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Beloved Essay

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Declan Furlough

Dr. Gammill

CORE 102

30 March 2018

Beloved Essay

        Toni Morrison’s Beloved serves as a memorial for all those who suffered and died during the perils of slavery. This novel also serves as a voice for the silenced harsh reality of slavery. Not only does this novel help serve as a voice for all that suffered but the novel’s characters are very relatable to myself and my own personal struggles. Throughout Beloved, the past and present are combined together therefor the past is continually seen/brought forth in the present, both mentally and physically through imagery, typically those relating back to slavery.  Morrison’s use of imagery throughout the novel provides an insight into the intensity of the horrific trauma and oppression Sethe and other slaves had faced and the extent to which they attempted to avoid it at all cost. In the novel, Beloved, the main character Sethe is who I most find relatable because she has gone through many tragic events and physical abuse that lead to her many signs and symptoms of her suffering from PTSD and her constant battle of her past controlling her future.

        Sethe is constantly brought back to Sweet Home through her old memories, even against her own will to forget about them. Sweet Home is a reoccurring theme of Sethe’s past memories because this is where she experienced all the traumas of slavery and the many experiences that came along with it. Sethe is physically reminded every day of the true hardships of slavery. Sethe’s body bares the memories of Sweet Home; she has choke tree on her back, a maze that Paul D describes as “decorated work of an ironsmith too passionate to display” (Beloved 17). The choke tree that formed on Sethe’s back is the result of her being physically abused by a group of young men. Although I personally cannot relate to Sethe to her extreme level, I can relate to Sethe in a sense of her physical abuse and torment. I was tormented and picked on by other kids because of my long hair. Other kids saw me a girl and they would push, shove, hit, and make mean regards to me about my hair. This torment relates to how Sethe had no control over her whipping as neither did I have any control of being made of by other kids. Sethe had told of the mistreatment she suffered from, at Sweet Home. The tree that formed on Sethe’s back is a symbol of a family tree and in Sethe’s case an incomplete family tree. The family tree is incomplete because Sethe murdered her daughter Beloved and the ghost of Beloved haunts the house where Sethe and the rest of her children live. Beloved torments the family enough to drive away Sethe’s two sons, causing the family tree to becoming even more incomplete. The only reason Sethe killed Beloved was to keep her from being degraded, or “dirty” by the whites who had made Sethe dirty. Sethe didn’t want to see her daughter Beloved be treated like an animal at the hands of white males that treated her as an animal. This is why Sethe committed the crime of infanticide, she felt obligated to protect her Beloved at any and all cost. Sethe justified her actions by stating “It’s my job to know what is and to keep them away from what I know is terrible. I did that.” (Beloved 165). This brings up Sethe’s most important and striking characteristic, her devotion to her children. “Sethe was unwilling to give her children away to the physical, emotional, and spiritual trauma that she experienced throughout her life because of slavery.” (Darling 4).  I feel for Sethe because as a kid I was tormented for having long hair and looking like a girl. I myself at the time would do anything for that not to happen to my future kids when they go to school.

        Furthermore, Sethe’s physical markings are not the memories that cause her the most pain from the harsh environment of slavery, “the mental images that haunt Sethe with past emotions of horror, fear, and regret, that manifested physically with vengeance.” (Hamilton 3). Many people in the black community shamed Sethe for what they call an act of heartless infanticide, however, Sethe not only sacrificed her daughter Beloved from slavery but herself for the betterment of Beloved. This is depicted when Sethe spends her entire life overridden with tremendous amounts of guilt and despair of her actions. When Beloved gets reincarnated, Sethe becomes so obsessed with Beloved that she drops everything and gives up everything to make her happy. Sethe puts up with Beloved’s unreasonable demands. Sethe replies to Paul D, who came to visit her, “She was my best thing.” (Beloved 227). This quote dramatizes that Sethe didn’t mean to hurt Beloved but did it out of unconditional love. I understand to an extent that Sethe did the right thing for Beloved. I believe that Sethe’s actions are justifiable and a gesture of a loving mother. I find this situation relatable because when I’m faced with a tough decision just like Sethe, I think and care for the betterment of others and do not act upon the selfishness of myself. However, one thing that differs from Sethe and I is that I do not let my past actions of guilt control my future.

         “Morrison uses the word memory to mean the act of remembering a memory. This memory is when a memory is revisited, whether physically or mentally.” (Abdullah 1). When Sethe attempts to explain rememory to Denver, she states, “If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place-the picture of it-stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world. What I remember is a picture floating around there outside my head. I mean, even if I don’t think about it, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there." (Beloved 88). Sethe is haunted by her past memories and constantly letting her past memories control her future. Sethe’s memories of the cruel act of murdering her daughter Beloved and the brutality she suffered during slavery are constantly embedding in her everyday life and causes her to never eradicate that past trauma allowing it to exist in her present life. Only when Sethe learns that she must confront her past trauma head-on, that she can extricate herself from its tyrannical power and start to live her life peacefully, freely, and responsibly in the present. However, Sethe does not confront her past and experiences PTSD. PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a psychological disorder where individuals suffer nightmares and other types of emotional distress from a traumatic past experience or set of experiences. A stimulus that reminds them of the event or events can cause flashbacks and irritability.” (Heffner 210). Sethe experiences one symptom of PTSD where she “re-experiencing of the trauma.” (Heffner 210).  Sethe re-experiences when she was in the barn with Schoolteacher and her milk being stolen, Sethe repeatedly states “and them boys took my milk.” (Beloved). Sethe’s symptoms of PTSD really show at end of the book when she becomes depleted and sacrifices her own need to eat, so Beloved can eat. Sethe looks like she has given up on life and according to Dr. Melinda Smith, one symptom of PTSD is “feeling emotionally numb.” “Victims often avoid activities and life in general and feel detached from others.” (Help Guide). It is clear that Sethe suffers from PTSD, this makes Sethe more relatable to me because I remember low points in my life where I believe I suffered from this disorder. Sethe has many traumatizing events that happened in her life to cause PTSD and my traumatic event that sparked my PTSD is when I thought I was going to die from a plane crash. Sethe and I both re-live our traumatic experience however, I do not let those past experiences affect my present or future life.

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