“Where does discipline end? Where does cruelty begin? Somewhere between these, thousands of children inhabit a voiceless hell” (Francois Mauriac, Brainyquote 2016). These statements posed by French novelist Francois Mauriac can be applied to Toni Morrison’s Beloved. The novel centers around Sethe, a former African American slave, who lives in rural Cincinnati, Ohio with her daughter named Denver. As the plot progresses, Sethe is confronted with elements of her haunting past: traumatic experiences from her life as a slave, her daunting escape, and the measures she took to keep her family safe from her hellish owner plague Sethe into the present and force her to come to terms with the past. A definitive theme observed in the novel is slavery’s dehumanization of both master and servant. Slave owners beat their slaves regularly to subjugate them and instill the idea that they were only livestock. Cruelty made those victimized by slavery feel less human and caused them to commit actions which today’s world would consider inhuman. In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, cruelty serves not only to physically but also psychologically damage those affected by slavery whether the individual is perpetrator or victim.
First, cruelty in Beloved can be observed in all slave owners whether they are naturally good or evil to their slaves. Cotton drove the economy of the Southern States for years prior to the American Civil War and demanded a large workforce. Slave labor became an institution in the South and became a way of life. Although the majority of slave holders treated their slaves brutally some, such as Mr. Garner, considered their slaves as “men.” Despite this kind treatment, Paul D questions this decision when Sc...
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...lavery as well as race, they both are willing to achieve their ends through brutal actions. Many of the cruel events in the novel stem from slavery and its profit-driving exploits of human beings.
In conclusion, Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved reveals the psychological change in those affected by slavery as a result of the cruelty they both face and commit. Cruelty cannot be avoided by slave owners like Mr. Garner and Schoolteacher as profit prevents them from ending their practices. Resulting in former slaves who suffered abuse such as Paul D and Baby Suggs never being able to forget their past and remain haunted by its memories. Furthermore cruelty is committed by people in the novel with a purpose in mind including Schoolteacher’s need to make a profit at the deteriorating state of Sweet Home or Sethe’s strong devotion to keep her children safe from slavery’s grasp.
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