Why Sethe's children weren't hers “It is the ultimate gesture of a loving mother.
It is the outrageous claim of a slave”. These are the words that Toni Morrison used to describe the actions of the central character within the novel, Beloved. That character, Sethe, is presented as a former slave woman who chooses to kill her baby girl rather than allowing her to be exposed to the physically, emotionally, and spiritually oppressive horrors of a life spent in slavery. Sethe’s action is indisputable: She has killed her child. Sethe’s motivation is not so clearly defined.
By killing her “Beloved” child, has Sethe acted out of true love or selfish pride? The fact that Sethe’s act is irrational can easily be decided upon. Does Sethe kill her baby girl because she wants to save the baby from slavery or does Sethe end her daughter’s life because of a selfish refusal to reenter a life of slavery? By examining the complexities of Sethe’s character it can be said that she is a woman who chooses to love her children but not herself. Sethe kills her baby because, in Sethe’s mind, her children are the only good and pure part of who she is and must be protected from the cruelty and the “dirtiness” of slavery. In this respect, her act is that of love for her children. Throughout Beloved, Sethe’s character consistently displays the duplistic nature of her actions.
Not long after Sethe’s reunion with Paul D. she describes her reaction to School Teacher’s arrival. Sethe’s words suggest that she has made a moral stand by her refusal to allow herself and her children to be dragged back into the evil of slavery.
From the beginning, it is clear that Sethe believes that her actions were morally justified. The peculiarity of her statement lies in her omission of the horrifying fact that her moral stand was based upon the murder of her child. By not even approaching the subject of her daughter’s death, it is also made clear that Sethe has detache.