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Essay on The Water Motif in Beloved by Toni Morrison

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In her novel Beloved, Toni Morrison writes about the life of former slaves of Sweet Home. Sethe, one of the main characters, was once a slave to a man and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Garner. After Garner’s sudden death, schoolteacher comes to Sweet Home and takes control of the slaves. His treatment of all the slaves forced them to run away. Fearing that her children would be sold, Sethe sent her two boys and her baby girl ahead to her mother-in-law. On the way to freedom, a white girl named Amy Denver helped Sethe deliver her daughter, who she later names Denver. About a month after Sethe escapes slavery, schoolteacher found her and tried to bring her back. In fear that her children would be brought back into slavery, Sethe killed her older daughter and attempted to kill Denver and her boys. Sethe, along with Denver, was sent to prison and spent three months there. Buglar and Howard, her two sons, eventually ran away. After about eighteen years, another ex-slave from Sweet Home, Paul D., came to live with Sethe and Denver. A few days later, while coming home from a carnival, Sethe, Paul D., and Denver found a young woman of about twenty on their porch. She claimed her name is Beloved. They took her in and she lived with them. Throughout the novel, Morrison uses many symbols and imagery to express her thoughts and to help us better understand the characters. Morrison uses the motif of water throughout the novel to represent birth, re-birth, and escape to freedom.
     In Beloved, one of the things that water represents is birth. When Sethe was running away form Sweet Home, she was pregnant. In order to get to freedom, she had to cross the Ohio River. On the way to the river, Sethe met a young white girl named Amy Denver. Amy helped Sethe to keep going because her feet were swollen up. When Sethe and Amy got to the river, Sethe thought the baby had died during the previous night. However, she soon felt the signs of labor. “It looked like home to her, and the baby (not dead in the least) must have thought so too. As soon as Sethe got close to the river her own water broke loose to join it. The break, followed by the redundant announcement of labor, arched her back'; (p. 83). Sethe crawled into a boat that soon began to fill with water. It was in this boat that Sethe gave birth to Denver. “When a foot rose f...


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...enver, her baby, when she runs into Stamp Paid and two boys. She tells them who she is and where she is going. Stamp Paid takes her across the river because someone would be waiting there for her. If Sethe didn’t cross the river, she wouldn’t have escaped Sweet Home and slavery all together.
     Through her usage of water as a motif, Morrison expresses her feelings and helps us to better understand the novel. Water comes to represent birth, re-birth, and freedom and escape from slavery. There is also a deeper meaning to all of this. Water also comes to represent a sort of life force for Beloved. When she just appears for the first time, she comes out of the water. But she also needs to drink a vast amount of water. It seems as though she needs the water to survive. For Sethe, water comes to mean both a sort of re-awakening and a symbol of freedom. This is apparent through her actions and emotions when she was bathed by Baby Suggs. Water also represents freedom for Paul D. This is because he escaped due to the mud created by the water. The motif of water is well used throughout the book to come to signify many things to the characters.


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