Beloved: A Historical Healing
Toni Morrison’s Beloved reconceptualizes American history. In her novel, Morrison tells a story of the struggles of a newly freed black mother who becomes a slave to her own internal captivity. Beloved differs from conventional textbook history because it presents the firsthand thoughts and experiences of African American ex-slaves. By giving these slaves a voice in her novel, Morrison resists and subverts the Euro American discourse that has concealed the horrible crimes of the atrocious institution of slavery (Farshid 303). More importantly, however, Morrison’s novel acts as a healing process for both the nation and the affected individuals by restoring the African American identity destroyed by over two hundred years of slavery.
Morrison’s Beloved is directly paralleled with the real life story of a slave woman named Margaret Garner who had escaped with her husband, four children and two other slaves from a Southern plantation in 1856. After being captured under the law of the Fugitives (that allowed the Southern slave owners to claim their properties all over the country, even as fugitives in the North), Garner tried to kill all of her children to hinder slave catchers from taking possession of them, but was apprehended after killing her two year old daughter. She was convicted to a jail sentence for the destruction of property (the slave child), rather than for terminating the life of a human being (304). As opposed to focusing on the widespread white aggression during the time, Morrison’s novel describing the external and internal conflicts of a slave mother named Sethe demonstrates that the psychological effects of slavery on the African American community were much more destructive than even the worst physical pain.
Written as a text that can coexist as part ghost story, part historical novel, part slave narrative, and part love story, Morrison is able to uproot the traumatic lives of African slaves who have been kept “voiceless” throughout American history due to the widespread white oppression since the Reconstruction era (Malmgren 96). In chilling and graphic detail, the novel condenses the experience of African Americans before, during, and after the Civil War, which enables its reader to experience American slavery as it was lived by those who were its objects of exchange (97). By implementing symbolism as a narrative strategy, Morrison successfully unearths the atrocious history of slavery that “runs beneath” most official records of history. In doing so, Morrison highlights the African American community’s ability to cope with its self-destructive racial past to reclaim its selfhood. Through her use of symbolism, Morrison indirectly depicts how white oppression caused the loss of the African American voice, but also demonstrates the African American community’s ability to deal with these traumas to reclaim its voice.
Morrison uses the symbol of a “veil” to represent the dominant white society taking away the voice from African Americans. Since the Reconstruction period, black Americans were forced behind this veil as the white voice was the only one heard. According to W.E.B. DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folks “The American Negro, ‘born with a veil,’ can achieve ‘no true self-consciousness’ but can only ‘see himself through the revelation of the other world’”(15) Morrison explicitly recognizes this veil by stating that slaves narrators, ‘shaping the experience to make it palatable’ for white readers, dropped a ‘veil’ over ‘their interior life’(Rody 97). This veil represents the unwavering ideologies of white oppression that have been exercised throughout American history to conceal the horrible crimes of slavery. In Beloved, Morrison uses this veil as a symbol of her distrust of white dialogue through Paul D’s reaction to seeing Stamp Paid’s newspaper clip describing the account of Sethe’s murder. Paul D denies the authenticity of Sethe’s picture by repeatedly saying,...
Cited: Du Bois, W.E.B., and Nathan Irvin Huggins. Writings. New York: Library of America, 1986. 9-23. Print.
Farshid, Sima. "Foucauldian Archaeology of Slavery In Morrison 's Beloved." International Journal Of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences 5.4 (2010): 303-310.Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 May 2013.
Malmgren, Carl D. "Mixed Genres And The Logic Of Slavery In Toni Morrison 's Beloved." Critique 36.2 (1995): 96. Academic Search Complete. Web. 23 Apr. 2013.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved: A Novel. New York: Knopf, 1987. Print.
Rody, Caroline. "Toni Morrison 's Beloved: History, 'Rememory, ' and a 'Clamour for a Kiss. '" American Literary History 7.1 (1995): 92-119.
I referenced http://owl.english.purdue.edu/ to properly cite sources.
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