Swift unnavigable waters, swinging screaming baboons, sleeping snakes, red gums ready for their sweet white blood.... But it wasn't the jungle blacks brought with them to this place from the other place. It was the jungle whitefolks planted in them. And it grew. It spread....The screaming baboon lived under their own white skin; the red gums were their own. (Morrison, 198-199)
The strong bond between Sethe and her children reflects this ownership of the slaves by their masters. The jungle that was planted by the white people in the blacks through slavery is mirrored in the Sethe's violence. The murdering act of Sethe can thus be explained: she does not know herself and mistakes her own identity with the fate of her children. Unable to see herself as an independent person, Sethe clings to her role as a mother and becomes extremely possessive. She mistakes her own identity with her motherhood, and thus, in a way, reenacts the violence of the white masters against her. She feels she has no power over her own self because the white people had crossed all the boundaries and not only taken everything she possessed physically, but everything she had dreamed as well: '"Those white things have taken all I had or dreamed,' she said, 'and broke my heartstrings too. There is no bad luck in the world but whitefolks.'"(Morrison, 89) it is obvious that the "whitefolks" are "bad luck," that is, for the black slaves they were the instruments of destiny itself, trough the power have over their lives. Thus, when Sethe kills her infant daughter, she obviously acts, although out of love, as a white master would. As Malmgren remarks, Sethe's violent act against her own child is actually a perpetuation of the logic of slavery: "Sethe so identifies her Self with the well-being of her children that she denies their existence as autonomous Others, in so doing unconsciously perpetuating the logic of slavery."(Iyasere, 200) Morrison's novel thus reflects the violence of the white race against the black one indirectly, showing how weak the theory that the African-American are less than human has proven over time. The white people are actually the ones who took their humanity by treating them as objects or animals.
The novel does however more than show the effects of slavery on the sense of identity of the African-Americans. Through Sethe's story, Morrison offers an example of the way in which the ghosts of past violence and rage can be made to disappear from the present. What Sethe gradually does is to free herself from Beloved, that is, to go through a second liberation. She is no longer a slave but she needs to be entirely free, that is she needs to claim herself as a person, as an identity: "Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another."(Morrison, 95) the novel ends with Paul D.'s attempt to convince Sethe that she herself is her best possession and not her children: "You your best thing, Sethe. You are."(Morrison, 273) Thus, Beloved is almost a lesson for regaining the sense of identity, even after such a cruel and unforgettable experience like slavery.
Morrison thus shows the way in which the master/slave bond affects the selfhood of the former slaves, to the point that it is replicated in Sethe's murder o her own daughter. At the same time however, the novel has an optimist note about it, and is meant as a lesson for the black people and the way in which they can cope with the trauma of slavery by recovering their own sense of identity, which brings them true independence: "What Beloved suggests is that while the suffering of the 'black and angry dead' is the inescapable psychological legacy of all African-Americans, they can rescue themselves from the trauma of that legacy by directly confronting it and uniting to loosen its fearsome hold."(Bowers, 75)
Bowers, Susan. "Beloved and the New Apocalypse." The Journal of Ethnic Studies. Vol. 18(1).1990: 59-77.
Iyasere, Solomon and Marla W. Iyasere. Understanding Toni Morrison's 'Beloved' and 'Sula': Selected Essays and Criticisms of the Works by the Nobel Prize-Winning Author. Troy: Whitston Publishing, 2000