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Ivan Luana

Master Studies, English Language and Literature
2nd year

Psychoanalytic Approach in Toni Morrison's Beloved

Abstract: The present paper is meant to underline the main theories of Freud's psychoanalysis
applied to Toni Morrison's award-winning novel Beloved and the very strong connection between
all of them and the way they are intertwined with one another. The structure of the psyche is of a
great importance to take into consideration in analyzing the characters, while the function of the
consciousness and the mental processes of the characters, together with the particular motifs and
symbols, will help us get a deeper insight of the undersides of Morrison's masterpiece.

Beloved explores the physical, emotional, and spiritual decay mutilated by slavery,
a decay that will continue to haunt the characters during the entire unfolding of the
novel. It is a novel in which love is expressed quite differently and hard to
understand, as soon as the main character, Sethe, kills her own daughter in order to
save her from the terrifying claws of the slavery. It is also a novel in which the
shadows of the past keep tormenting the present of the characters. Having pointed
out all of these features that outline the entire novel, we have a great variety of
characteristics that can make us analyze it from a psychoanalytic perspective.

To begin with, the iceberg theory divides the human’s mind schematically
into three dimensions: the Id or the unconscious which contains everything that is
inherited, that is presented by birth, that is fixed in the constitution, the Id
incorporates all the primitive desires, it is based on the hedonism of life, of seeking
pleasure in all things and avoiding pain. On the other hand, the Id encompasses all
our deepest fears, dreams and desires which tend to subjugate the social conceptions
and boundaries. The second dimension of the psyche is the ego or the conscious

becomes inhumane. the orders and values accepted and allowed by the society. Sethe’s ego consists in the fear of slave life.personality. In the essay "Dilemma of the Displaced: A Study of Toni Morrison’s Select Novels. ego and superego can be very well applied on Sethe's state of mind and starting with this theory we can analyze Sethe's psychological changes and behaviour throughout the entire novel and she is going through a lot of things than did actually "modelled" her not in a very positive way. the love Sethe has for her daughter is so great that it brings her death. for instance: she would not have killed her daughter if she had loved her. even though she resorts to the most horrific methods in doing so. the social construct of the mind. it is the love the society would see. love is also a social construct. the only humane and innocent feeling that she has been left with: the love for children. Sethe’s id could describe her greedy desire for freedom that. Sethe’s superego is her maternal love. the side of the mind which feeds itself with our repressed feelings. an act that people from outside percieve differently. she is merely pulled by her own primary instincts. but deep down. above all. Another aspect in our psychoanalytic interpretation of the novel is displacement. It is the point in which she does become aware that life of a slave is the worst things she could have ever gone through and she becomes afraid of the white people reiging over the black people." Karunashree points out that: 2 . Freud's pattern of the id. to spare her children from having the same future. to some extent. to save herself and. the place in which we store the “forbidden” fears and desires mentioned above. The last part of the „iceberg” is represented by the super ego. In playing the role of the superego. Following this pattern that I have already mentioned below. she is constantly and desperately trying to get away from the chains of slavery.

" (9) Beloved herself deals with displacement as a consequence of the lack of her father's figure. The extent to which the black women in American society were tortured made them to wonder if they had to live. in her article "Community and Love: Understanding the Past in Toni Morrison's Beloved. he is not there in Beloved's oedipal stage. Their displacement has caused specific contradictions in the social order of their life. this is why she becomes more affectionate towards her mother and tries to seduce Paul D when he lives with them. Sethe and Beloved are the displaced black women who struggle towards liberation and self-hood. All of these features." she pertinently argued that: 3 . although present is Beloved's character predominantly. Sethe centers her entire attention upon Beloved and tries somehow to offer her what her father has never given her before. they represent the overall idea of a slave. As Maria del Mar. In this situation. captivity. most slaves repressed these memories in an attempt to forget the past. But at some point Beloved begins to ignore Sethe's feelings and her demands suddenly increase and she even tries to become her. The only thing the slaves wanted at that time was to completely forget the sorrow caused by slavery and totally bury it in the ground. Because of the experiences of slavery. It is an act of mercy killing performed by a mother just for the sake of safeguarding her daughter from the pangs of slavery. the father is out of context. the Oedipal Complex implies a certain affection of the daughter for her father. and horror. Coined by Freud itself. his continuous search of self- identity and the inevitable failure in finding it. Beloved is a girl who was killed by her mother Sethe. "Beloved portrays the displaced Africans as the victims of slavery who had to undergo pain. Beloved deals exclusively with the distorted love of a mother for her child under the oppression of slavery. Sethe had no freedom even to feed her baby […]. the isolated man and his diminished personality in a white man's world. due to displacement and desire for transition.

So. about Denver. as if he wanted to catch up with life that way. about tomorrow. nevertheless. for instance. about age and sickness not to speak of love. and. they cannot escape the past. in his essay "Family Romances. in a sense." (12-13) All of these feelings against slavery were repressed but they came back to haunt them much more later. Bodwin for schoolteacher and runs at him with an ice pick. Both of them have one thing in common.» She is interested in the present. the past always returns […]. This struggle to repress the memories does harm the characters in a much more horrific manner and they come back in an uglier form. she is terrified when she thinks she sees schoolteacher who is the embodiment of all of her dark and miserable past and throughout the story she tries to get away from it but with every step she makes. about Beloved. of the future that lies ahead. almost despair. as Sethe puts it: «No thank you. in the present feelings that. haunting them. for example. at the end of the novel when Sethe mistakes Mr." points out the fact that 4 . but this life is impossible to live without its past account. Therefore. to cling to whatever she possesses or is left to her. tormenting them and even bringing them the inevitable death. seem to be blocked by the past she tries to unlearn. Sethe's refusal to leave and her need. This conscious rejection of the past is justified by the characters in the name of the present. She wants to distance herself from the past by merely killing every shade of it. Sigmund Freud. though: their wish to escape from the memories related to their enslaved past […]. on the other. So far two alternatives of dealing with life have been proposed: on the one hand. l don' t want to know or have to remember that. nor can they change it or embrace it. Despite all efforts. it seems that the characters are trapped in a sort of vicious circle in which they refuse to remember the past in favor of their present life. she bumps into it. Paul D's desire to continually move on. I have other things to do: worry. in the form of the schoolteacher. The strong relationship between mother and daughter is very well felt in the novel and it represents another feature of the psychoanalytical theories.

things are much more complicated regarding the relationship mother daughter. while the mother is ‘certissitma’. including her mother's milk. All these theories applied on our present text are a good occasion to go through the mental processes of the characters. even though this means killing one of them. In conclusion."(98-99) She suffers because she cannot be with her children and raise them but his maternal instinct is constantly more powerful and tells her it is better to be separated from them than letting them live in slavery. Her maternal labor is supposed to be theirs. and with empathy and emotion. In this economy in which even one's own body is not one's property. which is regarded as something unalterable. as Marianne Hirsch affirms in her essay "Maternity and Rememory: Toni Morrison's Beloved": "Sethe is permanently separated from her husband. But in the end Beloved and Sethe get closer and closer as if they were trying to catching up with what they have missed but they end up destroying one another. on the other. Beloved. Halle. this love ends up in pain from both sides. proving that the past comes back and it cannot transform into something better. it depicts a particular story of a family destroyed by this inhumane enemy called slavery. Freud's psychoanalytical theories help up get a closer look at the undersides of this novel and look at it with a critical eye. the white masters can rob Sethe of everything. not hers or her children's." (239) In Beloved. and realizes that ‘pater semper incertus est’. on one hand. and separates herself from her own children when she sends them ahead to freedom. the family romance undergoes a curious curtailment: it contents itself with exalting the child's father. but no longer casts any doubts on his maternal origin. besides offering us a deep insight of the life of slaves and what they had to deal with back in those days."when presently the child comes to know the difference in the parts played by fathers and mothers in their sexual relations. to get to understand them and their choices 5 .

S. "Community and Love: Understanding the Past in Toni Morrison's Beloved." The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud." 1994. it comes back in the most horrific shapes and. (1909). 11-17. Print. as Freud himself would probably put it. Hirsch. Marianne. 235-242. Control. 2. in order to understand our present we need to accept the past. Bibliography: 1. Volume IX (1906-1908): Jensen's ‘Gradiva’ and Other Works. 08-10. Freud. Del Mar. Print.better and become more aware of the seriousness of the events. Science.” International Conference on Systems. 3. "Maternity and Rememory : Toni Morrison's Beloved. 4. Engineering and Technology 2016." Print. Maria Gallego Duran. Print. “Dilemma of the Displaced: A Study of Toni Morrison’s Select Novels. V S Karunashree. "Family Romances. Communication. What is certain in this novel is that past cannot be forgotten. 6 .