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Toni Morrison’s novel “Beloved” is a sensational story about the history of slavery and racial segregation in America. “Beloved” is based on the story of a fictional character named Sethe, who escaped from enslavement, and her children named Denver, Howard and Buglar. Their home is haunted by a visible ghost, whose presence is associated with bizarre occurrences, such as objects being are hulled at them and the mysterious death of Sethe’s mother in law (Morrison 33).
The ghost attacks are traumatizing and almost drive Sethe insane. Nevertheless, Paul D, Sethe’s friend attempts to restore sanity, and almost succeeds by driving the ghost away. The ghost, sensing Paul D’s power turns into a charming young woman. Seethe is won over by the woman’s charm, and banishes Paul D’s from her house.
The young woman’s charm seems to give her superhuman powers. She overpowers Paul D to the extent that she forces him to have sex with her. Paul D’s attempts to resist the ghost are efforts in futility. Instead, Paul D appears to be helpless. Paul D reveals to Sethe his intentions to impregnate the young woman (Morrison 293).
In the midst of this excitement, Sethe reveals to Paul D about her unfortunate past, and the reason why the community in Cincinnati fails to accept her. From this revelation, Paul D learns that Sethe had escaped from slavery, to her mother-in-law’s home. He also learns that, she attempted to kill herself and her children in order to “keep them where it was safe” when her master came for her (Morrison 233).
Fortunately, she only manages to kill her eldest daughter. Shocked by the revelation, Paul D leaves the house, paving way for the return of Sethe’s dead daughter in form of a ghost. She haunts the house, but eventually the black community unites in Sethe favor and helps her to chase away the ghost.
“Beloved” is based on true story, and is of historical significance especially regarding American Civil Rights Movement. Set in the 19th century, “Beloved” reveals underlying biases with regards to concept of race.
The story alludes to major legislations that helped to define the concept of race in 19th century America. For instance, the arrival of a posse to reclaim Sethe and her children reflects the machinations of the Fugitive Slave Act, passed in 1850. The Act gave powers to slave owners the right to hunt down escaped slaves all over the US.
It is imperative to note that before the American Civil War, slaves enjoyed no rights. Sethe’s escape from slavery is a clearly portrays the lack of basic rights for all blacks. In addition to this, Sethe’s attempt to kill herself and her children also reveals age old crimes committed against innocent blacks by their own.
In the 19th century America, the only sure way of escaping slavery was death. Sethe is symbolic of many black mothers who chose to free their families from slavery through death. This however, is not to mean that the story is all bleak.
“Beloved” depicts faint attempts at granting basic civil rights to the black community. Before passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, blacks were not allowed to enter into legal contracts. This implies that no black was allowed to be legally married. Nevertheless, Sethe’s marriage to Halle signifies loosening of this rule. As a result, Sethe’s master allowed her and Halle to stay married. The rights to be legally married were introduced through the Civil Rights Act of 1866.
“Beloved” also portrays the reluctance with which blacks were given basic rights. Despite the fact that Civil Rights Act of 1866 allowed Sethe and other blacks to marry, the denial of voting rights alludes to Jim Crow’s Laws, which are largely perceived to have attempted to institutionalize racism. By institutionalizing racism, Jim Crow is thought to have hindered the advancement of the American civil rights movement.
Evaluation of the novel
“Beloved” is a sensational account of the historical challenges that have faced the black community in America since time immemorial. The novel also depicts a community in social economic peril. The novel, other than depicting a race suffering the worst form of inhuman treatment, also portrays one of the darkest periods in America’s history.
This resonates well with efforts to eliminate racism and racially aggravated attacks. It seems ironical however, that while “Beloved” is all about America’s dark past, the story is not all gloomy. “Beloved” depicts the determination with which black Americans fought for freedom. This is evident through characters such as Sethe who overcome insurmountable odds and survive when least expected to.
Additionally, Morrison alludes to the fact that the biggest challenge facing the marginalized black community is not racial segregation. The afflictions affecting Sethe, Paul D and other black slaves seem to emanate from the spirit world rather than from the physical world.
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Critics argue that the ghost is Sethe’s murdered daughter. Her presence in the story seems to be Morrison’s way of rebuking to the black community for committing the abhor-able crime of murder. The ghost attacks seem to be much more harmful than those suffered from racial segregation. Critics argue that this betrays Morrison’s perceptions concerning the essence of human suffering; that it is more spiritual than physical.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New Jersey: Knoff. 1987. Print