The Effects Of Slavery In Toni Morrison's Beloved

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Toni Morrison’s Beloved, offers a compelling look at the lives of former slaves during the Reconstruction era and the burden of a past that they are desperate to reconcile. Sethe, a former slave, is the main character in Morrison’s study. For her, the memories of her life as a slave on the Sweet Home plantation are inescapable. Her devotion to her children is unquestionable. Her love and commitment to protecting her children is so deep that she, unwilling to surrender them to the physical, sexual, spiritual, and psychological abuse of slavery, attempts to murder them. This single act haunts Sethe (literally and figuratively) for the rest of her life. Baby Suggs, Sethe’s ‘mother-in-law’, a spiritual woman who preaches to the black community is likewise affected by Sethe’s actions. Sethe and Baby Suggs are both mothers and former slaves. Both women have been negatively affected by the experiences of slavery. Those experiences, for these two very different mothers, have affected the relationships between them and their children.
Beloved opens in Cincinnati, Ohio. The year is 1873. Sethe, her daughter Denver, and Baby Suggs have been living there for the past 18 years. Sethe does her best not to remember her past life. Her most painful memories take place at Sweet Home. The owners of Sweet Home were a childless couple named Mr. and Mrs. Garner. The Garners were, as far as plantation owners went, benevolent.
Sethe had, unlike most slaves, had some level of personal control while at Sweet Home. She had the ability to select a husband from at least 5 of the plantation’s slave men. She was able to choose “in spite of the fact that each one [of the slave men] would have beaten the others to mush to have her” (Morrison, 12...

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...omething happened to [her] and [she] can’t tell [her] by [her] face” (Morrison, 72). The mark tormented Sethe throughout her life. She remembered witnessing the mass killing of slaves while heading for Sweet Home. She believed, as a child of 9 years old, that one of the burned bodies that were hanging had the mark her mother had shown her (Morrison, 73). The event stayed with Sethe and, in my opinion, caused her to associate motherhood with death.
The events surrounding Sethe’s own birth are described to her by Old Nan, a slave that had come to America on the ship with Sethe’s mother. Nan tells Sethe how the two women were repeatedly raped on the ship but that her mother “threw away” (Morrison, 73) the children from the white sailors but kept Sethe because she had a black father. It is here that we see the first acts of infanticide. They will not be the last.
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