Representation of slavery in 'Beloved' by Toni Morrison

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Representation of slavery in ‘Beloved’ by Toni Morrison

Those who are unfamiliar with the raw concept of what the institution of slavery was will consider its role in ‘Beloved’ as truly disturbing and psychologically horrifying. In a modern world where slavery has become a distant concept that is virtually non-existent, it no longer has a true identity. In this novel, we are shown how slavery cannot be simply defined as the trade in people, but as the manipulation of their emotions and freedom by others who held power over them. ‘Beloved’ reveals slavery in its purest form, what it really was at its most powerful and how it left former slaves mentally shattered even after it was abolished. The novel is very complex and the theme of slavery works on a number of levels. Within the text, it is rich in historical detail regarding slavery by cataloguing atrocities of slavery, with the purpose of highlighting its harsh reality.

                   Slavery as a theme is explored in ‘Beloved’ through the traumatic experiences of former slaves and despite being physically free, their past continues to haunt them. Through the paraphernalia of slavery in the novel, Morrison is aiming to educate the reader slavery in its totality. Morrison does this through teaching the reader about slavery, almost as a history lesson and by giving it characteristics that tell the reader what it was like. This is the opinion of Carol Rumens from a review in the Times Literary Supplement of October 1987: -

‘Morrison increases our sense of outrage of slavery

by describing the system, initially, not at its most brutal but at its most enlightened.’

This quote further implies that slavery has always been regarded as a mistake of the past but the emphasis on its nature is given definition in ‘Beloved’. Morrison’s aim in doing this is her concern that slavery is in danger of becoming just a word, which has no clear meaning. What Morrison achieves through language and the lives of the characters in the novel, is to allow the reader an insight into the world of slavery.

                   Morrison portrays slavery as an underlying theme in the central story of the novel. This is done through the use of first person narrative throughout the novels many characters. Its use allows the reader to view the lives of these people through their own eyes; how they live and feel their emotions, and thus we too experience slavery. As a result, we view the life of each person and his or her view. This is present in the narrative of the Schoolteacher whose interpretations show how many slave owners felt morally superior to their slaves and justified slavery by believing as if it were natural that blacks were meant to be slaves. Schoolteacher renders them as ‘..creatures God had given you the responsibility of’, but the first person narrative gives the reader the opportunity to contemplate why he believed this. This quote is taken from Schoolteacher’s narrative just as Sethe has murdered Beloved: -

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‘all testimony to the results of

a little so-called freedom imposed on people who needed every care

 and guidance in the world to keep them from the cannibal life they preferred.’

                   By telling the story through a series of first person narratives, Morrison allows the reader to view what happens by how the particular character

interprets them because she wants us to perceive them in a certain way. This is a characteristic of the convention of the omniscient author. Morrison use of the convention of the omniscient ...

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