Free Study Guide: Beloved by Toni Morrison|
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BELOVED: PLOT NOTES / CHAPTER NOTES / CHAPTER SUMMARIES
As Sethe has been telling the story of her mother, she has been combing Denver's hair. She stops to clean the hair out of the comb and throws it into the fire. As the acrid smell of burning hair drifts through the air, Sethe exclaims, "Oh, my Jesus." Beloved asks her what is the matter, but Sethe will not answer. It is obvious that "she was remembering something she had forgotten she knew. Something privately shameful that had seeped into a slit in her mind right behind the slap on her face and the circled cross."
Denver asks why they had hanged her mother. Sethe says she never knew the reason, but there were several slaves hanged at the same time. She remembers looking at the pile of corpses. She also remembers that Nan, the woman who took care of the babies and cooked, pulled her away from the corpses. Sethe also remembers that Nan spoke in words different from English. Sethe understood them then, but she cannot recall or repeat any of them now. She believes that she does not remember her much of her childhood because she cannot remember the language spoken to her by Nan.
Denver is relieved when Sethe stops talking about the past. She hates
the stories her mother tells that do not include her. She notices, however,
that Beloved loves all of Sethe's stories. She also notices that Beloved
asks questions about things she should not know.
Beloved cannot get enough of Sethe or her stories. She follows her around the house and eagerly waits for her return from work. She seems to be so "hungry" for Sethe that she devours her with her eyes. The image is meant to indicate that Beloved is the grown-up baby that Sethe left without milk. She is so desperate for her mother's love that she threatens to swallow her up. The hidden meaning is that Sethe must face her past and overcome it, or it will overcome her.
It is significant that Beloved is able to get Sethe to talk about her past. Denver has often questioned her mother about it, but until Beloved's arrival, Sethe has been unwilling to share her repressed memories with her younger daughter. Instead, she let them lie below the surface and torment her. As Sethe tells Beloved about her past, it helps her to come to terms with it and begin to heal.
Sethe's stories about her own mother are very revealing. It becomes obvious that Sethe's trauma did not begin with her escape from Sweet Home. Her trauma began when she was taken from her mother by a system of slavery that regarded the children as property and the adults as work animals that had no time for raising children. Sethe was raised in a communal environment by Nan. Since she was in charge of cooking and caring for all the slave children, she had no time to nurture them. To complicate matters further, she did not speak English, for she had arrived on the plantation directly from Africa. Sethe believes that the reason she does not remember much about her childhood is because she cannot remember Nan's language or the words that she spoke to her.
Both Sethe's mother and Nan came as slaves from Africa during the Middle Passage.
Being women, they had to endure unbelievable torture, for they were raped
innumerable times. Their only means of resistance was to kill any child
born out of the union and to refuse to put their arms around their rapists.
The female slaves were also cruelly branded on the chest in order that
their owners could always recognize and claim them. When Sethe's mother
grabs her daughter and shows her the brand on her chest, it is a sad commentary.
Since Sethe has not been permitted to know her mother, Sethe's mother
cannot mark her identity for her daughter in anything but a brand that
indicates that she is a slave. Although Sethe remembers little about her
mother, the image of the brand is very clear to her.
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. 09 May 2017