Ipseity, Self-Ownership, And Naming In Beloved

The primary characters in Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” are previous slaves; their primary battle, after having been stripped of their humankind and identity by the white guys who owned them, is to recover self-ownership and kind identities independent of those required upon them by their owners under the system of slavery. Morrison uses the styles of calling and renaming to show the power of defining that slavery enables whites to hold over blacks, to assert that slavery as an organization rather than specific servant owners are accountable for squashing the identities of those who suffered under it, and to show the battle for blacks to stake out an independent identity after slavery.

The organization of slavery grants Mr. and Mrs. Garner, the owners of Sweet Home, the power to call their slaves. Although Morrison depicts the Garners as normally benign in comparison to other servant owners, their disposition is largely unimportant; it is not slave owners as individuals, however slavery as a system that oppresses and makes use of the primary characters, weakening their capability to form identities of their own. Whatever the Garners’ intentions, their position over the slaves indicates that Paul D and his siblings undoubtedly lack self-ownership. The names Paul D, Paul A, and Paul F– as well as the typical surname Garner– are a continuous reminder to each of these characters that they exist as residential or commercial property rather than as men.

For several years Paul D believed that schoolteacher turned the people Garner had raised into men back into kids. And it was that made them run off. Now, pestered by the contents of his tobacco tin, he questioned just how much of a distinction there really was prior to schoolteacher and after. Garner called and revealed them males– but only on Sweet Home, and by his leave. Was he naming what he saw or creating what he did not?

Questioning here whether or not he was ever really a male under Garner, Paul D draws out a point that had been masked by the obvious differences between the 2 owners: slavery under any owner has the exact same psychological impacts on the servant, and constantly renders the servant not able to end up being an independent identity. Mr. Garner’s effort to raise his slaves as “guys” by enabling them more obligation and external respect than many slave owners is naturally useless because, as Paul D now recognizes, the “manhood” or “personhood” of the servants under these situations is not self-determined, but approved to them by their owner: “Oh, he did manly things, but was that Garner’s gift or his own will?” (220 ). As long as they are servants, Paul D and the other Sweet Home guys will never have the ability to specify themselves independently, and their manhood will always exist at the whim of the white guy who owns them. After Mr. Garner’s death, this underlying quality of slavery becomes apparent when teacher shows his genuine power to deny the slaves of their manhood or humankind. Paul D’s sense of his own independent manhood under Garner was an impression: whether he utilized it, Garner had the power to deprive Paul D of his manhood.

The previous slave Joshua, after acquiring his flexibility, develops a new identity by relabeling himself Mark Paid. Paul D, in contrast, fails to think about offering himself a new name when he escapes Sugary food House. Psychologically, part of him still appears to be under the control of the system of slavery: even after years of “freedom”, he continues to acknowledge as genuine the dehumanizing name provided to him by slavery.

Like she makes with a lot of the other characters and general styles in the unique, Morrison utilizes Paul D’s struggle for independence to illustrate a bigger historic concern– one that carries over to contemporary American society. Paul D’s inability to break free from white oppression after slavery shows to the reader the battle that blacks dealt with after slavery. Howard Zinn, in his People’s History of the United States, quotes ex-slave Thomas Hall’s statement to the Federal Writers’ Task:

Lincoln got the praise for freeing us, but did he do it? He offered us liberty without providing us any possibility to live to ourselve and we still needed to depend on the southern white male for work, food, and clothes, and he held us out of requirement and want in a state of servitude however little better than slavery.

Like Thomas Hall, Paul D still remains based on the “southern white man”; given that he still maintains the identity required upon him by his former owners, he is not totally devoid of the bonds of slavery. Another connection in between the fictional character Paul D and the topic of history Thomas Hall can be found in the function white guys play in their insufficient “liberty”– in Hall’s case, physical and financial freedom; in Paul D’s, mental. Hall criticizes Lincoln totally free the slaves lawfully but leaving them based on southern whites, requiring them into a sort of informal serfdom that for numerous blacks was successfully much the same as slavery.

On one level, Morrison’s use of Mr. Garner can be viewed as a review of the U.S. federal government’s treatment of servants after the Civil War, and of the idea that Lincoln should be offered complete credit for “releasing” blacks in the South. As Lincoln “released” the slaves lawfully while allowing them to remain under the control of whites, Garner gave Paul D his “manhood”– what Paul D, at the time, believed to be his psychological flexibility– while really keeping control over his very humankind and eventually preventing him from forming a self-determined identity.

This vibrant carries over in many ways to today’s American society, where blacks stay economically and socially oppressed by whites. By showing Paul D’s failure to specify himself separately as a detriment to his character, and only allowing Paul D to come to terms with himself after engaging in sexual intercourse with Cherished (which, on the figurative level, is to be understood as an act of welcoming his past), Morrison reminds modern readers of the similar struggle that black Americans deal with today in a society where whites control the meanings and develop the standards. As Allan Johnson describes it:

On the majority of college campuses, for example, black students feel pressured to talk, dress, and imitate middle-class whites in order to fit in and be accepted, what some have called being “Afro-Saxon.” In similar methods, the majority of workplaces define proper look and methods of speaking in terms that are culturally associated with being white … Racial and ethnic minorities experience being marked as outsiders, to the extent that lots of navigate the social world by purposely changing how they talk from one situation to another. In looking for an apartment over the telephone, for instance, lots of African Americans understand they need to “talk white” in order to be accepted.

Clearly, Morrison thinks as Johnson does that the power of whites to specify– and the determination of lots of blacks to conform to whites’ definitions and standards– is an essential cornerstone holding together today’s system of black oppression. Paul D’s inner conflict concerning his identity and self-ownership suggests a collective struggle among black Americans to establish an independent identity after slavery, which Morrison sees as a precursor to real and total flexibility from slavery and whites, and one that has yet to be fully realized– “Releasing yourself was something; claiming ownership of that released self was another.”

Child Suggs’s approaches of claiming self-ownership stand in direct contrast with Paul D’s denial and avoidance of deep feeling. Sethe’s mother-in-law is known by two names: Child Suggs and Jenny Whitlow. Legally, Jenny Whitlow is her “genuine” name: it is the name noted on her bill-of-sale, and the one used by her owners. To her, however, this name holds no genuine significance. She recognizes herself as Child Suggs, the name offered to her by her first husband and utilized by those closest to her. When she is released, Infant Suggs is confronted with an option in between these 2 names, each of them genuine from opposite viewpoints: Jenny Whitlow is a label provided by an owner to a piece of home, and for that reason the slave owner Mr. Garner considers it genuine; Baby Suggs is a name offered by a loving other half to his partner, and appropriately Baby Suggs herself discovers higher personal worth in it. By keeping this name, Child Suggs declares self-ownership and takes an important action towards forging an identity independent of slavery. Her renaming– or, more properly, her declaring of the name she discovered more meaningful– is not a rejection of her awful past, however a presentation of the worth she puts on individual relationships in the formation of her identity. By denying whites (and the system of slavery) the power to define her, and specifying herself with a name whose origins belong completely to her and her hubby, she conquers the identity concern that keeps Paul D from understanding absolute flexibility from slavery. Infant Suggs’s spiritual philosophy, stressing self-love and individual connection rather than a stringent moral code or obedience to a greater power, is based upon the same principles as her choosing, or declaring, of her name.

If Child Suggs is to be taken as Morrison’s model for the very best possible black reaction to slavery, then what is the reader to think of her death? While Infant Suggs eventually passes away filled with a profound sense of hopelessness after Sethe kills her child, this should not be taken as a reprimand by Morrison of Suggs’s philosophy. Baby Suggs only loses hope because the neighborhood abandons her, disregarding to caution her and Sethe of schoolteacher’s technique since they resent the “uncalled-for pride” (137) in Sethe and Suggs. At the end of the novel, nevertheless, the neighborhood welcomes Suggs’s teachings when it combines behind Sethe. Morrison’s treatment of Baby Suggs recommends a belief that the black neighborhood need to welcome its history and culture, stressing social unity and connectedness as a way to claim self-esteem and a special cultural identity.

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