Motherhood Under Slavery in Tony Morrison’s Beloved Essays

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Tony Morrison’s novel Beloved, explores how slavery effects of the lives of former slaves. Morrison focuses more specifically on how the women in these situations are affected. One of the main areas affected in the lives of these women is motherhood. By describing the experiences of the mothers in her story (primarily Baby Suggs and Sethe) Morrison shows how slavery warped and shaped motherhood, and the relationships between mothers and children of the enslaved. In Beloved the slavery culture separates mothers and children both physically and emotionally.
Sethe has a strong maternal instinct and sees her children as a part of herself. They rightfully belong to her. However her maternal ownership of her children is not recognized by the culture of slavery. As a slave she cannot own anything (Mock 118). Therefore while they are enslaved neither Baby Suggs nor Sethe really own their children. In the slavery culture both the mothers and the children are considered as property of their white owners. As property, their rights as mothers are made void and they have no say about the lives of their children. To the owners a slave woman’s primary value is in her reproductive ability. The female slave is seen as giving birth to property, and therefore capital in the form of new slaves. (Liscio 34). The owner has the ability to use and dispose of this new property as they wish. Therefore children could be sold without any regards for their feelings of the feelings of their mother. In the novel Baby Suggs states she has given birth to eight children, however she only gets to keep one that she sees grow into adulthood. By the end of her life slavery has stolen all of her children from her:
You lucky. You got three left. Three pull...

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...the two of them. The Slavery culture in the novel has restricted both Baby Suggs’s and Sethe’s ability to mother their children. It has altered motherhood from the ideal and transformed it into something barely recognizable.

Works Cited

Liscio, Lorraine. “Beloved’s Narrative: Writing Mother’s Milk.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, Vol.11, No.1 (Spring, 1992): 31-46. JSTOR. Web. 27. Oct. 2015.

Mock, Michelle. “Spitting out the Seed: Ownership if Mother, Child, Breasts, Milk, and Voice in Toni Morrison’s Beloved.” College Literature, Vol. 23, No.3 (Oct, 1996): 117-126. JSTOR. Web. 27. Oct. 2015.

Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Vintage International, 2004. Print.

Wyatt, Jean. “Body to the Word: The Maternal Symbolic in Toni Morrison’s Beloved.” PMLA, Vol. 108, No.3 (May, 1993): 474-488. JSTOR. Web. 27. Oct. 2015.

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