Analysis on the image of Sethe in Beloved
In the novel Beloved, Toni Morrison stressed on the spirit world of the female
protagonist Sethe. According to the literature theory about the image-kind grouping, this thesis considered the image of Sethe was a typical mental-kind image. Though the author less described Sethe’s appearance and acts, she displayed her lonely endurant and motherly suffering heart exquisitely and movingly.
A. the appearance of vagueness and prettiness
Morrison less described the image of each character of this novel including the female protagonist-Sethe, but the reader still can perceive the prettiness of her. It is because the author uses multiple perspective narration method which varies among narrators to describe Sethe’s prettiness. Morrison dexterously describes her beauty
from other characters’ words.
Halle's girl —the one with iron eyes and backbone to match. He had never seen her hair in Kentucky. And though her face was eighteen years older than when last he saw her, it was softer now. Because of the hair. A face too still for comfort; irises the same color as her skin, which, in that still face, used to make him think of a mask with mercifully punched out eyes. Halle's woman. (Beloved, p.10)
When 13, Sethe was bought by the owner of “Sweet home”—Mr. Garner as a gift to
his wife. From that time she knew Paul D. and her ‘iron eyes’ had marked on Paul’s mind ever since. Even after eighteen years, through Paul D’s eyes, the polished eyes of Sethe still blink to him. The eighteen years’ hardships and eighteen years’
determination, this shining eyes and calm appearance are exactly reflecting the beauty of Sethe and inner perseverance and endure.
For twenty-five years, Paul D. had been imaging that nothing could be as good as the sex with Sethe. From the emotional regrets of Paul D, we can further find the beauty of Sethe.
His foolishness made him smile and think fondly of himself as he turned over on his side, facing her. Sethe's eyes were closed, her hair a mess. Looked at this way, minus the polished eyes, her face was not so attractive. So it must have been her eyes that kept him both guarded and stirred up. Without them her face was manageable –a face he could handle. Maybe if she would keep them closed like that ... But no, there was her mouth. Nice. Halle never knew what he had. (Beloved,
The beauty of Sethe also left on the memory of Stamp paid. How he recalled the things that have been about Sethe:
that let them stand aside, or not pay attention, or tell themselves somebody else was probably bearing the news already to the house on Bluestone Road where a pretty woman had been living for almost a month. Young and deft.
……… eighteen years ago, that while he and Baby Suggs were looking the wrong way, a pretty little slavegirl had recognized a hat, and split to the woodshed to kill her children.
Through this text and other people’s eyes, the readers can sense the beauty of Sethe and catch the image of vagueness and prettiness of the protagonist.
B. a painful spirit full of motherhood, resilience and friendlessness Totally different from the terse and vague description of Sethe’s face, Morrison uses tremendous words to describe colorfully and deftly the spirit of her characters in Beloved, because her works are exploring the inside world of people, speaking out the pain and grief, endurance and rebellion, hope and yearning of black people and writing down the history of their spirit.
a. pain and motherhood
Pain and motherhood are two main axes which could not wave away from Sethe’s
mind. After leaving Sweet Home for eighteen years, even everything became bygone, Sethe’s mind was still full of pain. This pain came from the memory of her being a slave, from the regrets and contradiction of killing her own daughter, from the incapability to love, and from the solitary life isolated by her black community. The wound of flesh can be healed but the trauma can not be eliminated.
Sethe conceived Denver to escape from Sweet Home alone, and made her way to Cincinnati, Ohio to meet her mother-in-law Baby Suggs and the other three children. With the help of a white girl Amy, and a black man Stamp Paid, she delivered her baby Denver alongside Ohio River and was able to cross the river to 124 Blue Stone road where Baby Suggs and children awaited but only to find that she had twenty-eight days free before slave owner School Teacher’s hot pursuit. She made up her mind to put them in the hands of God—to take life of them. She could only
kill one baby girl, later named ‘Beloved’, who just learned to crawl. Seethe was put
to jail with her new born baby Denver and was pardoned three months later by the effort of white men and other people. She made effort to forget the past, not touched the pain and threw herself to the work to ‘beat back the past’. However,
she was still surrounded by gigantic pain and tangled by inner contradiction, self-reproach and regret. The spirit of Beloved who craved for mother’s love and occupied 124 permanently reminded Sethe of what she had done. Finally, Sethe had a conclusion that the past wouldn’t vanish.
Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it's not. Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it's gone, but the place--the picture of it--stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world. What I remember is a picture floating around out there outside my head. I mean, even if I don't think it, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there. Right in the place where it happened."
So, Denver, you can't never go there. Never. Because even though it's all over--over and done with--it's going to always be there waiting for you. That's how come I had to get all my children out. No matter what."
The maternity of Sethe was also the source of her pain. Pain and maternity were intertwined. The painful slavery forcefully twisted Sethe’s maternity and cruelly deprived of the right of maternity. Paul D. said that you could not love big thing as you were a slave, so you should protect yourself to love small thing and the key to survival is not becoming too attached to anything. Ella also said that if I were asked, I would answer “love nothing”. The maternal love of Sethe strongly increased her pain. After killing Beloved, she could only struggle in the endless pain, remorse, and contradiction. She deeply comprehended that unless one was carefree, maternity could be fatal. Brutality is the blast of maternity under desperation.
In order to have a name engraved on the headstone of her daughter, this poor penniless mother gave a sex favor to a mason for ten minutes. She regretted later that if ‘with another ten could she have gotten "Dearly" too? She had not thought to ask him and it bothered her still that it might have been possible--that for twenty minutes, a half hour, say, she could have had the whole thing, every word she heard the preacher say at the funeral (and all there was to say, surely) engraved on her baby's headstone: Dearly Beloved’. This was heartbroken maternity and also great
and holy and immaculate.
When Beloved came to life again, the maternity of Sethe turned into an irrational and self-lost maternity. It was then, when Beloved finished humming, that Sethe recognized that Beloved came back because that melody was especially made for her children by herself and only her children could hum. “Nobody knows that song but
me and my children.” Sethe went to bed smiling that night. “if her daughter could
come back home from the timeless place--certainly her sons could, and would, come back from wherever they had gone to.” Despite Paul D left her, she had Denver and
Beloved in the house. Sethe thinks “Whatever is going on outside my door ain't for
me. The world is in this room. This here's all there is and all there needs to be.” “For
the first time, she was going to be late for work.”
Seethe lost her job for being late to work too many times, but she spent “thirty-eight dollars of life savings to feed themselves with fancy food and decorate themselves with ribbon and dress good and to buy yellow ribbon, shiny buttons and bits of black lace.”
In the very teeth of winter and Sethe, her eyes fever bright, was plotting a garden of vegetables and flowers--talking, talking about what colors it would have. She played with Beloved's hair, braiding, puffing, tying, oiling it until it made Denver nervous to watch her.
Sethe made all efforts to compensate Beloved—the lost and retrieved daughter.
Then the mood changed and the arguments began. Slowly at first.
A complaint from Beloved, an apology from Sethe. A reduction of pleasure at some special effort the older woman made. Wasn't it too cold to stay outside? Beloved gave a look that said, So what? Was it past bedtime, the light no good for sewing? Beloved didn't move; said, "Do it," and Sethe complied. She took the best of everything--first. The best chair, the biggest piece, the prettiest plate, the brightest ribbon for her hair, and the more she took, the more Sethe began to talk, explain, describe how much she had suffered, been through, for her children………
……….Listless and sleepy with hunger Denver saw the flesh between her mother's forefinger and thumb fade……
Sethe loved all her children; sons-the strayed, Beloved-the lost and retrieved and Denver-the interdependent are all her concern and unloadable. She loves them over herself, over her life and over anything in this world. And this overloading maternity becomes a repeated regret and pain.
b. unyieldingness and solitariness
When Sethe conceived Denver, and bore with the new cowhide wound to escape, we knew how sturdy a woman she was. With the obstinacy and willpower of maternity, she finally broke out from siege and reunion her children at 124 Bluestone Road. In Denver’s mind, her mother was always a composed mother and a calm, queen-like woman. Never look askance. Dare to face any kind of calamity and hardship.
When Paul D waited outside the beer garden where Sethe worked for and decided to confess to her the truth about what had happened between Beloved and him in the kitchen, keeping room and storeroom for the last three weeks, Morrison wrote as follows:
She stopped then and turned her face toward him and the hateful wind. Another woman would have squinted or at least teared if the wind whipped her face as it did Sethe's. Another woman might have shot him a look of apprehension, pleading, anger even, because what he said sure sounded like part one of Goodbye, I'm gone.
So, when Paul D. “saw the diminished expectation in her eyes, the melancholy without blame, he could not say it. He could not say to this woman who did not squint in the wind, "I am not a man."” Words failed him at that moment.
Through this detailed description about Sethe, Morrison revealed that she was tough, although she did have torture, melancholy and pain in her life.
Because of Sethe killing her baby and because of 124 Bluestone Road being a haunted house, full of a baby’s venom, people made a detour of this house from afar. And also because of her ‘arrogance’, highly raising her head and beckoning to nobody after pardoning, she had no friends. “Those twenty-eight happy days were
followed by eighteen years of disapproval and a solitary life.” It was because when
Baby Suggs died and Denver was still a little girl, Sethe faced hardship and endured tremendous pain alone so when Paul D. showed up suddenly eighteen years later, she felt an irresistible impulse to him.
"You can't leave right away, Paul D. You got to stay awhile."
"You could stay the night, Paul D."
"Won't you stay on awhile? Can't nobody catch up on eighteen years in a day." (Beloved p.8, 10, 14)
The reiterate urge toward Paul D. for staying longer was the inner call of Sethe and solitary which was revealed unknowingly. What she needed Paul D. was not only physically but also mentally, especially in her solitary condition. When Paul, “ Behind
her, bending down, his body an arc of kindness, he held her breasts in the palms of his hands………………. He rubbed his cheek on her back and learned that way her sorrow, the roots of it; its wide trunk and intricate branches. Raising his fingers to the hooks of her dress, he knew without seeing them or hearing any sigh that the tears were coming fast. ………What she knew was that the responsibility for her breasts, at last, was in somebody else's hands.”
It implies that finally Sethe finds again the dependence of spirit at that moment. Someone is going to share her loneliness and pain. Someone can create a new life with her.
By using many pathetic details, Morrison takes care of even the smallest points to display the tiny tremble of Sethe’s spirit and let the readers hear her sigh, whoop and
whisper to her children.
Seethe can be not only an image of a mother, but also a representative of her own mother, Baby Suggs, Ella and many other black mothers in our real life. Under the slavery, they are treated as a reproductive tool and deprived of free and the right of maternal love. Morrison writes down the cruelty of slavery which brings injury to black people without embellishment. Even they break away the chains, the bitter experience still shackle their spirit. Morrison digs deeply the spirit trauma by this book.