Question: Beloved is a novel of institutionalized dehumanization- discuss.
Toni Morrison (1931-2019) is a black African-American novelist of the 20th century whose novels show and record the history of African Americans going back to the early time of the 19th century. In the novel “Beloved,” she shows the physical and emotional impact of slavery on African Americans. Morrison reminds the Americans how brutally this slavery dehumanized the slaves in an institutional or legalized way.
Real evidence of pains and sufferings
The novel is set twelve years after the end of the American Civil War. There are nine slaves that work on Sweet Home: Sethe, Paul D, Baby Suggs and her grown son Halle, and the other five slaves. Although all the slaves on Sweet Home are affected by slavery, in the first place, it is Sethe who has to endure and suffer the most pain. Sethe got raped and whipped by the schoolteacher’s nephews and she was treated in such a cruel way that she ultimately was driven to kill her two-year-old daughter. Sethe’s story is based on the real-life story of the slave Margaret Garner.
Rebellion, madness, and death
The story of the novel begins when Paul D, a former slave in Sweet Home, comes to visit Sethe after many years. Sethe and Paul D have not seen each other for eighteen years during which they have tried to bury and suppress their memories of enslavement and its effects. We get information about the past events when Paul D and Sethe talk about their commonly shared past on Sweet Home. The owners of Sweet Home are Mr. and Mrs. Garner. In general, the Garners represent a milder form of white supremacy. The Garners treated their slaves with respect. They asked their slaves for their ideas and allowed them to use rifles for hunting. The slaves on Sweet Home did not have legal or social rights, but the Garners allow them many privileges. Sweet Home was a good place for the slaves when the plantation was run by Mr. and Mrs. Garner.
However, after Mr. Garner’s death, Mrs. Garner invites the schoolteacher to manage the farm. The schoolteacher is an educated person, but he is very cruel. The schoolteacher uses all the means of conventional slavery on the slaves of the plantation. He introduces whipping, torture, humiliation and he dehumanizes slaves. In Beloved schoolteacher is a representative of white supremacy. Changes on Sweet Home started with the schoolteacher’s disapproval of the way the slaves ate and the way they rested: “He complained they ate too much, rested too much, talked too much, which was certainly true compared to him, because schoolteacher ate little, spoke less and rested not at all. The schoolteacher’s attitude toward the slaves is going to have incalculable effects on Sethe as the story in the novel unfolds. The violence in Sweet Home leads to rebellion, madness, and to death of slaves.
The abstract concept of abominable brutality
Morrison wanted to show the reader what happened to the slaves. The slaves who were working at the Sweet Home experienced violence and barbarism. In the novel, Sethe is the character who was extremely affected by the serious circumstances of slavery. She was tortured, raped, and abused. As a result, she tries to flee from the Sweet Home and later drives her two-year-old baby to death. Morrison shows us what it means to live as a slave and what destructive consequences have been brought to the lives of slaves. In the novel, Morrison revives the past and does not want that the reader should have forgotten what happened in African American history.
When Sethe is raped, the schoolteacher observed how her body is exploited. The abuse and the cruel treatment of Sethe’s body are definitely used to show the cruelty of the schoolteacher. However, when Sethe talks with Paul D, she mentions the scars on her back, but she does not talk about the pain she had to endure. We see that what most affected Sethe was not the pain and dehumanization she had to feel, but for her the stolen milk was important. At the time Sethe got whipped she was pregnant and that is why she had milk in her breasts. In the novel, Sethe did not mention or talk about the pain she had to endure, but she mainly focused on the milk that had been taken from her which is vital to feed her baby:
“They used cowhide on you?
And they took my milk.
They beat you and you were pregnant?
And they took my milk!”
Thus, she expresses her deep grief that symbolizes the untold dehumanization of the institutional slavery system.
In conclusion, it is very obvious in the novel that slavery threatens the psychology and spiritual world of individuals and causes horrific and brutal consequences. But it is regrettable that it was legal at that time.