In the United States, gun ownership is a part of the population. Whether people are against it or not, it is an extremely relevant topic because of the violent state that our country is in. Some people even say that President Donald Trump was elected on this aspect alone. In “Beloved,” there are aspects that reflect the arguments that we hear about the Second Amendment right issue. The slaves’ ownership of a firearm, under the Garner’s supervision, evokes arguments and rationalizations about the Second Amendment.
The parallel of gun ownership in “Beloved” isn’t that far from the reality of the United States. For the reader to see the similarities, analyzing passages from the book is essential. In the book, firearms are constantly used by slave owners to keep them “in-check” if you will. The slavers more than likely used their weapons to brutalize, dehumanize and more often than not permanently silence their slaves whenever they please. When Paul D was sent to a chain gang for attempting to murder his slaver, the use of guns to abuse the slaves was the most prominent. (Morrison 125-127)As an example, let us analyze one of Paul D’s experiences after he was sent to a chain gang:
“Occasionally a kneeling man chose gunshot in his head as the price, maybe, of taking a bit of foreskin with him to Jesus. Paul D did not know that then. He was looking at his palsied hands, smelling the guard, listening to his soft grunts so like the doves’, as he stood before the man kneeling in mist on his right. Convinced he was next, Paul D retched- vomiting up nothing at all.” (Morrison 127)
This part of the book contains horrible depiction of how the slaves were treated in this book. The slavers, with the use of their weapons, emasculated their slaves by forcing them to perform oral sex and other atrocities. The firearms that the slavers used are the sociopolitical equivalent of a suite of “power armor” around them (Roiland). In turn, these slavers aren’t worried about the dangers that their slaves impose because of their guns. The slavers felt so confident in fact that they were able to put themselves in a vulnerable position just to humiliate and emasculate their slaves by subjecting them to forced fellatio. In the passage, even if the slaves bite the slavers, it is still not enough to discourage their despicable practices. They continue to humiliate their “properties” without worries because they hold the power.
Later on, Paul D further criticizes the slavers by abhorring the advantage that guns provide them:
“Listening to the doves in Alfred, Georgia, and having neither the right nor permission to enjoy it because in that place mist, doves, sunlight, copper dirt, moon- everything belonged to the men who had the guns. Little men, some of them, big men too, each one of whom [Paul D] could snap like a twig if he wanted to. Men who knew their manhood lay in their guns and were not even embarrassed by the knowledge that without gunshot fox would laugh at them. And these “men” who made even vixen laugh could, if you let them, stop you from hearing doves or loving moonlight.” (Morrison 191)
In the passage, Paul D tells the readers of the book that without their guns, the slavers are helpless. He implies that the slavers would not be able to abuse their slave to the degree that their weaponry allows. So the slave owner’s power stems from their firearms, not their physical prowess as a man. This criticism of weapon supplementation for lack of physique even applies to our pop culture. Famous comedian Chris Rock on one of his specials one said “I like guns! You got a gun; you don’t have to work out!”
In “Beloved,” Schoolteacher point-of-view parallels more of today’s gun control argument. As the person that replaced the Garners as owners of Sweet Home, Schoolteacher considers the Garner’s slavery practices as “spoiling.” (Morrison 267) In the second section of the book, we learn about Schoolteacher’s true feelings about the Garner’s slavery practices during the pursuit of Sethe and Paul D’s escape from the plantation:
“Voices remind schoolteacher about the spoiling these particular slaves have had at Garner’s hands. There’s laws against what he had done: letting niggers hire out their own time to buy themselves. He even let em have guns! And you think he mated them niggers to get him some more? Hell no! He planned for them to marry! If that don’t beat it all!” (Morrison 267)
In modern day United States, one of the main arguments of pro-gun citizens is that the 2nd Amendment is implemented to combat the United States government if deemed necessary. (Dunlap 643) According to the leader of the self-styled “Michigan Militia” by the name of David Knight, “[t]here are three methods to change effect… ‘[t]the jury box, the ballot box, and the cartridge box. No one in a right-thinking mid would choose the last one, but we must be prepared for all contingencies.’” (Dunlap 644) Keep in mind that the Michigan Militia was formed during the height of the Oklahoma City bombing. If we applied this theory to Schoolteacher’s small scale “governing” of slaves, the pro-gun slogan “the Great Equalizer” (Carlson 23) makes perfect sense. If the slaves have guns, they would be on equal ground with their slavers and would be in a position to begin an insurrection.
“Simply stated, the proposition holds that the possession of firearms by individuals serves as the ultimate check on the power of government. The concept postulates that the Second Amendment was intended to provide the means by which the people, as a last resort, could rise in armed revolt against tyrannical authorities.” (Dunlap 645)
The main problem with this argument when it comes to the slaves is that they aren’t considered as citizens, let alone human beings. Schoolteacher himself treats the slaves of Sweet Home slaves like animals, going as far as categorizing them literally on paper.
“Schoolteacher was standing over one of them with one hand behind his back. He licked a forefinger a couple of times and turned a few pages. Slow. [Sethe] was about to turn around and keep on my way to where the muslin was, when I heard him say, “No, no. That’s not the way. I told you to put her human characteristics on the left; her animal ones on the right. And don’t forget to line them up.” (Morrison 228)
Schoolteacher examines the slaves akin to a rancher conducting a check up on his cattle. To slavers, slaves are nothing but walking sex and meat to be used for whatever reason. A slave owning a gun would be next to impossible. Paul D was only able to get a hold of a firearm because of Garner; otherwise, a gun will only be for the whiteman.
Let us move on from the insurrection aspect of gun control and go back to gun’s correlation with masculinity. When Schoolteacher became the owner of Sweet Home, he began to implement his own way of destroying his slaves’ humanity. Schoolteacher targeted Paul D as he seemed to cause the most threat.
“At the peak of his strength, taller than tall men, and stronger than most, they clipped him, Paul D. First his shotgun, then his thoughts, for schoolteacher didn’t take advice from Negroes.” (Morrison 259)
Examining this passage, the shotgun symbolizes Paul D’s masculinity and when it was taken away it was as if Schoolteacher has taken his remaining manhood. This concept parallels that of our own society. According to a general survey, 35.1% of men claimed ownership of a firearm in 2014. (Smith, Son 2) According to Carlson, men have tended to indirectly discourage women from owning or even being interested in guns. (Carlson 23) This is what Carlson’s research has to say about the matter:
“…as female gun carriers entered gun politics, they encountered a culture of masculinity perpetuated by other gun carriers and even police officers, who read their decision to carry a gun not as empowerment but rather as an expression of their maternal instinct; their sexual desirability; or a laughable attempt to be ‘one of the boys’ – not unlike the ridicule experienced by female police officers. Even as women carriers experienced guns as empowering, men’s disparagement of armed women suggests that the duty to protect and police remains masculine terrain, despite claims by pro-gun men that guns are ‘the Great Equalizer.’” (Carlson 23)
- Morrison, Toni. Beloved. Vintage, 1987.
- “Look Who’s Purging Now.” Rick and Morty, season 2, episode 9, Adult Swim, 2015. Adult Swim, http://www.adultswim.com/videos/rick-and-morty/look-whos-purging-now/
- Carlson, Jennifer D. Clinging to their Guns? The New Politics of Gun Carry in Everyday Life. University of California, Berkeley, 2013.
- O’Shea, Michael. Modeling the Second Amendment Right to Carry Arms (I): Judicial Tradition and the Scope of “Bearing Arms” for Self-Defense. American University Law Review, 2012.
- Dunlap, Charles J. Revolt of the Masses: Armed Civilians and the Insurrectionary Theory of The Second Amendment. Tennessee Law Review, 1995.
- Tom W. Smith and Jaesok Son. Trends in Gun Ownership in the United States, 1972-2014. NORC at the University of Chicago, 2015.