In Toni Morrison's Beloved (1987), Sethe Suggs is the epitome of the slave mother, even more tragic because she loved her children in a system that negated her humanity as well as her maternal instinct.
Purchased by Mr. Garner at age thirteen, Sethe marries Halle Suggs and he fathers every one of her four children—unusual in the slave system. With the death of Mr. Garner, whom the slaves considered humane, his heir schoolteacher takes over and subjects them to the full degradation and inhumanity of the system. Sethe feels she must escape to ensure the safety of her children (the fourth still unborn) and to feed her young daughter Beloved from her milk-laden breasts, but before she can leave, schoolteacher's three nephews hold her down in the barn, milk her like a cow, and beat her. This is the final blow to her sense of who and what she is, and she immediately sets out for the North, walking and crawling to freedom when her feet become mutilated. When schoolteacher comes to reclaim his “property,” Sethe kills Beloved with a handsaw rather than see her returned to slavery. After Sethe serves a jail sentence for the murder, she and her children are free but Beloved's venomous and spiteful spirit begins to torment them, disappearing but then returning as a twenty-year-old. Moreover, Sethe is relentlessly haunted by guilt. Beloved's return is a horrible reminder of Sethe's history and, more significantly, of the horrific history of all African Americans.
[See also Paul D.]
Wilfred D. Samuels and Clenora Hudson Weems, Toni Morrison, 1990.Trudier Harris, Fiction and Folklore:The Novels of Toné Morrisioon, 1991.Patrick Bryce Bjork, The Novels of Toni Morrison: The Search for Self and Place within the Community, 1994.