Slavery's Destruction and the Scars that Create New Identities
"On a cold January night in 1856, eight Northern Kentucky slaves, including 22-year-old Margaret Garner and her four children, crossed the frozen Ohio River en route to Canada and freedom. The next morning, an armed posse of 11 white men, led by Garner's master, Archibald Gaines, surrounded the Cincinnati house where the runaways were hiding. In the melee that followed, Garner murdered her two-year-old daughter and attempted to kill her remaining children." (Goodman) This is the true story behind the classic novel Beloved; a story that is filled with symbols, pain, and sorrow. Each character has their own particular baggage that they carry with them whether it is in the form of a symbol or memory that has forever changed who they are. In this instance they lose their identity and are forced to adapt new ones for better or for worse.
The idea of slavery is most often a brutal one. Stories have been passed down for generations and documented historically showing and telling of the trials and tribulations a slave would have throughout his or her life. Slaves, in many cases, would be bought and sold at markets that resembled cattle auctions that we have today. Placed on stands like hunks of meat the potential buyers would examine them for their size, strength, and assess if the individual was best suited to perform the task at hand, whether that would be picking cotton or plowing fields. This is the first instance where the slave would be stripped of his or her identity because they were viewed as objects and possessions. They didn't care who they were as a person, rather only what they could accomplish.
Once the slave was purchased the owners sometimes branded them to show ownership identifying them as property of the plantation owner they worked for. In Beloved, these branding marks served multiple purposes. For the owners it was identification, but for the parent it was a way for the child to identify them in case the rest of their remains were unidentifiable. Sethe had such a conversation with her mother in which "
she opened up her dress front and lifted her breast and pointed under it. Right on her rib was a circle and a cross burnt right in the skin." (pp. 61) This mark, though unwanted, served as a part of her identity and she uses it as a positive force in her relationship with her daughter. "This is your ma'am. This," and she pointed. "If something happens to me and you can't tell me by my face, you can know me by this mark." (pp 61)
This symbol of identity caused confusion for Sethe, she too wanted a scar, and questioned how her mother might recognize her if they were to be separated. "But how will you know me? How will you know me?" With little else available and the high likelihood of their separation she wanted to have a connecting bond with her mother, one that linked the idea of togetherness even if they were apart. In this case she didn't understand the scar as it applied to the stripping of her mother's identity. She cannot be blamed for this however because she doesn't yet have the knowledge to comprehend the situation she is in. "Mark the mark on me too," she told her mother, but was answered only with a slap on the face reaffirming the negative connotations of the branding as enforced by the majority. "When Sethe says she'd like a similar mark, her mother can only scorn this desire, associating it with her pain and suppression, rather than the more innocent and outreaching yearning for love and connection." (Kansas State) This was Sethe's first realization that branding was an unwanted characteristic, but she later came to understand just what stories scars could tell.
As Sethe's life progressed she worked and had numerous encounters that brought down her sense of self and crippled her for life. She lived much of her life in a system comprised of the oppressors and the oppressed. These forces included schoolteacher, a "cold,...
Cited: Bill Goodman. bookclub@ket features Modern Medea, the true story behind Morrison 's Beloved. Dec. 23, 2002/Apr. 12, 2003. KET Book Club. Apr. 25, 2006
Unknown Author. Scars and Self-Definiton in Beloved. Mar. 22, 2003/Jan. 24, 2004. Kansas State University. Apr. 25, 2006
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