“People pay for what they do, and still more, for what they have allowed themselves to become.
And they pay for it simply: by the lives they lead,” an American novelist, named Edith Wharton, once said. All actions come with costs that people have to pay. Furthermore, the way that life plays out depends on the actions one have taken that led up to it, through consequences. Set in the 1870s at Cincinnati, Ohio, a former slave woman, named Sethe, had to make sacrifices in her life to ensure safety for herself and her children.
However, she later learns about karma, which is when the fate of your future depends on the past, a thing that she has to live with. In Toni Morrison’s historical fiction-based novel, Beloved, Morrison supports the idea that actions will always come with consequences of all kind: physically, mentally and socially. Sethe was so absorbed in trying to protect the ones she loved only to realize that she lost them in the process of doing so. After doing an action, the consequences one faces may not be the consequences they expect.
Sethe’s original plan was “always that they would all be together on the other side, forever” (136). She was so afraid of living in a world with her children where white men could potentially harm them and so scarred from being separated from her mother, that she believed in killing her entire family to live in harmony on the other side was the safest thing she could do. However, she could only kill one.
It is important to note that she did not think of what her actions could lead to because she never expected to come out alive. She let her plans blind her, not allowing her to see what was clearly slipping away from her: her family. Seeing their own mother kill their little sister in front of them, “Howard and Buglar, had run away by the time they were thirteen years old” (1). Ironic as it sounds, her efforts of keeping her family together in harmony became the opposite of what she had hoped for; her dream became her nightmare. Sethe’s psychotic murder ends up causing her family to leave her due to fear. It is important to note that her sons would rather risk their life dealing with inhumane treatings than living with their own mother because of how traumatized they were. The consequence that she faces, in the beginning, is the loss of her loved ones.
The eighteen years without Beloved drove Sethe insane; she was never able to find joy in anything anymore and felt incomplete without her daughter. An example of Sethe’s longing of Beloved is when Denver mentions her; “‘For a baby, she throws a powerful spell,’ said Denver. ‘No more powerful than the way I loved her,’ Sethe answered” (2).
From this scene, the readers can infer that Sethe still feels a strong attachment to Beloved and still mourns her death. She has to deal with the emotional suffering because of the empty void in her heart where her family once was. Being haunted by Beloved kept Sethe in the past. The pain went with Sethe everywhere; she would often associate everything in a way that it was about Beloved because of how distraught she was. Trying to connect with Beloved, “Sethe pleaded for forgiveness, counting, listing, again and again, her reasons: that Beloved was more important, meant more to her than her own life” (136). Sethe was fragile and let herself feed into Beloved’s desires in order to fill the void inside of her heart. She allowed herself to give in to whatever Beloved wanted because she thought that it would make up for what she did to her. Unfortunately, as she kept complying with Beloved, she was slowly letting Beloved consume her identity bit by bit.
Not only did she have to deal with the loss of her children, but she also lost herself due to her actions. Although Sethe had a lot of weight on her shoulders to bear with already, she also had to carry with what others thought about her. For example, the funeral of Baby Suggs was held in a yard “because nobody besides himselfPaul D would enter 124–an injury Sethe answered with another” (95). What Sethe had done to Beloved had driven the entire town away from her. They were so afraid of what she was capable of and never dared to come close to her house because of her reputation. Everyone around her was disappointed in her and looked down at her, which caused an injury to her feelings. As a response, Sethe felt the need to segregate herself and her daughter, Denver, from the community to avoid facing the judgment and pain that they would throw at her. Sethe’s walls were too high to bring down, which led her to a life of solitude.
When a love interest, named Paul D, was brave enough to enter Sethe’s life hears about her situation, he tells her, “you got two feet, Sethe, not four” (93). Paul D was unable to handle the cold truth that Sethe admitted to him and calls her an animal. She defended herself and pushed Paul D away because she was not able to open her heart to love anymore, not even to Denver. Her heart was too shattered to be able to mend again; she isolated herself too often, which discouraged people who would have been there for her.
Once again, someone she loved became someone she lost. The world muted Sethe, disregarded her, and caused her immense pain and regret as a consequence of what Sethe committed. The reality is that all actions may have consequences, good or bad, just as Toni Morrison proves. People are free to do as they wish, but they can not wish for what comes back to them. They cannot pick their consequences and they must deal with what they deserved.
Morrison uses Sethe’s life as an example of living in a life full of consequences that were the result of one action. The ultimate consequence that Sethe had to experience was having to live a life filled with losses that shaped her mentally, as well as grief, regret, and emptiness. Sethe let her consequences affect her so harshly that she became mentally destroyed and unable to feel love again. This goes to show that what one expects may not be what one receives.
Do not underestimate consequences, one small action can cause a ripple of consecutive consequences one may have never expected.