How Characters Define Their Perception in Beloved, An Outline

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Thesis: In Beloved, power is the having the authority to name and to thus define reality and perception. The abundant discrepancies that exist between name and reality in Beloved point to the destructive power implicit in the control of symbolic orders. The resistance of the black, female community to the dominant mode of self-construction (claiming oneself by naming an Other) and their subsequent discovery of a new, self-referential, musical method (that mimics Morrison’s own) of telling, and thus constructing, the self, enables the women to both redefine and free themselves from the self-victimization and logocentric confinement embodied in Sethe’s one word—Beloved. The most dangerous aspect of this method of self-repossession is the way in which it enables characters use others to escape their own responsibility of defining themselves.

Topic Sentence 1: By exploiting language to objectify and justify objectification, Schoolteacher silences his slaves by not only the bit, but by robbing them of the word, illustrating the conditional as opposed to intrinsic nature of words and the way in which gross inequality of power under slavery allowed masters like Schoolteacher to control not only their slaves, but an entire symbolic order.

Topic Sentence 2: The “ten minutes for seven letters” (5) that Sethe spends under the stonemason reveals the her impossible attempt to master the dominant discourse of the surrounding patriarchal, white society (the written word) in order to proclaim her freedom from it. Sethe’s attempt is impossible because the written word is what slave owners like Schoolteacher and his pupils used to justify, and thus enable, slavery in the first place. The self-victimization that ensues illustrates what ha...

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...f-referential. While the Word is symbolic, referring beyond itself to another source of meaning, creating a space of separation and barrier between its speaker and his subject (the self and an Other), music refers solely to itself and thereby bridges the gap between the self and an Other. Music neither names nor labels; it defines only itself. Through music, the women carry Sethe from an apocalyptic end to a new beginning, an original creative power. “The Word of God” (the patriarchal father) is re-written, re-remembered, if you will, by the black women. However, their version does not so much contradict as prefigure the Word of God. They carry Sethe and the reader to a time before words because these primal, mythic and feminine utterances figuratively “gave birth” to “The Word” of the Father, just as sounds and signs prefigured and gave birth to symbolic language.
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