Jeremy Keeshin Beloved: The Path from Arrogance to Destruction Among the most prominent natural human instincts

is the desire for power. Humans are constantly in a struggle to gain power or liberate themselves from the power of others. Those who wish to free themselves from the control of others face a daunting challenge. In the novel Beloved by Toni Morrison, each character has a distinct power struggle. The main character Sethe is involved in a struggle to free herself from the clutches of Beloved, the ghost of her dead daughter. Sethe wrestles with the concept of trying to get Beloved to accept her murder and understand the reasons for Sethe’s actions. Sethe’s struggle to gain Beloved’s approval reveals that she is arrogant because she wants others to empathize and appreciate her actions without having to admit wrongdoing. A major part of Sethe’s arrogance results from her denial of the past. When the reader is introduced to Sethe in Chapter 1, it becomes evident that she tries to conceal her past by the way that she only chooses to remember specific parts of Sweet Home. Her memory only allows her to remember the positive and not the gruesome aspects of life at her former plantation. Sethe tells how she only recalls certain aspects of her stay as Sweet Home: “It shamed her—remembering the wonderful soughing trees rather than the boys. Try as she might to make it otherwise, the sycamores beat out the children every time and she could not forgive here memory for that” (7). She uses this as a coping mechanism to deal with the horrific scars of her past. Sethe also uses denial when she tries to explain what happened and why it happened to Beloved. In Sethe’s mind, the murder was righteous, brave, and an act of love. Clearly, she is somewhat doubtful of herself, because she still feels the need to explain. When Sethe thinks of how she will explain to Beloved she says, “This is the first time I’m telling it and I’m telling it to you because it might help explain something to you although I know you don’t need me to do it” (227). Shortly afterward Sethe says, “I’ll explain to her, even thought I don’t have to” (236). Sethe’s stipulation

Jeremy Keeshin Beloved: The Path from Arrogance to Destruction in each of these quotes demonstrates the inconsistency of her character. Sethe’s paradox lies in the fact that she believes that Beloved already fully understands, but she still feels the need to explain her actions. Sethe subconsciously knows that Beloved does not understand, and that is why she is trying to explain to her. However, she does not want to admit to herself the possibility that there was a misunderstanding and that she could have been wrong, so she adds the condition that Beloved obviously understands. Another important aspect of Sethe’s arrogance is that it is brutal and unbending, and this causes her act somewhat irrationally. Throughout the book Morrison builds up the idea of Sethe’s iron will, but in contrast she also fosters the idea that her “love is too thick” (193). Sethe is the “one who never looked away” when a man got stomped to death and the dog got slammed by the baby ghost (14). She has seen the worst and dealt with the worst, and nothing fazes her anymore. When she sees schoolteacher coming to take her and her children away, she acts swiftly once again, and is not fazed. She seizes her children, knocks Howard and Buglar unconscious and saws off the head of her baby Beloved. She does this all without even taking a second thought, and she does it out of love. Sethe murders Beloved for her own good, but is too arrogant to realize that she could have been wrong. In her mind she maintains the image that she was right so she can continue living, but the idea of wrong flutters there as well, but cannot be admitted publicly. Morrison tells the reader of Sethe’s brutal arrogance when she states, “This here Sethe talked about safety with a handsaw” (193). This is the most powerful demonstration of her arrogance. Depending on the way it is perceived, the murder can be viewed as the most selfish or selfless action. However, her unremitting certainty seals it as selfish. She comes out of the shed with her “head a bit too high” and her “back a little too straight” as a open display of her sureness (179). Paul D labels the idea that was so appalling about the incident. Paul D realizes

Jeremy Keeshin Beloved: The Path from Arrogance to Destruction that “more important than what Sethe had done was what she claimed” (193). She claimed that, no matter what, she thought she was right. Sethe’s arrogance was not in the killing, but in the reaction to the killing. When Beloved tells Sethe she left her behind, she means that she left Beloved, as the incarnation of self-doubt, behind. Morrison wants us to see from Sethe’s arrogance that we must admit wrongdoing in an effort to reconcile our past. Sethe’s motherly arrogance leads her to only want the best for her children. Because Sethe had twenty-eight days of freedom and tasted its appeal and beauty in comparison to her years as a slave, she decides that neither she nor her children can ever go back to slavery. Sethe tells the extent to which she despises slavery when she says, “Oh, no. I wasn’t going back there…. Any life but not that one” (50). Sethe is arrogant in the sense that she out of all the slaves has the capability to love fully, while all of the others love a little, but safely. Sethe says to Paul D, “Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all” (194). Paul D only loved a little, Baby Suggs only loved a little, but Sethe loved fully and killed her child. Sethe wanted to make it up to Beloved because she didn’t think she understood. She tried to “persuade Beloved, the one and only person she felt she had to convince, that what she had done was right because it came from true love” (296). She gave herself fully to Beloved to do her every chore. Morrison explains the nature of the relationship: “A complaint from Beloved, an apology from Sethe” (283). However, as Beloved asked for more, Sethe gave more, and it became a vicious circle that fully consumed her life. The outcome of the struggle was that Sethe became weak, sick, and frail, while Beloved enlarged. This reveals that Sethe was unsuccessful in her quest to become absolved of her sin, or in her mind, her good deed, because she would not admit that she was wrong. Morrison tells the reader, “Sethe pleaded for forgiveness,” but she never confessed a possibility of wrongdoing (284). When Sethe fully devotes herself to Beloved, she leaves Denver behind: “The two of them

Jeremy Keeshin Beloved: The Path from Arrogance to Destruction cut Denver out of the games” (282). This flaw in Sethe’s motherhood was that in giving all of the attention to Beloved, she could not properly raise Denver. For years, Sethe had already been unable to raise Denver capably because they had set themselves in isolation. Sethe’s arrogance magnified the rift between I24 and the community because her decisions polarized the rest of the town. She had a bigoted moral code that only accepted those who thought she was right. She did not have friends and was too stubborn to sacrifice a little of her image to establish relations with the community. She was too worried about concealing and ignoring her past to try and barely eke out a present, let alone a future. Baby Suggs had given her the advice: “Think on it then lay it down,” but Sethe chose not to heed it (215). She set herself apart from the community when she stole instead of waiting in line with the others: “She despised herself for the pride that made pilfering better than standing in line at the window of the general store with all the other Negroes” (225). Her murder of Beloved set her apart from the community because no single person could relate to a woman who had killed her child and then been proud of it. Ella demonstrates the communities dislike for Sethe when she says, “I ain’t got no friends take a handsaw to their own children.” Sethe’s character plays an important role in Morrison’s overall message in Beloved. The reader learns from Sethe that a person who does not admit the wrongdoings of their past cannot reconcile the problems of the present. Sethe wanted to be understood, but she created a barrier between herself and the community by not reaching out to them when she was in need of help. Morrison tells us to never be too sure of ourselves, even in the most drastic of situations because overconfidence will lead to destruction. Morrison leaves the reader with the lesson that a person must not be too arrogant to admit their faults and ask for help, or they will continue to struggle and surrender to the problems they confront.

Jeremy Keeshin Beloved: The Path from Arrogance to Destruction

Works Cited Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Vintage Books, 2004.

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Special offer for students: Only $4.99/month.

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Cancel anytime.