A Love Song For Sethe

If you had to describe the relationship between Sethe and Paul D in one word, I think it would be safe to call it complicated. No relationship is perfect, but not every day do find out that your significant other has murdered their child. It’s hard to argue that either party in the relationship was mentally healthy enough to engage in a committed relationship. Both Sethe and Paul D carry extreme emotional baggage that often seeps into their present lives. This is not to say that they both don’t deserve a loving and committed relationship, but maybe they owe it to themselves to find another individual with a healthier outlook on life. I think that Solomon Burke sums it up perfectly in his classic You’re Good for Me. In this 1963 release, Burke sings about a complicated relationship with a woman he loves, but is constantly let down by. Burke begins with the melancholy lyrics, 

"You're a bad little girl, it's true/ But I'm not gonna walk out on you/They say you're a good for nothing, girl/But I'll stand up and tell the world."

When Paul D was informed that Sethe had murdered her youngest child, he fled the 124 household. Sethe’s moral image had become tainted. The lyrics depict Burke standing up for his mistress despite the fact that he’d already been informed about her toxic attributes. Though Paul D initially flees the house and falls into a drunken haze, he returns later, months after Beloved disappears. In addition, Paul D was originally hesitant to even admit that Sethe could have possibly committed the heinous act of murdering her own child.

Burke later laments,

"You're no good for yourself/You're no good for nobody else"

Not only did the decline of Sethe’s mental health take a toll on both Paul D and Denver, but her obsession over pleasing Beloved additionally caused her own physical appearance to decline. As Beloved became larger and uglier, Sethe seemed to wither away. Her physical strength and natural beauty began to fade.

 In the following lines, Burke changes his tone again.

"But you're good for me/Oh, you're good for me/Oh, sugar dumpling, can't you see/You're good for me"

Similar to how Burke seems to be trapped in a cycle of manipulative behavior, Paul D was once trapped between Beloved’s vendetta for her mother. As Paul D carries a heavy load of emotional baggage, he becomes an easy target in the crossfire.  

Burke finishes his tribute with the lines,

"That's all I'm living for/'Cause you're good"

After Paul D settled down in the Ohio home, his life began to reform around creating a stable home life. Though this would seem like an inherently positive change in his primarily independent life, it created an unprecedented interdependence between himself and Sethe. This subtextual dependence ultimately causes Paul D to return to the estate. For Paul D, there can never be too much water under the bridge.   

Beloved and Perspective

Beloved was an amazing book, but one of the most important factors that makes it so good was the perspective that the book gave. The book gave a view that is not often written from, and it gives this book so much power. First off, the whole book is based off a true story of a slave mother killing her child. When you first hear that, it sounds twisted, which it is, but upon further analysis of it, you see what really is twisted. This mother killed her child because she didn’t want it to live through slavery. The thought of that is chilling. A mother’s love for her baby is universally seen as one of the greatest, deepest loves, and slavery caused this woman not to abandon her baby, but to kill it. That’s an interesting and scary story, but getting the whole thing from the point of view of the person who did it, that is what is so powerful. Although it is a fictional story, Morrison does an amazing job of opening the readers eyes to the true atrocities that occurred

To see everything from an enslaved person’s perspective made the book what it is. To see their lives, and hear their pain, it really makes a reader want to understand. For me, reading about the bit was very hard. I feel like as I’ve grown, I have seen slavery get progressively worse and worse. What I mean is that when I was younger, it seemed sugarcoated. I think the biggest reason it seemed that way is because of the perspective of the author. Rarely anything we read is from the perspective of a slave, and seeing their fears, hopes, and actions, makes it realer.

One last thing I want to touch on is how perspective changes in the scene where you see that Sethe has killed her baby. The perspective changes to that of the schoolteacher, and his hunting group. When he sees Sethe, with a dead baby, all we get from his POV is that this lady killed her baby. There is no reasoning as to why, or how she felt when it happened. This is just one example of why perspective is so important. We get to see through the eyes of the persecuted, and it tells us a completely different, and real story.

To Preserve Innocence

Is it ever justified to end an innocent person’s life? This question proved controversial in the classroom, as students seemed to be split on it. How could one ever rationalize killing an innocent person in any circumstance? Originally, this was my belief. That there was no way something like that could have been justified no matter what way one puts it. But after some thinking, I believe that perhaps in the case of Sethe murdering her own child, the situation may be a little more complex than our surface level assumptions lead us to think.

When a child is born into the world, the mother looks after them; their lives, unburdened and their futures, not yet written. They are free and in the hands of their loving mothers and fathers. But this was not the case for Sethe. As soon as Sethe’s child entered the world, she was a slave, just as her mother was. Sethe knew that if she were to ever be captured, her baby would be forced into slavery. She had experienced just how terrible slavery was; the scarring that came with it, and she could not bear to let her innocent child be treated as an animal like she was. In a sense, Sethe did not want her child to become like her. She wanted Beloved to stay innocent and in her power, the only way she could guarantee that Beloved would, was to take her out of the world.

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?

We Shouldn't Look Away from Stories like Beloved

When 12 Years a Slave came out in 2013, people were shocked at the violence and atrocities they witnessed on screen. They sat in disturbance as they watched Solomon Northup be forced back in to slavery and endure the cruelty of a vile slave owner played by Benedict Cumberbatch. 

Looking back, the oscar-worthy buzz surrounding it reminds me of the controversy surrounding Joker. It’s brutal and far from comfortable, but it boasts fantastic acting, seamless transitions, and  necessary origin stories. But, in both cases people were saying that they had to look away during especially violent scenes. It’s no surprise as in 12 Years a Slave you saw the cruelty upfront with lynching, brazen whippings, and painful sexual encounters. It was a landmark movie because for one of the first times in Hollywood, the story was told from a slave’s first-hand perspective . Unlike Gone with the Wind or even The Help, slavery is not whitewashed or romanticized in any way. The same holds true for Morrison’s Beloved. Since they are from the perspective of former slaves, it can be hard to watch and read at times, but it’s important that we do.


When someone told Morrison at a book reading that they couldn’t read parts of novel because its was so terrible, she responded, “People had these things done to them, they experienced them and they survived them. The least we can do is to write them, and read them, and talk about them.” Beloved, though in the 3rd person for most of the novel, is largely from Sethe’s perspective as we are taken through her intense flashbacks of Sweethome and her journey to 124. Morrison’s language captures the trauma that Sethe went through decades after escaping. As readers, we get the sense that the kind of trauma Sethe experienced is inescapable. Beloved was definitely hard to read at times.  12 Years a Slave was hard to watch. But it’s important to see the full story and actually read from the perspectives of people who went through such horrific things. Morrison was able to recover a story from the past that is often overlooked in Hollywood and even history classes I’ve taken.

Every Breath You Take: Sting and Beloved

It’s been commonly inferred by the public that The Police’s 1983 smash hit ‘Every Breath You Take’ is about a man a stalking a woman, in this case the band’s front-man Sting and his recently divorced wife Frances Tomelty.

While Sting has even backed the claim that the song is about a mans’ obsession with a lost lover, it’s possible that when he finished reading the book Beloved by Toni Morrison, he wanted to write a song from the perspective of one of the book’s most important figures: Beloved.

Sethe, the novel’s protagonist, killed Beloved, her child, when she was a baby to save her from going into slavery. Since her death, Beloved has haunted her family’s house, throwing dogs and having temper tantrums.

However, one day Beloved comes back to life, showing up at the house, tired and confused. Although some initial confusion, Sethe, her other daughter Denver, and her boyfriend Paul D let Beloved stay at the house for as long as she would like.

Although it is not discovered until later in the book that Beloved is in fact Sethe’s late daughter, Beloved gives major hints when talking about Sethe to Denver and Paul D.

In one instance, Beloved tells Denver that Sethe ” is the one. She is the one I need. You can go but she is the one I have to have.”

Later telling Paul D that Sethe “don’t love me like I love her. I don’t love nobody but her.”

These quotes alone resemble the lyrics of ‘Every Breath You Take.’

“Every breath you take and every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you
Every single day and every word you say
Every game you play, every night you stay, I’ll be watching you.”

“Since you’ve gone I’ve been lost without a trace
I dream at night, I can only see your face
I look around but it’s you I can’t replace
I feel so cold and I long for your embrace
I keep crying, “Baby, baby, please”.”

After her death Beloved shows her love by haunting Sethe and her family, watching every move they make and every breath they take.

When Beloved comes to life she is obsessed with Sethe and says she can love nothing else.

While it’s still likely that the song is about Sting’s dangerous stalking habit, there is still a chance that he had just finished reading Beloved and wanted to write a song about 124’s ghost, Beloved.

The End of Beloved

Finishing any novel is an accomplishment; more so on the writer’s part, but still noteworthy on behalf of the reader. However, when I reached the end of Beloved, along with a sense of accomplishment came a sense of confusion. Suddenly, after Paul D and Sethe find a somewhat hopeful resolution, the novel ends on a rather meta note, echoed by the refrain: “It was not a story to pass on”. Beloved, and in fact, all of the characters’ specificity is lost: the soles references to a specific thing or person are the mentioning of 124 and the last word, “Beloved”. After some equal parts thinking and Google-ing, I believe I can, at least a little, give my thoughts on the end of Beloved.

The Disappearance of Beloved

If anything is clear at the end of the novel, it’s that Beloved is no more, or at least, is no longer Beloved. Beloved becomes “disremembered and unaccounted for,” just a “bad dream” in the lives of those involved (323). In fact, she loses her name, likely indicating that all the love for her has vanished. But what’s interesting is that Beloved never goes away; people deliberately forgot about and never felt inclined to remember her. Although forgotten, Beloved’s presence is still there, even if she’s unacknowledged.

Beloved’s quasi-existence also begs the question of what she is. Throughout the novel, she acts and knows things like Sethe’s past daughter should such as the earrings and the song. However, the characters themselves note that Beloved is not as she seems: she appears fully-clothed and matured, she has seemingly supernatural abilities choking Sethe and moving Paul D, and her story and perspective is riddled with mentions to the Middle Passage of the transatlantic slave trade and bridge that indicates some connection between the living and the un-living. These examples illustrate that Beloved is more than just a daughter, she’s the past, the dead, love, and slavery. So when Beloved stops being remembered, something more is going on than a successful ghost busting.

When Beloved says that “they forgot her,” I believe that “they,” like Beloved, refer to more than the characters in the novel (323). As a symbol of slavery and the past, the forgetting of Beloved represents the collective amnesia surrounding slavery.

Like we learned in class, the stories of slavery haven’t been preserved well. The only documents surrounding the dehumanizing Middle Passage came from the recordings of former captors. So when Morrison writes that, “It was not a story to pass on,” I believe that the “it” of the refers to the history of slavery (323). The statement then demonstrates the failure of our nation to remember the terrifying extent of slavery.

Finally, the line “This is not a story to pass on,” although contradictory, makes sense within the context of slavery. The story of our nation’s forgetfulness of slavery will not continue: we will remember.

I hope my point made some sense, and I hope I could, with my limited understanding of slavery and history, pay respect to Beloved’s legacy. Thanks for reading, and just remember.