Greek Tragedy In Toni Morrison's Beloved

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Tragedy―a timeless phenomenon. Sometimes used in fiction to entertain, yet sometimes induces great suffering for real people. The genre of Greek tragedy is a staple of Ancient Greek culture, and its influence continues to be seen in fiction today. In Beloved, Toni Morrison tackles the story of African Americans post-Civil War. Traditionally, and stereotypically, people today perceive the end of the Civil War as a concrete turning point for the lives of African Americans at the time, as if their quality of life improved immediately after the war. However, Morrison dispels such a notion by framing Beloved as a work of suffering, repression, and tragedy. She uses the framework of Greek tragedies to illustrate the lingering and traumatic effects…show more content…
Sethe and her daughter are isolated from the community due to Sethe’s killing of her youngest child, an action Sethe justifies as “put[ting] my babies where they’d be safe” but one which Paul D sees as a love “too thick” (Morrison 193). Her misjudgment fits Aristotle’s description of the fatal flaw. The trauma she experienced as a slave made her justifiably determined to not let her children return to slavery, but her panicked actions resulted in her isolation the community. As her isolation is caused by herself rather than an external force such as slavery, she is a fitting model for a Greek tragedy protagonist. Sethe’s “thick love” continues to linger after the killing, as she says she wanted to die alongside her youngest child after she killed her so she can continue to take care of her daughter, and states “[Beloved] is mine” after her realization that Beloved is her daughter (Morrison 241). Her flaw is not a temporary misjudgment, but a chronic issue of her single-minded goal to nurse her child regardless of her…show more content…
When Sethe tells Paul D the story of her being beaten by the schoolteacher, he focuses on the beating itself, but she instead repeats the phrase “they took my milk” (Morrison 20). While slavery is a horror, it is a dead horror that people today cannot relate to. However, by having Sethe focusing on her milk, Morrison laments the pain of a mother’s sacrifices to support her children even when she is unable to support herself. Even during her assault, Sethe focuses on her breast milk, meant for her child, being taken from her. The portrayal of the hardship of motherhood allows Sethe’s experience as a slave to transcend beyond the time period and become a universal suffering that people can relate to, therefore achieving mimesis. Meanwhile, Paul himself is another character whom Morrison uses to achieve mimesis. He keeps his emasculating torments as a slave in a “tin can” where his heart used to be, which he is unwilling to open because he feared if Sethe “got a whiff of the contents it would really shame him” (Morrison 85). His time as a slave made him see himself as a property rather than a man, which results in his loss of identity and repression of emotions, as well as prevents him from connecting with Sethe. His inability to convey his love prevents him from accepting and moving on from his trauma, and therefore creates pity. His
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