Beloved


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In Toni Morrisons’ novel, Beloved, the main character Sethe, is a former slave
who chooses to kill her baby girl rather than allowing her to be exposed to the
physically, and emotionally damaging horrors of a life spent in slavery. There is
no other way to say it: she murdered her child. By killing her child, so dear to her
heart, the question arises whether Sethe acted out of true love or selfishness.
The fact that Sethe's act is irrational can easily be decided upon. Does Sethe kill
her baby girl because she wants to save the baby from slavery or does Sethe end
her daughter's life because of a selfish refusal to reenter a life of slavery? By
examining the complexities of Sethe's character it can be said that she is a
woman who chooses to love her children but not herself. Sethe kills her baby
because, in Sethe's mind, her children are the only good and pure part of who
she is and must be protected from the cruelty and the "dirtiness" of
slavery~(Morrison 251In this respect, her act is that of love for her children. The
selfishness of Sethe's act lies in her refusal to accept personal responsibility for
her baby's death. Sethe's motivation is dichotomous in that she displays her love
by mercifully sparing her daughter from a horrific life, yet Sethe refuses to
acknowledge that her show of mercy is also murder.
Throughout Beloved, Sethe's character consistently displays the duplistic nature
of her actions. Not long after Sethe's reunion with Paul D. she describes her
reaction to School Teacher's arrival: "Oh, no. I wasn't going back there[Sweet
Home]. I went to jail instead"~(Morrison 42) Sethe's words suggest that she has
made a moral stand by her refusal to allow herself and her children to be dragged
back into the evil of slavery. From the beginning, it is clear that Sethe believes
that her actions were morally justified. The peculiarity of her statement lies in her
omission of the horrifying fact that her moral stand was based upon the murder of
her child. By not even approaching the subject of her daughter's death, it is also
made clear that Sethe has detached herself from the act.
Even when Paul D. learns of what Sethe has done and confronts her with it,
Sethe still skirts the reality of her past. Sethe describes her reasoning to Paul D.,
"... So when I got here, even before they let me get out of bed, I stitched her a

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little something from a piece of cloth Baby Suggs had. Well, all I'm saying is that's
a selfish pleasure I never had before. I couldn't let all that go back to where it
was, and I couldn't let her or any of em live under School Teacher. That was
out"~(163) Sethe's love for her children is apparent, yet she still shifts the burden
of responsibility away from herself. She acknowledges that it was a "selfish
pleasure" to make something for her daughter, yet Sethe refuses to admit any
selfishness in her act of murder. She is indignant and frustrated with Paul D.
confronting her:


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