In Toni Morrisons' novel, Beloved, the main character Sethe, is a former slave
who chooses to kill her baby girl rather than allowing her to be exposed to the
physically, and emotionally damaging horrors of a life spent in slavery. There is
no other way to say it: she murdered her child. By killing her child, so dear to her
heart, the question arises whether Sethe acted out of true love or selfishness.
The fact that Sethe's act is irrational can easily be decided upon. Does Sethe kill
her baby girl because she wants to save the baby from slavery or does Sethe end
her daughter's life because of a selfish refusal to reenter a life of slavery? By
examining the complexities of Sethe's character it can be said that she is a
woman who chooses to love her children but not herself. Sethe kills her baby
because, in Sethe's mind, her children are the only good and pure part of who
she is and must be protected from the cruelty and the "dirtiness" of
slavery~(Morrison 251In this respect, her act is that of love for her children. The
selfishness of Sethe's act lies in her refusal to accept personal responsibility for
her baby's death. Sethe's motivation is dichotomous in that she displays her love
by mercifully sparing her daughter from a horrific life, yet Sethe refuses to
acknowledge that her show of mercy is also murder.
Throughout Beloved, Sethe's character consistently displays the duplistic nature
of her actions. Not long after Sethe's reuni...