Milk and Water in Beloved

Isabella Agostino (Lp)

no, I will not make you think back to your mother's milk nor the last time you went to the restroom

  • What tangible matter empowers you?
  • What tangible matter makes you feel whole? (can't be the same answer as the first Q)
  • Stay tuned!
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what the heck is going on, ew, gross

  • Milk symbolizes specifically nurturing and love, but on a broader scale it represents power and identity
  • Water symbolizes rebirth, within that there is purification and fluidity
  • Three most important characters embodying these elements are (in order) Sethe, Beloved and Paul D
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Textual evidence from the book half of you didn't read

  1. "A fully dressed woman walked out of the water...The water she voided was endless...more like flooding the boat when Denver was born...But there was no stopping water breaking from a breaking womb and there was no stopping now."

  2. "watching her drink cup after cup of water...the woman gulped water...and held it out for more...four times the woman drank as though she had crossed a desert."

  3. "'cry...for the living and the dead. Just cry.""

  4. “ I am not separate from her there is no place where I stop “

  5. “It rained...It rained...It rained.”

  1. "best thing she was, was her children,"
  2. "Milk was all I ever had." "They stole my milk." "Your love is too thick." "I took and put my babies where they'd be safe."
  3. "Sethe was licked, tasted, eaten by Beloved's eyes." “The bigger Beloved got, the smaller Sethe became.”
  4. "She enclosed her left nipple with two fingers of her right hand and the child opened her mouth. They hit home together."
  5. "Denver took her mother's milk right along with the blood of her sister."
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incase you fell asleep or don't speak english and had no idea what was going for the past 15 minutes

  • Milk symbolizes specifically nurturing and love, but on a broader scale it represents power and identity
  • Water symbolizes rebirth, within that there is purification and fluidity
  • Three most important characters embodying these elements are (in order) Sethe, Beloved and Paul D
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Because my own interpretation isn't credible enough "Spitting out the Seed: Ownership of Mother, Child, Breasts, Milk, and Voice in Toni Morrison's "Beloved"' by Michele Mock

"Sethe, whose 'best thing she was, was her children,' (308) possesses a fierce maternal instinct; she views her children as an integral part of herself in an implication of ownership. Her children rightfully belong to her. Yet this essential maternal instinct is corrupted when viewed in the context of slavery. For a slave cannot "own." Not her individuality. Not her children. Not her milk." (Mock 118)


"Morrison stresses breast-feeding as essential to the natural unity of the mother-child bond...to nurse a child is to join in a sacred state of communion with that child. The mother is producer and provider of the milk from her body; the child is communicant, eagerly taking nourishment her body provides. The primeval forces of biological nature interact with emotional and psychological bonding. Breast-feeding is the ultimate expression of maternal love; it is a concrete and viable product of that love. It is the abstract made material. As an expression of love, milk is symbolized as mother's love." (Mock 118)


"Deprived of a mother's milk and bond, knowing the ravenous void in her belly and in her heart, Sethe wants better for her children. She vows her children will never know that hunger." (Mock 118)


Finding beauty in the reasons for murder

What ultimately drives Sethe to murder

The power of a mother's love

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because, 4 pointers


  1. In what way does water symbolize death in the novel? (hint: drowning)
  2. According to the lit crit, if the child is taken away from the mother but the milk is still there, the powerlessness that the mother feels is the same as if her milk was taken away, to what extent do you find this true? (when the subject of your nurturing/power is taken away)
  3. Does the need for power in Sethe's case stem from a lack of nurturing, the inability to be a nurturer, or both?
  4. Consider Sethe and Beloved's relationship towards the end of the novel. Who essentially held the "power" in the relationship and why?
  5. What is the psychological effect of being nurtured by your mother's milk? Is it potentially negative?
  6. In the context of this presentation, what is the significance of Beloved loving sweet things?
  7. What other symbols of identity or power can you think of in Pride and Prejudice, A Passage to India, or To the Lighthouse? (think Mary and her books, Jane and her goodness, etc)
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because my own interpretation actually stemmed from an original idea

Mock, Michele. "Spitting out the Seed: Ownership of Mother, Child, Breasts, Milk, and Voice in Toni Morrison's "Beloved"" College Literature 23.3 (1996): 117-26. JSTOR. Web. 22 Mar. 2015. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/25112278?ref=no-x-route:26743417751c847d20722c75c96c1a4f>.