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Themes in Beloved

Beloved by Toni Morrison is the story of the traumas lefts behind by slavery and how it affects their present. There are a variety of themes that builds up the story in the novel.

i} Slavery

Slavery can be regarded as the novel’s central theme. The effects of slavery have touched the lives of each and every character in the story. Their past lives as slaves have caused them life long trauma which have made them lose confidence in themselves. The horrors of slavery have caused Halle go crazy, made Paul D lose hope in life and made Sethe kill her own infant. Sethe killed her baby to save it from living the nightmares of slavery, that she had experienced by herself. By delving into the consciousness of the slaves, Toni Morrison exposes slavery’s dirty legacy beyond its physical impacts. The schoolteacher’s comparison of Sethe to a horse that needed to be tamed exposed the harsh mindset of the whites who treated the Black slaves like animals. Paul D locks his feelings inside a tin box metaphorically to avoid the traumas they cause to his heart. Thus, slavery plays the primary theme of the novel that have shaped the current lives of each and every character.

ii} Memory

Memory or ‘rememory’ is another important theme of the novel. The characters go back in their memory lane to the days of slavery. Morrison uses this technique to compose the entire story. The stories are told by the characters in flashbacks, where they revisit their memory and retell those experiences. The story starts at 124 Bluestone Road in 1873, and most of it takes place at Sweet Home before the Civil War. The real story lies in the past and the characters bring it to the present with the help of their memory. Paul D and Sethe have a bitter history in Sweet Home. When they meet after a long time, they reconnect on the basis of these memories. Hence, memory plays a significant role in constructing the story of Beloved.

iii} Family

Family plays an important role in the story. The bond of family is very fragile and it is very nicely represented in the novel. Slavery has disintegrated families. Children were sold off to plantations at a very young age, being broken apart from their families. Baby Suggs has lived this horror of slavery. She gave birth to nine children, eight of whom were separated from her. However, this did not break her up, instead intensified her relationship with the remaining son Halle. Sethe too revives no memory of her mother, as she was sold off at a young age. Such circumstances have disintegrated the families and also made them realize its true value.

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iv} Motherhood

Motherhood is a sensitive topic that carries the story with an emotional aspect. Slavery has caused a severe impact on the lives of mothers. Baby Suggs had given birth to nine children. However, she was only left with one. The other eight were sold off to the plantations and she lost them forever. Slavery has snatched away precious bonds, especially motherhood. The African slave women seldom got the luxury to celebrate motherhood. Sethe was also raised by another woman when her mother worked in the fields. Therefore, she barely remembers the image of her mother. the most brutal impact of slavery was endured by Sethe who found it easier to kill her children than to watch them grow up and suffer the same atrocities. Even though Sethe’s actions seem contradictory to the purity of motherhood, we can understand the reason behind her actions, if we dig into her state of mind. These women have starved for the luxury of motherhood, and have taken certain actions while being forced in such situations.

v} Grief

Grief is a very prominent and impacting theme. Each character deals with their own grief that is connected to the prime theme of the novel i.e. slavery. Baby Suggs grieves the loss of her children, who were snatched from her and sold off. Later she succumbed to grief and died in her bed. Paul D also almost died from his grief, but learned how to box it up. Denver learned to manage her grief and serves as a symbol of African women managing to succeed post slavery. Sethe has also dealt with her grief of killing her daughter Beloved

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