In the famous novel “Beloved” by the well-known author Toni Morrison, I have come to realize that the theme touches on many different themes. The main themes it focuses on is the key concepts of slavery, masculinity within men, motherhood, freedom, and memories. The work of literature starts off with two important characters, Sethe and her daughter Denver. It is explained that the current home the family is living in seems to be possessed by Sethe’s firstborn daughter of whom she killed in the early chapter of her life. She tries her hardest to suppress this crucial memory, but it only seems to divulge into something much more.
Back when Sethe was enslaved some time ago she was held in Sweet Home, a plantation down in the South. While on this estate she was able to get away to freedom but of course she is still tied to her past because that same day she was met with Paul D, someone she was at Sweet Home with. Being here brought pain and misery to Sethe and it jumps into the first theme of the novel: slavery. Slavery is the cruel act of owning an individual and forcing them to do agonizing and harsh labor in return of no freedom at all unless under certain circumstances.
Throughout the novel, the author introduces us as readers to multiple characters whom of which were slaves. Each one of these dramatis personae have their own background and tribulations that they are exposed to. All their experiences show how dehumanizing living on Sweet Home truly was, but some that struck me the most were when Sethe was brutally assaulted both sexually and physically and the point in the novel where it is said that Sixo is burned alive for attempting to seek out freedom. These are crucial because it is very gut-wrenching in many ways.
“After I left you, left those boys came in there and took my milk. That’s what they came in there for. Held me down and took it. I told Mrs. Garner on em. She had that lump and couldn’t speak but her eyes rolled out tears. Them boys found out I told on em. The schoolteacher made one open my back, and when it closed it made a tree. It grows there still” (Morrison 19-20); draws a picture of the inhumane treatment was displayed without a second thought. Seeking out freedom and the opportunity to have a better life seems to put fear in the white races’ hearts, therefore, the book displays the lengths slave owners go to reverse that fear.
Having slavery as a theme in his novel defiantly builds it into a more intense work or literature. In a sense it allows you to somewhat feel the same emotions as the characters at the time, such as pain, trauma, grief and much more. Doors are opened to empathy except you clearly cannot physically express that to such fictional characters; however, this was based off the real-life experiences of a former slave, Margaret Garner. During 1856 she made an escape in 1856, much like Sethe. That makes the story feel even more real because you think about how these events took place once upon a time.
I have come to notice that motherhood is very prominent for the duration of the novel. It is displayed through various explicit and intense acts, one being when Sethe slit the throat of her first-born baby. She did this in hopes of freeing her chilled from the chains and restraints of slavery. Although it is not an ideal thing for a mother to do, her reasoning was genuine. Mothers are meant to protect their offspring and provide them with a life that differs from their own.” Collected every bit of life she had made, all the parts of her that were precious and fine and beautiful, and carried, pushed, dragged them through the veil, out, away, over there where no one else could hurt them. Over there. Outside this place, where they would be safe” (Morrison 192); Sethe made a crucial decision that in the end was motivated by her maternal side.
Freedom seems to be hard to come by in this novel at some parts, but I believe it was mainly because of the time period that it was set in. Slaves didn’t have a say at all, and they were subjected to no educational rights or human rights in general. It took Sethe a few times until she was free in a place where she still dealt with certain issues, but she was able to raise the only child she had left, Denver. In a similar predicament to Sethe, was a fellow slave mate that went by the name Sixo. He was one of the first few individuals that came up with the plan of trying to escape from Sweet Home Plantation, however he was caught by slave catchers and was brutally burned alive. Burned for trying to emancipate himself; goes to show how ignorant and barbaric the consequences were.
The last major theme I noticed in Beloved was masculinity within the male culture. There were many instances where men played a dominant role and took charge almost in a way where it was just automatically assigned to them. Of course, with men making up majority of the slave owning “industry”, it’s sort of a given that they’d men would oversee Sethe during this period. The men use their manliness to place fear in Sethe’s heart, but they go the extra mile by harming her in a way that no man should ever hurt a woman.
I feel like the author tried to compare white masculinity in men with the black race, but it showed how there was a great contrast within it. When Sethe was brought into slavery at a very young Age there was mostly men around her. Her being a young attractive black female they felt that attraction, but instead of carrying out those fantasies they let her in a way choose who she wanted to be with in the end, which was her husband Halle. Of course, with Halle kind of disappearing she found a new love connection with Paul D, another fellow slave.
However, the contrast in masculinity is mostly in the way these men from different cultures and sides of the spectrum carry themselves through personality, actions, and more. The black men in the novel seemed to hold themselves in a manner that was more so tamed and at ease. When it came to the nephews whom were white, they had such an evil atmosphere to them and they portrayed it in more than on nasty way, such as beating Sethe to the point where her b ack was viciously scarred into what looked like the formation of a tree. In many parts, you really feel for her and others in the novel.
Everything listed above just confirms they fact that this novel was very well written and a great read all at once. There were parts that defiantly struck some chords with myself, and I am sure other readers as well, however it is beneficial for people of today’s time to understand the hardships that were faced in the past. The past was a concept that isn’t meant to be repressed, just merely understood. Every concept that aided to the plot mad it a challenging and explicit read, although it is very understandable why Toni Morrison presented it in that specific manner.