“Beloved” the Effect of Sethe’s Abuse on Her Husband and Herself

The scene begins with Paul D asking Sethe why she did not consider Halle a good man, Sethe says that Halle abandoned her and her children, and for that reason she did not consider him a good husband or father any longer. Paul D reveals to her that Halle witnessed what had happened to her in the barn shortly before she left and it had broken him. In response, Sethe tells Paul D about what happened in the barn and the treatment she received at the hands of the schoolmaster and his nephews, a decade before on the Sweet Home plantation.
For Halle witnessing the incident, broke what little humanity he had as a slave. As a result of the incident, he realized that he was just a powerless slave and it shattered his entire life’s view; although his action could have stopped that specific incident he would not have been able to stop it the next time or the time after that. He then went arguably insane; he could no longer stand himself and his life. The last time Halle is seen by Paul D he is smearing handfuls of butter over his face. In the words of Sethe he is “smearing the butter”all over his face because the milk they took is on his mind”and the world might as well know it.” Halle has his world, his family and his life shattered not from spending his life as a slave, but because of this one incident that showed him what being a slave really meant. Slavery reveals itself to him as not being just a lack of freedom and deference to a “master” but as a complete lack of power in life, a stripping away of everything that makes a human being human.
For Sethe the experience showed her what the schoolmaster really thought of her and prompted her to later kill her own children to keep them from him. The incident also ruined her perception of Halle, she had thought of him as a good father and husband, however when he never showed up after her escape she began questioning her perception of him. After Paul D told her that Halle had witnessed the incident, she was indignant, wondering why he had not come to her aid as she thought a good husband would have. For Sethe finding out Halle had witnessed the event was a final straw in her memories of the event, in her own words she was “full of [the memories]” and she does not “want to know or have to remember [it]”. The event also showed Sethe what slavery meant, however for her the lesson is quite different, she learned that slavery meant that you had nothing to hold onto, that everything can be taken from you, even down to your babies milk. She had gone through her years as misses Garner’s cook and helper, and during this time she fancied that the house was partly hers, yet with this one event she learned that nothing is a slave’s, and that being a slave was to make one incapable of owning anything even ones own body. Her response to this was to kill her children when the schoolmaster came for them, so at least she and they would be spared having everything ripped from them again.
Ironically, learning that Halle had rubbed butter over his face after witnessing Sethe’s beating and abuse completely changed Sethe’s view of who and what Halle was . Just as after witnessing the abuse Sethe endured Halle changed his view of who and what he was. For Sethe, although the incident broke both her’s and Hallie’s spirit it showed them who and what they really were and what their partner really was. Sethe learns that she will do anything to keep her children from the life as a slave, and she learns that Halle was a good husband who loved her very much, but could not handle the feeling of powerlessness. Halle learns that he is powerless to stop what his masters, however one can only assume that he loved Sethe too much to witness such an event again. The event that destroyed Halle and shows him he is powerless, empowers Sethe to defy the Schoolteacher.

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