Theory Of Trauma In Beloved
To understand what trauma does to a person, you have to know what it is. The human brain and its memory distinguishes us as the most intelligent creatures, but it is the very thing that makes us vulnerable to the effects of trauma. In a book about trauma during childhood, Lenore Terr writes. Therefore, trauma can be associated as physical, or emotional pain. It affects the way you carry yourself through life, the way you think, learn, communicate, the way we feel about others and ourselves. But what makes trauma so important, is our unique reaction to it. In the novel, Beloved, by Toni Morrison, each character has suffered from some kind of torture and pain that they use to make sense of the world around them. The overwhelming experiences they encounter completely alters and even damages their mind. In Beloved, Morrison demonstrates the profound psychological effects of slavery, and how trauma destroys one’s independent sense of self.
Beloved is a very unique novel, as it narrates the struggle of motherhood within slavery, and the sacrifices one is willing to make for their children’s freedom. Trauma lies throughout the novel, and one might say the novel itself is traumatic. All of Sethe’s memories and unresolved pain comes back when her murdered daughter, Beloved, returns to 124. Sethe’s present is then haunted with the oppression, violence, and displacement that originated with slavery. Beloved’s return represents the trauma that occured in Sethe’s life, and the journey to acknowledge it for what it is. Beloved causes the home of Sethe and Denver to transfigure in a multitude of ways. The characters become more vulnerable as they care for Beloved, where past traumas are unveiled to expose old wounds. It seems as if pain and anguish are inevitable for those in slavery, and how they are forced to live with the lasting damage. The scars on Sethe’s back speaks perfectly to the way past traumas had affected her physically and psychologically. They represent how Sethe’s life is now “scarred” and “haunted” by the dehumanization of slavery, and the price she paid for her children’s freedom. This doesn’t only affect Sethe, but Denver and Paul D also struggled with the challenges that came with Beloved’s return. Paul D has always been running away from something. He constantly shielded himself from his own degrading experiences and has a “tin tobacco box” that he keeps these memories in. He denies his feelings, actions, and motives, because of the horrid suffering derived out of slavery. Though fear may drive people, it builds a wall for others. Fear is the thing that prevents “moving on”, but with our limited existence on this earth, living in fear seems no way to carry on. Denver only knows life at 124, where she fears and relies on Sethe while hoping for her father’s return. She’s lived in isolation her whole life, and things rapidly change and become unfamiliar when Paul D and Beloved arrive.
A common side-effect of trauma, is losing the sense of self. During a traumatic experience, our minds are rapidly making connections to the environment which aid us in the future. If these experiences are occurring frequently, our mind and soul become sensitive to anything remotely similar to the event. You can see this in both Sethe and Paul D, as they have encountered a number of unnerving experiences. Slaves in general are commonly deprived of any identity at all, let alone being treated with no respect whatsoever. Sethe was able to run away from the horrors of slavery, but the nauseating damage stayed with her. She repressed the torment of her past, which became self-destructive. Contrasting to how Sethe lost her sense of self, Beloved’s premature death never allowed her to form a sense of self at all. She drains Sethe of her entities, which seems to speak to how indulging in your desires affirms life and identity, something Beloved never had. The psychological decline of Sethe makes Beloved grow, which then motives Denver to get a job and develop an independent sense of self.
The most important question about trauma, is whether you can move past it. Beloved offers the example that you can not move past it, but you can accept it and grow from the lessons it offers. I strongly agree with this notion, as moving past trauma or forgetting it, means it got the best of you. It ends up festering and breaks down your mind until doing the simplest tasks become draining. Whereas if you use this traumatic experience to your advantage, you’re able to surmount future events for a beneficial outcome. Morrison doesn’t offer much of a story after the disappearance of Beloved, so the outcomes are unknown of the characters lives following their acceptance of trauma. There is no way to escape the lasting effects of trauma. No matter how hard one might try to forget, the repercussions will become more mentally agonizing than if you faced it ahead of time. Once the strenuous and demanding process of accepting a traumatic event has passed, the experience allows us to develop in ways that weren’t possible. It teaches us how to avoid or overcome future incidents of helplessness. Sethe, Denver, and Paul D all learn the horror and importance of trauma, and are yet on the daunting journey of reclaiming the identity they once lost.