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A critical analysis of the main characters and plot from the novel "Beloved" (BY TONI MORRISON). Beloved is a novel set in Ohio during 1873, several years after the Civil War. The book centers on characters who struggle fruitlessly to keep their painful recollections of the past at bay. The whole story revolves around issues of race, gender, family relationships and the supernatural, covering two generations and three decades up to the 19th century. Concentrating on events arising from the Fugitive Slave Act of 1856, it describes the horrendous consequences of an escape from slavery for Sethe, her children and Paul D. The narrative begins 18 years after Sethe's break for freedom, and it gradually persuades the reader to accept the haunting of 124 Bluestone Road by a 2 year old child, killed by her mother Sethe: "Full of baby's venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children...by 1873 Sethe and her daughter Denver were its only victims" (Page 1).
The novel is divided into three parts. Each part opens with statements as to indicate the progress of the haunting--from the poltergeist to the materialized spirit to the final freeing of both the spirit and Sethe; Part I: "124 WAS SPITEFUL" (Page 1); Part II: " 124 WAS LOUD"(Page 169); Part III: "124 WAS QUIET" (Page 239). These parts reflect the progressive reconciliation of a betrayed child and her desperate mother. Overall symbolizing the gradual acceptance of freedom and the enormous work and continuous struggle that would persist for the next 100 years. The dynamics of the story attempt to distance the reader from an immediate and direct exposure to the extremes of the real horror contained in the narrative. The narrative jumps from one setting to another, from the past to the present.
However, the complex chronology is necessary to understand the psychological and emotional state of all the participants in the story. Reading the story resembles "listening" to a story. This peculiar "oral" style surfaces; it feels as if the novel is speaking the emotions of each character out loudly, allowing the reader to identify with each one. Events that occurred prior and during the 18 years of Sethe's freedom are slowly revealed and pieced together throughout the novel. Ever so painfully, Sethe is in need of rebuilding her identity and remembering the past and her origins: "Some things just stay. I used to think it was my rememory.
You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it's not. Places, places, are still there. If a house burns down it's gone, but the place--the picture of it--stays, and not just in rememory, but out there in the world" (Page 35).
The author moves around the characters allowing each participant in the story a turn--Baby Suggs, Paul D, Stamp Paid, Denver, Sethe and Beloved--to convey their perceptions of events to the reader. Baby Suggs' horror at her grandchild's murder is passionately displayed: "Baby Suggs had got the boys inside and was bathing their heads, rubbing their hands, lifting their lids, whispering, 'Beg your pardon, I beg your pardon,' the whole time" (Page 152). Within this horror, the insensitivity of her landlord is shown when Baby Suggs is approached by her landlord's kids regarding fixing some shoes, not knowing and not caring to know they just give her the shoes: "Baby Suggs ... She took the shoes from him...saying, 'I beg your pardon. Lord, I beg your pardon. I sure do" (Page 153). Paul D's memories of Sweet Home are remembered to confront his and Sethe's past: "Paul D smiled then, remembering the bedding dress.
Sethe was thirteen when she came to Sweet Home and already iron-eyed" (Page 10). These various voices act as witnesses to Sethe's experiences and showing how black women had no control over their husbands, children or own bodies. Racial issues are one of the main issues in Beloved. The story revolves around the life of a former slave and her attempts to get on with her life as best as she can considering what the white slave owners have put her through. The cruelties of the slaves by the slave owners in this story are probably conservative compared to what really occurred in many cases. This novel is about emotions and perceptions of African-Americans and of the burden of sorrow that they have inherited from being deprived of their homeland and treated like animals.
These emotions are complex and very deep. The violation begins at the moment of capture, when the native Africans were forcefully taken and transported cross the Atlantic to the New World: "She told Sethe that her mother and Nan were together from the sea. Both were taken up many times by the crew" (Page 62). Sethe's mother threw away the children of the abusers, exercising the choice to kill as her daughter will do herself later. One did it for hate and the other one for love, but for both mother and daughter the choice to kill was the ultimate act of protection: "She threw them all away but you...You she gave the name of the black man. She put her arms around him. The others she did not put her arms around.
Never. Never" (Page 62). The treatment of black women as productive livestock whose children were regarded as valuable economic units was a fact of slave life. The lack of respect of such basic human qualities is central to Sethe's attempt to kill her children and her success in killing Beloved: "Men and women were moved around like checkers. Anybody Baby Suggs knew, let alone loved, who hadn't run off or been hanged, got rented out, loaned out, bought up, brought back, stored up, mortgaged, won, stolen or seized. So Baby's eight children had six fathers.
What she called the nastiness of life was the shock she received upon learning that nobody stopped playing checkers just because the pieces included her children" (Page 23). Baby Suggs had adopted a strategy for survival by which she allowed herself not to become attached to her babies who would be sold from her. In contrast Sethe's life under Garner at Sweet Home had been less harsh, since she always had her children around and by the time the change of ownership took place, her bond with her children was complete. The escape from sl ....
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