How is Sethe considered a tragic heroine in "Beloved"?

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podunc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sethe fits the profile of a classical tragic hero in some ways, but not in others. One characteristic of a classical tragic hero is that their "fall" comes from a lofty place--they are usually of noble birth, like Hamlet. Most tragedies also end with the hero's death, but Sethe does not die in the novel. An argument could be made, however, for Sethe being a tragic heroine by virtue of her excessive pride and independence.

In classical tragedy, the hero's fall is usually due in part to his hubris, or excessive pride. Although Sethe led a life of degredation as a slave, once she sets up her own household she is determined to survive without any help from the community.

After Denver tries to get work and the town is aware that Sethe is sick, help starts to arrive in the form of food gifts. Morrison's narrator notes that "the personal pride, the arrogant claim staked out at 124 seemed to have run its course." Sethe has managed her life for many years by "trying to do it all alone with her nose in the air" but is not able to keep up this front any longer. Instead of dying at the end of the novel, Sethe begins to awaken to a new sense of self.

pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sethe is clearly spiritually and physically wounded by her experiences as a slave.  Her base of knowledge about life was created as a result of the cruelty of slavery.  As a result of her life as a slave, Sethe makes certain decisions, such as killing her daughter.  At one point she says that she would rather kill her children than have them live as slaves.

"For Sethe, "re-memories" are so powerful that they exist for her as physical objects: "if you go there and stand in the place where it was, it will happen again," she tells Denver.