Self-Imposed Exile in "Beloved" by Toni Morrison

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In Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, protagonist Sethe decided to run away from her treacherous life as a slave. Afraid of allowing her children to experience the same slavery lifestyle she had, Sethe committed a horrible crime in murdering her first daughter; moreover, her decision to do so resulted in a self-imposed exile. Although she had good intentions, the community only ostracized her after hearing about the trial of Sethe on the charge of murder. Sethe is left attempting to leave her past behind without having to confront it, only making things more difficult on herself; however, because of this alienation, Sethe meets a stranger, suggested to be her dead daughter’s reincarnation, who allows her to grow and take a path toward wholeness and moving on from the guilt that she carried.

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Furthermore, Sethe’s self-imposed exile prevented her from moving on and only strengthened the guilt lying on her shoulders. As Beloved, the supposed reincarnation of Sethe’s first daughter, entered the scene, Sethe is reminded of her past and attempts to make up for it by complying to Beloved’s demands. She is obsessed with her past as Morrison states, “But her brain was not interested in the future. Loaded with the past and hungry for more, it left her no room to imagine, let alone plan for, the next day”. Beloved represents not only the child Sethe had killed, but all of the suffering and pain both Sethe and Denver had never been able to escape as well. With this, Sethe’s life headed downwards after Beloved’s arrival. She loses her job and the environment at home became chaos. Isolated from the community because of her crime, Sethe is left alone enslaved to her past unable to accept her mistake.

On the contrary, not all of Sethe’s consequences of her self-imposed exile resulted in negative outcomes. Sethe was able to feel the harsh effects of the crime that she committed and truly learn from them. After being emotionally imprisoned by Beloved and the past she brings, Sethe was able to finally find closure of her past once Beloved departed. “Sethe is running away from her, running, and she feels the emptiness in the hand Sethe had been holding. Now she is running into the faces of the people out there, joining them and leaving Beloved behind. Alone. Again. Then Denver, running too”. The environment around her begins to include her and develop a change as well. Before, the community failed to warn Sethe when she was approached by a threatening school teacher from her past; now, at the approach of Mr.Bodwin, the community learns to work together to heal themselves and learn from their past mistakes.

All in all, this isolation and self-imposed exile with its advantages and disadvantages, only helped develop the character of Sethe. Toni Morrison successfully demonstrates the journey of a troubled woman who cannot seem to accept her past and continues to carry the guilt from her mistakes. Morrison walks us through the changes that occur within Sethe and show her growth and overcoming of her past. While many experiences caused both potent and enriching effects in Sethe’s life, she only grew stronger from the difficulties she faced.

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