Infanticide and Mother- Daughter Relationship in Toni Morison's Beloved

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Infanticide and Mother- Daughter Relationship in Toni Morison’s Beloved * Dr. (Mrs) Monika Gupta Reader, Dept. of English H.N.B.Garhwal University, Srinagar (Garhwal) Uttarakhand, 246174-India e-mail-

Beloved (1987) is Morrison’s most sensitive novel till date. It deals with the forgotten era of slavery and the pathos of black slaves. The most striking element is the heart wrenching story of a black female slave, Sethe, who kills her own daughter to protect her from the horror of slavery. Morrison has always excelled in creating her female characters. Her novels show a deep sense of bonding between the female characters. In Beloved, the female bonding and the multiple layer of meaning in their relationship makes the story emotionally appealing and it is the story that, “…penetrates perhaps more deeply than any historical or psychological study could, the unconscious emotional and psychic consequences of slavery” (Schapiro 194). The story touches the social, psychological, philosophical and supernatural element of human life.

Sethe is the heroine of the story. She is a black slave who lost her mother at a very early age. She was brought to the Sweet Home Plantation as a slave where she marries Halle Suggs and bears four children from him. She suffers the most inhumane treatment at the plantation by the white masters. She is whipped mercilessly and milked like a cow. The whites, “…sucked her lactating breasts” (Peach 109). This incident traumatizes Sethe to an extent that she decides to run away from the plantation. She gathers all her courage and escapes to take refuge in the house of her mother-in-law at 124 Bluestone Road. She is soon traced and finding no hopes for freedom takes the most horrific step of killing her own daughter to show resistance towards slavery. She is imprisoned for seven years for her crime and later secluded by the community and declared an outcast. Her own family deserts her. Her two sons escape the situation, Baby Suggs eventually dies and her daughter Denver withdraws herself from her mother.

2 The story of Sethe is a true story of Margaret Garner, a slave who in January 1856 escaped from her owner of Kentucky, crossed the Ohio River and attempted to find refuge in Cincinnati. But when caught by the owners she looses all hopes of freedom, and kills one of her daughters with the butcher’s knife. But Morrison has beautifully developed this true story with the background of slavery. The slave women have always suffered a lot at the hand of both black and white men. They were robbed of every possession – even their motherhood. Mothering and motherhood were denied, as black women were regarded as breeding stock only. Since the rights offered to the black women were negligible therefore she did not stand at the position of a decision maker. Sethe was not supposed to love her children. That is why Sethe’s act of destroying her own creation becomes the subject of controversies. Whether a mother has a right to stop the heartbeats of her child or is it a crime to put an innocent life to end? Such questions resonate in the entire story. American public considered Margaret Garner and other slave mothers who killed their children, criminal. There have been numerous examples in the American history where mothers have killed their infants to remove the extra burden on them. For instance, Mary Montgomery escaped the plantation with her child but when she found it difficult to escape with a baby in tow, she left, “her sucking infant behind to die” (Drew 49). Infanticide was a punishable offence and Sethe and her real life counterpart had to face harsh consequences of the crime.

Economic reasons more than any others had led to the killing of infants in the slavery era and have continued to exert an unfortunate influence even down to our own day. The African - American setup is the example where economic factors led to the sorrowful phase of the Black community. Infanticide,...
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