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Beloved is a mainly about the effects of slavery. The community is directly and indirectly involved in Sethe's murder of her child Beloved. That is the reason why the community shares the burden of guilt along with her. Only with the support of the community she can overcome her guilt. In the end of the novel the entire community joins together to help Sethe, by driving Beloved away from Bluestone Road. This was the best solution that Morrison could have proposed, it is the solidarity of all the black people in order to help one of them. It was the community who condemns her for the infanticide and it is the community who rescues her from the past, as a sort of making up for its past misbehavior.
In Beloved the concept of family is present all over the novel. Most of the characters, who are slaves, were torn apart from their families at an early age. There is almost no hope to discover what is left of their families. This separation has consequences on both Sethe, who is very possessive on her children and Paul D, who is determined not to love anything too much.
Sethe, because of the infanticide has been ostracized by the community and so she had to live in isolation shared by her remaining daughter and by the host of the daughter she killed, haunting the house they live in. The ghost, Beloved is presented quite ambiguously and it fact it may embody certain ideas. On one hand it may reflect Morrison's intention that Beloved to be a kind of "mirror" for the inner lives of the characters she deals with. In the case of Sethe it may reflect the mother's fears surrounding the killing of her baby. On the other hand it may be taken as areal character reflecting the real experience of native Africans. These two interpretations of Beloved hoped as Morrison says "to bridge the gap between Africa and Afro-America and the gap between the living and the dead and the gap between the past and the present" (Carmean 85).Finally, after the community of black women exorcises Beloved Paul D gives Sethe the final lesson "You are the best thing, Sethe. You are" (272-273).This answer is the key to her journey of true freedom and free love of life. Sethe's journey can begin only when she starts loving herself.
As the years pass on she is left only with her daughter Denver as a living reminder of the past. All those events that happen in the past as a childhood and adolescence spent in slavery, an obscene rape by two white boys, the loss of her husband, the killing of her daughter and her repudiation by her two sons left a deep imprint on her emotional baggage. She hopes she might forget all these crushing facts, but until Paul D arrives she did not manage anything.
In Sula, the family is important in the degree that it shapes a child's identity. Sula is not only such an eloquent example but she also portrays the way in which the community receives a woman who challenges the social norms already imposed in the town. Later, after she returns to Medallion she is regarded by the community as an outcast due to the fact that she refuses everything that was imposed and does whatever she wants. She becomes a strong, independent character. However, the characters those are around Sula serve as a starting point in comparing the different ways in which the community treats those who are different. Shadrack and Hannah are also outcasts from this community. But the difference lays in the fact that that these two have a kind of respect from the community whereas Sula is considered as something evil. Although the two Hannah and Sula have the same preoccupations, of sleeping with men the community regards them in two different ways: the community and even the wives of the men she slept have a certain degree of respect for her and she is never gossiped, whereas Sula is considered as something terrible, being the subject of all the gossips. There is also a difference in mentalities of the two, mother and daughter. Although Hannah taught indirectly this practice, Sula uses men whom she sleeps only for her own pleasure, taking in no consideration the men's feelings. She refused the patriarchal relationship, she refused to be the submissive part as her mother did. Sula even tried to gain power over these men. However her power resided in the fact that she was not one of those submissive wives. This brought her the hatred of the wives and the community. Sula is the element of unknown and new in her community, she is different from all points of view. She took care of herself and became a good looking woman. She is also the embodiment of a living criticism of all those members of the community who live a dreadful live of resignation.
Sula could not stand the idea of marriage of having children "I don't want to make somebody else. I want to make myself" (92).that is why her rejection of the patriarchal relationship. She sees the others wives who became like the starched coffins. This is another example when she rebels against the role that the society assigns to a woman.
At one pole stands Sula who comes from a home permissively free and at the other stands Nel, her friend, who comes from respectable and strict home. What unites them is their loneliness and dreams. They share everything from the same games to the same feelings and hopes until the day that Nel marries Jude. That was the moment when the two of them makes their way in life. Nel becomes the traditional wife choosing the path of home and babies while Sula leaves her home town for adventure. Although Morrison says that Sula is "evil", she furthermore explains:
I think that it is her unsettling nonconformity in a provincial place and time which makes her seem so wrong. She lived out her days exploring her own thoughts and emotions, giving them full reign, feeling no obligation to please anybody unless their pleasure pleased her.
This is exactly what she does when sleeping with her friend's husband. She is not capable to understand the gravity of her actions. When Nel accuses her she retorts "If we were such good friends, how come you couldn't get over it?"() Her answer reveals her insensitivity and justify in a in a way the town's hatred towards her.
When Sula died it was the end of evil times for the community of Bottom. It is Nel after 25 years who realizes that in all this time she missed Sula not Jude. "All that time, all that time, I thought I missed Judeâ€¦We was girls together. O lord girl, girl, girlgirlgirl" ().However the link between Black women is very strong, especially when they share so many things together. This is something that Morrison knows. Even though the community did not like her and her actions allow her to be the way she was. This is very important because elsewhere she could not have these freedoms.
In The Bluest Eye it is the omniscient narrator that recounts all the events and actions. The chapter when we are in introduced with the Breedlove family is prefaced by a reference to Jane's "very happy family" (34): "HEREISTHEFAMILYMOTHERFATHER
The family presented in the pages of the novel is in antithesis with the ideal white American family of Jane. We find out that the Breedloves fail to conform to the standards of beauty and happiness of the primer. Even their name is a little ironic: it is a self-hating family in which no love is bred. In fact this is nothing more than what the Afro-American critic Robert Stepo suggested but a practice. She introduced the white voice in the black text to prove her refusal to allow the white standards to arbitrate the success or failure of the blacks. This is her way of indicating the inappropriateness of the white voice to authorize the black text. The incomplete end words "H","P", "LA" that are happy, pretty and laugh are nothing else than the qualities absent in Pecola's life. In the end Pecola is a victim in a world eager to find reasons for her failure: "This soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live. We are wrong, of course but it doesn't matter. It's too late" (160).For Pecola it is too late , but For Claudia it is a more intense urge to develop a strong self-image.
Both Cholly and Pauline represent failures as parents and their failure are the consequences of their past. The omniscient narrator relates that "the pieces of his life could become coherent only in the head of a musician" (135).As for Pauline she "missed without knowing what she missed- paints and crayons" (89). Cholly is an unemployed alcoholic whereas his wife works as a domestic servant. The relationship in this family is based on violence and sexual perversion. The result of their lives, embodied in Pecola is tragic.
The same thing does the narrator Claudia, in rejecting the white criteria of judgment, assessing that she was happy despite the difficulties and the poverty. However she tries to understand the standards of white beauty. The most significant event is when she dismembers the doll o see of what it was made, to see the source of beauty. "I could not love it. But I could examine it to see what it was that all the world said was loveable" (20).
"This focus on the compounded effects of racial and gender oppression on the black women is achieved by means of an overdetermined narrative structure. Each short narrative foray leads to a single point, the suffering of Pecola. Each detail in the novel its own resonance to Pecola's tragedy, at the level of plot or symbolism"(Madhu 37).
The reader is constantly pushed by the narrative into Peacola's position, but our inability to fully identify with her leaves us feeling "winged but grounded" (158).
"The novel presentation of the impossible conditions of black feminity only occasionally take the black male as the other. There are moments in the novel when the black woman's absence is measured against the presence of a male subject. In her fantasies Pauline imagines herself as the passive receptor of a male presence. However the black male characters who achieve self-presence by negating black women are shown to be transferring upon these women the dehumanizing effects of their own experience of racism. " (Madhu 39).
"The presence that define black feminine characters in the novel as deficient is represented by the white woman" (Madhu 39). Pecola is aware that in her society blue eyes mean desirable feminity.
One of the most complicated and controversial manifestation of Morrison's double vision is the way she portrays the family. Her major aim is to write about "the need for family and community to nurture and sustain the individual" (Heinze, 55) and " she never valorizes the traditional structure" (Heinze, 55). In almost all the works of Morrison the women hold the family together in the face of "overwhelming odds, from Pecola's prostitutes' defiance of middle-class mores, to legless Eva and her mysteriously acquired wealth and Sethe's struggle with her ghost" (Heinze, 55).Morrison's suggestion is that unity cannot be maintained in a nuclear family when the father is absent from the household. Here are the examples of Ajax who take off and Paul D who gets out. She also adapts her own families to the social and historical context of her novels.
Morrison writes in these three novels against a capitalistic society, against male domination because she is not concerned with how the family is organized as long as she is "motivated by love" (Heinze, 57). However for Morrison the nuclear family doesn't work in a capitalist society, but instead she worships the women such as Sethe, Eva and Pauline for their strength to keep a family together, considering them as "vibrant and organic" (Heinze,67).
In Beloved there is a "trinity of women in the clearing", one of them is the Beloved, the ghost daughter who signifies matricide and the end of the "Myth of feminized bliss" (Heinze, 67).The community of women has the task to free Sethe's family from the burden of history and its guilt.
In The Bluest Eye, Beloved and Sula Morrison deals with the notion of ideal family that the black community aspires to and "exposes the surface respectability and security represented by the husband, wife and children" (Heinze, 67).
In The Bluest Eye and Sula, Morrison criticize harshly those black families who appear to have imitated the middle-class respectability such as Geraldine, The Breedloves, especially Pauline and the Wrights. While trying so hard to adopt the norms of the whites' middle-class and gain social acceptance they succeeded to destroy not only themselves but also their children. However these families consist of a mother and a father, but the father is portrayed either as invisible or abusive and the mother is portrayed as distant, arrogant and pathetic, what Morrison calls in Sula "distant mothers and incomprehensible fathers" (52). These men and women "representing levels of society and degrees of societal representation" (Heinze, 68) are the eloquent examples of those members of black society who measure their success in the degree they have come in denying their cultural roots and succeed in adopting the white society's norms. So Pauline and Helene Wright are both victims and victimizers of this society torn between two cultures.
In The Bluest Eye the tragedy lays in the incapability of a community to help and sustain a little black girl due to the fact that she was not white or pretty enough to fit in. Morrison made clear that while the white society is guilty for imposing certain values, the black community is responsible for its desire to embrace them. So, Pecola has no family or community to help her fight against the ideology of beauty and wealth, being all by her own.
Morrison reserves scathing attacks against those black families that poses financial resources and education and choose to distinguish themselves from the rest of the black people. This is the case of Geraldine who is proud by the distance she maintains from the blacks. She even came to consider "Colored people were neat and quiet: niggers were dirty and loud" (71).
Her son Junior is leaves after her standards, he is supposed to play only with white children. Due to the fact that the child has no access to his own ethnicity he ends by tormenting cats and black girls. It is Pecola who becomes victim of Junior who is a victim of Geraldine who is the victim of years of oppression. Nevertheless, Geraldine sees Pecola as a kind of social disease and becomes her enemy, embodying all those features that Geraldine tried to escape from: dirt, ignorance, silence and history.
The moment she orders Pecola out from her house is the moment she dismisses her black roots and even her love. It is also her fear of returning to the life she had before. That life that is best revealed by Pauline Breedlove. There is a resemblance between those women, they both migrated to the Midwest with the hope for a better life. In Lorain she reaches a hostile land where whites were much more numerous than black and Pauline is judged in terms of her external appearance.
Little by little as a devout Christian and a model servant she earns the respect of the other black women. Her existence is torn between the chaos of her house and the cleanness of the Fisher's house. Every time she tried to leave Cholly she stopped, remembering the happy times spent with him. Pauline reaches the point of judging herself in terms of work, church and movies. She has to bear a drunken husband and she keeps on praying for the salvation of her poor, ugly and sinful family. She does this as in order to fell herself useful.
Nevertheless her daughter Pecola instead of "flourishing under the nurturing love of her mother" (Heinze, 73) she becomes a victim of her mother desire to punish her ugliness. The most striking scene is when Pauline embraces the master's little white girl and beats her own daughter who was burned by the blueberry cobbler. But however the worst humiliation and degradation for Pecola is her father's rape. In order to justify in a sort this act Morrison presented his past: without no parents, no job, no moral values Cholly becomes free to do whatever he wants. "Free to feel whatever he felt-fear, guilt, shame love, grief, pity. Free to be tender or violent, whistle or weepâ€¦He was alone with his own perceptions and appetites, and they alone interested him" (126).
Although Cholly, Pauline and Geraldine are victims of a repressive system, each of them has his own fault for Pecola's rape and insanity. Despite the fact that she was one of their own they or a poor child they turned all their rage against her. Furthermore, the community's reaction was the same as before "They were disgusted, amused, shocked, outraged, or even excited by the story. But we listened for one who would say, 'Poor little girl', or 'Poor baby', but there was only head-wagging where those words should have been. We looked for eyes creased with concern, but saw only veils" (148).
However, the whole community is implicated in Pecola's tragedy .Even though Morrison offers an example of a black happy family the MacTeers. This family like many others has to endure poverty and hardship, but despite this they sustain and love each other so much that surpasses the day to day reality. They are a black model family which resisted the various temptations: like drinking for Cholly and movies and theatres for Pauline.
The MacTeers preserved their culture and sense of self, being in striking opposition with the community living in Lorain. Mr. MacTeer is a hard-worker who is pleased in keeping his family together. Because they are not concerned with the ideology of beauty and health imposed by the whites they concentrate their efforts on the family and community. Even when they take in Pecola, voluntarily, her anger is directed towards The Breedloves. In conclusion, the circumstances of their lives they are not capable of finding room in their hearts for Pecola. Mr. MacTeer and Mrs. MacTeer play equally parts in their family in keeping the family together.
Another aspect of this community is the world of prostitutes: China, Poland and Miss Marie. Morrison introduces the female construct household that will reappear in Eva household. They live according to their own norms, even though the religion condemns them. They exist at the periphery of the society. Pecola takes refuge in their house because the prostitutes, unlike her mother and Geraldine, they remain unaffected by the standards of any other culture that is not theirs. Thus, they cannot replace the mother's affection and the nature of their business denies them the opportunity to keep a child. So Pecola is let alone.
In Sula Morrison continues her critique against the capitalistic society and the patriarchal family. She, therefore, introduces the dichotomy between the nuclear family and the female-constructed household that she had placed between the Breedloves and the three prostitutes. Even though Morrison's tendency "in The Bluest Eye toward a naturalistic and fatalistic interpretation of life, is mitigated by Sula by the Creole whore and the legless Eva" (Heinze, 79). Even Morrison is less critique with the middle-class propriety and so Helen Wright is more attractive and sympathetic than Geraldine is.
The house of Helene Wright is like that of Geraldine's, a "Dickensian Stonelodge" (Heinze, 79). The husband of Helen and father of Nel is never home. He is away to gain money, whereas Helene is the custodian of his property and take care of their daughter. Helene teaches Nel only those values that will help her in society to gain respect and respectability such as: politeness, cleanliness, obedience and hard work. Any kind of aesthetic pleasure was undesirable because it did not produce any material gain. Nel came to hate "the oppressive neatness of her home" (20), preferring instead Sula's house where the mother Hannah never gave Sula any directions. In spite of Helene's economic status, the skin color is a clear indicator for the others of inferiority. It is the scene when the train conductor humiliates her, most significant of her inferiority.
Nevertheless Morrison places Eva's household at the centre of the novel, moving to periphery the notion of nuclear family illustrated by the MacTeers. While the MacTeer family works hard in order to make their living, Eva sacrificed her leg for capital gain. Due to this, she is free to live according to her own human needs. As a result, her household is "a veritable United Nations" (Heinze, 81) where there is a diversity of races: Pretty Johnnie who is mostly white, the three Deweys who are black and half-Mexican. The only requirement for entering in the house is a longing for a family.
Even though Nel and Sula adopt different life-styles from their mothers Helene Wright and Eva Peace, those life-styles clash and meld into each other so that both of them came to know each other's happiness and sorrow. Nel is enjoys her life as a married woman until Sula destroys their harmony. When Sula becomes accustomed with the pleasures of companionship Ajax lets her alone. In the end both women ale alone: Nel in life and Sula in death. In the final lines Nel realized that she loved Sula more than anything because it was a love unconditional and innocent.
In her first two novels Morrison uses death and insanity as a way to show the reader the destructive forces of an oppressive society. In The Bluest Eye offers few alternatives to a capitalistic and patriarchal system that imprisons men and women, but her optimistic view grow in Sula. However, the Peace household crumbles like the House of Usher due to the external pressures. Eva's son dies in the war and Hannah burns to death. It is difficult for Eva to deal with all these, especially when her grand-daughter treats with a cruel indifference and lapses into dementia. Finally, Sula the last member of the Peace family dies.
Contrastingly with the previous two novels in Beloved the family is "completely dysfunctional" (Heinze, 92) that it almost ceases to exist. Once the pillar of the family: the husband and the father has disappeared, the wife and the mother is not capable anymore of sustaining the family and becomes victim of murder or insanity. Even, Baby Buggs, the grandmother gives up. The moment of when Beloved is exorcised is the moment when Sethe's family is dissolved. However what is left is a "ragtag assembly of friends and relatives" (Heinze, 93) that is held together by a community of women.
Nevertheless Morrison's intention is not of suggesting that the black family cannot survive. Thus, the destruction of the family is necessary, because in this case the man returns to his woman, with the purpose of starting a family anew. But before his return the woman deals with an evil ghost that is a step ahead towards the healing and the rebirth. So Paul D. returns, and has reconciliation with Sethe. Nevertheless Morrison points out his difficulty in staying with the family due to the political and economical discrimination.
"Beloved is a retreat into the shadow of the American psyche and acts as a historical precedent to and psychological referent for the acts of child abuse and infanticide that are prevalent in Morrison's books" (Heinze, 94).Morrison had chosen as the best way to reveal the rage of the oppressed by means of the parents abuse of their children. Sethe as a slave looses her humanity and freedom and came to kill her own daughter. Others examples caused by racial oppression are: Cholly's rape is his notion of love; war oppression turns Eva's son, Plum, into a drug addict, fact that makes her kill him.
"Sethe's family is a complicated matrix: power and control, familial roles, sexual relations and reality continually shift" (Heinze, 94). As a result the family becomes a function of time and place. In the past Sethe and Halle were the pillars of the family, after she is left alone she cares of her family until she is threat hen with death. The appearance of the white girl was a miracle and represents the creation of a new family and even more because Sethe lost his hope of seeing Amy in this world. Away from any constraint, in nature the two form a family that based on need and love. Soon Amy leaves and Sethe remains responsible for her family.
However, at the Baby Suggs Plantation, Sethe is again in the position to make a decision for their children: either slavery either death. She decides to kill her little daughter assuming the role of a protector and saves the family from dissolution. Then, Sethe is condemned by the entire community. As a result she gives to Baby Suggs the role of keeping the family together. Eventually Baby Suggs gives out and dies of disillusionment and bitterness.
Beloved becomes for Denver, her sister, a comfort while for Sethe a constant reminder of her act. It is Paul D who comes to rescue Sethe from the past and assumes the position of the head of the household. Beloved returns after a period to destroy her mother happiness and challenge the new arrived. Beloved, by means of manipulation succeeds in gaining control over Paul D sexually and over Sethe and Denver emotionally. Beloved position is solidified when Paul D reveals Halle's faith to Sethe. The piece of news makes Sethe reconsider her feeling for Paul D. Later Paul D decides to leave because he was not strong enough to share together wit Sethe the burden of guilt and he also realizes that he became almost insignificant for Sethe.
The moment Paul D left the family looses its stability and is destined to destruction. Sethe spends all her time waiting for Beloved. Denver assumes the head of the household position and seeks employment. Beloved becomes fat greedy and does not care about her mother's care at all. Beloved's aim is to make her mother pay for what she did. The women from the town anticipate what might happen and intervene and save the family from the evil spirit of Beloved. Finally Paul D returns and his arrival is the beginning of a new family free to develop.
Indeed, the most disconcerting aspect of Morrison's fictional families is that they are so delightful, so invigorating, so spiritually refreshing, but so virtually impossible. Just as we begin to love them, just as we begin to love, just as they become an important new addition to our psychic and spiritual concept of household, they are destroyed. When Pecola, Hannah, Plum, Eva, Sula and Beloved are cast off, die, or go insane, the reader experiences a personal loss and family, a part of the reader (Heinze, 101).