Beloved by Toni Morrison
Beloved by Toni Morrison is set after the Civil War highlighting the troubles that African-Americans undergo. Throughout her book, Morrison describes the struggle of African-American women and young girls suffering from slavery. She introduces this theme underlining the strength of African-American women in their fight with complex issues of the time and stresses their resilience in a society full of cruelty. The story is depicted through Sethe, a 13-year-old child who belongs to a slave who remains unnamed. The other key ideas that have been brought out in the book relate to stereotypes, gender, prejudice, race, and duties. In her book Beloved, Morrison effectively illustrates the struggle of African-American women reiterating the view that they are the strongest amidst racial challenges, prejudice, and existing stereotypes.
How the Narrator Portrays the Ideas of the Author on Stereotypes in the Book
Based on the historical context, the manner in which black women are characterized has a relation to their maternal role, a role that has been specifically defined and imposed on the female gender as their societal source of identity. However, Morrison portrays motherhood as an important experience that is in line with the female gender. She does not limit the role of women in the society solely to motherhood. According to Morrison, mothers are the first human beings in possession of distinct identities. She postulates that women are the only human beings who have the capacity to realize that motherhood and individuality lack mutual exclusiveness. For instance, mothers take time to talk to their children although the latter do not like it much, as illustrated in the assertion, “Denver hated the stories her mother told that did not concern herself, which is why Amy was all she ever asked about…” (Morrison 62).
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The above example illustrates the concern of mothers presented through the narrator who depicts the women characters in line with the author’s ideas. Thus, the book portrays typical mother figures in search of attainment, a sense of individuality as well as self- worth in a universe whereby in reality these values are not provided to them. The ideas discussed above are presented in the characters of Sethe and Violet (Morrison 16). Sethe eventually starts to identify the value of her selfhood while Violet finally achieves a sense of peace and tranquility that testifies to her self-confidence as a person.
Additionally, the author challenges the truth behind the historical documentation of the black culture with a special emphasis on the role of women in the construction of the black culture. Stereotypically, it is believed that black women are victimized and socially exploited (Andrews, Foster and Harris 38). Based on the notion that black women are part of the slavery system, they have restricted roles as a result of patriarchy which leads to the denial of the opportunities for women’s growth and individual autonomy. However, in the book, women are portrayed differently considering the realistic depiction of black women which is far away from the stereotype outlined above. Thus, black women are portrayed as strong personalities based on their actions and reactions to adversity. Therefore, in the book Beloved by Toni Morrison, female characters are developed from mere stereotypes influenced by maternal forces to self-proclaimed people. This supports the argument that women are portrayed in the book as mother figures that do not blindly follow the stereotypes of black maternity and matriarchy as typical qualities that are attached to black women (Morrison 22). These qualities are used as a justification of their oppression, thus promoting submission. The women characters seek to maintain their identity in the face of the socially determined restrictions regarding conventional motherhood.
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Rather than accepting the standards set by the society concerning women’s roles and providing evidence that the women characters fit them, Morrison uses her book in challenging the set models. By the simple rejection of the patriarchal system with its stereotyping of women, the women characters of her books provide a bold statement against the social and economic oppressions that force them to be submissive in the society.
How the Narrator Portrays the Author’s Ideas on Race
The idea of race in the book is portrayed through the notions of alienation and racial discrimination . These concepts are the powerful elements employed by Toni Morrison in her literary piece. They are presented as the two sides of a coin since the cause of racial discrimination results in a sense of alienation. The book revolves around the pathetic conditions that are the result of racial discrimination of the Blacks who feel alienated from the whites. In the novel, race manifests itself in the poor conditions of the Kentucky plantations (Morrison 76). Furthermore, the notion of race is portrayed through the life of the characters of the book, in particular, the lives of the slave women in the continent of Africa. The lives of the slaves were drowned in emotional and physical hardships. Thus, Sethe’s alienated position has an association with the manner in which slave women are estranged. In addition, all the slave women working in the fields faced separation from their little children who were left in the care of the feeble and weak women.
Furthermore, the sense of alienation regarding the Blacks is the result of racial discrimination that prevailed in the African continent. Sethe provides a clear revelation of the prolonged deep-rooted brutality of the whites over the Blacks. Seethe faces both physical and emotional alienation from Halle, her husband, her children, her mother, and society on the whole. She is forced to put the life of her eldest daughter to an end as a result of the brutality that is associated with slavery (Davidson, Wagner-Martin and Ammons 53). Her sons consequently become afraid of being killed by their mother; hence, it makes them end up living with Baby Suggs. Due to the fact that she was accused of committing murder, a crime termed as unforgivable by the society, Sethe is boycotted in her community. The boycott makes her feel physically and emotionally alienated from her entire family. The other characters in the book, Sethe’s daughters and sons, also face alienation from their family members becoming the victims of racial discrimination typical of the African race.
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Additionally, racism is portrayed by the narrator who states that Africans are treated as an inferior race by the whites as presented by the author of the book. In this regard, the Blacks from Africa constantly drown their entire lives in the large racial discrimination ocean becoming unfortunate victims of the inhumane attitude of their masters including sexual, emotional, physical, and mental harassment (Andrews, Foster and Harris 58). More so, the whites force Blacks to work strenuously exploiting them as potential breeders of new property. Black women are sexually assaulted by the whites, and the children born out of the sexual assault are termed as legal property of the slave owners. Apart from this, the black slaves are often treated like animals and viewed as commodities that ought to be bought and sold. For instance, in the novel, the schoolteacher’s nephews are engaged in suckling Sethe’s breasts so that she is likened to a milking machine or rather a milking cow (Morrison 102). The entire book presents the bitter experiences of the slaves, hence proving that the Blacks are considered as an inferior race as compared to the whites. From the book, it can be clearly seen that the economic situation of the Blacks is far from being favorable. In addition, their social and political conditions are poor due to the color of their skin. The Blacks have to grapple with unsatisfactory economic conditions characterized by debts. They are also alienated from various aspects of life because of their color.
How Gender is Portrayed in the Book by the Narrator Based on the Ideas of the Author
The narrator portrays gender with an emphasis on the gender roles and their division in society. In the book, gender issues are also portrayed through the relationships between the males and the females, the description of power, and the individuals that hold power as it is shown in the text. A deep insight into the book demonstrates that there is the recognition of gender roles, that is, the roles that provide a distinction between the males and the females. However, the gender roles are often portrayed ironically by the narrator (Andrews, Foster and Harris 84).
In the book, Beloved was forcing an old friend working in the same slave house with Sethe to have a sexual relationship with her. Paul D provides a description of this episode: “he had come to be a rag doll-picked up and put back down anywhere anytime by a girl young enough to be his daughter” (Morrison 148) . Paul D also depicts the experience the following way: “it was more than appetite that humiliated him and made him wonder if school teacher was right. It was being moved, placed where she wanted him, and there was nothing he was able to do about it”. (Morrison 148). From the phrases provided above, Paul D questions his manhood wondering if he is the individual in charge of the house. Thus, he uses the phrase rag doll in providing an explanation concerning the feelings connected with this experience.
In this regard, it is essential to pay attention to the ironic portrayal of gender roles in the book. In the novel, the female gender possesses more power as compared to the female gender. In the experience provided by Paul D, the female have more power than their male counterparts as Paul D is being forced to engage in an activity that he finds uncomfortable. Consequently, he describes himself particularly as a “rag doll” based on the fact the he was not able to defend himself or rather he failed to standing up for himself in order to defeat her (Morrison 149). The narrator conveys the notion that gender roles were of importance in the past periods in history as far as men are concerned because they aimed at keeping their image of strong personalities for them to feel powerful.
From the discussion provided in the paragraph above, it is evident that the female gender holds more power in the book due to their actions, whereby a man becomes completely insecure as a consequence of the actions of Beloved who makes him question his entire manhood which is traditionally associated with increased power and being assertive. The author, therefore, employs irony to provide an illustration of the males and females competing for power in the book. Therefore, instead of the men possessing all power, the female gender is portrayed as being more dominant. This is well illustrated by Beloved who controls the man and abuses him instead of the man doing it as expected (Morrison 151). On numerous occasions when the aspect of rape is brought out in the limelight, one can suppose that the act has been carried out by a man. However, the case is different in the book Beloved by Morrison as the author creates an unexpected twist by employing irony as well as switching the roles of the characters playing the victim, hence producing newly defined gender roles in the text.
How the Narrator Portrays Duties in the Book
In the book, duties are defined in the manner in which they are influenced by the cultural norms and values. In patriarchal societies, the roles of women were limited to the traditionally defined duties. They were defined in a very strict manner and this limitation is clearly portrayed by Morrison (Morrison 160). Sethe provides evidence of how women and their various roles form a crucial element in regard to their identities.
This is a consequence of the abuse that they have survived besides the lack of self-worth and personal identity. Sethe epitomizes the duties of a mother as a result of the failure to perform the daughterly, sisterly, and wifely roles. She heavily relies on her roles by assuming an identity and developing expectations that are accompanied by her role. Her life is defined by her roles as she is not allowed to develop a strong personal identity and self-value (Morrison 206). Additionally, as a consequence of the shortcomings in her social identity and her surroundings, her self-concept and sense of self-worth entirely depend on the success in addition to the performance of her female roles. The extreme definition of her female role causes her to act surprisingly strange towards the individuals she loves most in her life.
Apart from portraying the manner in which societal culture and norms influenced the duties of women, the narrator also depicts the manner in which these women are transformed because of their duties.Thus, as a result of and in spite of their duties, they are able to gain independence. In this regard, the women aim at the discovery of their autonomy and self-worth.
How Prejudice is Portrayed in the Book
Prejudice is portrayed by the narrator of the book through depicting the ways in which the Blacks are treated by the whites. In particular, prejudice is coined in the element of blackness. The Blacks are treated as a minority, hence living a peripheral existence accepting their fate in silence (Davidson, Wagner-Martin and Ammons 121). They are hidden and paralyzed while the whites live a comfortable life. The Blacks appear to hang on the edge of life constantly hungering for what they lack in their lives: property ownership, comfort, enjoyment, and decent living. The sheer condition of the Blacks who remain helpless during and even after the process of emancipation is a revelation of their deep sense of place.
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In tandem with the book, the desperate life of the Blacks results from the prejudice, what is clearly portrayed in the story under analysis. Morrison’s statement that during slavery, a large number of black women “were not, by large, domestics in the house” (Morrison 97) contradicts the popular belief that they played the roles of laborers in the large fields. Blacks were denied the right of possession in terms of relationships, belongings, and any other form of property. The slaves were viewed as property by the owners of plantation farms. They were even not allowed to get married and increase their family. Instead, they had to work and accumulate the wealth of the whites. The white masters did not consider the black slaves as people since the humanity of the Blacks was not proclaimed by the whites. Furthermore, the formulation of laws by the whites did not lead to the proclamation of humanity which was in line with the Blacks. Slaves were referred to as “niggers” by all slave owners (Andrews, Foster and Harris 77). They were treated with contempt by the whites and generally viewed as an inferior race as compared to the white race.
Moreover, the superiority of the whites in physical and verbal means eventually led to black subjugation. The notion of racism further enhances the pain and suffering of the African slaves. The process of categorization divides the whites and the Blacks as a result of prejudice. The Blacks live in poor environments while the whites have comfortable living conditions. Instead of viewing the Blacks as equal human beings, the whites consider them animals that are to be comprehended and put under observation and examination (Burgett and Hendler 62). The implications of slavery make the whites engage in acts of violence and feel superiority that lead to the degradation and dehumanization of the Blacks. The latter are frequently termed as a farm stock that is simple-minded and, thus, ideal creatures to experiment on. Hence, the feeling of superiority among the whites makes them view the Blacks as inferior creatures. As a result, they face suppression and domination of the racist whites.
Despite the maltreatment imposed on the Blacks by the whites, the author tries to put a message across that the Blacks are also strong in their own peculiar ways. Due to the nature of slavery, the slaves lack the funds required to organize a wedding.
However, Sethe manages to create a wedding dress that is made from stolen material scraps. This can be well illustrated in the book by the phrase provided by the narrator,“I took to stealing fabric and wound up with a dress you wouldn’t believe.” (Morrison 59). Moreover, while the white masters do not satisfy the basic needs of the African slaves and identify them as “human characteristics on the left, animal ones on the right” (Morrison 59), the latter are able to find their own way out. With an intention to grasp property, they plan their escape mission to the Magical North.
Apart from this, prejudice is portrayed in the process of education. The African slaves have no right whatsoever to the acquisition of education. This is because the Blacks are termed as individuals with no consciousness; hence, they have no necessity to be educated. With respect to employment opportunities, the African men could only be employed as manual workers while the African women were employed as housekeepers (Davidson, Wagner-Martin and Ammons 97). The Africans are not provided with any type of white-color jobs based on the fact that they are not humans. They are, therefore, tortured in the event of hard labor and are forced to face hardships in their working environments. Conclusively, from the evidence provided by the narrator in support of the ideas presented by the author, it becomes clear that the Blacks faced prejudice in their environment. This can be proved by the fact that they are racially segregated as well as treated as an inferior race and individuals with no consciousness.
Therefore, they face various hardships including being denied education, living in poor living conditions as well as being denied comfortable working environments and employment opportunities (Morrison 166). The prejudices identified by the whites against the Blacks are so profound that the Blacks are viewed as property that can be owned by the whites.
In conclusion, Beloved brings out the view that black women have to bear maternal responsibilities and face the demeaning treatment based on prejudice, roles, stereotypes, and racial segregation in the course of their whole lives. The entire story is anchored on slavery, with Sethe creating a vivid picture of the struggles and challenges that African-Americans encounter. All the hardships these women have to overcome on their way are linked to their blackness. However, Morrison believes that blackness should not be a matter of judging the capabilities of individuals as the black race has the strongest people she has ever seen.