Can Tho University
School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Department of Foreign Languages
A Comparative Approach to Maternal
Love in Beloved and Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Supervisor: Nguyen Thi Nguyen Tuyet, M.A
Researcher : Nguyen Thi Phi Yen
Code : 7063128
B.A. class NN0654A3
Cantho, April 2010
Statement of Originality
I certify that this work has not been submitted in whole or in part to this university or to
any other educational institution for marking and assessment either previously or concurrently. I
also certify that I have not received any outside help and that unless otherwise attributed the
material presented is all my own original work.
Nguyễn Thi Phi Yến
Chapter 1 Introduction
1.2 Research aims
1.3 Organization of the thesis
Chapter 2 Literature Review
2.1 Historical background of slavery and slaves in America in the 19th century
2.1.1 Historical background of slavery
2.1.2 Historical background of slaves
2.2 Similarities and differences in maternal love expressed in Beloved and Uncle
Chapter 3 Research Methodology
3.1 Research questions
3.2 Research method
Chapter 4 Results and Discussions
4.1 The identity of the two mothers
4.2 Maternal love in Beloved and Uncle Tom's Cabin
4.2.1 Similarities in the expression of maternal love in Beloved and Uncle Tom's
4.2.2 Differences in the expression of maternal love in Beloved and Uncle Tom's
4.3 The unusual use of language in the expression of maternal love of the two slave
4.3.1 The use of unusual words, narrative structures and repetitions
4.3.2 The use of comparatives and ironies
4.3.3 The use of metaphors and personifications
Chapter 5 Conclusions – Limitations – Implications – Suggestions for further
5.4 Suggestions for further research
Honestly speaking, special mention should be made of the following people who
kindly introduced me literature, and gave me helpful advice in conducting this study. Ms.
Ho Phuong Thuy, who guided me in An Introduction to Literature and English literature
course, firstly opened my interest in literature. Mr. Chau Thien Hiep, who indirectly gave
me suggestions and encouraged me to fulfill this thesis, was the teacher of my learning
way. Importantly, I would like to thank to the researchers, whose works are mentioned in
references. The research made my approach to the topic more easily.
My sincere thanks would go to Ms. Nguyen Thi Nguyen Tuyet, my supervisor,
who zealously spent much time improving my writing. Also, she helped me enrich the
store of related materials with many useful writings and contributed ideas to the
development of completion of the thesis to finish it.
Especially, I am also thankful to Ms. Truong Thi Kim Lien, who guided me in
American literature course. She also lent me books and helpful suggestions to complete
my paper. Thanks to her guide and indirectly supporting, my thesis is gradually shaped.
I would like to express my sincere thanks to the executive and managerial staff of
Department of Foreign Languages who alleviated me to carry on with my job.
Lastly, I would like to thank my family and my friends for their encouragement
and silent support during the time this paper was done.
The aim of this study is to make a search for the darkest aspects of slavery, its
cruelty and inhumanity which heavily posed on human beings for a long time. By making
a comparative approach to Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987) and Uncle Tom's Cabin by
Harriet Beecher Stowe (1981), this paper possibly puts readers into the plights of Sethe
and Eliza, slave mothers to sympathize their senses of losses, pains and sorrows. Through
the analysis of their inner infliction of the separation from their children, a spoken
message is indirectly sent to the readers in the conclusion. Besides that the historical
background of these stories which possibly reinforces their reliability is also provided.
Lastly, the discussion on the use of language and symbols in the two works also helps to
approach the authors' points of views on the evil of slavery and its victims as well.
There are three parts concluded in this chapter. The first part is rationale which
expounds why the thesis is fulfilled. The research aim is articulated in the second part.
The organization of the thesis is presented in the last part.
There are three reasons motivated me to do this research.
First, for almost four years at Can Tho University, I have learned specialized
English like English Literature, American Literature, Phonetics and Phonology,
Semantics, Public Speaking, Syntax, Morphology, and so forth. They are regarded as the
most difficult but interesting subjects of English Major. These courses are going to finish
and I find American Literature the most interesting one. It takes students a lot of time to
critically read, think, write their ideas down and then rearrange them logically. Owing to
the course, I find I gradually love to read and write so much.
Second, honestly speaking, no one can deny the important role that literature has
played in human spiritual life until now. In other words, literature is indispensable to
human life. It not only helps to enrich human imagination, but it also makes man love his
congener, and strongly condemns wrongdoings. As Mr. Nguyen (2001) stated that
literature helps improve the reader's language skills, namely reading and writing.
Especially, language learners have to read stories not only extensively but also intensively
if they want to understand delicate meanings from these stories. In reality, literature
reflects human daily life through specific stories, especially adversities which make
readers burst into tears many times. In fact, among American pieces that I have ever read,
Beloved by Toni Morrison and Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, which
leave me a mixture of emotions, authentically reflect the harsh living conditions of slaves,
especially female slaves. Certainly, Beloved takes readers deeper into Sethe's life and her
memories; the horrifying circumstances of her baby's death gradually make a terrible
sense. The appearance of a mysterious young woman about the same age as Sethe's
daughter would have been relives painful memories in a long suffering slave mother,
Sethe. Likewise, Uncle Tom’s Cabin brings readers back to the bank of Ohio River to
witness Eliza’s unimaginable escape. She feels her and her young son, Harry, rather die
than be slaves. Certainly, these slave mothers’ stories make me move to tears a lot of
times. They are really worth many rereadings.
Last but not least, slavery seems to be an unending concern of the society. Thanks
to Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (Frederick, 1995), and Slave: My True
Story by Mende Nazer and Damien Lewis (Damien, 2003), I am stunned to realize slavery
is not dead even in the 21st century. These are narratives of lucky slaves who successfully
make their runs from slavery to freedom. Boldly, they produced irrefutable evidence of
the cruelty and inhumanity of slavery in which they used to experience to express their
fear of it so much. Probably, the readers once read to the end of the two novels, they
might be in shock for slaves’ physical and mental sufferings as well.
The study makes a comparison on maternal love of the two selected novels,
Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987) and Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
(1981) to provide readers a closer look at the real slavery in America in the Pre and Post
Civil War in 1860s. The focus is on the expression of maternal love in these two selected
novels. Through the analysis of the internal world of the main female characters, the study
with the title A Comparative Approach to Maternal Love in Beloved and Uncle Tom’s
Cabin aims to discuss the psychological aspect in human reactions against the adversities
to maintain their lives as true humans and honor the maternal love of the main characters
Organization of the thesis
This paper includes five chapters. Chapter 1 aims at introducing readers the
motivation of conducting the research, titled A Comparison Approach to Maternal Love in
Beloved and Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Additionally, the aims of the thesis are clearly stated.
Also, through this comparison on the two selected novels of social protest, it provides
readers a profile of slavery in America in the 19th century. Also, this chapter will clearly
outline the organization of this research. Chapter 2 opens an overview of related
documents which give me a guide to complete the observation. Additionally, this chapter
also presents information on slavery and slaves’ lives in America in the 19th century.
Chapter 3 discusses about what research method should be employed. In chapter 4, the
focus is on the discussion of similarities and differences in the expression of love of the
two slave mothers and their personal identity as well. This chapter ends with the analysis
of the use of language and symbols which go hand in hand with the acquisition of literary
works. The last chapter, chapter 5 includes five parts: conclusions, limitations,
implications and suggestions for further research.
2.1 Historical background of slavery and slaves in America in the 19th
2.1.1 Historical background of slavery
There were a lot of significant events related to slaves taking place in America in
the 19 century. In fact, America was not the birth of slavery; however, slavery became an
indispensable factor in the process of making American history. At the beginning of the
19th century, America stepped into the Industrial Revolution which started with the cotton
revolution taking place in the South. Hence, the demand for slave labor increased rapidly.
“Between 1800 and 1860, the number of slaves doubled, and then doubled again to nearly
four million.” (King, 2003)
According to King (2003), slaves made up more than 12% American population in
general and more than 44% of Southerners in specific at the time.
“On paper, all the facts favored the North. The states of the Union, for
example, had much larger population – 22.5 million people; the South's
population was only 9 million and nearly 4 million of that total were slaves.”
Certainly, American economy absolutely depended on slaves because they were
the main workforce of the country, without them whether America had such rapid
To King, it seemed that Americans got a lot of benefits from slavery; however, the
dispute of slavery broke the relationship between the North and the South in ruins. While
the practice of slavery ended in the North at the start of the 19th century. In contrast, the
Southerners found themselves absolutely depended on slavery, so they started defending
it. Everything got worse when a vocal minority of the Northerners began to speak up
against slavery which was inhumanity and against God’s law. An American Anti-slavery
Society was formed in the North. It included some Whites and Blacks. They used books,
newspapers, and public allies to criticize the issue of slavery in the South. In his essay,
Eyewitness: The Negro in American History, William Loren Katz (1995) proved that
among these abolitionists, Harriet Beecher Stowe (1854) with her novel, Uncle Tom’s
Cabin, made the evils of plantation slavery awesome. Especially, it helped Northerners
convince some Southerners to fight against the slavery system.
“Though the slave narratives were immensely popular, the anti-slavery
document which would reach the broadest audience was written by a white woman
named Harriet Beecher Stowe. Stowe was less threatening to white audiences than
were black ex-slaves. Her anti-slavery message came in the form of a novel, which
was even more accessible to a wide audience. It was called Uncle Tom's Cabin”.
Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom Cabin, an anti-slavery novel, written by a
white author was appreciated because of its literary value and authentic features which
made it well-known and lasting to audiences for a long time.
Having quite the same viewpoint with Katz (1995); Christina Gulas (2004) debated
in her essay, Denial of Womanhood in Uncle Tom's Cabin,
“Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, written during the period of boiling
tumult that was to erupt into the Civil War, has struck its readers in more ways
than one. Wildly popular, Uncle Tom's Cabin was made into theatrical pieces and
children's books.” (Gulas, 2004)
Gulas only concentrated on the influence of the novel on the political view that it
was well-known as an anti-slavery tool. In other words, the novel had an entire effect on
America at that time.
On the other hand, Southerners argued that there was nothing wrong with slavery;
otherwise, they were fear of slaves’ revolt against them, so they enforced the maltreatment
on them. Additionally, in 1857, the U.S Supreme Court passed the rule in Dred Scott’s
case [a running slave] that slaves were property and they could be taken into all territories.
It made Northerners horrified so much. Consequently, the relationship between the two
regions was in hopelessness. Several attempts were made in the vain hope of saving the
country from the Civil War.
On April 13, 1861, the Civil War began. According to King (2003), it was the
bloodiest war in American history, claiming more than lives than all of American other
wars combined. In wartime, on September 22, 1862, Lincoln, president of the North
promulgated the Emancipation Proclamation in which he stated that “all slaves in all
states still in rebellion would be declared “forever free”.” (King, 2003)
"That on the 1st day of January;A,D,1863, all persons held as slaves within
many state or Designated part of a state the people where of shall then be in
rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free;
and the executive government of the United States, including the military and
naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons
and will do to act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts
they make for their actual freedom." Slaves were changed to African American
instead.” (King, 2003)
It meant that slaves could do whatever they wanted since then. In fact, African
Americans had a long suffering time in America. They did not get the actual freedom
when the document came into effect because the eleven Confederate States were still in
rebellion “As of January 1, 1863, the document stated, all slaves in states still in rebellion
would be declared “forever free.” No slaves were actually set free by the statement
because the eleven Confederate states were still “in rebellion.”” (King, 2003) However,
it gave a great encouragement to former slaves who were trained and forced into the front
line to fight for their freedom in the Civil War.
The end of the Civil War was on April 10, 1865. The victory of the North gave an
entrance for African Americans into politics and some of them seemed very active.
Subsequently, they participated in the Reconstruction; however, it did not provide them
with either the legal protections or the material resources from the government. On the
other hand, to Alan Brinkley (2003), at the beginning of his book, American History, he
stated that the Reconstruction helped African Americans establish their position in the
United States in the twentieth century and later. It also became the basic for their efforts to
get actual freedom and equality.
2.1.2 Historical background of of slaves
The 19th century was a remarkable period of time in American history. One of the
most outstanding events took place in April 1866 that was Congress passed the first Civil
Rights Act in which Blacks were declared to be citizens of the United States. Meanwhile,
hundred painful stories of former slaves came to light which made readers really stunned.
To Solomon Northrup, a former slave, the author of Twelve Years a Slave which
was excerpted from American Heritage American Voices Civil War and Reconstruction
by King (2003), he was kidnapped and enslaved to labor on a cotton plantation in
Louisiana. His life on the plantation was considered “Hell on Earth”. He was not only
whipped smartly, overworked, but underfed for a long time.
"Slaves in the United States are treated with barbarous inhumanity that they are
overworked, underfed, wretchedly clad and lodged, and have insufficient sleep,
that they are often made to wear around their necks iron collars armed with
prongs, to drag heavy chains and weights at their feet white working in the field,
and to wear jokes, and bells, and iron horns, that they are often keep confined in
the stocks day and night for weeks together, made to wear gags in their mouths for
hours or days, have some of their teeth torn out or broken off, that they must be
easily detected when they run away, that they are frequently flogged with terrible
severity, have red pepper rubbed into their lacerated flesh, and hot brine, spirits of
turpentine, etc." (King, 2003)
The description of slavery in Twelve Years a Slave by Northrup was also grounded
on fact that the life of slaves was a succession of long suffering days and full of misery.
They often suffered great hardships from the rising until the going down of the sun. They
must go to work at plantation with "cursing, raving, cutting, and slashing" of oversees.
However, what they were paid was not equal with what they produced. They received
little food, clothing and have little time to sleep. Moreover, bloody scenes which they
witnessed everyday were really terrible.
Similarly, in Narrative of The Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
(1995), slaves' spiritual sufferings were deeply expressed through the writer's own
experience in his slave-time that he knew nothing about when he was born. Moreover, his
mother was sold off to the other white master when he was an infant. In his life time, he
saw her few times which was not enough to make him bond with her. According to
Douglass, singing which was somehow used to cry out against slavery was also the only
way of slaves to make themselves feel released. In work, slaves always sang happy words
with mournful tunes, or mournful words with happy tunes. They all had to conceal their
true feelings to avoid the slaveholders' maltreatment.
“I have often sung to drown my sorrow, but seldom to express my happiness.
Crying for joy, and singing for joy, were alike uncommon to me while in the jaws
of slavery. The singing of a man cast away upon a desolate island might be as
appropriately considered as evidence of contentment and happiness, as the singing
of a slave; the songs of the one and of the other are prompted by the same
emotion.” (Douglass, 1995)
Slavery started to make itself intolerable because its cruelty and viciousness caused
on female slaves. They not only suffered physical painfulness, but mental damages from
their masters through sexual abuses. The more beautiful they were, the more sexual
abuses they had to endure because they were forced to satisfy their masters' sexual needs
as well as they had to raise children for the masters. Consequently, slave women were
expected to have babies as soon as she could. Some of them had children at the age of
twelve or thirteen. Sojourner Truth in Slavery in the 19th Century by Pearson and
Robertson (1991) was an excellent example in such case. She was compelled to satisfy her
master’s sexual need. In the long run, she had thirteen children and all of them were sold
off to other white masters. The long suffering mother, after all, seemed absolutely
devastated in making attempts to reunite with her children.
In other cases, in order to increase the workforce among slaves the master could
force their female slaves to raise them children by compelling them to have children with
other slaves whom they not love, but they had no choice. Hilliard Yellerday in The
Making of African American Identity by Levi Coffin (1876), an ex-slave in the North
Carolina, was a victim of such the case. She was threatened that if she did not raise
children for her owner, she would be beaten to death. In order to be alive, she must follow
his order. Her life became terrible since then. To Coffin, by making a collection of such
narratives, he indirectly made readers infer that masters considered their slaves as goods
which they produced to sell at a higher price.
“Enslaved women were forced to submit to their masters' sexual advances,
perhaps bearing children who would engender the rage of a master's wife, and
from whom they might be separated forever as a result. Master forcibly paired
“good breeders” to produce strong children they could sell at a high
By reading such narratives, readers may be impressed by a lively depicted picture
of many aspects of slavery which are full of losses, painfulness and tragedies. These are
some representative cases in American slavery in the 19th century and such masters’
behaviors caused death in physical and mental lives of slaves, especially female slaves.
Those evil acts have been seriously opposed forever.
2.2 Similarities and differences in the expression of maternal love in Beloved
and Uncle Tom's Cabin
It was obvious that there was a slave law system in America in the 19th century.
According to the definition of law-books “A slave is one who is in the power of a master
to whom he belongs. The master may sell him, dispose of his person, his industry, and his
labor; he can do nothing, possess nothing, nor acquire any thing, but what he must belong
to his master” (Stowe, 1981). This is the citation of the law of Louisiana in which slaves
are properties and they possess nothing even their own bodies. Similarly, the law of South
Carolina and Georgia stated that “Salve shall be deemed, sold, taken, reputed, and
adjudged in law, to be chattels personal in the hands of their owners and possessors, and
their executors, administrators, and assigns, to all intents, constructions, and purposes
whatsoever.” (Stowe, 1981) It goes without saying that it gives readers a general
imagination about slavery in which the gap between slaves and their masters can not be
abolished. Additionally, slaves are not more than their masters’ belongings which can be
sold, used, and determined depending on the masters.
In Beloved and Uncle Tom's Cabin, slaves' lives make readers get heartrending or
even heartbreaking for racial discrimination in America in 19th century by their own
words, feelings, and lives which are full of losses and tragedies. As Beloved was built by
the true story of Margaret Garner, a black American slave woman, who killed her baby to
save her [the child] from the slavery that she intended to escape from. In Toni Morrison
(1931-) - Originally Chloe Anthony Wofford by Petri Liukkonen (2008), he stated that
“Beloved was inspired by the true story of a black American slave woman, Margaret
Garner. She escaped with her husband Robert from a Kentucky Plantation, and sought
refuge in Ohio. When the slave masters overcame them, she killed her baby, in order to
save the child from the slavery she had managed to escape.” (Liukkonen, 2008) In his
essay, Liukkonen provided readers the background of Morrison's works. Especially in
Toni Morrison's Beloved, he only focused on racism and male dominated society. The
mother-daughter relationship has been ignored which will be carefully considered in this
In the same way, Eliza's story was also adopted from the story of a slave woman in
Kentucky (Stowe, 1981). Eliza got a lot of empathy from readers. Evidentially, Lincoln's
famous saying in the meeting with Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1863 was remarkable notice
“The little lady who made this big war” (Stowe, 1981). To King, Uncle Tom's Cabin
made readers, especially who were in the North, transform from sympathize to empathize
to slaves “Many readers in the North who knew little or nothing about slavery were
transformed into abolitionists by this story.” (King, 2003) However, he only noticed on
the political view of the story that it was a powerful novel which had an important
influence on the victory of the Civil War. In other words, he made light of the literary
aspect of the work which will be heedfully analyzed in this study.
Likewise, in the Christian Science Monitor which is excerpted from Novels for
Students by Perkins (1999), Merle Rubin evaluated Beloved, “A stunning book and
lasting achievement”. Similarly, in the Times Literary Supplement, Jennifer Uglow
considered Beloved one of the novels prominent themes which concentrated on “the
developing of self”. Similar to the other critics, Rubin analyzed deeply the process of selfdevelopment of the main characters. In other words, he took no notice of the motherdaughter relationship in the novel which will be profoundly carried out in this research.
From the two novels, Stowe and Morrison authentically drew the life of slaves.
Wives must be far from their husbands. Children were parted from their mothers. They
were sold from hand to hand. The authoresses not only describe the miserable lives of
slaves under physical abuses, but they also emphasize on psychological and sexual
traumas that cause female slaves' sufferings. Readers' indignation about the viciousness of
slavery has not burn out yet. They have been sunk into thought about the circumstances of
Cassy, Emmeline, and Baby Suggs. They were all the victims of sexual abuses. As a
consequence, hundred of slave children were born as the way to enrich masters'
properties. Poor the children whose fathers were unknown! After all, who were seriously
affected by slavery? It was no doubt that slave mothers and their children were its main
By shifting from slave mothers' physical sufferings to the emotional and
psychological painfulness, the two novels concentrated on their emotional losses which
seriously damaged their souls. Eye-witnessing their own children parted was considered
they were driven to the wall. In such circumstance, as many as nine out of ten slave
mothers would stage a protest against slave traders to prevent their children from being
sold into slavery. Slave mothers' struggles against such circumstances which are somehow
similar and different will be clearly pointed out through the analysis of the two novels.
The most significant event is that Eliza's action was to make an adventurous
escape. In The key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1854), Stowe provided readers the background
of her story that although Eliza's crossing Ohio River at mid-night was performed with the
help of other men, she was considered a superhuman because of her strong spirit for
overcoming any obstacle in her escape to the free-land.
“With regard to the incident of Eliza's crossing the river on the ice – as the
possibility of the thing has been disputed the writer gives the following
circumstance in confirmation. Last spring, while the author was in New York, a
Presbytian clergyman of Ohio came to her, and said, “I understand they dispute
that fact about the woman's crossing the river. Now, I know all about that, for I got
the story from the very man that helped her up the bank. I know it is true, for she is
now living in Canada.” it has been objected that the representation of the scene in
which the plan for kidnapping Eliza is concocted by Haley, Marks,”.(Stowe,
In other words, although the white master could oppress and destroy their bodies,
poor black slaves’ strength and belief helped them to overcome hardship.
Similar to Eliza, Sethe was also an admirable mother. She made an arduous escape
to save her children from having the same plight with her, a slave.
“Down in the grass, like the snake she believed she was, Sethe opened her mouth,
and instead of fangs and a split tongue, out shot the truth.
“Running,” Sethe told her. It was the first word she had spoken all day and it
came out thick because of her tender tongue.
“Them the feet you running on? My Jesus my.” she squatted down and stared at
Sethe's feet. “You got anything on you, gal, pass for food?”
“No.” Sethe tried to shift to a sitting position but couldn't.” (Morrison, 1987)
After running far away from the slave plantation, ironically called the Sweet Home,
Sethe was gradually exhausted because of her pregnancy. She tried to run for the rest of
the way, and then she prayed in vain for help. Fortunately, a white woman, Amy, helped
her when she was in labor alone.
In the essay, The Bonds of Love and the Boundaries of Self in Toni Morrison’s
Beloved, Barbara Schapiro (1991), she stated that “Toni Morrison’s Beloved penetrates,
perhaps more deeply than any historical or psychological study could, the
unconsciousness emotional and psychic consequences of slavery.” Likewise, Morrison
made Sethe’s escape from the slave plantation an act of performing her maternal love
because she lived for only the role of a mother without it she had nothing.
“Anybody can smell me before he saw me. And when he saw me he’d see the drops
of it on the front of my dress. Nothing I could do about that. All I new was to get
my milk to my baby girl. Nobody was going to nurse her like me. Nobody was
going to get it to her fast enough, or take it away when she had enough and didn’t
know it. Nobody know that she couldn’t pass her air if you held her up on your
shoulder, only if she was lying on my knees. Nobody knew that but me and nobody
had her milk but me. I told that to the women in the wagon. Told them to put sugar
water in cloth to suck from so when I got there in a few days she wouldn’t have
forgot me. The milk would be there with it.” (Morrison, 1987)
It can be said that Sethe's love for her baby is as valuable as her blood, the only
source of life that is strongly circulating in her body. Hence, she wanted to keep her milk
entirely only for her baby. In other words, she wanted to keep her by her side all the times
because only the mother might look after her child with all her heart.
Under agreement with above viewpoints, James Phelan (1998), in his essay, Sethe's
Rough Choice, discussed that Sethe's decision was to murder her daughter rather than
have her become a slave made her an abnormal mother because her act originally came
from maternal love. For this reason, it was considered as the most stunning and
remarkable event in American Literature in general and Beloved in specific “Stunning for
obvious reasons: how can the love of a mother for her child lead her to murder the child?”
Besides that Phelan in his journal, The Mother-daughter Aje Relationship in Toni
Morrison’s Beloved (1998), mentioned to the ethical term in mother-daughter relationship
which really made readers move to tears. To him, mother-daughter relationship in
Beloved was inherent in African women, so they acted on their own code.
“Aje is a Yoruba word and concept that describes a spiritual force that is thought
to be inherent in African women, additionally, spiritually empowered humans are
called Aje. The stately and reserved women of Aje are feared and revered in
Yoruba society. Commonly and erroneously defined as witches, Aje are astrallyinclined human beings who enforced earthly and cosmic laws, and they keep
society balanced by ensuring that human beings follow these laws or are punished
for their transgression.”(Phelan, 1998)
However, Phelan only analyzed the mother-daughter relationship of African
American as a tradition. For instance, he tried to address Morrison's critical challenge by
using an African theoretical perspective which centered on a force called Aje to interpret
the intricacies of the mother-daughter relationship in Beloved. He did not deeply dig into
the mother-daughter relationship of slaves in the novel which will be carefully dissected
in this study.
On the contrary, in Barbara Schapiro Slavery and Motherhood in Toni Morrison’s
Beloved, Terry Paul Caesar concerned about violence in the work. By demonstrating on
contemporary feminism, he pointed out the violating issue through infanticide. “Beloved,
in terms of its dramatization of a single act of violent: infanticide.” (Caesar, 1994) The
violent feature that he mentioned was Sethe's infanticide. In adversity, Sethe killed her
baby. By this way, she thought she could keep her to be safe from the evil of slavery.
However, her action was extremely condemned by her conscience in the rest of her life.
Taking everything into consideration, these slave mothers struggled unwearyingly
to get freedom for their children with all their incredible mental strength. They considered
freedom the most precious thing all over the world which Howard W.Fulweiler (2000)
focused on in his essay, Belonging and Freedom in Toni Morrison’s Beloved: Slavery,
Sentimentality, and the Evolution of Consciousness. He stated that “The slaves
themselves desired freedom above all else, but many yearned of some aspects of familiar
“Slavery times”.” (Fulweiler, 2000) Additionally, freedom which is considered “family
value” is the main goal and the hope of slaves so that the desire of freedom and peaceful
life urged these slave mothers overcoming a lot of dangers and obstacles on the way to
The way these slave mothers expressed their maternal love as well as their spiritual
strength by such behavior patterns skillfully accused the evil of slavery, especially the
separation of the consanguinity. Both Eliza and Sethe felt them and their children rather
die than be slaves. For this reason, Eliza was dicing with death when she crossed Ohio
River with full of dangers at mid-night. Of the two works, Beloved made readers confused
that the novel was a ghost story, but they will find it wrong. According to Jean Wyatt
(1993), in Giving Body to the World: The Maternal Symbolic in Toni Morrison’s Beloved
“Through the device of the ghost story, Morrison gives a voice to the preverbal infant
killed by a mother desperate to save her child from slavery.” She also discussed that
Morrison based on experience in Western culture to draw her story. “In Beloved Toni
Morrison puts into words three orders of experience that Western cultural narratives usually
leave out: childbirth and nursing from a mother's perspective, the desires of a preverbal infant,
and the sufferings of those destroyed by slavery.”(Wyatt, 1993) On the contrary, in an essay
for Novels for Students (1999), Wendy Perkins debated that due to the stream of
consciousness style of Beloved which made Sethe's story more real and vivid. “Beloved's
unconventional narrative structure, with its disrupted chronology and fragmented glimpses of the
main characters, foregrounds this theme as it delineates the support that can enable and the
obstacles that can impede this development.” (Wyatt, 1993)
Although the two viewpoints are opposite to each other, they do not lead to a
conflict because Wyatt and Perkins analyzed different aspects of the novel. While Wyatt
focused on the influence of Western Culture on the work, Perkins concentrated on its
structure. Thanks to their arguments, readers can clearly understand the life of slave
mothers and the challenges they have to suffer when they and their children are parted.
Besides that in The Story Must Go On and On: The Fantastic, Narration, and
Intertextuality in Toni Morrison's Beloved and Jazz, Martha J.Cutter (2000) believed that
Beloved is Beloved who came back to take revenge on her mother is a ghost. “The issue
of Beloved's status in this novel, to decide unambiguously that she is a ghost – in fact, the
ghost of the child Sethe killed eighteen years earlier.” (Cutter, 2000)
However, in Nameless Ghosts: Possession and Dispossession in Beloved, Deborah
Horvitz (1989) stated that “the text is so grounded in historical reality” which enforced
readers' authentication about slavery. According to Detroit News ““Beloved”, “Filled
with marvels … a book to ponder, to read aloud, to listen to … extraordinary” (Beloved,
In brief, through Beloved and Uncle Tom's Cabin, readers may easily recognize the
similarities in the expression of maternal love of Sethe and Eliza in their struggles to
overcome the devastating effects to get freedom for their children. The two slave mothers
made “spectacular” and arduous escape to save their children from being enslaved. They
sacrificed their own lives with the only purpose that is to set their children free.
Especially, these slave mothers willingly died with their children than have them become
slaves. These are mothers of long suffering. They really drove readers from sympathy to
empathy to their circumstances. These stories deeply and directly accused the cruelty and
inhumanity of slavery in America in the 19th century.
Caused by the painful experience in slavery, both Eliza and Sethe were afraid of it
so much. The way they protected their children from being enslaved was amazing and
admirable. Neither Eliza nor Sethe wanted their children to be sold into slavery. However,
the way they made their desires come true was different.
For Uncle Tom's Cabin and Beloved, the more readers felt happy with Eliza's
successful escape, the more they got painfulness with Sethe's situation because of her
infanticide which made her life directionless and haunted in the rest of her life. Unlike
Eliza, Sethe's story made readers fear of slavery so much “After I left you, those boys
came in there and took my milk. That's what they came in there for. Held me down and
took it.” (Morrison, 1987)