to the Tlics that are effective but wouldn’t cause backlash.

For example, it’s evident that the eggs supplied by the Tlics give relief and a buzz that keeps the Terrans dependent on them. Gan’s mother rejects the nourishing egg and doesn’t give in to being reliant on the Tlics. Even if it means her life might end sooner, she doesn’t give T’Gatoi the satisfaction of having control over her. On the other end of the spectrum, Gan’s brother fully submits to being oppressed because, while he doesn’t enjoy being submissive, he accepts the fate of his life. 

The mentalities of the two species can be compared to Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In the book, he describes the manipulation used by oppressors to control and make the oppressed feel completely reliant on them. Freire also illustrates the oppressed’s dissociation from their body and their mind. While their physical being has to be compliant, their mind is able to think freely. 

The Terrans use small acts as well as mental liberation to combat their oppressed nature. Even when there is no light at the end of the tunnel, Terrans still don’t fully comply to the domination imposed by Tlics and are able to separate their soul from the circumstances.