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Haunted PropertySlavery and the Gothic$
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Sarah Gilbreath Ford

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781496829696

Published to University Press of Mississippi: May 2021

DOI: 10.14325/mississippi/9781496829696.001.0001

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Claiming, Killing, and Haunting in Toni Morrison’s Beloved

Claiming, Killing, and Haunting in Toni Morrison’s Beloved

Chapter:
(p.128) Chapter Four Claiming, Killing, and Haunting in Toni Morrison’s Beloved
Source:
Haunted Property
Author(s):

Sarah Gilbreath Ford

Publisher:
University Press of Mississippi
DOI:10.14325/mississippi/9781496829696.003.0005

This chapter examines Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987). In reading Sethe’s impossible choice between ending her children’s lives or letting them be taken back into slavery, critics have largely blamed her daughter’s death on the system of slavery. That critics do not want to blame Sethe for the murder is understandable, given how much she suffers under slavery. What these critics miss, however, is Sethe’s agency. In killing Beloved and attempting to kill the rest of her children, Sethe makes a property claim that speaks directly to the history of cases on American property law and slavery. This chapter examines Sethe’s choice in the context of State v. Mann and Pierson v. Post, arguing that her willingness to destroy makes her a valid property owner. Her legal possession, however, is answered by spectral possession when Beloved haunts to reclaim personhood.

Keywords:   Toni Morrison, Beloved, State v. Mann, Pierson v. Post, Property law, Spectral possession

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