Beloved and Don Quixote: Similarities in Themes and Characters




Beloved and Don Quixote: Similarities in Themes and Characters


On reading Beloved by Toni Morrison and Don Quixote by Kathy Acker,
there seem to be quite a few similarities in themes and characters contained in
these texts, the most prevalent of which seems to be of love and language as a
path to freedom. We see in Acker\'s Don Quixote the abortion she must have
before she embarks on a quest for true freedom, which is to love. Similarly, in
Morrison\'s Beloved, there is a kind abortion, the killing of Beloved by Sethe,
which results in and from the freedom that real love provides. And in both
texts, the characters are looking for answers and solutions in these "word-
shapes" called language.
In Acker\'s Don Quixote, the abortion with which the novel opens is a
precondition for surrendering the "constructed self." For Acker, the woman in
position on the abortion table over whom a team of doctors and nurses work
represents, in an ultimate sense, woman as a constructed object. The only hope
is somehow to take control, to subvert the constructed identity on order to name
oneself: "She had to name herself. When a doctor sticks a steel catheter into
you while you\'re lying on your back and you to; finally, blessedly, you let go
of your mind. Letting go of your mind is dying. She needed a new life. She
had to be named" (Don Quixote 9-10). And she must name herself for a man –
become a man – before the nobility and the dangers of her ordeals will be
esteemed. She is to be a knight on a noble quest to love "someone other than
herself" and thus to right all wrongs and to be truly free. In another of
Acker\'s works she writes: "Having an abortion was obviously just like getting
fucked. If we closed our eyes and spread our legs, we\'d be taken care of. They
stripped us of our clothes. Gave us white sheets to cover our nakedness. Let
us back to the pale green room. I love it when men take care of me (Blood and
Guts in High School 33). In Morrison\'s Beloved, Sethe has two "abortions." The
first and most obvious is the act of infanticide in killing Beloved. The second
"abortion" is Sethe "getting fucked" by the grave-digger. This abortion, like
Acker\'s protagonist, creates a name. The name is Beloved – a "word-shape"
representing true love, or freedom.
For Sethe, to love also becomes a testament of freedom. For having been
owned by others (like Acker\'s patriarchy) meant that her claim to love was not
her own. She could not love her children, "love ‘em proper in Kentucky because
they wasn\'t [hers] to love" (Beloved 162). Paul D understands that "to get a
place where you could love anything you choose … well now that was freedom"
(Beloved 162), but he is also bound to his slave mentality to overcome his fear.
He considers Sethe\'s unconditional love "risky": "For a used-to-be-slave woman
to love anything that much was dangerous, especially if it was her children she
had settled on to love" (Beloved 45). The far safer way was "to love just a
little bit, so when they broke its back, or shoved it in a croaker sack, well,
maybe you\'d have a little love left over for the next one" (Beloved 45). It is
this compromised love that even Baby Suggs accepted – despite her magnificent
sermon in the Clearing on loving one\'s self – knowing that her slave master
would take her children away. And it is this "weak love" that Paul D tells
Sethe she must accept (a patriarchal love, as Acker might say). When Paul D
tells her love is "too thick," however, Sethe insists that "Love is or it ain\'t.
Thin love ain\'t no love at all" (Beloved 164). She believes in this pure love,
the kind perhaps Acker\'s protagonist is looking for.
Also, like Acker\'s Don Quixote, Morrison shows, through the relationship
between Sethe and Beloved, the dangerous potential of "free" love. Another
similarity shown in Beloved is that freedom is always perilous – it has the
potential to be self-consuming. This love allows Sethe to commit infanticide as
well as compelling Beloved to claim possession of Sethe\'s self. Despite her
efforts to earn Beloved\'s understanding of her action, Sethe never retreats from
her insistence that the murder was justified. She wills Beloved to return in
order to hear her say "I forgive you," yet she acknowledges no guilt. In her
"unspeakable