Slavery is dehumanisation in every situation. In Beloved, Toni Morrison uses different instances and cases of racism to complicate her novel and to show how “multiple hegemonic forces maintain a racist society” (Humann 61).
In the first quartile of Beloved, Sethe trusts Mister and Missus Garner. Mrs. Garner gives Sethe earrings for her wedding (Morrison). She did not wear the earrings, she just held them.
The earrings “made her believe that she could discriminate among them” (Morrison). It was not just ill treatment that made slavery the monster it was. It was also the imbalance of wealth and the worth money held in that time. Money was only the object of white people; slaveowners. For Sethe to hold something valuable made her feel powerful.
It made her feel that she had the sort of power the slaveowners did. This is proved in how Morrison uses the word “among” instead of “between” (Humann 61). Sethe means that she feels she can discriminate among the slaveowners themselves (Humann 61). Sethe is confused about her identity. For an instance, she forgets that she herself is a slave and is not in the position to be racist. Morrison writes this confusion into the novel with a purpose. Sethe is already convinced that her space in the hegemonic society can be altered, causing confusion with her identity. This confusion is not only visible within her own identity.
One can apprehend that it must be as difficult, if not more to distinguish good slaveowners from the bad. They did not know who to trust. This decision on whether to trust a white person or not determined their identity and their future. Their lives “depended on it” (Humann 62).
Sethe identity as a slave was not her identity. It was the identity governed by white people in her hegemonic society. Sethe could not make her own decisions. Sethe’s body was not even her own. Therefore, when it comes to the subject of self-identity, Sethe can be identified as not having one to begin with during her time in Sweet Home. Slavery removes the slaves’ humanity in Beloved by treating them as beings other than humans. Throughout her years in ‘Sweet Home’, Sethe and the other slaves are treated as animals (Morrison).
Whilst Paul D was working, he was forced to wear a bit in his mouth (Morrison). Not only were they treated as animals, but as working animals bred merely for human use and ownership. Due to the hegemonic society in which all characters live in, the slaves are treated as subhuman. Trudier Harris confirms this when he compares the freedom of Paul D and the rooster ‘Mister'” (Harris). He writes that as Mister struts around the barnyard, “strutting for the hens present”, he is exercising a freedom and control over his life that is greater than Paul D’s freedom and control over his life (Harris 181). Paul D has less self-identity than Mister because while Mister can make his own decisions over what he does with his body, Paul D cannot. Because of this treatment, characters begin to mimic animals.
Painful events are normalised and taken for granted since painful events happen regularly. It would have been easy for Africans in America at the time get used to the treatment and to have experienced a low in the need to retaliate or question such treatment. It is not until the pain steps up on another level do they realise that the happenings during slavery are painful and should not be occurring to them. It is only in the crossing to the next level of a slave’s pain threshold does one feel the need to act. In Sethe’s case, this levelling up of pain occurs in the shed with schoolteacher and his nephews. What happens in the shed with schoolteacher and his nephews is another example of the spectrum that shows how white people treated slaves (Morrison).
Schoolteacher’s abuse was more verbal while his nephews’ abuse was physical. Though schoolteacher did not lay a finger on Sethe, both pains were arguably equally as heavy. Schoolteacher says that she has animal characteristics and reasons how Africans and white people are genetically different (Morrison). Schoolteacher sees Sethe has being genetically flawed and animal-like (Morrison). His nephews however, milk Sethe as one would an animal. It is evident that Sethe is far more traumatised and pained by the milking over schoolteachers’ words. In Beloved, when Sethe recalls the happenings of what happened in the shed to Paul D, she puts emphasis on “and they took my milk” (Morrison). Humann writes that the milking is more painful to Sethe because it hurts her in a way only human can be hurt (Humann 67); and that is through humiliation.
One could argue that schoolteacher’s words were humiliating also. This can be resolved in considering that while Sethe could choose whether to take in schoolteacher’s words or not, she could not have control over what happened to her body. Whilst schoolteacher tried to convince her that she was an animal through words (Morrison), his nephews treated her like an animal; took control of her body and what it produced (Humann 67). Milking Sethe was a more intimate and personal violation (Humann 67), not just to her humanity but also to her womanhood. It was one thing they could have taken from her that distinguished her from a male slave.
This act connotes that they have control of her children as much as they do her milk; as both things can only be taken from a woman’s body. The next level of Sethe’s pain, is partially being raped or milked, but mostly about the danger of her children. This is the act that causes Sethe’s trauma and her need to escape.
The desperation to keep her children away from slavery is what causes the ghost of slavery to linger in her home. This treatment of Sethe being an animal mirrors the behaviour of Sethe as she kills her child. It is an act that some mother animals do to their young when they have been touched. The mother animal kills their young for having been “owned” by somebody else.
This act took Sethe’s self-identity as a human being as well as a woman. This is what causes the trauma that brings Sethe onto another level of her pain threshold that encourages her that it wasn’t such a horrible thought to kill her children. The subject of trauma is heavily evident in Sarah Kane’s play, 4.48 Psychosis. Here, the trouble the speaker seems to be having with her identity rests fundamentally upon her clinical depression. 4.
48 Psychosis was written by British playwright Sarah Kane two weeks before dying of suicide. 4.48 Psychosis was directed by James MacDonald and was first staged on the twenty-third of June in the year 2000 in London.
Another subject of identity confusion to do with 4.48 Psychosis is how the play was received by the public and critics. Most of her this play’s audience saw it as a suicide letter more than a work external to Kane’s biography. Many critics failed to see the distinction between life and art in Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis (Tycer 24). Even Kane’s own brother had to release a statement in attempt to enlighten audiences that 4.48 Psychosis was in fact, not a suicide note.
Tycer believes that this assumption caused many critics to miswrite about 4.48 Psychosis (Tycer 23). Instead of treating it as a work to be criticised, it arguable may have been over-respected to have been critiqued fairly.
Firstly, one can find the main subject of problems with self-identity within the narrative of 4.48 Psychosis. One can also find the problem of identity of 4.48 Psychosis externally; with how the audience would have portrayed the play.