Beloved Imagery

Getting Married

After Sethe and Halle get permission from the Garners to get married, Sethe imagines what her wedding will be like. The gap between what she envisions and what actually happens highlights the gap between white people and slaves in the antebellum South. Having heard Mrs. Garner’s stories about getting married, Sethe pictures a ceremony with her own special wedding dress, guests and friends to witness her special day, and even a feast to celebrate. Instead, she gets a dress she patched together from scrap fabric, along with one day to sneak away with her new husband. Sadly, because of slavery, Sethe’s images of getting married are more akin to daydreams than to reality.

Sethe’s Scars

Amy, the white girl who helps Sethe when she’s running away, uses an extended metaphor and vivid imagery to compare the scars on Sethe’s back to a chokecherry tree. Typically, we think of trees and nature as peaceful, but the images which Amy’s words conjure up are far from tranquil. She starts by comparing Sethe’s back to a trunk that’s “red and split wide open, full of sap…” (Morrison 144). This tells us that the schoolteacher's nephew’s whipping tore Sethe’s back open, leaving her flesh open to the world. Amy goes on and says that there are “tiny little cherry blossoms, just as white” in Sethe’s back (Morrison 144). Though it’s not explicitly stated, we can assume that the white cherry blossoms are glimpses of Sethe’s bones. The beating was so severe that even Amy remarks she hasn’t seen anything like it before. By taking the image of a peaceful tree and subverting it to an image of violence, Morrison reminds us that slavery is unnatural, albeit simultaneously a part of everyday life in the antebellum South.

Baby Suggs Being Set Free

Though in some ways tragic, the day that Baby Suggs is set free is a moment of triumph in the novel. Morrison illustrates the transformative moment of becoming a free woman by describing Baby Suggs’ physical feelings. For example, Baby Suggs looks down at her hands as if she’s never seen them before—that’s how “dazzling” they look to her (Morrison 249). Next, Baby Suggs feels “a knocking in her chest and discover[s] something else new: her own heartbeat.” (Morrison 250). Pointing out Baby Suggs’ recognition of her own heart shows us that before then, Baby Suggs considered that heart and the body it powered to belong to the Garners, not herself. This idea, introduced by Morrison’s powerful use of imagery, is supported when Baby Suggs thinks to herself, “Had it been there all along? This pounding thing?” (Morrison 250.) Gaining her freedom allows Baby Suggs to finally view her body as her own, and Morrison's imagery helps the reader to imagine what that might feel like.

The Schoolteacher Comes to 124

Beloved is mostly told from the perspective of its Black characters. One of the few exceptions is the flashback to the day that the schoolteacher comes to 124 in search of Sethe and her children. Morrison tells this memory from the perspective of a white viewer. This shift in narrative style gives the reader a peek into the mind of slave owners during this time. Words like “crazy” and metaphors comparing Stamp Paid and Sethe to animals and livestock illustrate how whites viewed slaves as sub-human. Furthermore, there’s a distinct lack of emotion in the white viewer’s description of the scene in the shed where Sethe is killing her children. This further demonstrates that slave owners viewed their slaves as property, not as human beings who should be mourned or cared for.