Analysis of Sethe in the Novel Beloved by Toni Morrison

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“Mothers are all slightly insane.” This quote by acclaimed American writer J.D. Salinger accurately describes the nature of all mothers. The innate nature of mothers to be insane, or to think without logic or reason is vividly displayed in Toni Morrison’s Beloved through the protagonist Sethe. Sethe, an Ohio infanticide, displays loving traits throughout Beloved, and often leads the reader to question her motivations behind the killing of her child, Beloved. The reader is never truly delivered an exact reasoning behind Sethe’s infanticide, but Morrison has recurring elements that help chain together anachronistic events in pursuit of aiding the reader to build his/her own reasoning. Morrison uses Sethe’s milk and the recurring element of forgiveness to craft a story that exemplifies the insanity associated with responsibilities of a mother, while retaining ambiguity associated with the morality of “motherly” infanticide.
A reader might typically associate milk with being a nourishing organic substance shared between a mother and her children, but Morrison uses milk as a deeper bond between characters. Milk is first used as an image in Sethe's recollection of being punished for running away from Sweet Home. Conversationally recollecting the events with Paul D, Sethe exclaims “After I left you, those boys came in there and took my milk...And they took my milk...and they took my milk!” (Morrison 32-33). It can be concluded that, because milk is a natural and replenished substance, Sethe must have a deeper grievance with the stealing of her milk than its physical loss. When they "took her milk" they were really taking away part of her maternity, and Sethe was most upset about not being able to cater to her baby's needs at the hands of...

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...he remembers Sethe, she never forgot Sethe, but she avoids answering the questions in regards to forgiveness by in return, asking, "Where are the men without skin?" (Morrison 409). The ambiguity of forgiveness that remains gives credibility to the motivations behind Sethe's infanticide, because the morality of the actions is never clearly established, and therefore Sethe still retains maternal discretion.
Recurring elements and images in Beloved are vital to upholding a general theme or message, or at least to reinforce a general idea. Morrison never clearly justifies the morality of Sethe's actions, but in introducing recurring elements and images, gives the reader the tools to do so. Though many other themes and motifs exist in beloved, milk and forgiveness stand out in developing the character of Sethe, to equip the reader to analyze the morality of her actions.

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