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Beloved by Toni Morrison: A Novel Review


Published in 1987, Beloved by Toni Morrison became one of her most well-known novels, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. This work is extremely powerful at evoking a wide range of emotions; it balances fear, hate, tension, desire, and love, which can take many forms, including maternal, physical, and abstract liberation. While characters in this novel display different feelings and reasons for their actions, it can be argued that Sethe’s motherly love is one of the strongest and most controversial motives.

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The Main Themes of the Novel and Women in Slavery

Morrison’s narrative touches on different topics, which include slavery, history, grief, shame, and love. Not only is the work notable for its lyrical language, suspense, and mystery, but also its multi-perspective approach. This allows the reader to experience the events through the characters’ eyes. The endless struggles and torments of Denver, Sethe, Beloved, Paul D., and Baby Suggs are thought-provoking and shocking for the reader. The fact that women and their specific challenges dominate the novel’s storyline is remarkable as well. The novel exposes readers to the extreme difficulties enslaved women had to live through, losing their children, husbands, their own bodies and lives.

Sethe’s Character and Storyline

Sethe, the main character of Beloved, falls within that pattern since she is a black woman and an enslaved person. These factors shape her whole life, constantly threatening to ruin it. However, the most important factor in her life is being a mother. This is one of the novel’s core themes, and the action eventually reveals why. As long as Mr. Garner was the owner of Sweet Home, Sethe and the other enslaved people lived a rather pleasant existence. Things start to change when a schoolteacher takes over the property (Morrison 3). The Schoolteacher wields not just physical but also psychological brutality in their reign. Enslaved people are no longer humans but rather animals in every way. When Sethe overhears Schoolteacher telling his children to write down Sethe’s “animal qualities” as well as her “human features,” this is clarified (Morrison 15). One of the reasons Sethe resolves to leave Sweet Home is the horrifying realization that Schoolteacher regards her as subhuman; hence, she must prove her humanity to whites.

Sethe’s Challenges as a Mother

First and foremost, having a child was not a given for enslaved women. An enslaved person’s child was generally regarded as an increase in the slave-wealth holder’s (since human beings were considered property), and this already demonstrates the consequences: the mother could only care for her child (if it survived) for a short time before it was either sold or forced to work, both of which meant separation from the mother (Ferguson 4). The hardest part was that the mother understood what a slave went through and could not save her kid. Sethe’s fate depicts the possible outcomes of a mother’s desperation in such a predicament. Her desperation and powerlessness drove her to murder her daughter. The question of whether she did this because of or despite the love for her child is difficult to answer.

Second, the infant serves as a catalyst for Sethe’s escape. Slavery has completely dictated Sethe and Halle’s fate, making an everyday existence with normal demands and joys look utopian. They can’t watch their children grow up happy, and they can’t provide them with education, family life, or anything else we identify with “normalcy.” Sethe understands that nothing is worse for her children than slavery, which is associated with losing dignity, liberty, and control over one’s own body (Mohammed 8). Thus, it is Sethe’s maternal instinct that pushes her to take the risk, and it is her motherhood that makes freedom so important. Instinctive and unconditional, mother love surpasses all her other feelings and fears, and forces Sethe to make a life-altering decision: the murder of Beloved.

Sethe’s Motives and Self-Sacrifice

Sethe is described as a devoted but inexperienced mother whose willingness to do anything for her children appears to go beyond death. Therefore, this analysis supports the argument that Sethe’s mother love is the foundation for her conduct. This assumption can be confirmed, for example, by the episode in which Sethe pays for the carving of Beloved’s gravestone with her body. “The finest thing she was, was her children,” she says, expressing her belief that there is something worth suffering for (Morrison 34). “Whites may have soiled her (…), but not her greatest thing, her lovely, wonderful best thing – the clean part of her” (Morrison 34). Thus, Sethe’s powerlessness and willingness to self-sacrifice are reflected in the fact that she barters her body to the stonemason as a last resort.

Sethe perceives herself as inferior to her children; thus, it is only natural for her to put herself in harm’s way for them. This is undoubtedly a factor that influenced her decision to murder Beloved. This action makes Sethe an outsider, a criminal, and even an outlaw in the black society. As a result, this conduct was both self-sacrificing and self-seeking. “Your love is too thick,” says Paul D., summarizing what was going on in Sethe’s head at the time (Mohammed 8). Sethe appears to put her and her children’s chances of having a free and joyful life together ahead of her horror of the life she lived previously.

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Sethe as a Victim

In the novel, Sethe is shown as a victim, with her hardships revealed and her actions becoming more understandable. Although she had murdered her child, the readers empathize with her (Ferguson 4). This act is seen as rebellious resistance to slavery rather than a merciless crime. It can be stated that none of the characters have suffered from the death of Beloved more than Sethe herself (Cullhed). Her past, represented by the ghost of her daughter, haunts her until the end.


Morrison challenges the American belief that “all men are created equal”, written in the Declaration of Independence. She shows how enslaved people worked, fought, and even died for natural human rights, such as freedom, the pursuit of happiness, or even the recognition that they are people. Multi-perspective views of the lives of the slaves in their daily lives before, during, and after their escape into freedom are described through Sethe’s narrative. Her instinctive mother love forced her to commit the most terrible of crimes. However, because of Morrison’s exceptional writing talents, readers can see and understand Sethe’s motives. She loved her children so much that she was ready to do anything to prevent them from living the same life she had and from going through the same torments. In her novel, Morrison managed to demonstrate how the horrors of one’s painful past and suffering in slavery never ceased to haunt them. Sethe’s story is an example of that, as killing her children was what she had to do to save them from slavery.

Works Cited

Cullhed, Sigrid Schottenius. “Procne in Toni Morrison’s Beloved.” Classical Receptions Journal 14.1 (2022): 89-103. Web.

Ferguson, Rebecca. History, Memory and Language in Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Routledge, 2017. Web.

Mohammed, Mahameed. “The Impact of Slavery in Toni Morrison’s Beloved: From the Communal to the Individual.” International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature 7.6 (2018): 48-51. Web.

Morrison, Toni. “Beloved. 1987.” New York: Vintage (2004). Web.

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