Anger in Beloved Essay

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Anger in Beloved

Affect Analysis: Anger in Beloved

Anger, in all its sometimes raw, sometimes subtle, sometimes simple and sometimes
sophisticated glory is an affect, which from the first line of Toni Morrison's Beloved
("124 was spiteful") takes center stage. The true multi-faceted nature of this affect
often goes unrealized because we tend to recognize an emotion through its responses.
Anger, in most minds is married to aggression and violence and we usually only acknowledge
its presence when it is accompanied by these mates. Anger is also often obscured by
specifics on the intensity, justification, and manifestation of the emotional state. For
example, anger is defined as rage when we want to suggest a loss of self-control from
violence of emotion; we use fury when defining an overmastering destructive rage that can
verge on madness; Indignation is used to stress righteous anger at what one considers
unfair, mean, or shameful and the term wrath is employed when we want to suggest a desire
or intent to revenge or punish. The causes of anger such as jealousy, betrayal,
indignation, and resentment are also emotions that further mask this deceptively complex

Under Tomkins' broad, liberating definition of anger, however, anger is both necessarily
general and abstract. It both "fails to inform us of the particularities of its activator"
and "is free to combine with any stimulus" so that the affect is neither limited by its
causes nor its responses. Tomkins also clarifies responses to anger by distinguishing them
into four broad categories. In his 'sculptor model' of anger detailed on p.212-221, he
explains responses to anger as resulting from the nuclear scripts which he labels
celebratory, defensive, counteractive, and reparative. Using these new tools, I hope to
re-examine anger in the context of Beloved and possibly gain new insight into the
characters and the affect along the way. The first instance of anger we come across in
Beloved is perhaps the most clearly identifiable. It is the pure, raw fury of the
'crawling already' baby towards Sethe. It is characterized by uncontrolled violence - the
breaking of mirrors and the thrashing about of furniture and dogs. This response follows a
counteractive script during which an individual who has been terrorized, humiliated, or
distressed attempts to terrorize, humiliate or distress the other. "The negative affects
usually involved in this script are the 'masculine affects' of anger, disgust and
dismell." (Tomkins, p.218). We know that the baby is trying to lash out directly at Sethe,
the perceived cause of her anger. This becomes clearer later in the novel when Beloved
expresses her anger by choking Sethe in the clearing and by dominating and abusing her at
the end of the novel.

The counteractive script is also practiced in a more subtle sense by the whole of the
black community against Baby Suggs and Sethe. Through a complex and interesting irony, the
celebration Baby Suggs plans in honor of her daughter-in-law's safe arrival somehow turns
the community against her. The 90 people who assembled at her house for the feast "ate so
well and laughed so much, it made them angry." (Morrison, p.137). Their collective
indignation that Baby Suggs and her kin, who suffered less than they, should be allowed so
much is so powerful, its "scent lay heavy in the air". It was in response to this anger,
Stamp Paid later explains on p.156, that the community chose not to warn anyone in 124
that the four strange white men with "the look" were approaching. They responded to their
anger by directly revenging the perceived source of their anger. It is interesting to note
here that the counteractive script response is represented by a baby and a mass group.
This seems fitting as the counteractive script is the most instinctual, and most primitive
response to anger - a response that precedes the ability to distill the "baby's venom" of
spite through the machinations of individual personality and experience.

We easily recognize this anger because we are used to viewing anger as a prima donna - an
entity complete with a temperamental and aggressive nature and fits of violence. We are
well acquainted with raw anger - the pure "spite" that induces physical revenge, though we
may be less familiar with other outlets of anger. The celebratory response to anger is one
that results from an inability, either of will or position, to react physically to the
perceived victimizer. In this response, the victim chooses rather to lash out against the
source of the anger mentally by reversing the roles of the victim and the victimizer in

One example of this occurs on p.19 of Beloved when Howard and Buglar, angry and frightened
by their mother's attempt to kill them as youngsters, cluster together on the white stairs
and make up " die witch! stories with proven ways of killing her dead." Though in real
life they are bound to their mother through family ties and are unable to act out
violently towards her, in their stories they are free to exact revenge in any way they
please. Thus in this case, imagination provides an alternative, feasible outlet for their

Similarly, when Paul D is bound (through actual chains instead of family ties) from acting
out violently towards his captors in the prison in Alfred, Georgia, he along with the rest
of the chain gang members, also follows a recasting script. Coincidentally, Tomkins uses
the example of slavery when describing the subtleties of this particular response to
anger. On p. 208 he says:

If I had been a black American slave on a southern plantation, feeling the pain of the
lash of the whip, I might have wanted to express my anger in kind or to repay the debt in
full and then some, or beyond that to kill the oppressor for all past suffering and to
ensure freedom for the future. This would have entailed my own death, but I could have
responded in an imagined scene in which vengeance is fully and richly taken and
celebrated. And such fantasies could have led to sharing such possibilities through
knowing glances with fellow victims who had also suffered the lash of the whip.

This of course is precisely the course the prisoners take while they beat the rocks in
Alfred. They channel their anger by "singing it out and beating it up", though it is not
just the 'pain of the lash of the whip' that they are revenging when "they killed a boss
so often and so completely that they had to bring him back to life to pulp him one more
time." (Morrison, p.109). Killing a boss in imagination is the only way they could fight
against rape, humiliation, and abuse from their captors, and the complete hopelessness of
escape. The idea that such songs could be sung out loud, that such possibilities could be
'shared' as Tomkins suggests is also significant. The shared fantasy is also a way of
binding the chain gang together and the songs they sang while beating "rocks, women,
children and bosses" is probably

partially responsible for their joint escape from Alfred after the flood. But the
recasting response usually works best when the anger and hatred are the only feelings one
has towards the cause of the anger and the hatred. When other emotions are added to the
mix, such as jealously or resentment, the response becomes a bit more complicated. The
response to resentment, defined in Webster's dictionary as " a feeling of indignant
displeasure of persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult or injury" is
a deliciously complex reaction. Unsatisfied by Tomkins celebratory script nor his
counteractive one, resentment initiates a response of its own. Whereas the counteractive
script is usually employed when direct violent retaliation to angering stimulus is both
desirable and possible and the celebratory script is used when such retaliation is
desirable but not possible, jealousy and resentment are causes of an anger which do not
necessarily desire violent retaliation even though it may be possible. This illogical
emotion - this anger without complete justification - creates a mixture of feelings within
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