by Kayla Starr 3 years ago in book reviews

Redemption Digression

“Anything dead coming back to life hurts.”

There is no experience that could possibly match that of being a mother. Valued for all they are, mothers have been created by the media to be the loving, nurturing type, but are never truly depicted facing the trials of what it means to be a mother in its entirety. Beloved, a love story rooted from the sincerest of love, is a Toni Morrison classic following the life of a woman found in the two greatest minorities: being a loving mother, and a slave. Throughout the novel, Sethe, the mother of four, is in constant turmoil after relentless abuse and mistreatment. It is this collection of experiences and her painful past that cause Sethe to face the most difficult of decisions as a mother. With the goal to provide and sustain a happy life for her children, her choice to kill one and attempt at the others was rooted in her love for each child.

Beloved is a love story like no other. Growing up in slavery, Sethe is forced to choose what life she wants for her children. An obvious answer, but a painful solution, Sethe refuses to let her children be degraded by oppressors. Her ultimatum is the eventual killing of one of her four. The main issue with such dealings was her overwhelming pridefulness about what she had done. While each slave knew some deeds must be done, none understand why she so audaciously boasted her, as some might call, “insanity”. Debated on since the first publication of the novel, Beloved has become the subject of controversy, but there is only one way to view her situation. Toni Morrison, a mother and the author of Beloved, nest addresses this pressing issue of Sethe’s choice in her interview with The New York Times, “It was absolutely the right thing to do, but she had no right to do it. I think if I had seen what she had seen, and knew what was in store, and I felt that there was an afterlife-- or even if I felt that there wasn't-- I think I would have done the same thing. But it's also the thing you have no right to do.” Sethe had to do what no mother should, but she did it for her children; The nurturer she is, she knew a life of slavery was not for her kids. Sethe explains herself to Paul D, “it ain't my job to know what's worse. It's my job to know what is and to keep them away from what I know is terrible. I did that.” Sethe was not proud of what she did, but rather empowered by the fact that she could help in an otherwise helpless situation.

Many readers are disturbed by her ability to disregard her past, and move on with her future. In reality, it is her inability to move on that weighs her down. Sethe’s all-consuming love for Beloved becomes an unhealthy digression that affects her relationship with Denver. On behalf of Denver, Sethe speaks against Paul D’s judgemental statements by defending her youthful ways, "I don't care what she is. Grown don't mean nothing to a mother. A child is a child. They get bigger, older, but grown? What's that supposed to mean? In my heart it don't mean a thing." Almost interchangeable, it is possible that Sethe feels so strongly about such topics because she had stolen her child's childhood. Knowing she was never a child, she emphasizes that her family will be one of better fortune. Sethe becomes as equally obsessed with Beloved’s arrival as Beloved is with Sethe, but it is through these exchanges that the reader can better understand why Sethe might have exhibited pride. Evidently hurt, Sethe eagerly waits for Beloved with open arms, “When I put that headstone up I wanted to lay in there with you, put your head on my shoulder and keep you warm, and I would have if Buglar and Howard and Denver didn't need me, because my mind was homeless then. I couldn't lay down with you then. No matter how much I wanted to. I couldn't lay down nowhere in peace, back then. Now I can. I can sleep like the drowned, have mercy. She come back to me, my daughter, and she is mine.” Sethe claims her late daughter as her own as impossible as that is. If she were strewn with demonic pride, she would not so easily identify herself as her mother. Sethe did what she had to do in that instant and it forever affected her life. Looking out for her family, Sethe describes the most painful of abuse, “That anybody white could take your whole self for anything that came to mind. Not just work, kill, or maim you, but dirty you.” Sethe could not, would not let her child be degraded like she was. Never one for emotion, this is one of the first times we it is ever depicted with Sethe exhibiting raw emotion. It is not with pride she committed such acts, but with shame that that was the only solution she could provide.

I agree. Understanding the context of the situation, one cannot help but agree. Sethe made the ultimate decision to protect her young and lead them into a better life, unfair choices, yet insightful conclusion. Sethe followed maternal instincts and did what was best for her children. The “pride” everyone so unknowingly judges her on was a coping mechanism to deal with the hateful eyes of the public. Stuck between a life of solitude and freedom beyond the grave, Sethe was forced to kill Beloved. Although not prideful of her actions, Sethe definitely should be proud of what she did. A mother of four striving to provide, she went against her desires and thought of their needs above hers. “Anything dead coming back to life hurts.” Sethe experiences pain as Beloved comes back into her life. Forced to relive this moment, she regresses into the helplessness she felt. Exposing herself to the world, Sethe defended her actions in an effort to cope. A prideful nature would label her a murderer, but her intentions to save and protect, as any mother should, are her redemption.

Toni Morrison dips into the life of motherhood through her novel, Beloved, as it gracefully captures the ebb and flow of a woman who most rise above all to fight against the white man. Able to confront such issues that writers usually stray from, Morrison beautifully confronts Sethe’s pride whilst later revealing her actual defeat she felt. No other decision is so complex for a mother, but Sethe’s answer was clear and, as a mother, she did what she had to and has every right to be proud of her unfailing love and devotion to her children.

book reviews
Kayla Starr
Kayla Starr
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