Biblical Symbolism In Toni Morrison's Beloved

2296 Words10 Pages
Toni Morrison’s Beloved follows the history of Sethe and her family from their enslavement at Sweet Home to their life post slavery. Despite their newfound freedom, tragic experiences haunt Sethe and the members of her family. These experiences limit Sethe’s ability to move forward in her life Within the novel, Morrison marks each pivotal moment, or especially graphic moment, in Sethe’s life with an underlying theme of biblical symbolism. Morrison seems to intentionally make these connections to imply that the characters have subliminally let these stories attach to their memories. This connection helps to minimize the characters’ sense of isolation; their trauma takes places within the greater context of stories of suffering familiar to them.…show more content…
When Sethe chooses to murder her daughter, rather than allowing her to be returned to slavery, she must face the consequences of her actions. Sethe’s murder of Beloved creates an allusion to the biblical character of Cain. According to the Bible’s Old Testament, Cain’s slaughter of Abel marks the first murder ever committed. In the aftermath of Abel’s death, Cain mourns that, “My punishment is greater than I can bear...I shall be a fugitive and wanderer on earth” (English Standard Version, Gen. 4.13-14). Sethe experiences a similar reaction after she takes Beloved’s life. Taken to prison after killing Beloved, Sethe faces ostracism from her community. However, living with the memory of the murder seems a worse fate. Like Cain, the “punishment”, both psychological and physical, that results from her murder is so great that it almost destroys her. Her murder, like Cain’s, violates society’s norms and both opens her to judgment and sets her…show more content…
The religious references imbue the novel with greater meaning; Sethe’s story becomes much larger than its beginning or its end. Her story spans the Old and the New Testament, following the struggles of Cain to the sacrifice of the Christ. Sethe emerges as a universal figure, drawing together the disparate parts of the Creator, the Son and the Holy Spirit. At the end of the novel, Morrison claims that “This is not a story to pass on” (324); however, her use of timeless imagery refutes that idea. Her story becomes part of the enduring dialogue about the nature of good and evil as well as redemption and sin. Sethe’s specific experiences put a face on the experience of slavery, and coupled with the biblical allusions which add gravity to her suffering, ensure that this will, indeed, be a story to pass
Open Document