Names In Toni Morrison's Beloved

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For the hundreds of years where slavery persisted and thrived, the lasting toll that it took on African Americans as a whole is almost unfathomable. The conditions that slaves were required to suffer through tested more than just their physical endurance. A less prominent topic discussed are the physiological battles that slaves had to combat on a daily basis, starting first and foremost with their own names. At first blush, it may not seem like that drastic of a problem, but a name is rooted within one’s identity, and for many slaves, this loss of identity proved to be problematic. Within the novel Beloved, by Toni Morrison, the issues associated with naming are discussed and how it represents so much more than something you merely refer…show more content…
A lot of the dominance that white people exert throughout the novel takes advantage of how near and dear names are held. Sixo argues with schoolteacher, and even though he is in the right, is still the recipient of a beating: “Clever, but schoolteacher beat him anyway to show him that definitions belonged to the definers—not the defined” (Morrison 190). This passage exemplifies how the white owners were responsible for determining what was fair and what was not, simply by designating things as unacceptable. The nomenclature that slave owners used was demeaning and acted to undermine the importance of a slave’s existence. Mr. Garner went on to describe his slaves to another owner: “Y’all got boys,” he told them. “Young boys, old boys, picky boys, stroppin boys. Now at Sweet Home, my niggers is men every one of em. Bought em thataway, raised em thataway. Men every one” (Morrison 10). Additionally: “A real Kentuckian was: one tough enough and smart enough to make and call his own niggers men” (Morrison 11). His use of the term “men” to describe his slaves is quite hypocritical in that he is building them up, yet at the same time, is the one in control of their lives. He seems to justify his behavior but is using names as a means of repression. Mr. Garner is cognizant of the fact that: “Irrespective of their nomenclature, slaves were invaluable assets to the slaveholders. In fact, slaves were generally recognized as the landowners' most valuable asset” (Copeland 946). The white owners caused many slaves to question their own value simply by being the definers. Paul D questions wonders whether his own masculinity is in the hands of the Whiteman: “Is that where the manhood lay? In the naming done by a Whiteman who was supposed to know? Who gave them the privilege not of working but of deciding how to?”

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