Frederick Douglass once said “A battle lost or won is easily described, understood, and appreciated, but the moral growth of a great nation requires reflection, as well as observation to appreciate it”. Douglass reflects on the aftermath of the civil war, and although the slaves were now freed, the nation as a whole needed to comprehend the damage that occurred. In both Beloved, by Toni Morrison, and The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass, the excruciating pain inflicted upon the slaves appears in both fiction and nonfiction.
The differences of the two most prominently appears in the detail of the stories, Douglass’s in less detail, and Morrison’s in explicit detail. Publishing Douglass’s autobiography in a time when slavery existed prevented him from revealing the specific events of his enslavement. Both of the stories, however, reveal the devastating effects of slavery in different, but similar manners. Slaves were sold for a specific number, some more valuable than others.
Both Morrison and Douglass reflect on the value of slaves and how that inhumaneness plays effect on the identity confusion. Additionally, both authors emphasize the bill of sale names given to the slaves and the horrific separation of families. Furthermore, singing acts as a gateway for slaves to tell how they feel without moreover being abused by their slave owners. Lastly, slaves in both stories are restricted of education, causing the white owners to exert stronger power and treat the slaves as animals.
When comparing Beloved, by Toni Morrison, and The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass, the prices of slaves, the bill of sale name and separation of families, the singing of the slaves, and the restriction of schooling demonstrate foundations of Beloved. In Beloved and Frederick Douglass, the price difference of male and females creates gender issues throughout Beloved. The novel presents different women constantly battling the sexual wants/desires from men while trying to define their own identity.
In Frederick Douglass he talks of a man who could only afford one slave and “he bought her, as he said, for A BREEDER” (Douglass). The capitalization of “A BREEDER” portrays the different prices of slaves based on gender, and Frederick struggles to identify why slave owners chose women solely on the fact of reproduction. Using animal motif of “breeding”, in Beloved the price difference of slaves throughout furthermore representing the struggling identities of the characters. After the death of Sixo, Paul D “learns” the value of himself as a slave– $900.
While schoolteacher talks with the other men, he mentions how he will “set out to secure the breeding one” (Morrison 227). The “breeding one” he talks of being Sethe, continually referring to the slaves as animals rather than humans, Paul D finds himself questioning what to do with himself. Further gender issues appear when Sethe recalls how little time her mother ever spent with her because she was required to work in the fields. Sethe says “she must of nursed me two or three weeks…. hen she went back in rice” (Morrison 60), Sethe recalls little of her mother due to the conflicting roles slave woman upheld. In the early stages of Sethe’s life she spent little or no time with her mother, which furthermore created the struggling of identity for her. Society requires the slave women to work in the field creating separation from their children. Douglass additionally says the slaves “were all ranked together at the valuation” (Douglass). The “valuation” meaning the price they were worth comparing to other animals on the plantations.
When recalling Sweet Home, Sethe says the men were “fucking cows, dreaming of rape” (Morrison 11), the sex with animals representing the status level of both the slaves and animals. The dehumanizing effect placed on the slaves at Sweet Home furthermore represent the identity struggles. Using differing prices of slaves from Frederick Douglass provide a basis of the struggling for identity in Beloved. The characters unable to identify themselves creates both difficulties within and relationships with others throughout Beloved.
Demonstrating the name changes and separation of families in Frederick Douglass creates Sethe’s projecting her necessity for a family on Beloved. In Frederick Douglass, he writes of a grandmother who “lives to suffer in utter loneliness” (Douglass) due to the separation of families throughout slavery. In Beloved, however, Baby Suggs and Sethe lives, “men and women were moved around like checkers” (Morrison 23). The devastating effect of the movement of families create Sethe’s constant need for a family, which she places on Beloved.
Sethe, unable to construct herself, places her identity onto her children whom she tries so desperately to not let the horrors of slavery affect them. Telling stories, such as the birth of Denver, in third person furthermore demonstrate the issue of self-identification. Baby Suggs on the other hand develops a strong distrust in not only white people, but also the black community. When the black community does not warn Sethe and Baby Suggs of Schoolteacher arriving, she withdraws herself from society. Additionally, the naming of slaves creates complexities in the characters.
In Frederick Douglass, he describes the whipping of a slave who was “one of Colonel Lloyd’s slaves, by the name of Demby” (Douglass). Frederick points out how this was the name given to him by “Colonel Lloyd”, however, he remains unsure what his actual name was. The confusion of names furthermore relates to the issue of identity prominent in the characters of Beloved. When Mr. Garner takes Baby Suggs to “freedom”, he continually refers to her as “Jenny Whitlow” (Beloved 142). Baby Suggs then asks him “why you all call me Jenny? , following he explains to her “that’s what’s on your sale ticket, gal” (Beloved 142). When Garner refers to the “sale ticket” he references a slaves “bill of sale” name they are given. THe fact Baby was completely unaware of the name moreover represents how the slaves were treated merely as property. Relating the bill of sale name from Douglass furthermore indicates the struggles the characters of Beloved that continue to resurface. Singing acts as a motif in Frederick Douglass and Beloved to demonstrate the white people’s views of slaves and animals, and acts as a healing mechanism for the characters.
In Frederick Douglass he explains how slaves “would sing… to words which to many would seem unmeaning jargon, but… were full of meaning to themselves” (Douglass). The “unmeaning jargon” represents the slaves singing in a way that their master’s can’t understand so that they can express their emotions and heal the wounds caused by slavery. Before dying, Sixo begins to sing a song, one of which Paul D describes as “hatred so loose it was juba” (Morrison 227). Juba”, a dance originating from the slaves in southern states with lively movements, intricately demonstrates the deep pain of slavery coming from the words of Sixo. The scene additionally represents how white only see slaves as animals, which is why Schoolteacher can not “understand” the words of Sixo before his death. “Rememory”, the recurring idea from Sethe, acts as a flaw surfacing from her horrific experiences of slavery. Sethe’s past haunts her, and she talks about bumping “into a rememory that belongs to somebody else” (Morrison 36).
The idea of “rememory” relates to Sethe’s distrust in white people, specifically when Edward Bodwin comes to take Denver to work she has an “instinct” to react of of fear due to his skin color (Morrison 262). Sethe additionally sings to Beloved and Denver to try to hide her deep pain and explain to them why she did what she had to do when Schoolteacher arrived. Many of the characters in Beloved can not create relationships with strong foundations and find themselves singing to explain what they will not say aloud.
In both Beloved and Frederick Douglass slaves are denied the right to education which allows whites to exert control over the characters. Frederick Douglass recalls a time when a woman, Mrs. Auld, assisted him in reading and writing, but when her husband noticed he “forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct me further… it was unlawful, as well as unsafe” (Douglass). Saying that it’s “unlawful” to teach a slave how to read and write moreover indicates the inhumanity the white people exerted over their slaves.
Schoolteacher in Beloved told Sixo after stealing food that “definitions belonged to the definers–not the defined” (Morrison 190). The “definers” are, in Schoolteacher’s mind, the white people, whereas the “defined” were the slaves or colored people. Schoolteacher continually throughout the novel refers to slaves not as people, but rather as animals, such as the “human” and “animal” characteristics of Sethe. When Sethe recalls her assault by Schoolteacher and his boys she says “their book-reading teacher watching and writing it up” (Morrison 70).
Schoolteacher acquires his name by the way he watches over the slaves and writes everything down, just as a teacher would. Schoolteacher does not have the ability to feel normal human emotions such as sympathy which furthermore leaves him to commit terrible deeds upon the slaves at Sweet Home. Additionally, Douglass tells of a man by the name of Mr. Plummer who “no words, no tears, no prayers… seemed to move his iron heart from its bloody purpose” (Douglass). Mr. Plummer and Schoolteacher share the emotionless mindsets along with the excruciating treatment of their slaves.
Morrison uses the same metal imagery when talking about Paul D, and the “tobacco tin buried in his chest where a red heart used to be”(Morrison 72). Both Mr. Plummer and Paul D contain a “metal heart”, however, Paul D has a tenderness caring mind whereas Mr. Plummer brutally abuses the slaves. Using education and metal imagery, Morrison incorporates the inhumane and animal treatment of the slaves. Beloved, by Toni Morrison, and The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass contain many parallels demonstrating the devastating effects slavery generates.
From the prices of slaves, the bill of sale name and separation of families, the singing of the slaves, and the restriction of schooling, Morrison incorporates specific details to develop the characters in Beloved. Utilizing the differentiating prices of slaves, Morrison portrays the psychological and social effects placed on the characters. Price differences additionally creates the gender issues throughout the book, a foundation which continually appears. Furthermore, the bill of sale name given to the slaves and the constant separation of families forms a struggle for identity and a need for family.
Sethe separated from her family at a young age creating her want for a family to be projected onto Beloved. Sethe forms a large dependence on Beloved, which most importantly leads to the loss of her job and the diminishing of her health. The confusion of names moreover causes Baby Suggs to have a distrust in all white people and question the true identity of herself. Consequently, the slaves in both stories constantly use singing as a gateway to express their inner uncertainties and feelings.
Singing acts as a way to truly speak their minds but in a way white people do not comprehend, more importantly portraying the inhumane animal treatment. Many times the white people describe the words of slaves as inconceivable, and another way of comparing them to animal sounds. Analyzing the parallels between Beloved and Frederick Douglass display the inward difficulties of the slaves but more importantly the background of Beloved. The battle of slavery may be easily described, however, the psychological effects remain intact long after the emancipation.