With reference to Beloved: how are ideas of mourning and loss played out though the possibility/impossibility of speaking them?

Essay by OdileUniversity, Bachelor's April 2004

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The ideas of mourning and loss are played out through various stages of denial and acceptance. They find expression in the belief in spirits, the power of symbolic objects and ritual ceremonies, the polarity of emotions, the realm of the conscious and unconscious, and the mental, emotional and physical interplay of past and present.

Sethe, pregnant, sent her two sons and infant daughter ahead to flee via the Underground Railroad. She waited for her husband, Halle, at a predetermined place and time so that they could flee together. However, he did not show up and she went looking for him. Schoolteacher's two nephews caught her, held her down and sucked her milk. She suffered abandonment, the loss of her husband in his role of protector as well as partner. She could not mention this event to anyone because of her fear of punishment. The loss of milk is symbolic of the theft/killing of her life source; she was deprived of her role as nurturing and protective mother.

Sethe's husband did not abandon her and their children; he was hiding in the loft, watching her being attacked by the two boys, yet found himself paralyzed in a dilemma: had he come to her rescue he, too, would have risked punishment; but not being able to help her was too much guilt to bare and it drove him insane. "It broke him." Loss of memory and retreat into insanity was his coping device for his inaction. He thus avoided having to face the daily reality of painful memories, and his feelings of guilt, perhaps of being a coward, not risking his life to protect hers. Later on, when Paul D tells Sethe about his own torture and her husband's insanity, she, too, wishes for insanity to put an end to her...