Naming, Self-Ownership and Identity in Beloved

The main characters in Toni Morrison's "Beloved" are former slaves; their main struggle, after having been stripped of their humanity and identity by the white men who owned them, is to reclaim self-ownership and form identities independent of those forced upon them by their owners under the system of slavery. Morrison uses the themes of naming and renaming to demonstrate the power of defining that slavery allows whites to hold over blacks, to assert that slavery as an institution rather than individual slave owners are responsible for crushing the identities of those who suffered under it, and to illustrate the struggle for blacks to stake out an independent identity after slavery.

The institution of slavery grants Mr. and Mrs. Garner, the owners of Sweet Home, the power to name their slaves. Although Morrison portrays the Garners as generally benign in comparison to other slave owners, their demeanor is largely irrelevant; it is not slave owners as individuals, but slavery as a system that oppresses and exploits the main characters, undermining their ability to form identities of their own. Whatever the Garners' intentions, their position over the slaves means that Paul D and his brothers inevitably lack...

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