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Essay on The Goddess in Toni Morrison's Beloved

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The concept of the goddess--especially in her three-fold embodiment as maiden, mother, and crone-is amazingly persistent for writers who want to explore gender roles.

In particular, Toni Morrison uses the triple goddess to consider varieties of "male" and "female" thinking and to see how many roles an individual may wind up playing. The goddess we are concerned with in this Essay is many and yet one. She is a moon goddess, with triple aspects. Ths most common names she has traveled under are Artemis, Selene, and Hecate. The first clean linking in modern research seems to have been made by Edith Hamilton, widely regarded as the first lady of mythology, in her 1940 work Mythology. Hamilton wrote that Artemis is identified with Hecate in the later poets, and quotes a passage from one of them:

She is "the goddess with three forms," Selene in the sky, Artemis on earth, Hecate in the

lower world and in the world above when it is wrapped in darkness . . . . She was

associated with deeds of darkness, the Goddess of the Crossways, which were held to be

ghostly places of evil magic . . . . It is a strange transformation from the lovely huntress

flashing through the forest, from the moon making all beautiful with her light . . . (31,32)

We are interested in this figure because she recurs frequently in modern fiction by major writers, as Maiden, Mother, and Crone. In antiquity, Artemis was the virgin huntress, Selene was the fertile moon goddess, and Hecate was the dark Personification of lightless, forsaken night. So, within broad parameter, this classification is accurate. It wasn't always so. The Maiden, Mother, and Crone arrangement may have started with Macbeth, and a certain staging of the three witches on the moors...


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...tion of the trinity unbound by mortal flesh.

Although on one level the characters in Beloved are mortal women and not divine personifications, their presence in modern fiction is a profound indication of the enduring nature of the goddess story. People need these models, to show what is possible in life. Even murderous Sethe is a valid blueprint for a human life. Perhaps not the one we desire, but nonetheless, the Great Mother has her destructive aspect, and we would be fools to pretend she does not.

The Goddess endures, in all her complexity, and she is Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

Works Cited

Bettleheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.

Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. New York: Mentor, 1940.

Jung, Carl. Four Archetypes. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959.

Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987.


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