We all have something we enjoy doing or something we are successful at, whether it be sports, academics, or playing an instrument. We all have people who love and care about us and we are all born with rights. All these aspects of our lives provide us with a nurturing environment that enables us to find ourselves and be successful. They give us a reason to live and allow us to feel of value. As middle class citizens of the 21st century, it is quite difficult for us to imagine life without these blessings and privileges. However, only about 200 years ago, slaves of this country were denied these fundamental necessities. The degradation many people experienced was so severe that life after slavery left them feeling completely worthless. This idea of the extreme dehumanization induced by slavery and the effects it had on the victims is explored throughout Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved. Morrison also shows the ways in which these people learned to emotionally survive such harsh treatment. Both Sethe and Paul D experience an early life in which their entire beings are seized by this tragic reality. Nevertheless, they are able to fight the aftershocks by finding a reason to keep going and a method to temporarily lessen their pain. Toni Morrison communicates the idea that people are able to survive the horrific memories of their pasts by developing coping mechanisms and finding a purpose that gives their lives meaning.
Sethe’s coping mechanisms are avoiding her past and her devotion to her children. The horrific memories of slavery are far too intense and painful for Sethe to reflect back on. Therefore, she tends to avoid encounters that remind her of these memories. Sethe continuously repeats the story of Denver’s birth to her, but does not tell such details of her prior years, in an attempt to avoid the pain these memories hold. Furthermore, Sethe refrains from speaking about Beloved’s infanticide. She prolongs telling the story to Paul D for as long as possible and simply never discusses it with Baby Suggs. Although avoiding her past does not fully alleviate the emotional impacts of slavery, it serves as temporary coping method that allows her to keep going. For this reason, Sethe’s main focus remains on providing for her children. Their needs seem to give her a purpose as a human being, as their lives depend on her services. She develops the strength to overcome the painful affects of slavery by remembering her responsibility as a mother. After all that has been taken from her, Sethe wants nothing more than to have something she can call hers. Her actions suggest the fact that she rarely intends to benefit herself, unless she is serving the interest of her children in the process. For instance, when recalling a memory from Sweet Home in which a group of teenage boys mammary rape her, Sethe is not so much concerned with the offense of rape, but is astonished by the fact that the boys would strip her of one the one gift she has to give her children—her breast milk. When retelling the story to Paul D, he is highly concerned with the physical abuse Sethe suffered during the incident. However, Sethe only repeats: “And they took my milk” (17). The predominant reason for Sethe’s great distress is that she feels that her maternal role has been stripped from her. Without providing for her children, Sethe has nothing left. The extent of Sethe’s devotion becomes most apparent with the arrival of Beloved. Sethe gives Beloved anything and everything she desires and completely gives up all other aspects of her life for her. Sethe feels that by doing so, she is fulfilling her purpose: to provide for her children. Sethe’s faithfulness to her children gives her life meaning and allows her to survive the shockingly horrific impacts of slavery.
Paul D is able to survive the emotional impacts of slavery by avoiding to become too attached to anything and reuniting with Sethe. He resists sharing his feelings by