The Effects of Parental Attachment Among African American Population Living in the United States Essay Dissertation Help

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looking specifically at the Attachment process described and put forward by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, in relation to how events like
‘slavery’ among the African American population living in the United States, may or may not have affected this literature.

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Van der Horst, F. P., LeRoy, H. A., & Van der Veer, R. (2008). “When Strangers Meet”: John Bowlby and Harry Harlow on Attachment Behavior.
Integrative Psychological & Behavioral Science, 42(4), 370-388. doi:10.1007/s12124-008-9079-2
Hornik, R., & Gunnar, M. R. (1988). A Descriptive Analysis of Infant Social Referencing. Child Development, 59(3), 626. doi:10.1111/1467-
Rosmalen, L., Veer, R., & Horst, F. (2015). AINSWORTH’S STRANGE SITUATION PROCEDURE: THE ORIGIN OF AN INSTRUMENT. Journal Of The History Of The
Behavioral Sciences, 51(3), 261-284.
Guo, Y., Leu, S., Barnard, K. E., Thompson, E. A., & Spieker, S. J. (2015). An Examination of Changes in Emotion Co-regulation Among Mother and
Child Dyads During the Strange Situation. Infant & Child Development, 24(3), 256-273.
Bergman, A., Blom, I., Polyak, D., & Mayers, L. (2015). Attachment and separation–individuation: two ways of looking at the mother–infant
relationship. International Forum Of Psychoanalysis, 24(1), 16-21.
Saville, J. (2003). Cultural Trauma: Slavery and the Formation of African American Identity. Journal Of American Ethnic History, 22(4), 72-76.
Stenberg, G. (2003). Effects of maternal inattentiveness on infant social referencing. Infant & Child Development, 12(5), 399-419.
Kim, G., Walden, T., Knieps, L., Kim, G., Walden, T. A., & Knieps, L. J. (2010). Impact and characteristics of positive and fearful emotional
messages during infant social referencing. Infant Behavior & Development, 33(2), 189-195. doi:10.1016/j.infbeh.2009.12.009
Stenberg, G., & Hagekull, B. (2007). Infant Looking Behavior in Ambiguous Situations: Social Referencing or Attachment Behavior?. Infancy, 11
(2), 111-129.
Catalani, A., & Ackroyd, T. (2013). Inheriting slavery: making sense of a difficult heritage. Journal Of Heritage Tourism, 8(4), 337-346.
Krznaric, R. (2015). Only connect. New Humanist, 130(4), 32-35.
ADAMS, K. A. (2015). Psychohistory and Slavery: Preliminary Issues. Journal Of Psychohistory, 43(2), 110-119.
Hinde, R. A. (1991). Relationships, Attachment, and Culture: A Tribute to John Bowlby. Infant Mental Health Journal, 12(3), 154-163.
Honig, A. S. (2005). Separation and Attachment. Early Childhood Today, 20(1), 14-15.
Pelaez, M., Virues-Ortega, J., Field, T. M., Amir-Kiaei, Y., & Schnerch, G. (2013). Social referencing in infants of mothers with symptoms of
depression. Infant Behavior & Development, 36(4), 548-556. doi:10.1016/j.infbeh.2013.05.003
Berger, A. L., & Milbauer, A. Z. (2013). THE BURDEN OF INHERITANCE. Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal Of Jewish Studies, 31(3), 64-85.
Khaleghi, M. (2012). The Ghost of Slavery: Individual and communal Identity in Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Language In India, 12(2), 472-483.
Nishida, T. K., & Lillard, A. S. (2007). The informative value of emotional expressions: ‘social referencing’ in mother–child pretense.
Developmental Science, 10(2), 205-212. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7687.2007.00581.x
GRAFF, G. (2014). The Intergenerational Trauma of Slavery and its Aftermath. Journal Of Psychohistory, 41(3), 181-197.
GRAFF, G. (2011). The Name of the Game is Shame: The Effects of Slavery and Its Aftermath. Journal Of Psychohistory, 39(2), 133-144.
Mooney, C. G. (2010). Theories of Attachment: An Introduction to Bowlby, Ainsworth, Gerber, Brazelton, Kennell, and Klaus. Redleaf Press.
Berger, S. S. (2014). Whose Trauma Is It Anyway? Furthering Our Understanding of Its Intergenerational Transmission. Journal Of Infant, Child &
Adolescent Psychotherapy, 13(3), 169-181. doi:10.1080/15289168.2014.937975
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Review Essay

Cultural Trauma: Slavery and the Formation of African American Identity
Cultural Trauma: Slavery and the Formation of African
American Identity. By Ron Eyerman. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2001. viii + 302
pp. Notes, bibliography, and index. $65.00 (cloth);
$23.00 (paper).
The onset of civil rights demonstrations in Mississippi prompted the editor of a black newspaper, the Jackson, Mississippi, Advocate, to turn to
Reconstruction for a historical lesson. The newspaper had vigorously endorsed an NAACP-sponsored voter registration drive in the 1940s. However,
violent responses to that 1940s mobilization probably helped fix the editor’s memory on terrors of the aftermath of Reconstruction as he sounded
a cautionary warning regarding the 1960s demonstrations:
According to the historians and students of the south, the ill manners and the intemperate conduct of Negroes, urged on by the carpetbaggers and
other adventurers who had entered the south to exploit the Negro issue, largely for their own benefit without any regard for the Negroes future,
was largely responsible for the tragedy of the Post Reconstruction Era. The Era which saw the Hayes-Tilden Deal and the Un-written Compromise,
which brought about the withdrawal of the Federal Troops from the south, took away all the gains that had been made by Negroes, made possible
the one–party system of politics in the south, and put upon the Negroes all of the handicaps of segregation and discrimination. … It is
important for us, the Negro citizens of the state, in the light of the above brief sketch of southern and Negro history that we make sure that
nothing in our conduct and manners, and in our attitude and relations with our white neighbors will contribute to another tragic era. … [T]o us
this is the challenge of history.( n1)
The Mississippi editor’s turn to Reconstruction history is intriguing for a number of reasons. As historian David Blight has recently
reiterated, intensified racial subordination and political reconciliation were inseparable terms of the new nationalism that launched American
reunification after 1876.( n2) However, popular politics seldom turns to Reconstruction to frame concerns about injustice. By contrast, since
the 1970s at least, slavery has figured more prominently as a stimulus to public debate in American political culture. The seeming fixity of the
status of slave, broad embarrassment at impediments that the institution of slavery poses to the negotiation of modernity for moderates and
conservatives alike, and the success with which the process of emancipation limited abolition’ s upheavals in property relations strictly to the
termination of property rights in slaves, are among the influences that have shaped the terrain on which public discussions of slavery take
place. In moderate and conservative political visions alike, slavery has perhaps been relegated to the “pre-history” of nationhood.
It is therefore significant that sociologist Ron Eyerman’s recent study, Cultural Trauma: Slavery and the Formation of African American
Identity, argues that slavery emerged as a central element of the public identity of black Americans in the United States only during the
convulsive combination of economic repression, genocidal violence, and, ultimately, disfranchisement, that the Jackson, Mississippi, editor
regarded as the “tragedy of the Post Reconstruction Era.” The editorial illustrates Eyerman’s general view that the symbolic construction of
American nationality is inseparable from a crisis in African American identity that he has named “cultural trauma.” “Cultural trauma,” Eyerman
explains, “refers to a dramatic loss of identity and meaning, a tear in the social fabric, affecting a group of people that has achieved some
degree of cohesion” (p. 2). After Reconstruction, rather than during the lived experience of slavery itself, he argues, slavery became primary
to the group identity of African Americans.
Somewhat loosely formulated, Eyerman’s theory of “cultural trauma” nevertheless underscores the delayed, retrospective, post-emancipation
origins of slavery as a central feature of the collective identity of African Americans in the United States. “By the 1880s,” he proposes, “as
dreams of full citizenship and cultural integration were quashed, the meaning of slavery emerged as the site of an identity conflict,
articulated most clearly by the newly expanded and resourceful ranks of formally educated blacks” (p. 16). The remainder of his book explores
representations of slavery in literary, journalistic, dramatic, and broadcast media and in the graphic and visual arts in works produced by
African American intellectuals, sculptors, painters, and performing artists for nearly a century after the end of Reconstruction. “In this
emergent identity,” he explains, “slavery, not as an institution or experience but as a point of origin in a common past, would ground the
formation of a black ‘community’” (p. 16). “The representation of slavery,” he argues, “would form a primal scene in the process of collective
identity formation, as it was renegotiated in the changing historical conditions of black Americans” (p. 221). His argument is an important
reminder that the salience of slavery in public discourse is itself historical and not a natural consequence of the existence of a slave
society.( n3)
In the end, however, an intriguing and potentially illuminating problematic that might shed light on the socio-historical origins of the
relatively prominent and changing role of slavery as a kind of counter-memory or social critique is constrained by somewhat diffuse formulation
and episodic development. The book is at its best in identifying the variety of sites where some engagement with slavery occurred. The fiction,
poetry, dramas, and films of the Harlem Renaissance, the writings of Marcus Garvey, radio broadcasts and early television, the lyrics of
spirituals, blues and rap, nationalist ideologies, the civil rights movement, twentieth-century social science, and Afro-centric historiography
provide illustrative materials. At the same time, there is a sameness of methodology that seems overwhelmed by the sheer variety of media and
discourses under consideration. It is by no means clear that it is possible to probe the meanings of slavery, power, and identity as analyzed in
the imaginative, journalistic, and historical writings of W.E.B. DuBois or Frantz Fanon with the same methodology that is used to analyze
representations of slavery in the nationalist theology of the Nation of Islam, or the scholarship of sociologists Orlando Patterson and William
Julius Wilson, or the lyrics and memoirs of rap group Public Enemy’s lead singer Chuck D. More systematic attention to issues of genre,
composition, and audience and/or scholarly assessments of academic writings seems essential if relations among and disjunctures in aesthetic,
social, and political meanings are to be analyzed. Otherwise, the approach threatens to produce precisely that retrospective fixation on a slave
past that it set out to analyze.
As an all-encompassing interpretive category, “trauma” can substitute an emphasis on vague psychological damage or emotional upheaval for an
analysis of how specific forms of racial re-subordination developed.( n4) Slavery, disfranchisement, lynching, Jim Crow, segregation, and racial
pogroms were not psychological categories. They seem misleadingly homogenized, as when, for example, the “trauma of slavery” and the “period of
trauma” of the era 1880-1920 are treated under an identical, abstract rubric (pp. 115, 59).
Dwight McBride’s Impossible Witnesses undertakes a close interpretive reading of the rhetorical strategies and discursive contexts of several
early nineteenth-century British antislavery tracts, novels, and selected writings by the former slaves Mary Prince, Phillis Wheatley, Olaudah
Equiano, and Frederick Douglass. McBride’s chiefly literary analysis considers a more defined category of cultural production than Eyerman. Like
Eyerman, McBride underscores the social nature of literary forms. He argues that trans-Atlantic public opinion and “a new kind of transnational
identity for the ‘slave’ as well” were constituted through antislavery writings (p. 25). His analysis of the autobiographies of Equiano and
Prince argues that these texts established the primacy of the slaves’ personal experiences by rhetorical appeals that bemoaned the inadequacy of
language to communicate aspects of lived experience. In this manner, he argues, the slave authors retained unimpeachable authority of
interpretation over what they categorized as an event that was impossible to narrate. McBride identifies the trope of unspeakable experience as
a powerful illustration of Prince’s ability to defend her status as witness by denying narrative detail to her audience. “In these moments of
unspeakable horror,” he observes, “the narrative is denied to us and is reduced to the sheer personal memory of the witness, which we can
witness only as that which is unspeakable” (p. 94). Perhaps it is outside the bounds of McBride’s disciplinary interests to ponder the social,
cultural, gendered, or political implications of this narrative strategy of concealment that he has identified. It is nevertheless interesting
that the nineteenth-century texts that McBride has examined seem to refuse, in his view, to reproduce an excess of imagery of bodily injury. His
judgment is consistent with Eyerman’s explanation of how certain aesthetic forms achieved a trans-generational dramatization of the memory of
slavery. These twentieth-century retrospective inventions of the memory of slavery, particularly those of the 1960s, according to Eyerman,
rendered slavery “forever present, … something lived and living, an inherited and transmitted habitus which determines current behavior and thus
requires a radical spiritual transformation in order to be rooted out” (p. 188). Read together, Eyerman’s and McBride’s accounts suggest that
slavery was “not a story to pass on,”( n5) at least until after it became imperfectly abolished.
The non-linear, retrospective nature of representations of slavery, as portrayed by Eyerman and McBride, differs sharply from the narrative
strategies adopted by W. D. Wright in Black History and Black Identity. Wright issues his call for a new historiography that can make precise
distinctions in racial and ethnic terminology. The sheer volume of proposed terms is difficult to track. He suggests that his concept of
“African Extensia” might usefully be substituted for the concept of African diaspora (p. 18, italics in original). “The African Extensia
concept,” he explains, “is predicated on the paleontological and historical understanding that black people (or it could be said, black
Africans) were the original human beings, and that they were the basis for the evolution of all humanity, as well as the progenitors of human
history, language, culture, and social organization and institutions” (p. 19). The term “Afrocentric,” like that of Afro-American, he finds to
be “bogus, because such people have never existed in this country or in any part of the Western Hemisphere” (p. 19). Wright proposes that the
term “Africancentric” be substituted. To emphasize the historically distinctive features of African-American culture in the United States,
Wright has “devised the concept” of “Black centric” in order “to show that Black people in this country are distinct and different from all
other black people on this planet, and are not to be mistaken for any other black people” (p. 20, italics in original). Wright thus rejects the
concept of retrospective identities, of the notion that some events so fundamentally alter the future course of human relations that they also
change the questions that come to be asked of events that passed before they took place. Rather than, for example, regarding slavery and the
slave trade as such a rupture, Wright charges historians with anachronism because they have “imposed” African identities on the subjects of
their studies and makes a case for the utility of the word Black (p. 121). Wright’s intricate classifications, of “waves” of historians of
African American history, of the people they study, and of the analytical categories that he finds suitable, are numerous and complex. It is
unlikely, however, that either Wright’s elaborate structural schema or post-1970s dramatizations of slavery can fill the deafening silences in
the discourse of power, race, and the making of American nationality.
(n1.) Charles Simmons, The African American Press (Jefferson, N.C., 1998), p. 127, as quoted in Eyerman, Cultural Trauma, pp. 204-5. For the
editorial policy of the paper in the 1940s, see Charles M. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi
Freedom Struggle (Berkeley, Calif., 1995), p. 23.
(n2.) David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge, Mass., 2001).
(n3.) Ex-masters and ex-slaves in the United States might well be distinctive in the prominence that they gave to remembering slavery as they
re-worked various politicized cultural identities after emancipation. See Ira Berlin, “Slavery as Memory and History,” in Remembering Slavery:
African Americans Talk About their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Freedom, ed. Ira Berlin, Marc Favreau, and Steven R. Miller (New York,
1998), xiii-xlix; Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Boston, 1995), pp. 16-19; Kim D. Butler,
Freedoms Given, Freedoms Won: Afro-Brazilians in Post-Abolition São Paulo and Salvador (New Brunswick, N.J., 1998), pp. 168-209; Michael George
Hanchard, Orpheus and Power: The Movimento Negro of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazil, 1945-1988 (Princeton, 1994).
(n4.) My thinking about memory has been shaped by Toni Morrison, Beloved (New York, 1987) and the discussion of memory, historical injustice,
and “limit events” in Dominick LaCapra, “History, Language, & Reading: Waiting for Crillon,” American Historical Review 100 (June 1995): 799-
828; idem, History and Memory after Auschwitz (Ithaca, N.Y., 1998); idem, Writing History, Writing Trauma (Baltimore, 2001).
(n5.) Morrison, Beloved, pp. 274-275.
By Julie Saville, University of Chicago
Source: Journal of American Ethnic History, Summer2003, Vol. 22 Issue 4, p72, 5p
Item: 48107188

The Ghost of Slavery: Individual and communal Identity in Toni Morrison’s Beloved
Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1988) highlights the importance of confronting, reclaiming and transforming history, and it points to the healing
potential of memory. In her novel, Morrison shows what slavery did to black people bodies and minds; what it meant for them to be owned by
somebody else as well as the difficulties of claiming ownership of oneself. What is very specific for this story is the mark of alienation that
slavery left for African-Americans. Morrison rewrites the life of the historical figure Margaret Garner (1856), who killed her child to prevent
her recapture into slavery. John Hope Franklin describes the way that Slave Codes embodied the repressive culture of slavery, almost completely
denying personal wholeness (124). These laws forbade marriage, free mobility, self-defence, and a host of other activities among slaves.
Key Words: Slavery; Memory; Depersonalization; Identity; Horrible effects of slavery
Beloved examines the connection between an enslaved past and the distortion of identity. Slavery, after all, was a system predicated on
dehumanizing and impersonalizing human beings; the system was called for the crushing of the language, family names, culture, and tribal history
of the slaves. The enslaved Afro-Americans were treated like objects and were “moved around like checkers” with no respect to filial
relationships (Beloved 23). In fact, most enslaved Afro-Americans were treated worse than animals. Barbara Schapiro states that “the worst
atrocity of slavery, the real horror the novel exposes, is not physical death but psychic death” (156).
Under times of slavery, blacks were not allowed to have a sense of self, a sense of individuality or self-worth. The dehumanization which Sethe
and Paul D experience as slaves causes them to lose their sense of self-worth and leaves them questioning their existence as humans. These
characters do not refuse to look back. Their history haunts them until they finally reconstruct the pieces of themselves and, in the process,
embrace love. The ghost in Beloved represents the psychological effects of the experiences of slavery repressed by Sethe, Denver, Baby Suggs,
and other characters in the novel.
Beloved, The Baby Ghost
Morrison gives Sethe’s dead daughter the distinctive name everyone privately gives to their most beloved; her name is the same as the only word
inscribed on the headstone of Sethe’s dead daughter, and when Sethe first sees her, her water breaks (Beloved 52). Beloved also appears to be
the age Sethe’s daughter would be if she were alive, “nineteen or twenty,” but she acts as though she is the age she was when she was killed,
“like a two-year-old” (Beloved 55, 98). For Sethe Beloved is her resurrected “crawling-already” girl. The community also believes that Beloved
is the reincarnated ghost of Sethe’s daughter. Not only the characters accept the presence of ghosts without question, but Sethe tells Denver
that “nothing ever really dies” (Beloved 37) and another character states that “people who die bad don’t stay in the ground” (187), a
traditional African belief (Hurston 280).
One of the reasons Sethe is so overjoyed by the resurrection of her daughter is that it relieves her of the need to explain the past and relive
her actions, “I don’t have to remember nothing. I don’t even have to explain. She understands it all” (Beloved 183). Sethe explains her
experience of time and “rememory,” “Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place-the picture of it-stays, and
not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world … even if I die, the picture of what I did, or know, or saw is still out there” (Beloved
35-36). She says to Denver, “Someday you be walking down the road and you hear something or see something going on. So clear. And you think it’s
you thinking it up. A thought picture. But no. It’s when you bump into a rememory that belongs to somebody else. Where I was before I came here,
that place is real” (Beloved 36).
The Loss of Motherhood
And though the plot turns upon the loss of a child, this history-as-daughter’s-rememory is pervaded with grief for lost mothers, Beloved’s
aching desire for Sethe; Sethe’s mourning for Baby Suggs, and Sethe’s loss of her own mother, remembered in excruciating fragments, a hat in the
rice fields, a scar under her breast (Beloved 61). Missy Dehn Kubitschek makes the insightful comment that “beneath Sethe’s passionate
commitment to motherhood lies an equally passionate desire to be mothered, to be a daughter to her mother” (170). This multiple mourning for
mothers inscribes the tragic experience of Afro-American children and women under slavery.
Maternal Milk, Sethe’s Personal Misery
Sethe tells Paul D very succinctly when she goes to the barn to look for Halle, her personal misery continues when the milking occurs. One of
schoolteacher’s nephews beat her while she was pregnant with Denver, injuring her so badly that “her back skin had been dead for years” (Beloved
18). Sethe narrates thus:
After I left you, those boys came in there and took my milk. That’s what they came in there for. Held me down and took it. I told Mrs. Garner on
em. She had that lump and couldn’t speak but her eyes rolled out tears. Then boys found out I told on em. Schoolteacher made one open up my
back, and when it closed it made a tree. It grows there still.
“They used cowhide on you?” “And they took my milk.” “They beat you and you was pregnant?” “And they took my milk!” (Beloved 17)
The milk is the only gift Sethe has for her children, a symbol of her motherhood, “Milk was all I ever had” (Beloved 195). “Her complete focus
upon bringing the milk to her children, who have travelled to Baby Suggs’s house ahead of her, to the utter disregard of the pain she suffers
during the journey, underscores how Sethe considers her milk to be of greater value than her body itself (Field 3). Therefore, when recalling
the incident eighteen years later to Paul D, the milking still causes her to weep. The theft of Sethe’s milk is clearly traumatizing to her,
for, as Schapiro writes, “she feels robbed of her essence, of her most precious substance, which is her maternal milk” (159).
Halle, A Broken Twig
Hiding in the barn, Halle sees the entire incident of the milking. The horror of viewing the consideration and treatment of his wife as animal
breaks Halle. Like Sethe, it seems that Halle didn’t want to see what was in front of him-he just “couldn’t get out” in time (Beloved 72).
Seth’s womanhood is violated by the rape she has lived and her husband, the father of the owners of the “milk,” observes and does not stop it.
Not only would he be unable to free her from slavery, he was helpless to halt the process of brutality. Escape from the plantation was Halle’s
only other avenue for the salvation of his family and himself from slavery. Halle is last seen by Paul D “sitting by the churn … [with] butter
all over his face” (Beloved 69).
White Angel
Sethe maintains her decision to run though she was six months pregnant. Just as she had given up all hope of life for herself or the baby, Amy
Denver, a white girl, helps her. She aids in the birth and delivery of Sethe’s baby, Denver, carefully wrapping her in the rags of her own skirt
(Beloved 84). Sethe and her four small children came to live in freedom with Baby Suggs. Baby Suggs washes Sethe, soaks her feet, “grease[s] the
flowering back,” makes her a dress and drops just about anything to massage her neck when the weight of things remembered or forgotten was too
heavy for her (Beloved 93).
The Main Misery of the Novel
When Schoolteacher arrives at 124 twenty-eight days after Sethe’s escape, Sethe flies to the shed to demonstrate her claim to herself and her
children, the property that schoolteacher seeks as his own. Sethe reflects on this time, “bit by bit, at 124 … she had claimed herself. Freeing
yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that free self was another” (Beloved 95). She pushes her “best thing[s]”, her children, into and
over the veil; “[She] took and put [her] babies where they’d be safe” (164). Sethe’s response when faced with returning to slavery and
surrendering her children to that fate is “No. No. Nono. Nonono” (Beloved 163). She cut her two-year-old daughter’s throat with a saw, so that
no “gang of whites [would invade] her daughter’s private parts, [soil] her daughter’s thighs” (Beloved 251). Commenting on Sethe’s murder of her
baby, Morrison says, “It was absolutely the right thing to do … but it’s also the thing you have no right to do” (Rothstein 17).
Motherhood does not liberate Sethe. It limits her self-image and her capacity for agency. According to Carole Boyce Davies, Sethe’s heroic
response to enslavement paradoxically becomes the kind of mother-love that society enforces on women (54). Sethe believes death to be a kinder
alternative than rape; that worse than death is the fact that “anybody white could take your whole self… [and] dirty you. Dirty you so bad you
couldn’t like yourself anymore. Dirty you so bad you forgot who you were and couldn’t think it up” (Beloved 251). Pamela E. Barnett analyzes
Sethe’s actions as such, “For Sethe, being brutally overworked, maimed, or killed is subordinate to the overarching horror of being raped and
“dirtied” by whites; even dying at the hands of one’s mother is subordinate to rape” (419).
Who is Responsible?
Although some of the others saw schoolteacher and his posse “nobody ran on ahead” to warn Sethe and Baby Suggs of the imminent danger (Beloved
151). Spite, malice and jealousy prevented them from alerting Sethe. Kristina K. Groover theorizes that here “the community fails to perform its
role” (71), although Baby Suggs, known as an “unchurched preacher” (87) teaches them to love themselves through a hybrid sort of spirituality.
She directs them to love each part of themselves, and of each other. That can only happen by honouring “the essential need … for mutual
recognition” (157). The Cincinnati community of former slaves is indirectly responsible for Sethe’s infanticide. As Melissa Walker says, it is
“the collaboration of the black community with the conditions of slavery that led to the murder” (37).
The day before the main misery, Baby Suggs had hosted a party to celebrate the safe arrival of her daughter-in-law, the guests wake up the next
day resentful and envious of Suggs for having had the audacity to be so free and generous. Elizabeth Kella suggests that the community perceives
Baby Suggs’ celebration as a threat to communal identity and a violation of exchange economy in making reciprocity impossible. She simply gave
too much and therefore “offended them by excess” (Kella 138).
The Beginning of Isolation
Sethe’s interpretation of love, saving her children from slavery through infanticide, indeed splits both she and Baby Suggs “wide open,”
breaking them both (Beloved 162). As Clenora Hudson-Weems states, both Sethe and Baby Suggs are consistent in their love and commitment to
family; they both quest for wholeness through freedom (131). After a lifetime of resisting slavery and racism, Baby Suggs is beaten down, not
only by the oppressive white society but by the failure of her own people, so that “her faith, her love, her imagination and her great big old
heart began to collapse” (Beloved 109).
After the misery, Baby Suggs isolates herself in her room. Although she concludes that “there is no bad luck in the world but whitefolks,” the
communal disjunction which led to the misery also contributed to her eventual heartbreak and death (Beloved 89). In her postmodernist reading of
Beloved, April Lidinsky observes that Suggs’s death “forms the brutally lucid index of the limitations of masculinist models of individualism,
for she does not fail the collective in her loss of faith. Rather, her loss of faith stems from the collective’s failure” (208).
The entire community then, and not just Sethe, was complicit in the misery. Indeed, as Walker points out, Sethe’s infanticide cannot be isolated
from the social context-“slavery itself and the public policies-the Fugitive Slave Act and lynching-that slavery engendered”-within which it
occurs (39). The betrayal by the community is itself a twisted, inhumane response to the brutality of slavery. When Sethe emerges, under arrest,
to head to the jailhouse, their feelings of animosity and their continued hesitance in freely giving love are displayed afresh. “In perceiving
Sethe as a monster for having killed her child, the community projected its own guilt for its complicity in that act” (Winsbro 152). The
continued hostility between Sethe and the black community serve as a barrier, which isolates her. Groover estimates “Sethe’s self-isolation
unforgivable” (70).
Beloved Reborn
124 is full of spite and venom. The baby’s ghost is understood to be “evil,” by Paul D, “sad,” by Sethe, and “lonely and rebuked” by Denver
(Beloved 13). The ghost reminds Sethe every day of the freshness of her past history. Although Sethe begins her day “working, working dough” as
a means of “beating back the past,” she cannot beat back the ghost (Beloved 73). This time Sethe’s past refuses to be silent. She is trapped by
her memories, “her brain was not interested in the future. Loaded with the past and hungry for more, it left her no room to imagine, let alone
plan for, the next day” (Beloved 70). Judith Thurman points out that the impossibility of erasing the past is due to the fatal relationships
which slavery produces. In fact, these relationships-master-slave, mother-child, etc.-are “what we experience as most sinister, claustrophobic
and uncanny in the novel, and [they are] what drive home the meaning of slavery” (Thurman 179).
At the heart of Beloved are Denver’s and Sethe’s journeys toward self-definition and a newly constructed sense of self. Beloved does act as a
catalyst for the liberation of Sethe and Denver from their years of isolation and of incomplete or distorted identity. Ralph D. Story discusses
“Sethe’s inner quest … for completeness; her destiny was to fulfil her promises as a mother: to love, to cherish, to protect, to teach and to
give” (22). Sethe refuses to accept oppressive ways of living that do not allow her to love her children freely. Sethe with a fierce desire
gives her children all that had been denied to her-mother’s milk, freedom and love. In her role as mother, she loves, and thereby provides an
example of resistance to oppression.
When Paul D drives the baby ghost out and then heads upstairs with Sethe, Denver resents his presence and ejection of “the only other company
she had” (Beloved 19). Beloved is not only a ghost of Sethe’s killed daughter, but also a symbol of the link between the present and the past.
Therefore, through the recreation of the maternal bond, Sethe searches for her self-affirmation. It is not until Beloved’s physical arrival that
Sethe is finally allowed to “re-examine her story with regard to sacrifice, resistance, and mother love” (Kella 129).
Beloved seduces Sethe in to telling her story. Coming from the place of the dead, this ghost begs to have history told to her. Talking about the
past is usually too painful for Sethe, but with Beloved, she finds herself enjoying the process. Winsbro observes that “Beloved’s spirit feeds
off the stories told by and about Sethe because these stories define her own individual rather than collective identity” (136). Once Sethe
believes that Beloved is her baby returned to flesh, she thinks she has been freed from the pain of that trauma, “I couldn’t lay down nowhere in
peace, back then,” she thinks, recalling her daughter’s death. “Now I can. I can sleep like the drowned, have mercy. She come back to me, my
daughter, and she is mine” (Beloved 204). “Despite the characters’ efforts to diffuse the power of the past, the ghost baby, like the traumatic
nightmare, intrudes on the present, forcing Sethe and Paul D to remember what they have tried unsuccessfully to forget” (Barnett 420). The baby
girl, who has come again eighteen years later, is the actual characterization of Sethe’s psychological torments. She embodies Sethe’s “quest for
social freedom and psychological wholeness” (Bell 8).
“Unspeakable Thoughts, Unspoken”
When Sethe discovers Beloved’s identity, she interprets her reappearance as a sign of forgiveness and in immense relief turns her back on the
world and devotes herself to loving Beloved; she believes she is forgiven and given a second chance. Beloved wants to completely join with her
mother. “Rather than illuminating the singular self, a mirrored unity is revealed, and the mother and daughter witness the singularity of their
indivisible selves and their material and spiritual forms” (Washington 181). Beloved’s goal is for her and Sethe to be joined as one.
Sethe and her two daughters, now isolated and passionate trio have joined together, bound up through history, memory, love and motherhood.
Katherine B. Payant sees the moment in the women’s lives as reunion between the mother and the sisters, thus emphasizing the positive aspect of
the ghost’s appearance (199). Each speaks a monologue in turn, “Beloved, she my daughter. She mine;” “Beloved is my sister;” “I am Beloved and
she is mine” (Beloved 200210). Their voices then join in a fugue of woman-woman love, “You are my sister/ you are my daughter/ you are my face;
you are me;” “I have your milk/I have your smile/I will take care of you;” “You are mine/ you are mine/ you are mine” (Beloved 216-17). The
longings of all three may have created Beloved, “the ominous claim ‘mine’ reflects all three women’s claims on each other” (Kubitschek 169).
Beloved manages to separate Paul D from Sethe by moving him slowly from the house and seducing him against his will. Eventually, he is forced to
give in to her order, “You have to touch me on the inside part and you have to call me my name” (Beloved 117). Barnett links her to the
succubus, “a female demon and nightmare figure that sexually assaults male sleepers and drains them of semen” (418). In some supernatural way,
she effectively rapes Paul D. Beloved moves Paul D out of the house just as Paul D had chased the baby ghost out of 124 Bluestone. In fact, it
is Paul D’s own fear of facing his past that displaces him.
Maternal Love
Playing and interacting with Beloved becomes the centre of Sethe’s focus, first to the exclusion of her job and then to the exclusion of Denver,
“she cut Denver out completely. Even the song that she used to sing for Denver she sang for Beloved alone” (Beloved 240-41); “Excluded from the
Beloved-Sethe dyad, Denver is forced into the role of the outside other and assuming that role is her salvation” (168). Beloved demands more and
more from Sethe, while Sethe diminishes, so that it seems to Denver that “the thing was done,” “Beloved bending over Sethe looked the mother,
Sethe the teething child … Beloved ate up her life, took it, swelled up with it …. And the older woman yielded it up without a murmur” (Beloved
250). No matter how much Sethe explained, cried and sought to convince Beloved of her love for her, “Beloved denied it” (Beloved 242). However,
after Sethe kills Beloved to prevent her from being taken into slavery and to put her somewhere where she would be safe, Beloved “vacillates
between rapturous awe of her mother and pathological desire to destroy her” (Washington 183). Beloved may not want to completely destroy Sethe,
but she does wish to strip Sethe of any individuality she may possess, or, as Teresa N. Washington states, “she wants the two of them to ‘join’
and return fully unified to the ‘other side’” (183). The ownership love that drove Sethe’s desperate action was now being enacted through
Beloved’s accusations and demands. “Sethe was trying to make up for the handsaw; Beloved was making her pay for it. But there would never be an
end to that” (Beloved 251).
Denver’s Self-Definition
When Denver sees her mother “spit up something she had not eaten,” she leaves 124 to look for help and then work to support her mother, her
sister and herself. She is encouraged by Baby Suggs spirit, which directs Denver to “go on out the yard. Go on,” it is the “rememory of Baby
Suggs that finally transforms isolation into a quest for help” (Lidinsky 210). Denver must go into the world to find some, and so begins to
bring her haunted family back into its community and into time. Kubitschek points out that “Denver feels her potential to become a mother while
simultaneously affirming her status as daughter” (171-72). Denver’s new identity is an ideal blend of self-interest, personal responsibility
toward Sethe, and a relationship with the greater black community. Groover summarizes this act as Denver’s “rite of passage into womanhood”
(74). It can also be viewed as a voyage into adulthood and self-recognition in the eyes of the community. In other words, Denver provides a
developmental model of a person who escaped the threat of total alienation and became aware of her place in the social structure.
Female Solidarity
When the women of the town hear that Sethe’s murdered baby has returned, they overcome their long time disgust and decide to save Sethe from
Beloved’s life-threatening abuse, “the past [was] something to leave behind. And if it didn’t stay behind, well, you might have to stomp it out”
(Beloved 256). Doreathe Drummond Mbalia comments on the unity and communal bonds inherent in this gesture; “Once the enemy is identified, once
it is out in the open, the community struggles collectively against that which divides them” (91). Moreover, it is significant that the
community is involved in the exorcism because Beloved represents the pain of slavery they all suffer in some way. Her story is the story of a
whole community, a small narrative that overflows into a larger narrative. The women share the feelings function as a self-help group to fight
back the trouble. Amy Binder sees the road to social change in “subjective negotiations of a sense of individual self and identification with a
group that aim together at forming collective identity” (qtd. in Kella 37). Female solidarity also empowers the female protagonists to establish
their own identity. Sethe’s journey inside in search of her own identity could not have taken place without the community’s reassessment.
Healing through Bonding
Thirty-strong women come together in a communal effort of their own; they march to the house and perform a collective exorcism:
The voices of women searched for the right combination, the key, the code, the sound that broke the back of words. Building voice upon voice
until they found it, and when they did it was a wave of sound wide enough to sound deep water and knock the pods off chestnut trees. It broke
over Sethe and she trembled like the baptized in its wash. (Beloved 261)
Beloved disappears without a trace; by exorcising Beloved, the community exorcises the past, opening the way for the old harmony, inspired and
nurtured by Baby Suggs (Winsbro 153). Sethe cannot heal herself; she needs the collective power of the community. Mbalia noted, “It is only
through the collective will and the action of the people that Beloved, the enemy, dies” (91). Sethe now has an opportunity to redefine her
identity on the basis of her cultural heritage. Despondent at Beloved’s departure, Sethe resigns herself to death; fully convinced that Beloved
was “best thing” (Beloved 272). Sethe suffers from losing her child again and ends up a broken woman. She continues to deny herself the truth of
her own self worth. “When you kill the ancestor,” Morrison said, “you kill yourself (“Rootedness” 344).
End of Alienation
There is hope at the novel’s end when Paul D re-enters, as a Baby Suggs like figure, to wash Sethe, as Baby did when she had first arrived, and
to call her to claim, to accept and to love herself. He tells her, “You your own best thing, Sethe. You are” (Beloved 213). Paul D “wants to put
his story next to hers” and he tells Sethe, “Me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow” (273). Healing
allows Sethe to see that she is worthy of love-Paul D’s and her own. Sethe and Paul D look back to embrace their individual and communal history
and move into a future where love is a real possibility. With Denver out in the world, Paul D by her side, the ghost chased out of her life, and
the community of women ready to accept her back into their fold, Sethe’s life holds more possibilities than it ever has and offers a more
“liberating vision of motherhood” (Kubitschek 165). All of them have a chance to leave the past behind and start again by focusing on the
future. They are agents in each other’s healing, and their relationship is intertwined with the community that surrounds them (Hudson-Weems
Beloved is a fine illustration of the journey to self-reliance on a communal as well as individual level. The novel portrays successful
development of the “black identity” in times when a black person is denied it. During the struggle for self-definition, Sethe and Denver learn
to self-possess their own selves, and overcome the conviction of being someone else’s possession. Beloved concludes with emphasis on the
importance of communal participation in the processes of emotional and spiritual healing and stability. It delineates “the intrinsic value of
collectivism to the African community” and risks of “isolation” both for the individual and “for the race” (Mbalia 88-90).
Works Cited
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1992): 7-15. Print.
Davies, Carole Boyce. “Mother Right/Write Revisited: Beloved and Dessa Rose and the
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By Mahboobeh Khaleghi, Ph.D. Research Scholar

Ms. Mahboobeh Khaleghi, Ph.D. Research Scholar, Department of Studies in English University of Mysore Manasagangothri Mysore-570 006 Karnataka,
India khaleghi&lowbar;[email protected]

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