By Toni Morrison And Healing
The theme of “healing” is ever present in the novel, Beloved by Toni
Morrison. Many forms of “healing” take place, with many different
characters undergoing the “healing” process. These forms of
“healing” range from healing personal conflicts from within, to
healing as a community, and by overcoming individual prejudices. I feel that the
overcoming of individual prejudices is one of the most important aspects of this
novel. Throughout the story, Sethe (the main character) has many encounters with
a variety of people. These encounters leave a definite impression on her, which
is why I think that Sethe does the most “healing,” both from within
and by overcoming her own prejudices. The meeting of Sethe and Amy Denver is the
focal point of Sethes “healing.” This takes place when Sethe (being
pregnant) is a slave on the run and goes into labor. She meets Amy Denver, an
indentured servant who is leaving to Boston. At first, Amy doesnt seem that
she wants to help Sethe because of her skin color, while Sethe isnt too
trusting of Amys white skin. Sethe later states, “You dont know how
theyll jump. Say one thing do another”(Morrison 77). This kind of
distrust is present in Sethe when she tells Amy that her name is “Lu.”
The combination of Amys nonchalant attitude, and Sethes distrust displays
the prejudices of society at the time. As Sethe and Amy converse, Sethe realizes
that Amy is unlike any other white person she has ever met. After Amy tells
Sethe about her situation, and that she was also beaten by her
“employer,” Sethe realizes that not all whites were the slave owners,
but in fact some were indentured servants. Amy then begins to massage Sethes
swollen feet, and says, “More it hurt, more better it is. Cant nothing
heal without pain, you know” (Morrison 78). I think that at that point
Sethe begins build trust towards trust Amy. Amy then goes and finds spiderwebs
to heal Sethes bleeding back, which displays Amy showing a little compassion
and trust towards Sethe. As Amy again massages Sethes feet, the reader begins
to feel like they are no longer just black and white, but actual people that
have feelings. I think that Morrison wants the reader to get this feeling that
people are people and not property. I feel Amy agrees with this, but at the same
time the prejudices in the society that she has grown up in makes her say things
like, “She dont know nothing, just like you. You dont know a
thing” (Morrison 80). Another example of how prejudices are intertwined
with society, is the constant use of Sethe calling Amy “miss”
throughout the passage. This relays a sort of cultural boundary, the fact that
Amy can call Sethe by her first name but Sethe resorts to acting formally
towards her. The actual delivery of Sethes child is the climax to the
“healing” of Sethes own prejudices. Amy helps Sethe deliver the
baby and with no hesitation, “Push!,” screamed Amy (Morrison 84). Amy
no longer thinks of herself as being different from Sethe, which overcomes some
of her own prejudices. At that point, Amy just sees Sethe as a person who needs
help and not a runaway slave that should be left alone. The line, “A
pateroller passing would have sniggered to see two throw-away people, two
lawless outlaws–a slave and a barefoot whitewoman with unpinned hair–wrapping
a ten-minute-old baby in the rags they wore”(Morrison 84-85), better
illustrates the bonding that has taken place. The conclusion to this incident
was the naming of Sethes child, which was aptly named, Denver. For Sethe to
name her own daughter, (after killing her first because she didnt want her to
grow up into slavery) after a whitewoman was a sign of “healing” that
had taken place during that night. Sethe would now have a different opinion
about white people, not to say that it would be that much different, but it
definitely had changed it. In this novel Beloved, we see the “healing”
that takes place within the individual. It is not a physical type of healing,
but more of a psychological healing. This change, or healing may look
insignificant, but to the individual (in this case Sethe) they have a new
outlook on things. They have overcome a certain barrier and now can function in
a new way of thinking. From that point on Sethe doesnt see all white people
as devils, nor does she trust all of them, but by having Amy Denver help deliver
her baby and thus bonding, she knows that there are many different people with
different ways of behaving. I think that there are many other types of
“healing” that occur in this novel, but I feel that if Sethe and Amy
can overcome their own personal prejudices from a chance meeting, then this
would be the most significant “healing” in this novel.


Beloved By Toni Morrison “It is the ultimate gesture of a loving mother. It is the outrageous claim of a slave”(Morrison 1987). These are the words that Toni Morrison used to describe the actions of the central character within the novel, Beloved. That character, Sethe, is presented as a former slave woman who chooses to kill her baby girl rather than allowing her to be exposed to the physically, emotionally, and spiritually oppressive horrors of a life spent in slavery. Sethe’s action is indisputable: She has killed her child. Sethe’s motivation is not so clearly defined.

By killing her “Beloved” child, has Sethe acted out of true love or selfish pride? The fact that Sethe’s act is irrational can easily be decided upon. Does Sethe kill her baby girl because she wants to save the baby from slavery or does Sethe end her daughter’s life because of a selfish refusal to reenter a life of slavery? By examining the complexities of Sethe’s character it can be said that she is a woman who chooses to love her children but not herself. Sethe kills her baby because, in Sethe’s mind, her children are the only good and pure part of who she is and must be protected from the cruelty and the “dirtiness” of slavery(Morrison 251). In this respect, her act is that of love for her children. The selfishness of Sethe’s act lies in her refusal to accept personal responsibility for her baby’s death. Sethe’s motivation is dichotomous in that she displays her love by mercifully sparing her daughter from a horrific life, yet Sethe refuses to acknowledge that her show of mercy is also murder.

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Throughout Beloved, Sethe’s character consistently displays the duplistic nature of her actions. Not long after Sethe’s reunion with Paul D. she describes her reaction to School Teacher’s arrival: “Oh, no. I wasn’t going back there[Sweet Home]. I went to jail instead”(Morrison 42). Sethe’s words suggest that she has made a moral stand by her refusal to allow herself and her children to be dragged back into the evil of slavery.

From the beginning, it is clear that Sethe believes that her actions were morally justified. The peculiarity of her statement lies in her omission of the horrifying fact that her moral stand was based upon the murder of her child. By not even approaching the subject of her daughter’s death, it is also made clear that Sethe has detached herself from the act. Even when Paul D. learns of what Sethe has done and confronts her with it, Sethe still skirts the reality of her past.

Sethe describes her reasoning to Paul D., “.. So when I got here, even before they let me get out of bed, I stitched her a little something from a piece of cloth Baby Suggs had. Well, all I’m saying is that’s a selfish pleasure I never had before. I couldn’t let all that go back to where it was, and I couldn’t let her or any of em live under School Teacher. That was out”(163). Sethe’s love for her children is apparent, yet she still shifts the burden of responsibility away from herself.

She acknowledges that it was a “selfish pleasure” to make something for her daughter, yet Sethe refuses to admit any selfishness in her act of murder. She is indignant and frustrated with Paul D. confronting her: Sethe knew that the circle she was making around the room, him, the subject, would remain one. That she could never close in, pin it down for anybody who had to ask. If they didn’t get it right off– she could never explain.

Because the truth was simple, not a long-drawn-out record of flowered shifts, tree cages, selfishness, ankle ropes and wells. Simple: she was squatting in the garden and when she saw them coming and recognized schoolteacher’s hat, she heard wings. Little hummingbirds stuck their needle beaks right through her headcloth into her hair and beat their wings. And if she thought anything, it was No. No. Nono.

Nonono. Simple. She just flew. Collected every bit of life she had made, all the parts of her that were precious and fine and beautiful, and carried, pushed, dragged them thought the veil, out, away, over there where no one could hurt them”(163). Sethe’s frustration is a product of her contradictory reasoning. She views her children as an extension of her life that needed to be protected, at any cost. Sethe’s concept of loving and protecting her children becomes synonymous with her killing Beloved and attempting to kill the rest.

Sethe can see no wrong here. Placing her children outside the horror of slavery, even if it meant taking their lives, was in her mind a justified act of love, nothing more. Ironically, it is Paul D. who reveals the contradictions that Sethe refuses to see in her own logic: “This here Sethe talked about love like any other woman; talked about baby clothes like any other woman, but what she meant could cleave the bone. This here Sethe talked about safety with a handsaw. This here Sethe didn’t know where the world stopped and she began.

Suddenly he saw what Stamp Paid wanted him to see: more important than what Sethe had done was what she had claimed. It scared him”(164). Paul D.’s character suggests that although the killing act might have been committed out of a irrational, hysterical, loving mother’s need to “protect” her children, Sethe’s “claim” that she was and is justified in those actions can not be accepted. Paul D. recognizes what Sethe can not; her act of supreme love is also an act of insurmountable selfishness.

When Paul D. calls into question her thinking, Sethe still refuses to see her own role in what has come to pass: ‘What you did was wrong, Sethe.’ ‘I should have gone on back there? Taken my babies back there?’ ‘There could have been a way. Some other way.’ ‘What way?’ ‘You got two feet, Sethe, not four..’ (165) Sethe’s problem is rooted in her inability to recognize the boundaries between herself and her children. Paul D. stabs at the heart of this problem by suggesting that Sethe had overstepped her boundaries by killing her child.

The concept that Sethe equates her life and self-worth with her connection to her children is most graphically illustrated in her mad ravings to the reincarnation of “Beloved”. Sethe details a defense for killing her baby to the woman she believes is her reincarnated, murdered daughter. Within this defense, Sethe explains in the greatest detail her reasoning for cutting her child’s throat. Sethe pronounces that the worst thing in life was: That anybody white could take your whole self for anything that came to mind. Not just work, kill, or maim you, but dirty you. Dirty you so bad you couldn’t like yourself anymore. Dirty you so bad you forgot who you were and couldn’t think it up. And though she and others lived through and got over it, she could never let it happen to her own.

The best thing she was, was her children. Whites might dirty her all right, but not her best thing, her beautiful, magical best thing– the part of her that was clean.(251) Sethe’s words suggest that the only part of herself that she cares for is her children. Indeed, the only reason that she killed her daughter is because Sethe refused to let School Teacher or any other white person “dirty” her children as Sethe herself had been dirtied. Sethe’s nobility, however irrationally predicated, is apparent. She loves her children to much to let them be tarnished by slavery. Unfortunately, Sethe’s nobility is tainted by the fact that she can not recognize absurdity of the murderous act she has committed.

Even in her shameful defense, Sethe is proud. Sethe’s undaunted pride is illustrated by her words, “And no one, nobody on this earth, would list her daughter’s characteristics on the animal side of the paper. No. Oh no. Maybe Baby Suggs could worry about it, live with the likelihood of it; Sethe refused- and refused still”(251). Toni Morrison, in an effort to describe the motivation and pride of Sethe’s character, made the statement, “To kill my children is preferable to having them die”(Morrison 1987).

Saving her children from slavery and the promise of spiritual and emotional death that such an institution imposes is the rational of love that Sethe’s character clings to. The truth that Sethe’s character selfishly avoids is the actual physical death that she has inflicted upon her child. Understanding why a woman would kill any child, let alone her own baby, is at best an enigma. Sethe’s character is no exception. Sethe’s motivation does not fit into a simple schematic. Sethe is presented as a woman who loves her children so much that she is willing to kill them rather than allow them to be broken by an evil institution.

Love is, then, Sethe’s primary motivation for killing her baby. However, Sethe’s love for her children does not preclude her responsibility for Beloved’s death. Indeed, Sethe’s selfish fault lies in the fact that she has shifted the locus of responsibility from herself to the institution that has spawned her. Ultimately, it is Sethe who is responsible for her child’s death, not slavery. Sethe kills her daughter to demonstrate her love. Sethe exhibits her selfish pride by repudiating her own guilt. Does Sethe realize her fault? Perhaps.

When presented the notion that Sethe, and not her children, is her own “best thing”, her reply takes the form of a question, “Me? Me?”(273). Morrison leaves the reader with the sense that Sethe might realize that she has loved her children too much, and herself not enough.


Beloved The movie Beloved takes place just after the civil war, during slavery. The story takes place in a rough-hewn house outside of Cincinnati. The house belongs to an ex-slave named Sethe. She has gone from plantation life to owning this house. The house contains a lot of memories. Sethe has went through so much torment.

She was raped by some men on her plantation and her husband saw. Sethes husband paid for the freedom of her and her children. Sethe gave birth to a child and was helped by a white woman while on her way to the North. She promised to name her child after her. That is how Denver got her name. She was jailed for killing one of her children because she did not want the slave man to retrieve them. She was stopped before she could kill the rest of her children.

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Leading to the climax of the movie is the arrival of a breath taking apparition. A beautiful young women dressed in mourning is washed up on a river bank. This happens to be Beloved. Throughout the movie, Beloved slowly reveals her earthbound side. Before she was at the crossroads of the supernatural and the natural world.

Beloved cunningly suspends Sethe between past horrors and the potential of renewing those past horrors. Oprah Winfrey, who plays Sethe, supplies a sense of the deep, stubborn essential to Sethes survival. Sethes friend Paul D, an ex-slave, who has wondered alone for nearly two decades wanders to Sethes door looking for some place to alight. Sethe lets him stay because she too has been alone for some years now. She enjoys his company.

He did not get off at a good hand with Denver because she was not use to sharing her mother. Denver did not have to share her mother since she can remember because her brothers had left when she was still an infant. Paul D and her teen-age daughter Denver are both devastated by this dangerous person who calls herself Beloved. Denver and Paul D had just reached a truce before Beloved had came. Things got back to being hectic. But Denver Befriends Beloved and treats her as her sister. Beloved brought tension to the house.

She wanted to be spoiled by sethe. Denver started to feel rejected. Paul D is so uncomfortable with Beloveds presence that he stops sleeping in the bed and starts sleeping in on a chair. Beloved has this force that she uses. Anything that she wants she will do something in order to get it.

Beloved is the spirit of Sethes child that she killed. Beloved did not think that was fair. Beloved has come to get revenge, and she haunts and torments Sethe until she is satisfied.


In the Novel Beloved, by Toni Morrison unmasks the horrors of slavery, and
depicts its aftermath on African Americans. The story is perfect for all who did
not experience nor could imagine how it was to be an African American in America
circa the 1860’s. Beloved lends a gateway to understanding the trials and
tribulations of the modern African American. The Novel has many things that
occur that are very striking, most of which have to deal with the treatment of
the African Americans. The book as a whole is very disturbing, and even shows to
what lengths African Americans were willing to go to avoid enslavement of
themselves or their children.

In the novel the most extreme case of someone avoiding enslavement comes from
the main character when she attempts to kill her children. The main character ,
Sethe, is not willing to let her children end up re-enslaved and would rather
see them dead and in Heaven then in an earthly hell of being slaves. I believe
that from Sethe was justified in her actions. Slavery is a very harsh and
horrible way to live, and living in chains and without freedom is not living as
a human should. Slavery degraded African Americans from humans, to that of
animals. They were not treated with any respect, or proper care. Even modern day
criminals, those that have murdered large numbers of people are treated more
humanly then the average slave ever was. The life that the children would of
lived would of been one of complete servitude, they would of never of known what
it was like to live on their own and make their own decisions. This all goes
back to the fact that they would never be human or treated as humans, so based
on this I believe that Sethe was justified in killing her children and
preventing them from becoming enslaved.

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The fact that the slaves where treated like animals, and where traded and sold
like cattle is well depicted in the book. This did not actually shock me, the
items in the book that shocked me had to do with the living conditions, and
punishments that the men where put through. What I am referring to in particular
are the living conditions at the work camp in Georgia. The fact that the men
were in little cubbie holes in a trench in the ground is very disturbing. The
fact that when it rained “They squatted in muddy water, slept above it, peed in
it(110)” was very shocking and unpleasant to me. The other thing that was really
disturbing at the same camp was the “breakfast”. This was disgusting and at the
same time seemed very weird. The white men considered the African Americans to
be animals, yet they still made them perform oral sex on them. This was quite
possibly the most bothersome and abhorrent item that occurred to the slaves in
the book.

The treatment of the slaves has a lot to do with current African Americans and
the many items they face. In the book, there is no such thing as a family, the
slaves can not be married nor are they allowed to be “mothers” or “fathers” to
their children. This carries over to modern America in that some African
Americans still have problems with family structure and slavery can be held
accountable for this. Another reason this book is helpful is that it explains
why African Americans attempt to remove themselves from making close bonds with
family, as Professor Jordan said they have to make fun of moms and learn that
they can not protect the people they love from others. This goes back to the
roots of slavery to the fact that families where split up and the slaves had not
control, and thus could not protect the ones that they loved. To prevent
themselves from being hurt by this they learned a way to form a protective
barrier against it and that barrier is not to get close or expect to be able to
protect the ones you love.

The book Beloved, has many key points about slavery and brings to light many
things that are not well known. The book helps to show the roots of African
Americans and how those roots still affect their lives today. This helps the
reader to better understand African Americans and how they relate to their past.

It also brings to light the many cruelties inherent in slavery and the affect
this had on an entire race of people and their development in the U.S.

Social Issues


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