Looking Into the Self That Is No Self: an Examination of Subjectivity in Beloved

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Toni Morrison realizes the need for our society to forget about slavery. Why, then, did she write something as graphic as Beloved concerning that very subject? Neither the characters in Beloved, society in general, nor Morrison herself wants to remember that awful time. Beloved forces that upon people. The very people they were trying to forget were given a voice through the text. Rather than observed, the enslaved were the protagonists, shown through a mother-daughter bond in a way that is extremely raw and indicative of the bonds needed to overcome.

Beloved portrays the struggle for former slaves to adjust to being as everyone else was. The main question is whether Beloved’s identity is the main catalyst for the shaping of the subjectivity of all the main characters in the novel. Through primal scenes of slave ships, the sheer complexity of her identity and the characters desire for subjectivity, Kirwan examines the partisanship that is developed among the former slaves in Beloved.

A key part of examining this subjectivity lies in its source in the novel, the ‘primal scene,’ that is, to unearth the true identity of Beloved herself. More specifically, the events that shaped Beloved’s psyche and manifested themselves through her outbursts. The eight-page account of her experiences on the slave ship was the most indicative. Kirwan makes the point that the ambiguity of the connection between these accounts and the surrounding circumstances is analogous to the confusion of the slaves during the Middle Passage. She goes on to say that the reader is guided through Morrison’s writing by this comparison, through various phrases such as ‘I am always crouching.’

Beloved is the embodiment of these flashbacks, therefore the subjectivity of those who endured that pain. Kirwan asserts that these thoughts cultivated into her primal scene, pointing out the instance when Beloved was hallucinating after she saw daylight through some cracks and she was pointing...
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