Tragedy and Redemption in Toni Morrison's Beloved Essay

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Tragedy and Redemption in Beloved

"This is not a story to pass on."(1)

With these enigmatic words, Toni Morrison brings to a conclusion

a very rich, very complicated novel, in which slavery and its

repercussions are brought into focus, examined, and reassembled to

yield a story of tragedy and redemption.

The "peculiar institution" of slavery has been the basis for many

literary works from Roots to Beloved, with particular

emphasis on the physical, mental, and spiritual violence

characteristic of the practice of slavery in the South.

A far greater shame than slavery itself is the violence that was

directed against slave women in the name of slavery. Slave women bore

the heaviest burden of slavery, forced to be not only fieldhands and

domestic workers, but to satisfy their masters' sexual appetites.

Frederick Douglass wrote that the "slave woman is at the mercy of the

fathers, sons or brothers of her master."(2)

Slaveowners considered their slave women to be fair game, forcing

themselves on their female slaves with impunity, and any resulting

children were considered property, to be sold like the calves from a

cow. The family institutions of the slaves meant nothing to their

owners; the children of slaves were likewise considered property and

could be sold at their owners' whim. Schoolteacher referred to Sethe

and her children as "...the breeding one, her three pickaninnies and

whatever the foal might be..."(279) Slave children often did not know

who their fathers or even their mothers were...

... middle of paper ...


Beloved is an unsanitized picture of slavery and its

consequences, a condemnation of the violations that humans impose

upon each other. That the presence of Beloved is still felt, long

after the players have left the stage, is representative of the

scars that remain on the hearts and minds of women, that such

horrors could be visited upon their sisters once.


1. Toni Morrison, Beloved (New York, 1987) 337. All subsequent quotes from Beloved are followed by page numbers in parentheses.

2. Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom (New York, 1968 [1855]) 60, qtd. in Blassingame 83.

Works Cited

1. Blassingame, John W. The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South. New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.

2. Morrison, Toni. Beloved. (New York: Penguin Books USA Inc., 1987)

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