The mother would recognize anywhere. She didn’t know

The treatment of motherhood in Beloved is also represented through the juxtaposition of Sethe and Baby Suggs and their contrasting approaches to motherhood. It is clear that the love Sethe feels for her children is unfounded, particularly when she tells Paul D about her escape from Sweet Home; “I did it. I got us all out…Up till then it was the only thing I ever did on my own…I birthed them and I got em out and it wasn’t no accident… I was big and deep and wide and when I stretched out my arms all my children could get in between… Look like I loved em more after I got here. Or maybe I couldn’t love em proper in Kentucky because they wasn’t mine to love. But when I got here, when I jumped down off that wagon- there wasn’t nobody in the world I couldn’t love if I wanted to” (Morrison 190-191). Sethe’s intense emotional connection to her children is contrasted with Baby Suggs’ detachment to her own children. In her article “Thick Love”, Michele A. L. Barzey theorizes that Baby Suggs “refused to let herself love children who could be taken away from her” (Barzey 14). Having lost all of her children to the institution of slavery, Baby Suggs’ detachment was her only coping mechanism for this inevitable loss. This emotional detachment is evident when Baby Suggs begins to think about her lost children. “What was left to hurt her now? News of Halle’s death? No. She had been prepared for that better than she had for his life. The last of her children, whom she barely glanced at when he was born because it wasn’t worth the trouble to try and learn features you would never see change into adulthood anyway. Seven times she had done that: held a little foot; examined the fat fingertips with her own- fingers she never saw become the male or female hands a mother would recognize anywhere. She didn’t know to this day what their permanent teeth looked like; or how they held their heads when they walked. Did Patty lose her lisp? What color did Famous’ skin finally take? Was that a cleft in Johnny’s chin or just a dimple that would disappear soon’s his jawbone changed? Four girls, and the last time she saw them there was no hair under their arms. Does Ardelia still love the burned bottom of bread? All seven were gone or dead. What was the point of looking too hard at the youngest one?” (Morrison 163-164). Through the characters of Sethe and Baby Suggs, Morrison depicts the treatment of motherhood from two very different viewpoints. Sethe, who risks her life to take her children out of slavery, who would rather murder her own child than see her grow up back in Sweet Home; represents the rejection of motherhood within slavery. Whereas Baby Suggs, who has all but forgotten her eight children, is shown to represent the defeated nature of a mother who has submitted to the oppression of slavery.  While motherhood is imperative to Sethe in Beloved, Edna Pontellier in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening views motherhood as a burden and hindrance. Although Morrison depicts motherhood as wondrous, albeit difficult, within Beloved through Sethe and Baby Suggs, Chopin focuses on the oppression Edna feels within her marriage to Leonce and the overwhelming inadequacies she feels as a mother to her two sons, Etienne and Raoul. The impossible standards that were placed on Edna to be the perfect ‘mother-woman’ and wife, from not only her husband but from society as a whole during this time ultimately drove her to commit suicide. Unlike Sethe, who will do anything for her children including murdering them to prevent them from being enslaved, Edna “would never sacrifice herself for her children, or for anyone” (Chopin 47). However, that is not to say that Edna did not love her children; she simply did not know how to. Edna’s mother died when she was young and, like Sethe, she was raised without the memories of a nurturer. This absence of a nurturing mother figure prevented Edna from enjoying her children; because she never experienced motherly love for herself she was unable to share it with her own sons.  In her book “The Reproduction of Mothering”, Nancy Chodorow asserts that “many mothers and infants are mutually gratified through their relationship, and many mothers enjoy taking care of their infants” (Chodorow 86). However, this could not be farther from the truth for Edna Pontellier. This is clearly evident from Chopin’s initial explanation of her main character: “In short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman. The mother-woman seemed to prevail that summer at Grand Isle. It was easy to know them, fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood. They were women who idolized their children, worshipped their husbands, and esteemed it as a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels” (Chopin 8). This notion of a woman destroying her own individuality in order to become the perfect ‘mother-woman’ was expected of women once they had given birth. Yet Edna, who was well aware of these preconceived notions and expectations of motherhood realizes that she lacks this ability to ‘efface’ herself as an individual, thus making it impossible for her to become a ‘mother-woman’.  


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