Toni Morrison's Beloved - Identity Essay

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Review of "Beloved: A Question of Identity"

In her essay "Beloved: A Question of Identity," Christina Davis discusses the issue of identity from an historical perspective, a textual perspective and an authorial perspective. She looks at the text in comparison to the slave narrative, explores how the text itself expresses issues of identity and describes Morrison's choices of authorship and their contribution to identity. Her exploration of the theme of identity calls upon the treatment of self-image, particularly in the context of slavery; and outward image as expressed by naming and other white descriptions of the black characters. Her organization of information is historically sequential, ordering elements as they occurred …show more content…

She notes that at the age of thirteen, marking her arrival at Sweet Home, Sethe "has never seen the likeness of her own face" (151). Beyond this individual and specific way in which slaves may be deprived of self-image, Davis traces how the social structures created by slavery inherently efface self-image. She also identifies the ways in which Morrison's characters find ways of identifying and viewing themselves as separate from slavery. The first example is the wedding. The novel's description of Mrs. Garner's wedding and its extravagance serves to highlight the contrast between black and white. Davis notes that under the institution of slavery, Sethe's wedding to Halle is not and cannot be validated since "no such sentiments, no such sacraments apply to her" (152). However, "Sethe cannot see herself in this way and so she creates her own ways of consecrating her marriage" (152). Davis links this self-appropriation of imagery to Sethe's habit of bringing flowers and herbs to work with her "thus appropriating for herself the place where she is to work" (152). By creating her own symbols in these two situations, Sethe is able to become her own subjective self, beyond the objectification of slavery. As further example of the loss of identity under slavery, Davis discusses the lack of modeling that results from the lack of a community of older women to teach Sethe about child-rearing.

Self-image is greatly influenced by

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