In Beloved, the main character, Sethe, is living in Ohio, a free state for blacks, with her daughter Denver. Sethe escaped the harsh brutalities as a slave, however, she continued to relive the bad memories she endured as a slave at Sweet Home. As Sethe lived her new life at 124, she tried not to mention the past to Denver, but it would always come up through the daily activities of her life or when Beloved, her deceased daughter, would ask her to retell stories of her life. As for Beloved, her ghost came back to ignite Sethe’s bad feelings of the past. Beloved caused Sethe to feel depressed for killing her and the attempted murder of her other children (Morrison 175-179). However, the memory that really haunted Sethe’s conscious was when “those boys [the nephews of the Schoolteacher] came in there and took her milk…they held her down and took it…Schoolteacher made one [of the boys] open up her back and when it closed it made a tree…they used cowhide on her and took her milk…they beat her while she was pregnant and they took her milk” (Morrison 19-20). Therefore, if Sethe’s milk was not stolen, her husband, Halle, would have escaped with Sethe and their children and help Sethe give birth to Denver while they were escaping to Ohio; she would not have gotten post-traumatic stress from that harsh ordeal, which would eventually cause her to kill Beloved for fear that the pain she endured would also happen to Beloved, and Beloved’s ghost would had never return to torment her for killing her.
When Sethe’s milk was stolen, it devastated her. The milk that she was going to use to nurse Denver after she left her womb was taken from her as if someone had rapped her (Morrison 19-20). The worse thing about that event was that her husband, Halle, “saw them boys [the nephews of the Schoolteacher] do that [steal Sethe’s milk] from her and let them keep on breathing air” (Morrison 81). Halle watched the whole ordeal but he could not do anything about it. “It broke him [Halle],” affected his psyche, and caused him to smear butter all over his face (Morrison 82-83). Sethe, Halle, and their children had planned to escape with Sixo and Paul D to Ohio but Halle was never seen after Sethe’s milk was stolen (Morrison 265). Since Sethe was pregnant, Halle was going to help Sethe and their children with their escape to Ohio but Sethe “did it. She got them [her children] out. Without Halle too. Up till then it was the only thing she ever did on her own…Each and every one of her babies,” including herself came to Ohio (Morrison 190). “She birthed them and got em [her children] out…she did that. She had help, of course, lots of that, but still it was her doing it” (Morrison 190). Furthermore, If Halle did not disappear, he would have helped Sethe to give birth to Denver and Amy Denver, the whitegirl, would not need to help Sethe during Denver’s delivery (Morrison 99-100).
Secondly, the pain that Sethe acquired from her milk getting stolen caused her to get posttraumatic stress disorder. “She’d gone wild, due to the mishandling of the nephew who’d overbeat her and made her cut and run” (Morrison 176). So, she swung her “baby [Beloved] toward the wall planks, missed and tried to connect a second time… while “the two [Howard and Buglar] lied open-eyed in the sawdust,” and the “third [Beloved] pumped blood down the dress of the main one [Sethe]” (Morrison 175-176). In this scene, Sethe could not deal with the violation of her milk being stolen, so, it gave her a reason to take the life of Beloved and attempt to kill her other children as a means of saving them from the harsh brutalities of slavery. However, Sethe’s actions caused her other children, Denver, Buglar, and Howard to be afraid of her (Morrison 216 & 242). During Beloved’s funeral “neither Howard nor Buglar would let her [Sethe] near them, not even to touch their hair” (Morrison 216). They were afraid that Sethe would do the same thing to do them as she did to Beloved, so they eventually ran away (Morrison 245). As for Denver, she continued to live with Sethe because “she loved her mother but she knew she [Sethe] killed one of her own daughters, and tender as she was with her,” Denver was always living in constant fear that “the thing that happened that made it all right for her mother to kill her sister could happen again,” so, she was always watching her mother’s every move, less she be killed as well (Morrison 242).
Thirdly, since Sethe’s milk was stolen and she killed Beloved as a means to save them from the harsh brutalities of slavery, Beloved’s ghost returned in Sethe’s life to torment her for causing her death. When Beloved first came to 124, she was “feverish” from the cholera she had and she was “poorly fed” (Morrison 62 & 64). At first, Sethe takes her in and helps her to get better without knowing that it was her daughter (Morrison 61-65). Sethe believed that Beloved was a harmless child and that she was a good friend to Denver. However, Denver began to realize that Beloved was her deceased sister that came back to take revenge on Sethe, especially after she saw Beloved choke Sethe’s neck (Morrison 119). As Beloved’s health began to improve, she began to become more “demanding” (Morrison 283). Although, Sethe was fond of her presence (Morrison 63) and her eagerness for Sethe to tell stories of her life (Morrison 69), Beloved began to suck the life out of Sethe by her constant need to get everything from Sethe (Morrison 283). Whether it was food, clothes, or attention, Beloved “got it, and when Sethe ran out of things to give her, Beloved invented desire” (Morrison 283).
“Then the mood changed and the arguments began… Beloved accused her [Sethe] of leaving her behind…And Sethe cried, saying she never did, or meant to—that she had to get them [her children] out, away, that she had the milk all the time and had the money too for the stone but not enough…Beloved was not interested. Sethe pleaded for forgiveness, counting, listing again and again her reasons: that Beloved was more important, meant more to her than her own life. That she would trade places any day. Give up her life, every minute and hour of it, to take back just one of Beloved’s tears” (Morrison 284).
However, Beloved did not accept Sethe’s forgiveness, instead she was being very disrespectful by slamming things around the house, wiping the table clean of plates [Beloved was eating a lot of food], throwing salt on the floor, and she broke a windowpane (Morrison 285). As Beloved gained more weight, Sethe lost weight and became neglectful in taking care of her own self. Instead of combing her hair or washing her face, Sethe “sat in a chair licking her lips like a chastised child while Beloved ate up her life, took it, swelled up with it, and grew taller on it” (Morrison 295). Finally, Beloved attempted to kill Sethe with an ice pick but failed at it and disappeared (Morrison 309).
In conclusion, Sethe’s milk getting stolen was the most pivotal scene in Beloved because it brought an aftermath of pain and grief that followed Sethe from Sweet Home to Ohio. First, Sethe’s milk getting stolen, made her husband, Halle, get depressed and disappear from Sethe when they were supposed to escape to Ohio together with their children. Second, Sethe was dealing with post-traumatic stress from her milk getting stolen, which caused her to kill Beloved and lastly, Beloved’s ghost returned from the dead to torment and take revenge on Sethe for killing her. All of these events could have been avoided and she could have had her whole family together at Ohio. Instead these events broke Sethe’s family apart and caused Sethe to live in constant remorse for the killing of her daughter, Beloved.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., 1987. Print.