Adventures in Digital History

Thoughts on Beloved, Part #1

One of the most interesting things that came up in class was our debate over the pronunciation of Sethe’s name. At a glance you would assume it’s pronounced “Seth” with a silent “e,” but there are others who think it pronounced “Seth-uh.” I personally think of the first option, because I’m falling back on my school in French. In my experience learning French, typically adding an “e” to the end of a word makes it feminine but doesn’t change the pronunciation all that much. So for example, when describing a person’s hair color as blonde (as we tend to spell it in English), you would write “blond” if describing someone male and “blonde” if describing someone female. Or if the subject is male or female, etc. While this may seem like I’m looking far more into the name than I should be. The name Seth is typically used as a masculine name, but I have seen it used in a more androgynous sense in the past. However, the spelling was never changed. I find it intriguing that the name is spelled this way when considering Sethe’s character.

Sethe strikes me as being a proud and independent woman who is also quite cynical. She is a former slave who endured the horrors of enslavement throughout her entire life. It is revealed she was abandoned by her mother in an escape attempt, and was afterwards hung for her actions. As a result, Sethe was forced to face the horrors of slavery on her own. This is something she did not wish her own children to face, leading to the horrifying reality that Sethe would rather kill her children then let them face such a life.

Like Sethe, Paul D is a former slave who lived at Sweet Home, the same plantation Sethe is from in Kentucky. Paul D appears to be obsessed with this idealized version of Sethe, before facing the reality that they have grown older and she is just another person. Because Paul D is another figure from her past, Sethe continues to be haunted by her memories of enslavement.

A more physical manifestation of Sethe’s memories comes in the form of Beloved, who is the ghost that haunts 124. The ghost is a possible representation of their dark pasts. Slavery for Sethe, and prison for Paul D. Paul D immediately knows something is wrong in the house and even tries to fight it. Beloved is very much a supernatural entity within Sethe’s world, and is possibly a visualization or personification of her own trauma. Whether Beloved is in fact the ghost of Sethe’s infant child who she killed to ensure she was not sold into slavery, or the ghost of Sethe’s own mother, is something that is a mystery. Beloved takes the form of an infant child, but appears to know much more than she should. I would be inclined to believe Beloved is a figment of Sethe’s own trauma and guilt, but other characters have encountered her as well, making her residence within the house all the more curious.

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