Beloved


Beloved is a novel which is both surrealistic and realistic. Although it depicts haunted houses and people returned from the dead, it also vividly and believably portrays life as a slave, and as an ex-slave, recounting the story of a free black who is never really free from anything--especially her past. The main storyline recounts the life and trials of Sethe, an escaped slave who is haunted by the horrors of her past, by the ghost of her murdered daughter, and the murder which she herself committed. Yet inside the lines of Beloved and Sethe’s story is a much larger story. It is the story of slavery, as told through narrative history, as seen through the eyes of the slaves themselves. It is the story of broken families, unknown homelands, and lost identities. Of husbands and wives divided by the auction block. Of children who know their mothers only as a piece of clothing in the distant fields. It is the story of a mother who would rather kill her own children then see them become slaves, a mother who believes that death is the only freedom available, and that murder is the only solution to the white men coming into her yard. Beloved is the story of identity and family destroyed by slavery, and of a race of people who became afraid to love for fear of what it could do to them. It is the story of a million destroyed by what they were forced to bear, and of a million others who overcame the hardship and learned that freedom was allowing oneself to love big--even if it hurts.


From the story of Stamp Paid, who gave away his wife and considered his debt settled, to the story of Baby Suggs, who lost her husband and all of her children, Beloved is a narrative of hardship and separation. It is through these stories of identity and loss, especially loss of family and loved ones, that I would like to examine Beloved. By exploring family life, mother-child relations, husband-wife relations, and slave-slaveowner relations I would like to explore what it meant to be a possession and not a person, and examine how blacks cultivated identity and family while simultaneously attempting to survive in an intolerable existence. Through the narrative of Beloved I would like to


examine the life of an average slave, and through the novel’s characters explore the issues of love, loss, identity, family, and freedom from a black perspective.


Family and separation are central themes in the novel Beloved. Baby Suggs is separated from her children and her husband, Seth from her husband Halle, Denver from her father. The characters of Beloved are not unique, separation and loss of family was a daily occurrence for the life of an average slave. Plantation owners held little respect for the ties of a slave family; black marriages were not even recognized under white law. At any given time a family member could be sold and disappear, never to be seen or heard from again. Even those families who were able to remain on the same plantation for a longer period were often subject to imposed separation. In order to deal with the physical and mental abuse many slaves, like Paul D, learned to just shut down, closing their pains up in a “little tin in their heart,” going through the motions of life while void of the emotions which come with it.


Ripped from the customs and community of a homeland in Africa, often not even allowed a chance to know one’s own mother, many blacks never learned what it meant to be a real person, what it meant to have a unique personality, and how it felt to have a real family. Black slaves lived their lives with the knowledge that they were possessions, not people, and so held no right over their families, bodies, or future. Despite the almost certain pain which accompanied allowing oneself to love, relationships, however fleeting, were able to grow. Marriages and friendships were formed, children were birthed, and communities were created. Yet a slave was never free to control his/her destiny. Marriages could be torn apart at a whim, women could be abused by their white masters, friends and family