Beloved as a Feminist Novel

Beloved as a Feminist NovelBeloved as a Feminist Novel

A review of other critical material detailing African American hiText and the experience of slavery has enabled the contextualization of Beloved within the historical epoch it belongs to. The liberal feminist framework has been utilized to advance the gender analysis of the social relations in this novel. In addition, the sociological framework has been identified as central to the analysis due to its focus on society. Thus a socio-feminist perspective has been taken as the orientation of the study. Through her thematic concerns, she points out the era of slavery as a key point in time when the lives of black women were interrupted and patriarchy subjugated them.

The female characters are the principal actors in the liberation process. They have taken up the important role of being her mouthpieces. At the same time, she has utilized her stylistic strength, where through the process of active ‘memory, the characters recreate their past through dialogue. American women, a discursive space, where they are able to express their view on the past and present.

In Beloved, Toni Morrison’s narrative is interwoven with the oral tradition of black folktales. Crimes and cruelties abound on the part of victims and victimizers. Yet her narrative style keeps readers glued to the pages and continues reading with empathy for the plight of the characters. In the manner of Magic Realism, the supernatural runs parallel with the realistic description of physical things. Ghosts and humans coexist seamlessly on the same plane. In Beloved, the ghost of Sethe’s murdered baby comes back to haunt her later on in the novel.

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Many readers might want to flip past the pages of the murder scene in which Sethe kills her baby before her master comes to reclaim them. For Sethe, killing her child is unavoidable. Otherwise, they will be stuck forever in the vicious cycle of slavery. In this murder scene, Morrison touches the social stigma with courage.

The scene highlights “motherhood“, a women’s pivotal role. From a feminist perspective, Toni Morrison raises the issue of the personal and the political. Morrison seems to say how slavery distorts women’s lives. Slavery and its dehumanizing power prevent women from performing their sacred roles.

Sethe has to choose between motherhood and her emancipation from slavery. She can’t have both. She has to sacrifice one to have another. In murdering her own child, Sethe is compared to Medea in Greek mythology. Medea is a witch who kills her own children and serves them to her husband. She does this atrocious thing to take revenge on his unfaithfulness. The role of motherhood in society is sacred. Women must nurture their offspring. Women who harm their children are monsters or witches like Medea. These women violate the social order. As Karl Jung said

“myth is nothing but the human collective unconsciousness. Isn’t it the reason why we still have to deal with the controversy over abortion: pro-choice or pro-life?”

In Beloved, is Sethe a bad woman because she murders her own children? Sethe kills them because, for her, slavery is worse than death. She’d rather have her children dead than let them become slaves all their lives. Can her act be called a “mercy killing”? Not so many scenes in literature are more gruesome than Sethe’s murder scene. Sometimes the truth is very, very hard to stomach. Never before in the hiText of American literature has slavery been attacked and shaken to the core like in this novel. Sethe is regarded as a bad woman and a monster because she commits horrible infanticide. However, people take for granted the existence of slavery and deem it a status quo.

Using dramatic irony, Toni Morrison wants readers to step back and think critically about the issue. She wants to make people aware of the dehumanizing slavery. It has the power to distort and destroy the inherent goodness in human nature. Degrading the sacredness of motherhood, slavery brings women down from their pedestals. Nothing can disintegrate human society at its core.

Sethe has no choice but to kill her own children to free them from slavery. For Sethe, she is not a monster. On the contrary, she’s the best mother ever. She will do whatever it takes to protect her children from evil. That is, she saves them from the misery of being in bondage.

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