Beloved

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Schoolteacher Character Analysis

Schoolteacher comes with his nephews to manage Sweet Home after the death of Mr. Garner. He is extremely cruel. Not only does he beat and abuse his slaves, but he also takes notes on them and measures and studies them like animals. He seems, literally, to see them as animals.

Schoolteacher Quotes in Beloved

The Beloved quotes below are all either spoken by Schoolteacher or refer to Schoolteacher. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Slavery Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of Beloved published in 2004.
Part 2, Chapter 19 Quotes

I was about to turn around and keep on my way to where the muslin was, when I heard [Schoolteacher] 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.”

Related Characters: Sethe (speaker), Sethe, Schoolteacher
Page Number: 228
Explanation and Analysis:

Sethe continues to involuntarily recall different events from Sweet Home. She cites a memory of Schoolteacher instructing his nephew, writing down lists of her human and animal characteristics.

This moment portrays the way slaveowners would make use of horrific and dehumanizing practices, as well as the pseudoscience they used to justify the institution itself. The Schoolteacher and his nephew have the semblance of scientific study through lining up attributes in a scientific manner. Yet their work horrifically demeans Sethe, reducing her human complexity to a series of bullet points. That one of those atomized lists is composed of “animal” characteristics is even more hideous: it shows that they believed slaves like her to only be partially human, to the extent that the non-human characteristics could be distilled through sufficient analysis.

That Sethe overhears this while asking for “muslin” is particularly ironic: muslin is a cotton cloth that would, of course, be only the concern of humans. Furthermore, the schoolteacher’s nephew is notably mis-ordering the lists, and thus presumably intellectually lacking even as he describes Sethe's intellectual inferiority. Thus even in the moment when the Schoolteacher dehumanizes Sethe, her actions and the text itself make a small effort to restore that humanity.

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Part 2, Chapter 24 Quotes

For years Paul D believed schoolteacher broke into children what Garner had raised into men. And it was that that made them run off. Now, plagued by the contents of his tobacco tin, he wondered how much difference there really was between before schoolteacher and after.

Related Characters: Paul D, Schoolteacher
Related Symbols: Paul D’s Tobacco Tin
Page Number: 260
Explanation and Analysis:

Now fully immersed in memories, Paul D questions the way he separated Garner and Schoolteacher. He thinks perhaps they were not as different as he had once thought.

This passages criticizes the way both whites and blacks would sometimes form hierarchies between slaveowners. It was and is a common practice to describe certain slaveowners as kinder than others. Here, Paul D has always believed Garner is kinder: His practices are applied to “men” instead of “children,” and they are “raised”—a relatively kind and nurturing verb—compared to the expression “broke into” used for Schoolteacher. Yet when Paul D revisits the actual content of the his memories, he realizes that this division may not actually be a significant as he had previously believed.

That “he wondered how much difference there really was” speaks to the flaws in viewing any behavior of a slaveowner in even relatively positive terms. Whether a slaveowner treated his slaves kindly or cruelly was secondary to the fact that he owned slaves at all, dehumanizing other people as "possessions" without identities other than those the slaveowner forces upon them. That this conclusion derives from Paul D having opened his “tobacco tin” speaks to the more positive results of revisiting one’s history. Though he may be “plagued” by these memories, they also give him greater clarity into his personal past—allowing him to realize the flaws in his more positive memories of Garner.

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Schoolteacher Character Timeline in Beloved

The timeline below shows where the character Schoolteacher appears in Beloved. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
...meet up with them. Paul D remembers how the owner of Sweet Home died and Schoolteacher came to manage the plantation. (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 3
Slavery Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Denver asks Sethe about Sweet Home. Sethe tells her about Schoolteacher, who came to the plantation after Mr. Garner died. Schoolteacher would ask the slaves questions... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 13
Slavery Theme Icon
...guns, choose a wife, learn to read, and was otherwise relatively lenient toward them. When Schoolteacher came and took control of the farm, though, things were radically different and much harsher.... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 16
Slavery Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Soon after the celebration, four horsemen come to 124—Schoolteacher, his nephew, a slave catcher, and a sheriff. They have come to take Sethe and... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 17
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
...about the day Sethe killed her child, how the four horseman arrived and she recognized Schoolteacher and gathered her children and ran to the shed. But he doesn’t tell him, as... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 18
Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
Finally, Sethe tells Paul D that she stopped Schoolteacher from taking her children, saying, “I took and put my babies where they’d be safe.”... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 19
Slavery Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
...home from the restaurant, which reminds her of Sixo stealing a pig on Sweet Home. Schoolteacher questioned him about it and he said he was only feeding himself so that he... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Sethe remembers more about Sweet Home. Schoolteacher measured the slaves and counted their teeth, as if they were animals. She remembers something... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Sethe remembers talking to Halle about Schoolteacher, asking if he thought Schoolteacher was different from Mr. Garner. Halle said it didn’t matter:... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 24
Slavery Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
...narrative resumes by following Paul D’s thoughts. He remembers the differences between Mr. Garner and Schoolteacher but now questions how different the two really were. (full context)
Community Theme Icon
Paul D remembers fleeing Sweet Home with the other slaves. They wait and observe Schoolteacher, plotting the best way to escape. But Sethe becomes pregnant, and the changes Schoolteacher makes... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
...Sixo’s Thirty-Mile Woman try to escape Sweet Home, but are caught. The Thirty-Mile Woman escapes. Schoolteacher is convinced that Sixo has gone crazy and is no longer suitable for work, so... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
...Paul realizes that it must have been right after this conversation, after he left, that Schoolteacher’s boys took her to the barn and took advantage of her. Paul D thinks of... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 26
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Sethe mistakes Mr. Bodwin for Schoolteacher and runs after him with an ice pick, but she is restrained by the women.... (full context)