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Examines author's novel BELOVED.... More...
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Examines author's novel BELOVED. Brief biography of Morrison's life. Her use of folkloristic techniques in the novel. Theme of moral destruction brought on by slavery. Slave & former-slave relationships. Mother-child relationship. Centers on character of Seth. Horrific impact of slavery as deforming former slaves & denying humanity of Blacks.
In her novel Beloved, Toni Morrison looks back to the era after the end of the Civil War and tells the story of Sethe, a woman who had been a slave and who escaped with her four children from a Kentucky plantation in 1855. She is a woman understandably affected by her past, and her memory of that time is bound with her belief that her dead daughter, Beloved, haunts the house in which she lives with her youngest daughter, Denver. Beloved is actually a real woman Sethe believes is her daughter reincarnated, though it is suggested rather that Beloved came on a slave ship with her mother and saw her mother throw herself overboard. Morrison's characters often have to find a way to live freely in the world after the experience of slavery, an experience that denied the humanity of black people and that continues to affect black Americans long after the end of the
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Freedom is never complete for these characters. Toni Morrison. For much of her subsequent life, Sethe manages tosuppress the memories of these early years, but by the time of this novel,her belief that her dead child has been reincarnated causes her to reliveher experiences in a very powerful way. These are people who never had the opportunity to controltheir own destiny, and now that they have that opportunity, they do notfully trust it and so lack the security to develop roots, to stay in oneplace, to keep the family together, and to let go of the past. Sethe may now beable to have children who will not be slaves, but she is haunted by thememory of the child whom she killed to prevent it having to be a slave.Slavery broke up the family, but freedom has not resulted in unifiedfamilies, either. As a child in Georgia, he received shocking impressions of adult white people, and for the rest of his life felt he was justified in despising all whites, and that they were not justified in despising him (Samuels and Hudson- Weems 5).However, critics also suggest that her father "impressed a positive selfimage upon his daughter" and that "although Morrison's father died beforeshe began her third novel, she continues to hold up her accomplishments forhis approval" (Samuels and Hudson-Weems 5). Her fatherwas George Wofford, a man with whom she had a complicated relationship. She stays inthe house in part because of the ghosts that keep her there. Morrison began a teaching careeras a member of the English faculty at Texas Southern University of Houston,and in 1957, she began teaching English at Howard where she met and marriedher husband, Harold Morrison, originally from Jamaica. . In that undermining, Morrison also blurs the lines of demarcation between history and fiction, folklore and legend, and makes it difficult for us to distinguish clearly what is art and what is life. By breaking down the barriers between fiction and folkloristic process, Morrison . Onthe one hand, she gained from him an attitude of distrust for whites,something she is fully aware of today: My father was a racist. This novel shows the nature of slavery in a harsh light, withcharacters may view it differently but who all have come to see its evilsas they react to the "peculiar institution" they encountered either aswhite observers or black sufferers. Morrison also suggests here, as earlier, that a communal storytelling session is in progress, one in which the reader is as intimately involved as are the characters and the author. The house itself becomes a tie to the past for Sethe. Slaves had no family rights, and thedestruction of family is seen by Morrison as one of the key indicators ofhow slavery dehumanizes all who are associated with it. Familyfor the slave was something that could be broken up at the will of theslaveowners, who might sell one or more members of a family and so break upthe unit whenever he might wish. makes clear how saturated the folk materials are within her texts (Harris 13). Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford in 1931 and was raisedin Lorain, a northern Ohio community located near Lake Erie. Beloved also extends Morrison's use of folkloristic techniques in the shaping of her tale. Sheconsiders more complex ills that derive from subsequent relations betweenslaves and former slaves. Sethe escapes from slavery directly by fleeing the plantation life,and so her immediate need to cope with the issue of freedom is not merely amatter of racial identity in the contemporary world but is a real issue atthe time of slavery. She was neverable to own anything when she was a slave, and though she does not own thishouse outright, she has a proprietary interests and feels that it is herproperty and her home. Her name was Baby Suggs, and her experience mirrors that ofher daughter in that her family, her eight children, had also disappeared.The family that is left is reduced in number, the men rootless, the womentied to the past, and all haunted by the largest ghost of all, the ghost ofslavery. explores the insidious degradation imposed upon all slaves, even when they are owned by, in Harriet Beecher Stowe's term, "a man of humanity." The novel is also about matrilineal ancestry and the relationships among enslaved, freed, alive, and dead mothers and daughters (Horvitz 157). They have been deformed in their developmentby the distortions imposed on them by the society in which they live,specifically by the white society that has created a certain image forwhites and blacks and which has also given value judgments to these images,with white being good and beautiful and black being lowly and flawed. Morrison does notsimply show how bad slavery is as an imposition on blacks by whites. By 1873 when thenovel begins, Sethe's family has been dissipated by the ghost of the childshe killed--her two sons have fled, leaving only the other daughter,Denver, and the mother in the Ohio house. Deborah Horvitz indicates the important themes of the book whenshe writes, Toni Morrison's fifth novel. In her novel Beloved, Toni Morrison looks back to the era after theend of the Civil War and tells the story of Sethe, a woman who had been aslave and who escaped with her four children from a Kentucky plantation in1855. Works CitedHarris, Trudier. Knopf, 1992.Samuels, Wilfred D. The past is in fact all thetwo can think about and all the two can share. In this novel, Morrison considers the moral taint of slavery,connected here with the mother-daughter relationship. She published her first novel, The Bluest Eye, in197 , followed by Sula (1973), Song of Solomon (1977), Tar Baby (1981),Beloved (1987), and Jazz (1992). The supernatural element recallscertain African folklore elements brought by the slaves from their homelandand then modified in the American context, and Morrison uses these elementsin order to create a particular kind of literary experience: Beloved (1987) reverses/undermines our expectations of what ghost stories should be, as well as any conceptions we have about succubi, shapeshifters, and demons. New York: Alfred A. Freedom has created the opportunity for Sethe tofeel that she can own possessions, the greatest of which is her own life.However, neither she nor most of the other former slaves or their familiesare yet able to be truly themselves, for they continue to be tied to theslave past by memories, family disruptions, people lost, and opportunitiesnever known. Theblacks in the novel for the most part have been pressed into living outthis image, for society gives them little choice. Fiction and Folklore: The Novels of Toni Morrison. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1991.Horvitz, Deborah. She remembers the Garners, her slave masters, andeven though they were generous masters by the standards of the time, theykept the slaves from living their own lives or from being able to lay anyclaim to their own lives. The novelist finds ways to show howboth groups are victims of the institution, though certainly whites whoowned slaves or who tolerated slavery are more victimizers than victims.Morrison creates characters who are not all good or all bad and who even intheir evil are human beings. "Nameless Ghosts: Possession and Dispossession in Beloved." Studies in American Fiction, 17(2)(Autumn 1989), 157-167.Morrison, Toni. . It is important that Sethe's despair centers on her family, and hernew-found freedom only suggests to her how terrible her slavery was so thatshe kills her child rather than allow the child to become a slave. Boston: Twayne, 199 . Later divorced,Morrison moved to Syracuse, New York, and began work as an editor forRandom House Publishing. For Sethe, the past isalways part of the present, and any look to the future shows again that thepast holds sway. The grandmother has alsorecently died. . Morrison's novels show theimportance of family ties and of an understanding of one's background. By using multiple voices of creation in the novel Morrison illustrates how characters can be the subject as well as the transmitter/author of tales about themselves. Beloved. The ghost of her dead child keeps the past a very realpresence in the house no matter what Sethe might wish. Shealso emphasizes the importance of community, including for her the racialcommunity of which her family is a part. She is a woman understandably affected by her past, and her memoryof that time is bound with her belief that her dead daughter, Beloved,haunts the house in which she lives with her youngest daughter, Denver.Beloved is actually a real woman Sethe believes is her daughterreincarnated, though it is suggested rather that Beloved came on a slaveship with her mother and saw her mother throw herself overboard.Morrison's characters often have to find a way to live freely in the worldafter the experience of slavery, an experience that denied the humanity ofblack people and that continues to affect black Americans long after theend of the slave era. Sethe and her daughterare isolated from the black community because of memories of their earlierslavery. They cannot find thestrength to overcome the stereotype placed upon them, though it is astereotype they know is unfair and inaccurate. and Clenora Hudson-Weems. The mother-child relationship carries echoes ofabandonment and suicide because of the past of these two women and becauseof the separation slavery often forced on families. . The relationship Sethe has with Paul D does not open the two to afreer future but is always tied to the past.
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