In her novel Beloved, Toni Morrison explores the paradoxical nature of love both as a dangerous presence that promises suffering and a life-giving force that gives the strength to proceed; through the experiences of the run-away slave Sethe.
The dangerous aspect of love is revealed through the comments of Paul D and Ella regarding the motherly love of Sethe towards her children. Sethe’s deep attachment to her children is deemed dangerous due to their social environment which evidently promises that the loved one of a slave will be hurt. On the other hand, love is portrayed as a sustaining force that allows Sethe to move on with her life. All the devastating experiences Sethe endures do not matter due to the fact that she must live for her children. Although dangerous, Sethe’s love finally emerges as the prevalent force that allows her to leave the past behind and move on with her life.
The dangerous aspect of Sethe’s love is first established with the comments of Paul D regarding her attachment to Denver. At page 54, when Sethe refuses to hear Paul D criticize Denver, he thinks: “Risky, thought Paul D, very risky. For a used-to-be-slave woman to love anything that much was dangerous(…)” he deems Sethe’s attachment dangerous because he believes that when “(…) they broke its back, or shoved it in a croaker sack (…)” having such a strong love will prevent her from going on with her life. Paul D’s remarks indicate that evidently the loved one of a slave is taken away.
Mothers are separated from their children, husbands from their wives and whole families are destroyed; slaves are not given the right to claim their loved ones. Having experienced such atrocities, Paul D realizes that the deep love Sethe bears for her daughter will only serve to produce more pain when she loses her. This aspect of love is further strengthened with the similar opinion of Ella evident when she comments at page 108 “If anybody was to ask me I’d say, ‘Don’t love nothing.’ ” Morrison’s description of Ella in the same page as she “Listened too for the unnamed, unmentioned people left behind.
” serves to draw a parallelism between Paul D and Ella. The hardship that they have endured and witnessed has made them realize that love is a liability in times of slavery and even when one is free the threat of loss is still imminent. This realization has led them to abandon love in order to free themselves of suffering. This parallelism between Paul D and Ella serves to further strengthen the dangers of love due to the society and sets the first aspect of the contrasting nature of love. The other aspect of love that provides a contrast with its dangerous facet is its life-giving force; which is conveyed through the events surrounding Baby Suggs. The mother in-law of Sethe, Baby Suggs is frequently referred to have a “great big heart”. This depiction indicates her capacity to love and her desire to spread her love to all those around her.
Her speech in page 103 is the embodiment of the life-giving force of love. “(…) love your eyes (…) love the skin on your back (…) love your neck (…) More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving parts, hear me now, love your heart.” The people Baby Suggs addresses, the negroes of the community, have been humiliated their entire life, they have been thought to hate themselves. By going over each body part, Baby Suggs tries to get these people to love themselves, to reclaim their stolen identity and be driven by their self-esteem. Emphasizing the importance of loving the heart more than loving all the other vital parts of the body, she conveys the meaning that the capacity to love is a more essential part of a human than any other.
This point provides a clear contrast with the dangerous aspect of love and the views of Paul D and Ella. Baby Suggs believes that as love is the most essential part of being a human, it should not be sacrificed for the sake of emotional comfort. Whereas Paul D and Ella have derived the mechanism of sparing themselves suffering by not loving, Baby Suggs preaches that life without love is not life at all, and even if it means suffering one must love, for it will be the driving force that keeps one going Morrison strengthens the contrast of the two aspects of love even more with the infanticide Sethe carries out and her opinions regarding her actions. The fact that Sethe was willing to kill her own daughter to spare her what she has endured supports the dangerous side of love. Sethe remarks in page 236 that “How if I hadn’t killed her she would have died and that is something I could not bear to happen to her.”.
In this statement Sethe makes it clear.