The Motif of Eyes in Toni Morrison's Beloved

Topics: Emotion, Love, Slavery in the United States Pages: 3 (1048 words) Published: April 29, 2012
For the characters in Beloved, love is a dangerous emotion, causing them to rely on their eyes, a recurrent motif of the novel, to translate messages of longing, need, and love. As time passes and the characters’ relationships are developed, Morrison creates a clear distinction between emptiness and infinite expression in the eyes of Belove. In Beloved, to see is to love, and to be loved is to be seen.

The most powerful and overbearing love present is the one that Beloved feels for Sethe, evident in the descriptions of her eyes as infinite when she looks at Sethe. When Beloved arrives at 124, she is immediately taken in and cared for by Denver. However, as much as Denver tries to focus Beloved’s attention on her, Beloved’s eyes invariably settle on Sethe. Morrison personifies Beloved’s eyes: “Stooping to shake the damper, or snapping sticks for kindlin, Sethe was licked, tasted, eaten by Beloved’s eyes” (68). Beloved’s eyes become a mouth, figuratively eating Sethe up as she gazes. Not only does Morrison use three verbs, emphasizing the commitment of Beloved’s eyes, but she also sets a familiar scene, hinting at the fact that this action of Beloved’s happens often. “Stooping to shake the damper, or snapping sticks for kindlin,” are everyday actions, with the verbs conjugated in a tense that allows them to be timeless. Sethe has stooped and snapped, and she will again in the future, just as Beloved will continue to lick, taste, and eat Sethe with her eyes as long as Sethe is in her presence. Beloved stays at 124 because of Sethe. She explains to Denver that “‘[Sethe] is the one. She is the one I need. You can go but she is the one I have to have.’ Her eyes stretched to the limit, black as the all-night sky” (66). When speaking of Sethe, Beloved’s eyes “stretched to the limit,” just as her admiration and yearning for Sethe is limitless. Not only is her love infinite, but it is also “black as the all-night sky.” Morrison compares Beloved’s eyes to a thing of...
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