Slavery a purpose. Sethe is already convinced that her

Slavery is dehumanisation in every
situation. In Beloved, Toni Morrison uses different instances and cases of
racism to complicate her novel and to show how “multiple hegemonic forces
maintain a racist society” (Humann 61).
In the first quartile of Beloved,
Sethe trusts Mister and Missus Garner. Mrs. Garner gives Sethe earrings for her
wedding. She did not wear the earrings, she just held them. The earrings “made
her believe that she could discriminate among them” (Morrison 188). It was not
just ill treatment that made slavery the monster it was. It was also the imbalance
of wealth and the worth money held in that time. Money was only the object of
white people; slaveowners. For Sethe to hold something valuable made her feel
powerful. It made her feel that she had the sort of power the slaveowners did.
This is proved in how Morrison uses the word “among” instead of “between”
(Humann 61). Sethe means that she feels she can discriminate among the
slaveowners themselves (Humann 61). Sethe is confused about her identity. For
an instance, she forgets that she herself is a slave and is not in the position
to be racist. Morrison writes this confusion into the novel with a purpose.
Sethe is already convinced that her space in the hegemonic society can be
altered, causing confusion with her identity. This confusion is not only visible
within her own identity. One can apprehend that it must be as difficult, if not
more to distinguish good slaveowners from the bad. They did not know who to
trust. This decision on whether to trust a white person or not determined their
identity and their future. Their lives “depended on it” (Humann 62). Sethe
identity as a slave was not her identity. It was the identity governed by white
people in her hegemonic society. Sethe could not make her own decisions.
Sethe’s body was not even her own. Therefore, when it comes to the subject of
self-identity, Sethe can be identified as not having one to begin with during
her time in Sweet Home.  

Slavery removes the slaves’
humanity in Beloved by treating them as
beings other than humans. Throughout her years in ‘Sweet Home’, Sethe and the
other slaves are treated as animals. Whilst Paul D was working, he was forced
to wear a bit in his mouth (Morrison). Not only were they treated as animals,
but as working animals bred merely for human use and ownership. Due to the hegemonic
society in which all characters live in, the slaves are treated as subhuman. Trudier
Harris confirms this when he compares the freedom of Paul D and the rooster
‘Mister'”. He writes that as Mister struts around the barnyard, “strutting for
the hens present”, he is exercising a freedom and control over his life that is
greater than Paul D’s freedom and control over his life (Harris 181). Paul D has less self-identity than
Mister because while Mister can make his own decisions over what he does with
his body, Paul D cannot. Because of this treatment, characters begin to mimic
animals. Painful events are normalised and taken for granted since painful
events happen regularly. It would have been easy for Africans in America at the
time get used to the treatment and to have experienced a low in the need to retaliate
or question such treatment. It is not until the pain steps up on another level
do they realise that the happenings during slavery are painful and should not
be occurring to them. It is only in the crossing to the next level of a slave’s
pain threshold does one feel the need to act. In Sethe’s case, this levelling
up of pain occurs in the shed with schoolteacher and his nephews.

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What happens in the shed with
schoolteacher and his nephews is another example of the spectrum that shows how
white people treated slaves. Schoolteacher’s abuse was more verbal while his
nephews’ abuse was physical. Though schoolteacher did not lay a finger on
Sethe, both pains were arguably equally as heavy. Schoolteacher says that she
has animal characteristics and reasons how Africans and white people are
genetically different. Schoolteacher sees Sethe has being genetically flawed
and animal-like. His nephews however, milk Sethe as one would an animal. It is
evident that Sethe is far more traumatised and pained by the milking over
schoolteachers’ words. In Beloved,
when Sethe recalls the happenings of what happened in the shed to Paul D, she
put emphasis on “and they took my milk” (Morrison). Humann writes that the
milking is more painful to Sethe because it hurts her in a way only human can
be hurt (Humann 67); and that is through humiliation. One could argue that
schoolteacher’s words were humiliating also. This can be resolved in considering
that while Sethe could choose whether to take in schoolteacher’s words or not,
she could not have control over what happened to her body. Whilst schoolteacher
tried to convince her that she was an animal through words, his nephews treated
her like an animal; took control of her body and what it produced (Humann 67).
Milking Sethe was a more intimate and personal violation (Humann 67), not just
to her humanity but also to her womanhood. It was one thing they could have
taken from her that distinguished her from a male slave. This act connotes that
they have control of her children as much as they do her milk; as both things
can only be taken from a woman’s body. The next level of Sethe’s pain, is
partially being raped or milked, but mostly about the danger of her children. This
is the act that causes Sethe’s trauma and her need to escape. The desperation
to keep her children away from slavery is what causes the ghost of slavery to
linger in her home. This treatment of Sethe being an animal mirrors the behaviour
of Sethe as she kills her child. It is an act that some mother animals do to
their young when they have been touched. The mother animal kills their young
for having been “owned” by somebody else. This act took Sethe’s self-identity
as a human being as well as a woman. This is what causes the trauma that brings
Sethe onto another level of her pain threshold that encourages her that it
wasn’t such a horrible thought to kill her children. 


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