Thesis Question: In Beloved, how does Toni Morrison develops Sethe as a dynamic character? Thesis statement: Sethe, the main protagonist, is significantly shaped by slavery, not only influencing her past experiences, but her character in the present and her interactions with other characters. "This is not a story to pass on" (275). Toni Morrison discuss, in Beloved, how African American slavery has had a substantial impact on American society, it has shaped the actions of many important characters in American history.
She makes references to it by describing slavery as constant conflict faced by characters. Sethe, the main protagonist, is significantly shaped by slavery, not only influencing her past experiences, but her character in the present and her interactions with other characters. The most evident features of her life, shaped by slavery are: Sethe's setting, characterization, and inner-conflicts, which might emphasize one of the main themes of the novel "slavery as a life shaper". The setting has a great influence on Sethe's character development due to slavery's negative impacts.
Its first feature is the time period, around the middle 1800's. Sethe's story not only makes allusions to slavery but also other shaping events in US history, such as the Civil War and the KKK's formation. From Baby Suggs perspective, reflecting on Sethe's character, describes how "she had learned…. there was no bad luck in the world but white people"(104) showing how the unstable setting would lead Sethe to kill her daughter, in a way to save her from the bitter life of hate and injustice that awaited her and her siblings.
The second feature is the location and its description, 124 Bluestone, and Sweet Home Plantation. Sethe's emotional traumas start at Sweet Home, where she treated as an animal by School Teacher, and is better understood as the novel goes on. 124 is Sethe's biggest shaper. She finds it as a way to imprison herself and her children from the outside world, expecting "nobody would saw them falling"(174) nor hurt her and her children.
Sethe's fear of society and the conflicts going on around her surroundings reflects on how she is significantly shaped by slavery. Sethe is the most influential and complicated characters, her personality is significantly shaped as result of the terrors of slavery. She becomes a strong and independent character as she is viewed Paul D as "the prickly, mean eyed sweet home girl he knew … obedient, shy, and worked crazy like Halle"(142).
She is described as a mean eyed woman, but slavery became a force that opened her mind up to what she only had control over. Her children became her main priority, and their protection becomes her main conflict, after her milk is stolen by the nephews. Then, as she is whipped a new being grows along with her scar that "School Teacher made one open in her back, and when it closed it made a tree. "(17). This demonstrates how schoolteacher's abuse over Sethe physically affects her further character development.
Sethe's new character also learns to live in the past after she acknowledges Beloved's identity, she ironically shows to be still enslaved by it, because she quickly succumbs to Beloved's demands and would "Give up her life… to take back one of Beloved's tears" (242) in regret of attempting to kill her children rather than to avoid it the way she had done it for the last eighteen years. Her preference of death over slavery shows how her character shows how her character is influenced by slavery. Sethe's slave life makes her actions conflict, which reflects from her characterization and setting.
She finds schoolteacher's lesson on her animal characteristics more debilitating than his nephews' sexual and physical abuse as she admits "they took her milk"(17) Their actions would lead Sethe to fear white men afterwards. School Teacher, however, was even more significant to Sethe's inner conflict. Sethe's fear of the white men and slavery becomes the primary motive to kill her children, as she says "They ain't at Sweet Home, School teacher ain't got them" (173) she excuses her actions by explaining she would rather kill her children than hand them over to School Teacher.
Yet, theses actions would lead Sethe to further conflicts: her two sons running away, a community that rejects her for eighteen years, and Beloved's haunting of 124. Sethe's constant suffering demonstrates how the conflict of slavery shaped her actions in the present and her interactions with other characters Deaths, separation, avoidance, all of these are results of slavery and character's refusal to it. Toni Morrison demonstrates how slavery has a negative impact not only on Sethe, but all other characters surrounding her.
Morrison also uses Sethe to focus on the possible theme of the novel "slavery as a life shaper" with complement of "This is not a story to pass on" to prevent us from slavery and the burden "sixty million and more" slaves had to carry for entire generations as it is reflected through out the novel. The idea that one is shaped strongly by event in our lives such as slavery is not only apparent in this book, but in every day life. We are constantly changing as a society to reflect in our conflicts.