Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved is a slave narrative, but it encompasses much more than slavery. Unlike many slave narratives that focus on the male perception of slavery, Morrison's novel portrays slavery from a feminine point of view. The main characters are Sethe, her daughter, Denver, and the mysterious Beloved. In the beginning of the novel, Sethe and her daughter live alone in 124, a house that is haunted by the ghost of Sethe's first daughter. Sethe's two older boys, "Howard and Buglar, had run away by the time they were thirteen years old. Soon after the sons have fled, Baby Suggs, Denver's grandmother, dies. The novel centers on Sethe's past, in particular, the death of her first daughter. This event dominates the book and the action of the novel revolves around this terrible incident. In Beloved, Toni Morrison utilizes characteristics of the female gothic novel such as mothering, living within enclosed spaces, and the doubling of characters, coupled with dilemmas involving memory and repression, to address the issue of slavery.
Beloved illustrates the notion of the gothic mother through the character of Sethe. Her motherly love is turned into a horrific image of mercy, one that many find difficult to understand. At the time, slaves were valued as property. They were bred as if they were horses, with their young snatched away from them, often at birth, and no chance of having a family. Many children were "permanently separated from any other family members, [and] did not know if or when they would ever see their mother[s] again" (King 527). Sethe describes her own childhood experience with the woman she knew as her mother and it is typical of the experi...
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...illions of lives and Morrison gives those lives names and faces. The narrative form is an effective tool to bring the reality of slavery and all its misery into everyday life.
Goddu, Teresa A. Gothic America. New York: Columbia UP, 1997.
King, Wilma. "Within the Professional Household: Slave Children in the Antebellum South." The Historian 59.3 (1997): 523-540.
Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror. New York: Columbia UP, 1982.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Penguin Group, 1987.
Samuels, Wilfred and Clenora Hudson-Weems. Ed. Toni Morrison. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990.
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. The Coherence of Gothic Conventions. New York: Methuen, 1976.
Smith, Valerie. "Circling the Subject: History and Narrative in Beloved." Toni Morrison. Henry Gates, Jr. and K.A. Appiah. Ed. New York: Amistad Press, 1993.
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