Beloved

by: Toni Morrison

Slavery

Quotes Slavery
“Not at Sweet Home, my niggers is men every one of em. Bought em thataway, raised em thatway. Men every one.”

Paul D recalls what Mr. Garner always said about his slaves. Other slaveowners have “boys” who they infantilize and distrust, but Garner treats his slaves with respect. For instance, Halle earns money to buy his mother’s freedom, the men use guns, and slaves can learn to read. In reality, Garner’s unique version of slavery is unsustainable. Wholly dependent on Garner’s good will, the Sweet Home way of life dies with him. More importantly, the Sweet Home slaves are still slaves, lacking free will and self-determination and will never truly be men or women.

daylight comes through the cracks and I can see his locked eyes I am not big small rats do not wait for us to sleep someone is thrashing but there is no room to do it in

Beloved channels the experiences of her ancestors on the slave ship as if she were there. Her sentences are disjointed as is the narrative and the events. Nevertheless, she provides enough details of the cramped quarters below deck, the surrounding waters, and later, sexual degradations to make clear that she describes the journey known as the Middle Passage. Beloved, a ghost come back from the dead, is the living embodiment of the past and has the ability to tap into the collective history that belongs to all slaves.

He would have to trade this here one for $900 if he could get it, and set out to secure the breeding one, her foal and the other one, if he found them.

After his failed escape, Paul D hears schoolteacher make plans about what to do with him and how to get back Sethe and her children. Schoolteacher’s musings over his options drives home the monetary aspect of slavery, both for the reader and for Paul D. Whereas Paul D had felt himself to be part of the Sweet Home community, in reality, slavery means that he, Sethe, her children, and the others are just like any other animal on the farm, only valued for their ability to labor and produce. This scene shows how slavery reduces all humans and destroys humanity.

“I looked at the back of her neck. She had a real small neck. I decided to break it. You know, like a twig—just snap it. I been low but that was as low as I ever got.”

Stamp Paid tells Paul D of the trauma incurred when his wife was repeatedly raped by their owner’s son. He does so in order to help Paul D understand how Sethe could make the choice to harm her children. Stamp’s narrative exposes the brutality and indignity of slavery. Neither Stamp nor his wife have the power to prevent the rapes, and since Stamp is unable to channel his rage toward the white man, where it belongs, he focuses it on his wife instead. Whether he killed his wife is unclear, but he took on a new name indicating he no longer has obligations to anyone.

That anybody white could take your whole self for anything that came to mind. Not just work, kill, or maim you, but dirty you. Dirty you so bad you couldn’t like yourself anymore.

Sethe desperately wants Beloved to understand that the degradations of slavery led her to decide to kill her children. The children are still clean, whereas slavery has sullied her and the other slaves who lived under it. Those women and men know life under cruel, unstable owners. They know what it feels like to be unable to protect their own children. Sethe refuses to let her children exist in such a world. When she weighs life under slavery against no life at all, death wins.