Why sethes children arent hers Essay

This essay has a total of 686 words and 4 pages.

why sethes children arent hers



Why Sethe’s children weren’t hers

"It is the ultimate gesture of a loving mother. It is the outrageous claim of a slave".
These are the words that Toni Morrison used to describe the actions of the central
character within the novel, Beloved. That character, Sethe, is presented as a former slave
woman who chooses to kill her baby girl rather than allowing her to be exposed to the
physically, emotionally, and spiritually oppressive horrors of a life spent in slavery.
Sethe's action is indisputable: She has killed her child. Sethe's motivation is not so
clearly defined. By killing her "Beloved" child, has Sethe acted out of true love or
selfish pride? The fact that Sethe's act is irrational can easily be decided upon. Does
Sethe kill her baby girl because she wants to save the baby from slavery or does Sethe end
her daughter's life because of a selfish refusal to reenter a life of slavery? By
examining the complexities of Sethe's character it can be said that she is a woman who
chooses to love her children but not herself. Sethe kills her baby because, in Sethe's
mind, her children are the only good and pure part of who she is and must be protected
from the cruelty and the "dirtiness" of slavery. In this respect, her act is that of love
for her children.

Throughout Beloved, Sethe's character consistently displays the duplistic nature of her
actions. Not long after Sethe's reunion with Paul D. she describes her reaction to School
Teacher's arrival. Sethe's words suggest that she has made a moral stand by her refusal to
allow herself and her children to be dragged back into the evil of slavery. From the
beginning, it is clear that Sethe believes that her actions were morally justified. The
peculiarity of her statement lies in her omission of the horrifying fact that her moral
stand was based upon the murder of her child. By not even approaching the subject of her
daughter's death, it is also made clear that Sethe has detached herself from the act.

Sethe's frustration is a product of her contradictory reasoning. She views her children as
an extension of her life that needed to be protected, at any cost. Sethe's concept of
loving and protecting her children becomes synonymous with her killing Beloved and
attempting to kill the rest. Sethe can see no wrong here. Placing her children outside the
horror of slavery, even if it meant taking their lives, was in her mind a justified act of
love, nothing more.

Sethe's problem is rooted in her inability to recognize the boundaries between herself and
her children. Paul D. stabs at the heart of this problem by suggesting that Sethe had
overstepped her boundaries by killing her child.


The concept that Sethe equates her life and self-worth with her connection to her children
is most graphically illustrated in her mad ravings to the reincarnation of "Beloved".
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