In the novel Beloved by Toni Morrison, the main character, Sethe,
commits a crime unthinkable and incomprehensible to most people today. She
murders her own child, her own flesh and blood. The institution of slavery
drove Sethe to make this drastic decision. Comparing the situations of
slavery to today's society is impossible. Yet, we still see mothers
killing babies (or fetuses). The issue of abortion has been a constant in
our society for years. Is the emotional struggle to kill a baby made out
of love or selfishness?

The cruelties of slavery from which Sethe plans to save her
children are manifold in Beloved. Sethe was living in a time completely
different from our own. She and other slaves experienced things that none
of us could ever imagine; having breast milk stolen from her own body,
being whipped by a chokecherry tree to the point of leaving permanent scars.
Other cruelties for Sethe are to know that her friends were hurt. Sixo
was roasted alive and Paul A hung. Paul D is locked onto a chain for
eighty-three days in a prison camp in Georgia. These pains for her friends
can be just as painful for Sethe. All in all the life of a slave is
dehumanizing. Constant hiding and being on the run plays tricks on the
mind of slaves. Shown by Paul D in his most discouraging conflict comes in
contact with a rooster, Mister. Humiliated by the fact that an animal was
walking around with more power, he doesn't understand how an animal can
have a better life, and place judgement on a human.

During the time of slavery the love between a mother and her
children dims. Through scars mothers and children were to have secret
relationships. In Sethe's only memory of her mother she was introduced to
a scar underneath her breast which could always identify her mother. After
her mother was hung, Sethe did examine her corpse, but was unable to locate
the symbol on the decaying flesh. Imagining how these images design a
psyche for a child, this memory would bruise them for eternity. These
morbid rememories for Sethe are reminders for her that she is living in an
imperfect society.

As a slave Sethe was not suppose to love or want to own anything,
but she could not do that with her children. On the farm with the Garners
Sethe had a little taste of what it was like to have some control over her
own life. She was able to choose her husband and be with him. It was not
until the schoolteacher and his nephews came to the farm that Sethe really
understood what it was to be a slave. Sethe did not want her own children
to have to go through what she did. When the schoolteacher came to take
her back to his farm, she reacted in the only way that she knew would keep
her children from having to go back there. All that was going through her
mind at the time was the thought that she and her children were going to
have to live the life of a slave once again and that was more than she
could bear. Sethe's intention was to kill all her children including
herself. Only to fail at this plan she could not have foreseen that the
schoolteacher would think she was crazy and leave, letting her stay in Ohio
as a free woman. The only thing she could see was having to live on that
farm again. She did not want her children to have a taste of freedom and
then have it taken away from them.

Giving away part of yourself out of love is a very powerful and
haunting concept, which a mother has to live with forever. Beloved, the
child killed by Sethe, comes back to haunt her. "The fingers touching the
back of her neck were stronger now-the strokes bolder as though Baby Suggs
were gathering strength. Putting the thumbs at the nape, while the fingers
pressed the sides. Harder, harder, the fingers moved slowly around toward
her windpipe, making little circles on the way. Sethe was actually more
surprised that frightened to find that she was being strangled (96)."
Showing that the decision for her killing was made out of love, we see such
a strong hold on Sethe by Beloved that the love is suffocating. Beloved's
return from the dead was not made out of anger and spite but love.
Realizing that Beloved's return to haunt was not made out of revenge seems
to be surprising to Sethe not frightening of her suffocating love. The
love between Sethe and Beloved grew so strong over twenty-eight days that
Beloved even wants to take Sethe back with her. Take Sethe to a place
where she knows love will dominate.

In Beloved understanding that Sethe is killing hr babies out of
love is easy to see. Yet, today with abortion people still have doubts
against abortion. Arguments today against abortion are that a mother has
to take responsibility for her actions. Meaning that using abortions as a
form of birth control is looked down upon. This mother would be looked at
as selfish by stealing the life of an innocent fetus. Although the
circumstances surrounding each situation varies greatly, the decision made
by a mother is close to that Sethe made. Do I love my own flesh and blood
enough to take their life away for fear that their life will not be lived
to its full potential? Abortion relates to the idea of tough love. Sethe
doesn't understand the concept of thin love. Love is either tough or isn't
present. Being an ex-slave having this mentality is understandable. This
type of decision is not an average everyday decision. Much thought and
anguish weighing both pros and cons must be considered. Weigh ing the
cruelties of society against life is a decision that has no right answer.
Too many unknowns lie present in the lives of these mothers. This
instability in the life of the mother is probable reason why an abortion
would occur. Instabilities include; young age, lack of a husband,
financial considerations, and even the lack of the mother's own stability.
Ultimately the determination lies within the heart of the mother to
distinguish whether it's right or wrong. Making a decision of this
magnitude only makes the mother stronger. Our first impression of Sethe is
amazement at how strong of a person she is. Making it through the tough
times of slavery only to have to make a decision to kill your children
creates a spirit of steel.

Sethe's decision has effects not only on herself but all others
surrounding her. We see people scared of and off by her decision; people
like Paul D, Howard and Buglar, and the whole community. A decision like
this does not only have negative effects. Denver is portrayed as weak
throughout most of the novel. Nearing the end and finding out more and
more information we see a new side to her. A little girl once afraid to
leave the house takes her first steps away from 124. She makes these steps
in search of food and nourishment for her malnutrition mother. Denver is
an example of a positive of a tough love decision, made by Sethe and many
women today. A feeling of Sethe's strength has rubbed off and helped mold
Denver into an even stronger person.

"Here, in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs;
flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard (88)."
Baby Suggs the spiritual leader of Beloved explains the moral of the book,
which is love. Love is something strong enough to go to extremes for.
Coming back from the dead, killing your children, yet loving. Never be
afraid of a decision made out of love. Be afraid that if you didn't make
the decision out of love that it will come back to haunt you.

Work's Cited

Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Penguin Books, 1987.