The Effects of Slavery on Motherhood

Slavery is a system that diminishes the dignity of the black people and the inherent effects of it in their lives take a great toll on their personal well-being as well as their position in society. It disfigures people from every aspect and has sucked them into this black hole of total desperation, depravity, and hopelessness. In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, the story is set in a historical time where slavery is a way of life and black people do not have equal liberties like that of the white folks.

As for the central character, Sethe, a runaway slave who experience racial discrimination and abuses in that era, her role as a mother drives to rid herself free of the gropes of slavery comes at a hefty price. Because of her traumatic experience as a slave, it greatly affects her role as a mother.

The awfulness of slavery separates children from their own mother causing Sethe’s difficulty in forming a mother-child relationship.

According to Sigmund Freud who proposes a psychodynamic of personality development theory, he states that if trauma occurs at any stage of an individual’s development, the person, even though matures in other aspects, would be vulnerable through life. (Smith et. al 360). The idea becomes prevalent that the child carries the influence of such early experience with it into adulthood and these influences are permanent. Born out of slavery, Sethe has little remembrance of the caring nature of her own mother, and that restricts her to also form a close maternal bond with her children.

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Moreover, the period immediately after birth is sensitive in which maternal attachment as first observed in the form of breastfeeding is established. In Sethe’s case, before she escaped, she is raped and brutalized by a group of men who robs her milk and left her emotionally broken.

Because of the horrible attack that cost the loss of her breastmilk, she exactly knows the feeling of being the recipient of another woman’s milk that she has to “fight and holler for it and to have so little left” (Morrison 200). As a mother, it emotionally breaks her heart, being milked like a cow and feeding white folks’ infants as a priority before she could feed her own. This implies that she does not own her body nor she has the volition to rear and foster her own child. The impossibility of building maternal connection is evident in this scenario, and it is painful for her part not to exercise her motherly role to be able to give the affection her child deserves. The enslavement of black people drives this rigid disorganization in the family. Parents are separated and children become separated from their mothers when they reach age. Mothers are considered the only authentic parent of a child; however, it does not mean that she is allowed to be the guiding light of her child towards maturity (Davis 1). Despite her experiences, Sethe loves her children in the best way she knows.

Because of slavery, Sethe’s relationship is permanently stained with a sense of mistrust. The development of Sethe’s trust issues starts from her childhood experiences and it progresses even more as she grows up. In Erik Erikson’s psychosocial development theory and psychosocial crisis, the first year of life is essential for social development. In his theory, the first stage tackles the concept of trust versus mistrust, in which babies are dependent on their parents. If the infant’s needs are met in this stage with adequate love and attention, whose discomforts are addressed quickly, he or she develops a trusting sense of the world as a safe place. In contrast, mistrust issues start to develop in which a fearful attitude towards a particular person around him or her (Smith et. al 324). In the novel, growing up, Sethe, unfortunately, does not have someone who immediately tends to her needs, and provides series of unfortunate events that take place in Sethe’s life as a slave brought the deprivation of her relationship to her daughter and causes her to act inhumanely.

Seethe becomes extremely overprotective. Slavery is a generational inheritance in a de facto standard sense for the black people in that time, since it’s a fairly common trade. Her role as a mother and her motivation to set a different path for her children provides an avenue for her to set a new course for her family in a free state. This, she did in the vain hope of establishing and fostering a sense of freedom and liberty that a woman of her color greatly craved but immensely deprived of.


The novel is a quintessential depiction of the life of a slave. However, it arches towards the lingering effects it has brought in a slave’s life.

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The Effects of Slavery on Motherhood. (2020, Nov 02). Retrieved from

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