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In the novel Beloved by Toni Morrison, the main character, Sethe, commits a crime unthinkable and incomprehensible to most people today. She murders her own child, her own flesh and blood. The institution of slavery drove Sethe to make this drastic decision. Comparing the situations of slavery to today's society is impossible. Yet, we still see mothers killing babies (or fetuses). The issue of abortion has been a constant in our society for years. Is the emotional struggle to kill a baby made out of love or selfishness?
The cruelties of slavery from which Sethe plans to save her children are manifold in Beloved. Sethe was living in a time completely different from our own. She and other slaves experienced things that none of us could ever imagine; having breast milk stolen from her own body, being whipped by a chokecherry tree to the point of leaving permanent scars. Other cruelties for Sethe are to know that her friends were hurt. Sixo was roasted alive and Paul A hung. Paul D is locked onto a chain for eighty-three days in a prison camp in Georgia. These pains for her friends can be just as painful for Sethe. All in all the life of a slave is dehumanizing. Constant hiding and being on the run plays tricks on the mind of slaves. Shown by Paul D in his most discouraging conflict comes in contact with a rooster, Mister. Humiliated by the fact that an animal was walking around with more power, he doesn't understand how an animal can have a better life, and place judgement on a human.
During the time of slavery the love between a mother and her children dims. Through scars mothers and children were to have secret relationships. In Sethe's only memory of her mother she was introduced to a scar underneath her breast which could always identify her mother. After her mother was hung, Sethe did examine her corpse, but was unable to locate the symbol on the decaying flesh. Imagining how these images design a psyche for a child, this memory would bruise them for eternity. These morbid rememories for Sethe are reminders for her that she is living in an imperfect society.
As a slave Sethe was not suppose to love or want to own anything, but she could not do that with her children. On the farm with the Garners Sethe had a little taste of what it was like to have some control over her own life. She was able to choose her husband and be with him. It was not until the schoolteacher and his nephews came to the farm that Sethe really understood what it was to be a slave. Sethe did not want her own children to have to go through what she did. When the schoolteacher came to take her back to his farm, she reacted in the only way that she knew would keep her children from having to go back there. All that was going through her mind at the time was the thought that she and her children were going to have to live the life of a slave once again and that was more than she could bear. Sethe's intention was to kill all her children including herself. Only to fail at this plan she could not have foreseen that the schoolteacher would think she was crazy and leave, letting her stay in Ohio as a free woman. The only thing she could see was having to live on that farm again. She did not want her children to have a taste of freedom and then have it taken away from them.
Giving away part of yourself out of love is a very powerful and haunting concept, which a mother has to live with forever. Beloved, the child killed by Sethe, comes back to haunt her. "The fingers touching the back of her neck were stronger now-the strokes bolder as though Baby Suggs were gathering strength. Putting the thumbs at the nape, while the fingers pressed the sides. Harder, harder, the fingers moved slowly around toward her windpipe, making little circles on the way. Sethe was actually more surprised that frightened to find that she was being strangled (96)." Showing that the
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Beloved, Women and death, Sethe
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