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Symbol and Symbolism of Water in Toni Morrison's Beloved Essay

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The Powerful Symbol of Water in Beloved  

Water.  It expresses its’ power in the form of hurricanes and flash floods.  It displays its gentleness, washing dirt off a child's scabbed knee.  Water has been used to quench the thirst of many longing throats; and it has been the cause of death to those who unfavorably crossed its path.  It possesses the power of total destruction, yet it holds the bases of all life.  Generally, water has symbolized cleanliness and renewal.  In the Bible, water was used in Baptism, cleansing the soul of original sin and offering a new life in the light of God.  Water in itself is a natural purifier, washing the dirt from our bodies. Water is a symbol of transition-from dirty to clean.  In Beloved, Morrison uses water to introduce a transition between stages in a character's life.  Water separates one stage of a character's life from another.


 Paul D.'s escape from Alfred, Georgia was directly helped and represented by the rain that had fallen in the past weeks.  Paul D. was sent to Alfred, George because he tried to kill Brandywine, his master after the schoolteacher.  In Alfred, he worked on a chain gang with forty-five other captured slaves.  They worked all day long with "the best hand-forged chain in Georgia" threading them together.  They slept in a cell dug out of the earth. A man's breaking point was challenged everyday. It was hell for Paul D.  Then it rained.  Water gave Paul D. his freedom.  The rain raised the water level in the in-ground cell so they could dive, "down through the mud under the bars, blind groping," in search of the other side (p. 110).  One by one each of the forty-s...


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...d that Beloved was Sethe's child. Sethe broke water to represent Beloved's second birth.  Sethe was now whole again.  She had found the child that she had lost.  The water symbolized the beginning of her life with Beloved.  Sethe could now begin sharing her life with Beloved again.  She could Ice-skate, take walks, or just begin to love her child again.


    Beloved describes the struggle and challenge of former slaves trying to deal with an unforgettable past.  Their brave journey carries them through tragic times full of torment and torture, and joyful times full of love and tenderness. Beloved teaches the lesson of never giving up. Water denotes a change for the better--from dirty to clean--where a person rebounds from life's tragedies.  It symbolizes hope and reassurance that life will improve.
 

 


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