Sethe’s scar on her back is an emblem and reminder of the physical cruelty of slavery. But the scar eerily resembles a beautiful tree. This can be seen as symbolizing the deceitfully pleasant and beautiful appearances of picturesque plantations like Sweet Home, which were rooted in ugly violence. But, also, it can serve as an example of a strange beauty coming from a horrible experience. In this way, the scar can even become an analogue for Morrison’s novel itself, an artistic creation arising out of the tragedy of slavery, whose beautiful writing asks the reader to confront the relationship between beauty and human suffering.
Sethe’s Scar Symbol Timeline in Beloved
The timeline below shows where the symbol Sethe’s Scar appears in Beloved. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1
...when the boys found out that she had told on them, they whipped her, leaving a tree-shaped scar on her back. When Sethe was escaping to Cincinnati, a white woman who helped her... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 2
...enter her bedroom. After brief sex, they are too shy to talk to each other. Sethe’s scar makes Paul think of the trees of Sweet Home. He remembers another slave named Sixo,... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 8
...who tells Amy that her name is Lu. Amy cares for her and sees the scar on her back . She says it’s a chokecherry tree with blossoms (welts) and continues to talk about... (full context)