Friday, September 6, 2019

Motherhood and slavery Essay Example for Free

Motherhood and slavery Essay As a capable black woman and as a mother, Sethe feels obligated to provide Beloved, whether her daughter or not, a bed to sleep in and somebody there not worrying you to death about what you got to do each day to deserve it (Beloved 67-68). Therefore, her job as mother, as caretaker, as life-giver and life-maintainer is never-ending, and because it is never-ending, it has the potential to take her to her grave. Beyond that, Sethe fears losing Beloved before she can make her understand that worse than killing her own daughter, —far worse—was what Baby Suggs died of what Ella knew, what Stamp saw and what made Paul D tremble. (Beloved 251). Although not entirely true, for Sethes best thing is herself, the one thing about herself that she values, that slavery has not taken away from her is motherhood. This, for Sethe, is maintaining a mental survival for her children, preventive medicine for the ills of slavery. As Kubitschek notes, On the plantations black womens nurturance—from the physical (nursing milk) to the metaphysical (energy and patience)—is used up primarily in working fields and tending white children (166). But for Sethe, who was able to have her children with her, the major means of protecting children from slavery is to value them and to communicate this value to them (Kubitschek 166). This is a sacrifice Sethe and many mothers, traditional and nontraditional, are more than willing to make. This becomes especially painful in part two of the novel. When Sethe thinks about Beloved and her own actions, she says she will explain it all to Beloved, reflecting, How if I hadnt killed her she would have died and that is something I could not bear to happen to her Ill tend her as no mother ever tended a child, a daughter. Nobody will ever get my milk no more except my own children (Beloved 200). Here we can see transforming and destereotyping potential of Sethes actions. She goes on thinking of how she will change, how she can mother now as a free woman. In this case, it is as if Sethe must be a nontraditional, unstereotypical mother in order to accomplish the traditional mothering role she wants to attain. She also reflects on her faults when Beloved returns, how she was distracted by Paul D and should not have been. But it is at this point that she demonstrates the difference between man and woman, between father and mother. Kubitschek argues that In the twilight area of an illegal freedom, Sethe has immediately, upon being summoned back to slavery, acted on a slave definition of mothering: presence is all (167). Being together, even if dead together, was enough. Presence is all. Lucille Fultz cites Marsha Darlings interview with Morrison in which Morrison asserts: Under the theatrical conditions of slavery, if you made that claim that you are the mother of these children you were claiming the right to say something about what happens to them. Morrison terms Sethes commitment to her children an excess of maternal feeling, a total surrender. This surrender is configured in Sethes desire to protect her daughter from the ills she suffered as a female slave. (40) Sethe takes her protection of her children one step further. Fultz contends that Through desire and knowledge Sethe achieves subjectivity for herself and her children. She refuses to subscribe to the system that treats her and her family as objects (38). She especially needs to make up to Beloved, perhaps because she killed her, or perhaps because the death separated them as Sethe had been separated from her own maam. Kubitschek asserts, Still defining motherhood as keeping her children with her, Sethe cannot reject the ghosts presence (167). Perhaps it is more a loss of a time component than the actual murder component that Sethe regrets. Thus, because she spent so little time with her own mother, she must spend as much time with her daughters as possible, which leads to their month of playing together. Morrison visually paints their month, noting the star-loaded sky, sweet milk, string puzzles in afternoon light, shadow pictures in the gloaming, a garden of vegetables and flowers (Beloved 240). All of this serves Sethes purpose until Beloved decides it is not enough, and Denver realizes that her mother could die and leave them both and what would Beloved do then? (Beloved 243). Beloved has no life of her own, no name, and never did. She was never called anything but the crawling already? girl and Beloved as her gravestone marked her. Not a name to cling to. Morrison tells us that Everybody knew what she was called, but nobody anywhere knew her name (Beloved 274) because she is a representation of life, many lives, but does not get the opportunity to live her own. She can be the woman during the Middle Passage; she can be the woman in slavery; she can be the woman who escaped slavery; and she is all of these. She embodies each and every woman of the African American motherline and is also linked to Sethes own mother who, like the murdered granddaughter, remains nameless (OReilly 86, 87). But as a result, she is never herself. Morrison poetically crosses three generations of women, who learn and demonstrate survival skills, in a very matriarchally religious trinity—mother: Sethes mother; daughters: Sethe and eventually Denver; and holy ghost: Beloved. Each fights for survival of herself, and of future generations through different means. Sethes mother rebels and is hanged, but impresses upon her daughter what truly matters—the self and a sense of connection with ones own matrilineal line. Sethe escapes slavery with her children and is willing to kill them so that they may survive maintaining their natural selves. Beloved is reincarnated. This is her survival, but it also leads to Denvers ability to survive on her own, which further protects and preserves the potential for future generations. Essentially, all these women can fight for survival at this point in the novel because there is a sense of belonging, of necessity. Sethe gives herself inherence when she places complete necessity on herself for the responsibility of her children. Morrison describes Sethe as a free woman, as a free mother, writing, Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another (Beloved 95). But that is what Sethe is able to do. In the Clearing, she claims herself. At this point, she is finally able to attach herself to the self that she can create. As a result, she can also, hi her mother role, help begin to claim selfhood for those around her. Thus, she returned to 124, opened the door, walked in and locked it tight behind her and when Sethe locked the door, the women inside were free at last to be what they liked, see whatever they saw and say whatever was on their minds (Beloved 198, 199). This is all part of Sethes role as mother. She defends others, her own girls especially, with her whole body, her whole home. Yet, the one thing she does not immediately understand or establish for herself, until Paul D makes her realize it, is that Beloved, her crawling already?girl, was not her best thing. Sethe is a woman destined for survival early on because of the actions she takes and the decisions she makes as a mother, but she cannot see her personal value beyond powerful motherhood until the end, when she is a free woman: free of slavery, free of Beloved, beginning to be free of the past, free of the blame of murdering her daughter to save her, and free of the blame of making the ink schoolteacher used to assess their animal characteristics and measurements (Beloved 271). Then and only then does she fully comprehend the destereotyped notion of best thing as herself. Redefining motherhood for herself, Sethe also redefines the foundation of humanity. By making her character commit that horrible act, Toni Morrison asks her reader: is the inhumanity in Sethe’s killing of the baby or is it in the horrible system that drives her to commit this act? Playing with the reader’s mind, Morrison dislocates scenes of the slaves’ beating that are prevalent in narratives of slavery. For the image of the master holding the stick, she substitutes that of the slave committing a violent act on her own child. From now on the slave is given the opportunity to have a voice. Why murder her baby? With this infanticide, Sethe’s writing of history undermines the ideology that founded the white masters. This ideology, based on a racial and gendered duality, locates humanity within the white race. It is this vision and appropriation of humanity that Morrison attacks. If humanity lies in the empowerment of the white man who engages in a violent exploitation of the non-white, driving the latter to kill her child, where does inhumanity stand?

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