Character Sketch of Sethe in Beloved

In sketching the character of Sethe, Toni Morrison has displayed a remarkable excellence. Sethe is one of the central characters of Morrison's novel Beloved. She is a black woman and previous slave, who was orphaned by the death of her slave parents. She has bitter experience of brutal slavery. She is the wife of Halle, who has disappeared before the start of the novel. She is a mother of Buglar, Howard and Denver.

Toni Morrison (Born in1931)

Morrison depicted Sethe as a mother whom death is far more emancipatory than the life chained in the bondages of Slavery. Sethe was uneducated. She did not have a reasonable way of dealing with an instantaneous problem because of her ignorance. When the schoolteacher came to 124 Bluestone searching for Sethe and her children, she became confused, frightened and illogical. She was utterly helpless. There was no aid for her. In a fit of frightened confusion, she killed Beloved hoping that her dead daughter would not have to undergo the psychologically torturous experiences of sexual assault and rape. She is hunted by the ghost of her daughter, Beloved. Sethe is a strong woman who lives under an oppressive cultural and social system that does not permit her to be nurtured or to nurture others reliably. Sethe was hurt severely. Sethe understands the horrors of slavery in its most intimate violations, the violations of family trust between mother and child. She also understands the violation of being treated as an animal and is determined that her own children will not endure the treatment she has received at the hands of white slaveholders. Since she believed that the next world would be a safer place than this one, she tried to kill all her children rather than seeing them grows up in slavery. Even though she believed she was acting reasonably and in good faith, she also knew that she had a right to take her baby's life. As a result, she is haunted by guilt throughout the novel.

Morrison presented Sethe as an alienating character. She lost her husband where, how and why—she does not know. Frightened by the murder of Beloved by their mother, her two sons ran away from her. When the community at 124 Bluestone knew about the trial of Sethe on charge of murder, she was ostracized by her community. Therefore, she lived in isolation. In her small house across the 124 Bluestone Road she lived a life ravaged by alienation, corroded by ostracism, crushed by her repressed erstwhile suffering. By her mother's inability to care for her because of the slave environment in which they lived; taken from her mother as an infant, she only saw her a few times in her life. As a result, she has pitifully few bits and pieces of memory of her mother. As an adult, Sethe understands that her mother was constrained by slavery and, therefore, literally unable to tend to her. As a child, however, she could not understand the lack of attention she received from her mother. She felt only abandonment and loss.

Sethe's recovery involves her facing and dealing with the past. When she tries to leave it behind without confronting it, the apt comes back to her embodied and demanding in the form of Beloved. Even then, she tries to forget the past and make up for it, instead of grieving, accepting, and working through it. She tries to give up herself in order to give everything to the child she injured. In the end, she is able to accept herself and take a path towards wholeness.