Beloved Questions and Answers
by Toni Morrison

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Imagery regarding the eyes and vision are prevalent throughout the novel. How does this tie into major themes of Beloved? Sethe, for instance, has had the "glittering iron" punched out of her eyes, "leaving two open wells that did not reflect firelight." When schoolteacher catches up to Sethe, her eyes are so black she "looks blind," and after too much conflict with Beloved, her eyes turn "bright but dead, alert but vacant." Similarly, the disturbing thing about Beloved's eyes is not that the "whites of them were much too white" but that "deep down in those big black eyes there was no expression at all." When Paul D. recalls his time on the chain gang in Georgia, he remembers that "the eyes had to tell what there was to tell" about what the men were feeling.

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Shawn Arnold eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Eyes and vision are incredibly important in Beloved in how the story interacts with reality, past experiences, and slavery. Our eyes are usually how we understand the world around us, so when something seems extraordinary, such as Beloved returning, seeing becomes very important. When she plays hide and seek with Denver, she seems to disappear, and Denver can't see her anymore. When she leaves, people say they saw footprints following the river away.

Since we see everything with our eyes, eyes can show one's past, and that this is very important in Beloved. The story goes in and out of past memories and visions, showing us mostly what Sethe's eyes have seen in the past. This connects heavily to what Paul D. says—"the eyes had to tell what there was to tell"—and the characters' experiences with slavery. When Paul D. talks of his last interaction with Halle, he talks about his eyes, and even though he went insane after learning of the sexual abuse of Sethe, Paul D. reads his eyes to see him. When they were enslaved, they were discouraged from talking and learning, so they held a lot in, and instead of speaking their emotions, they would show them through their eyes. Eyes are another way to express emotion and another way to understand the people and world around you.

Vision and eyes are a major theme by themselves, but this is how they can connect to some other themes.

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Kristy Wooten eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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One of the themes of Beloved is memory and reminiscence; many characters struggle with memories of the past, so they are looking back through different eyes (because, in many ways, they are different people than they were then). Sethe chooses to "dis-remember" at the end of the novel in order to move on. Also, the emphasis on eyes lends itself to how different characters see events and people in their lives differently. Finally, eyes are said to be windows to the soul, so how the characters' eyes react to certain events, people, and so on is telling to how these characters feel.

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