Beloved: Identifying Characters to Gain Understanding

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American cartoonist Berkeley Breathed spoke for many when he said, “I will go to my grave in a state of abject endless fascination that we all have the capacity to become emotionally involved with a personality that doesn't exist.” Toni Morrison must have also had this captivation with characters when writing her novel, Beloved, as she created such extraordinary and passionate characters that bring out many emotions of the reader. The protagonist of Beloved, Sethe, is such a complex part of the story that her character really pushes the audience to the threshold of feelings such as pity, frustration and pleasure. Molly Abel Travis agrees with Morrison to some extent in her article, “Beyond Empathy.” Travis believes one must feel for all characters and their struggles, but argues that the reader must not empathize with Sethe too much or risk losing the impact of the novel. Travis furthers her argument by suggesting that in fact even Morison does not want one to connect too deeply with the main character, and prevents this with a narrative distancing technique. Steven Daniels, however, has conquered Travis’ idea, as he believes in his article that the audience should not identify with Sethe but with Paul D instead. Daniels has made a strong point that Paul D is the character one must relate to if they wish to grasp the novel’s idea as a whole. Morrison’s in-depth side story of Paul D really adds perspective to the life of Sethe and is made clear with the use of imagery, point of view and language. One may argue that Paul D’s character only distracts the reader from feeling what they should for Sethe, but upon closer inspection, Paul D actually brings us closer to understanding Sethe as he plays a dividing role between where she came from and how she came to be.

Beloved sparks from the struggle of African-American slaves and focuses on the attempt to move on from their horrible past. It is difficult for these characters to move forward, especially as Morrison...
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