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Title: Sethe’s gift of death : a reading of responsibility in beloved.
Authors: Ong, Nicole Sihui.
Keywords: DRNTU::Humanities::Literature
Issue Date: 2011
Abstract: To a modern reader, the reality of slavery that Toni Morrison describes in “Beloved” is foreign and incomprehensible. It is convenient for us to categorise Sethe as being immoral in order to avoid contemplating a reality where the killing of a baby could be an acceptable act of survival. Yet this is precisely what this novel calls us to grapple with. In hand with Jacques Derrida’s “The Gift of Death”, this essay considers an alternative reading of Beloved, one that allows us to regard Sethe’s act as bearing traces of absolute humanity and responsibility instead. Derrida reveals that as one attempts to be absolutely responsible to the other, one must pay a high, traumatic price by inevitably sacrificing being responsible to his other others. As a slave, Sethe has no choice but to engage in absolute singularity with schoolteacher. He is the other that she must respond to at all costs and Beloved’s death becomes a sacrifice for this slave/master binary. It is this ethical dilemma – the paradox where one must first be irresponsible in order to be responsible – that this essay attempts to regard. In this light, how can one even begin to make any judgement on Sethe’s actions? Yet, Morrison demonstrates through “Beloved” that it is from this dilemma that we must begin regarding Sethe. It may yet be our only ethical means of doing so.
Rights: Nanyang Technological University
Fulltext Permission: restricted
Fulltext Availability: With Fulltext
Appears in Collections:HSS Student Reports (FYP/IA/PA/PI)

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