An Exploration of the Theme of Motherhood in the Beginning of Beloved, a Novel by Toni Morrison
Morrison explores the theme of motherhood in the beginning of the novel through various different characters like Sethe’s mother, Baby Suggs and Sethe. These characters all shine the light to different aspects of motherhood within slavery. Overall, the dominant theme of motherhood within the beginning of the novel is the power of a mother’s love and how it can be dangerous when mixed with desperation.
Sethe’s mother is a clear representation of how motherhood can be shaped by harsh environments. Sethe’s mother has been continuously raped and made pregnant by white slave owners. Therefore, ‘she threw them all away but you. The others from more whites she also threw away. Without names, she threw them.’ She got rid of them because they were mixed-race which reminded her of her being raped. As women were ‘broken by hard manual labour, but mainly because they were prostitutes for their male slave owners.’ Therefore, she did not believe that they were her children.
The use of the verb ‘threw’ magnifies how Sethe’s mother did not have a connection with these babies and she believed they had no worth as she viciously throws them overboard to drown. The fact that they were without names highlights how in the literary review on motherhood it states: ‘They were indistinguishable as human beings, signified only by their last name of their owner’. Sethe’s mother is selective about her motherhood she only gives it to the child who was born from a husband she loved. She kept Sethe as that was her choice and she loved her father rather than being abused within the tyrannical system of reproduction.
In addition to this, Baby Suggs is also another example of a female being abused within the system. However, Baby Suggs loved her children regardless of the father. She had a stronger connection with her children than Sethe’s mother did. We learn that ‘Baby’s eight children had six fathers. What she called the nastiness of life was the shock she received upon learning that nobody stopped playing checkers just because the pieces included her children.’ Baby Suggs is shocked to discover that her children are being abused highlighting how strong her connection with her children is. The fact that she had a lot of children is because the aim was to ‘replenish the master’s supply of slaves’. ‘Slavery allowed the perfection of patriarchal motherhood’. Baby Suggs had no control over her children yet she still had a strong connection to them as she stated that ‘she felt each one go the very day and hour.’ Thus, highlighting how Baby Suggs connection with her strong children regardless of her hardship.
Sethe’s motherhood may have been altered by her upbringing as she’ sucked from another woman whose job it was’. Sethe was never able to form a true connection with her mother as within slavery there would one person who would feed all the babies. Within the literary review, it stated ‘Prime concern, nervous and depressive anxieties in later life could be related to the way the child had copied with the nursing experience.’ This links to the fact when she was getting raped her only concern was whether she could feed her baby or not. Sethe also develops depression leaving in a haunted house and being isolated by society. All of this could be a side effect due to the fact she did not have a good upbringing. The use of the noun ‘women’ magnifies that mothers were seen as easily replaceable and anyone could
be a mother figure to a child. Sethe’s upbringing led to her obsession with children later on leading to the death of Beloved.
Clearly, out of all the characters, Sethe has the strongest form of motherhood. Sethe has an evident love for her children as ‘it amazed Sethe (as much as it pleased Beloved) because every mention of her past life hurt’. Although, it hurt her but the amount of maternal love she has for Beloved enables her to do anything to satisfy the need of her child. Sethe has not opened up to anyone not even Paul D the man that suffered pain with her. Thus, highlighting the amount of love, almost an obsession, she has for Beloved. ‘The mother must be prepared to put the infant’s interests above her own’. Sethe states ‘I had to get all my children out. No matter what.’ The short sentence magnifies how as a mother you have to react fast and effective in order to protect your child. The use of the personal pronoun alludes how Sethe is possessive over her children and she must protect her children at all costs. Thus, highlighting how Sethe’s motherhood is strong yet can be dangerous if desperation is mixed within it.