The Theme Of The Extreme Demolition Of One’s Identity In Toni Morrison’s “Beloved”

Over the years, slavery has been a devastating factor in many countries and communities around the globe. These destructions can take place in many ways: psychological, physical, or community unity. Toni Morrison’s book Beloved explores the themes of identity destruction through slavery, community involvement and support, and the limitations and power of language. Sethe and millions more Americans were affected by the brutal and inhumane act of slavery. They often had difficulty identifying themselves and feeling self-worth. Sethe lost her self-esteem in the wake of a lesson given by her school teacher. Sethe starts to self-loathe and is unable to relate to others. Sethe stated that while it was possible to free yourself, claiming ownership of the self you have liberated was another. (Morrison 95).

Sethe doesn’t have any one thing she truly likes about herself, so she considers her children her best qualities. Sethe fears that she will live in madness after her death. This is evident by the fact that Beloved was murdered to show her extreme folly. The horrible act that Sethe committed of homicide against Beloved was not only a terrible act, but it also demonstrated the love Sethe had. Sethe notonly freed her from slavery, but also made sure Beloved never had to suffer the horrific acts of slavery. This is because slavery was the reason for these emotions and actions. He also has problems with his self-identity and masculinity. He feels like he lacks value, and he can’t see himself as a man (Morrison131). Paul D becomes emotionally exhausted and depressed as a result. Denver is also a lackluster person. Denver is also a poor example of value.

Morrison emphasizes the importance community and the dangers of having to deal the the self-worth of slavery. Sethe admits that her slavery life had ‘busted the legs, back, eyes and stomach’. Sethe was eventually freed. Sethe, upon her release, becomes an active member of the African American community in Cincinnati within twenty-eight day. Sethe gains a little bit of self-worth by becoming involved in the community. Events at 124 are influenced by the Cincinnati community. Denver, Sethe (and many other African Americans) formed this community to exorcise Beloved. Sethe feels at peace after this. Paul D. collaborates with his prisoners to show that only teamwork can get them out of prison.

Religious support was another way that the community stood by each other. Baby Suggs was a unique alternative to traditional churches. His church was active and corporal and Morrison describes it as starting with crying children, dancing men and laughing children. Men sat down and cried, while women stopped crying and began dancing; children laughed and danced until they were exhausted. These spiritual experiences helped people grow closer and create connections based upon their common faith of Christianity. Suggs was not liked by some white residents of the towns because of their inability to bear the reckless generosity of 124. Others brought only what they had and what they thought would work, which they stuffed into apron pockets and tied around their necks. Some people brought the Christian faithaEURa sword and shield. A majority of people bought some of each. They didn’t know what they would do when they arrived. They set out on foot, walked along Bluestone Road, and finally met up at the agreed time. Some women refused to leave because of the heat. Others who believed in the story were not interested in any of it and wouldn’t come regardless of the weather. Lady Jones was one of these people. The group included thirty-three women, who marched towards 124. The language was an issue during this time and was a significant strength.

Olivia Pass of University College of Tulane describes Morrison’s writing style. Sixo convinces the schoolteacher that Sixo broke the rules. He is then whipped and tortured by the schoolteacher, who tries to prove that the definitions belonged to the definiers, not to him (Morrison176). The white definitions are often illegitimate, and the slaves soon learn this. Paul D., for instance, questions the masculinity of Mr. Garner’s slaves. Paul D. finally realizes with bitter irony that the Sweet Home name is a fallacy.

Sixo finally abandons English because of the hypocrisy of the rhetoric surrounding slavery. Other characters, however, use English to define the world in their way. Baby Suggs, Stamp Paid, and others, change their names. These characters illustrate how language can be so powerful but also tormenting. Slave characters can manipulate language and exceed its limitations. They can adjust the meanings of language and make themselves unintelligible to white slave owners. Paul D, a Georgia prisoner, and Paul D sing about their dreams. They also trick the words with lies and tricks (Morrison84). Morrison stated that they were close friends who shared dreams and sang together to get through difficult times.

The title of Beloved refers to a linguistic confusion that is more often than not the result. This further proves the power of language. Sethe misunderstood the Dearly Beloved address of the minister to her daughter as referring only to the deceased. This slippery, shifting quality in language is the foundation of all literature. The power of metaphor, similes, metonymy and irony are all a result of the words’ ability to attach to and detach from many possible meanings. Toni Morrison shows in Beloved how slavery brought down self-esteem among slaves. While the times are changing and the world looks better, Morrison still shares some lessons from his novel. The story demonstrates that slavery was abolished. No one, of any race or origin, should live in fear.


  • zakhart

    Zak Hart is an educational blogger and professor who has been writing about education for over 10 years. He has written for various publications, including The Huffington Post and Edutopia, and has been a guest lecturer at various universities. Zak is the founder and director of the Edutopia Academy, an online education program that provides teachers with resources and lessons to help them improve their teaching skills.

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