Have you ever unconsciously done something that wasn’t wanted, something beyond your will? In Beloved, by Toni Morrison, Sethe embodies the archetype of motherhood through the conscious and the unconscious mind throughout the book. Motherhood is shown throughout the book in Sethe, as she is below the surface of awareness. In this book we’ll find that the unconscious influences the conscious actions of Sethe in the term of Motherhood.
The functions of myths in Jung’s-Theory of archetypes and individualization are psychological, to show the inside workings of the unconscious mind. Myths and dreams are the expressions of the collective unconsciousness, in that they express main ideas that are part of the nature of humans. Archetypes are patterns that are accepted world wide that come from the collective unconsciousness, from what you do with thought, and are the opposite of instinct. They are the thoughts that people hold which are put into the world when they enter consciousness as images or patterns in the way you act with the outside world and the people in it. Individualization is a process of becoming mentally different, for its goal is the development of one’s personality. An example of this transformation of the unconscious mind in everyday life is misspeaking. This is part of the unconscious mind which happens when they slip through unconscious content which comes out to the surface. Like when you are thinking about something and then someone asks you a question and you answer with what you were just thinking of instead of the answer the person was looking for. It can also bring feelings to the surface as a way of confession. Another example is when talking to someone and you suddenly forget what you were going to say or forget the meaning of a word. This happens because they’re feelings associated with the desires, fears, or any other content you haven’t processed yet. You forget the task your mom gave you because you don’t want to do it, the name of a person you don’t like or have bad feelings about, like your ex, or what you were going to say before disagreeing with someone. These are all examples of the manifestations of unconsciousness within everyday life.
The Complexes within Sethe are shown in the form of Motherhood, abandonment, obsessiveness and many more, but those are the ones we are going to focus on. Starting on Motherhood, Sethe’s obsession about motherhood stems from her earlier trama, starting with Seth’s own mother being a stranger to her. When, as we see in the book, Sethe tries to identify with her mother by asking for a brand, but when she asks, her mother slaps her. This action permanently taints any form of relationship with a sense of mistrust. It causes Sethe to be deprived of any healthy mother-daughter relationship, which ultimately leads Sethe to believe that killing her own child to save her from slavery is a legitimate escape. Furthermore, Sethe becomes so afraid of being abandoned because of her own childhood that she not only forces that fear upon her children but herself as well. This shows in Denver who is an 18 year old girl but she acts as if she is a 6 or 7 year old. Denver has been isolated for most of her life, which makes her lonely most of the time, resulting in Denver being highly dependent on Sethe, and what little affection Sethe gives her, resulting in her acting like a child, acting like how Sethe wants her to act to get any attention. Like Sethe, Denver has no future because of Sethe’s fear of being abandoned. Another place where we see this is in Beloved, where at the beginning of the book Sethe believes that Beloved is just a normal person who hasn’t been let outside by her master, but as the novel progresses Sethe begins to see Beloved as her dead daughter. With her limited speaking abilities, and baby-soft skin, not forgetting her emotional instability, also with Beloved being the same age as Sethe’s dead child would have been if she hadn’t been killed and as well as the spirit bearing the name which was on the tombstone of her dead child. In addition, having the same scar as where Sethe slit her child’s throat that night, and the first time that Sethe saw her she was soaking wet, as if she had just been born, and Sethe having the sensation of her water breaking when she saw Beloved. Beloved changes with Sethe’s desire of motherhood. This also shows when she sells her body for her dead child’s tombstone, but also stopped seeing colors, the last color she sees being that of the tombstones. Even though years have passed since the killing, Sethe still mourns her child’s death as it monopolizes her life so much that Beloved comes into the picture. Additionally, when Sethe was thrown in jail she didn’t let anyone take Denver away from her and breastfeed her. Well this is a show of motherly love, in this scene Sethe still has blood on her from murdering “Beloved” and feeds Denver the blood of her sister as well as her milk.
The scene where Sethe is being held down and robbed of her own breast milk shows how Sethe is being robbed of her own very bodily capability to be a nurturing mother.
As well as Sethe losing her ability to be a good mother in some scenes, shown with Sethe killing her own child. The act can be taken in many ways: one way is including it representing an act of the deep motherly love: Sethe saving her children from having to endure slavery, believing that death is a better option. But it can also be seen as Sethe refusing to be a mother under slavery, seen when she was with the Gerners, she was actually given the choice out of 5 slave men, who would be her husband and she would have the good fortune of bearing his 4 children. This freedom that she was given made her start thinking about the future with herself and her family. This was an option very few slaves possesed. Sethe dared to think about a future that her and her family could escape the clutches of slavery. This is what I believe is a factor in Sethe killing her children when the slave holders came to collect them again. So when they escaped slavery and started making a life for themselves, the slaveholders coming back made Sethe kill her children both out of love and out of not wanting to be a mother as a slave again, as she had already gone through that and decied that death would be better.
Not only did the treatment of her in Sweet home leave physical scars, like the tree on her back, but also deep emotional scars. Shown when Sethe gets her breast milk stolen, since she was not only deprived of nursing from her mother as a child for more than the first few weeks of life, because of an absent mother, but she was also nursed last by Nan and left hungry. Sethe understood the importance of breastfeeding for both mothers and children. This was also the reason that I believe Sethe was so concerned about providing milk for Denver in the cell. It was not only for Denver but for herself, to give her some sense of relief from her past but also from the horrors of not only a few hours before hand.