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The Keloid Scars of Slavery

The Keloid Scars of Slavery Sethe, the protagonist of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, suffers from a dermatologic entity common to many African Americans: a keloid. While a slave on a plantation, she was assaulted by 2 white men. When Sethe informs her mistress of the attack, her master punishes her further, ordering Sethe to be whipped. This brutality scars her back and ultimately develops into a keloid in the shape of a “chokecherry tree.”1 Throughout the novel, Sethe’s “tree” serves as a direct representation of the cruelty of slavery and becomes a constant reminder of its impact on Sethe’s psyche. Morrison was not the first to represent the cruelty of slavery through keloid scarring. In 1863, Harper’s Weekly, an American political magazine popular during the Civil War, demonstrated slavery’s brutality with photographs of “Whipped Peter,” an escaped Louisiana slave named Gordon who was ruthlessly beaten. The photographs of his severe keloids were later used throughout the United States by abolitionists, such as William Lloyd Garrison and Henry Ward Beecher, to provide visual evidence of the inhumanity of slavery. They claimed it was “symbolic of the brutality of the slave system, and of the society that sustains it.”2 In both Morrison’s Beloved and the historical account of “Whipped Peter,” keloids are more than scars; they symbolize the complex history of slavery. For Sethe, they are a constant reminder of the physical and psychological cruelty of slavery, while for Gordon, his keloids became a call for abolition. Back to top Article Information Corresponding Author: Jules B. Lipoff, MD, Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, Medical Arts Building, Ste 106, 51 N 39th St, Philadelphia, PA 19104 (jules.lipoff@uphs.upenn.edu). Additional Contributions: We thank Heather Nelson, PhD, visiting assistant professor of literature, Antioch College, for her comments on the manuscript. She was not compensated for her assistance. References 1. Morrison T. Beloved. New York, NY: Vintage; 2004. 2. Silkenat D. A typical negro: Gordon, Peter, Vincent Colyer, and the story behind slavery’s most famous photograph. Am Nineteeth Cent Hist. 2014;15(2):169-186.Google ScholarCrossref http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png JAMA Dermatology American Medical Association

The Keloid Scars of Slavery

JAMA Dermatology , Volume 152 (10) – Oct 1, 2016

The Keloid Scars of Slavery

Abstract

Sethe, the protagonist of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, suffers from a dermatologic entity common to many African Americans: a keloid. While a slave on a plantation, she was assaulted by 2 white men. When Sethe informs her mistress of the attack, her master punishes her further, ordering Sethe to be whipped. This brutality scars her back and ultimately develops into a keloid in the shape of a “chokecherry tree.”1 Throughout the novel, Sethe’s “tree” serves as a...
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Publisher
American Medical Association
Copyright
Copyright © 2016 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved.
ISSN
2168-6068
eISSN
2168-6084
DOI
10.1001/jamadermatol.2015.6263
pmid
27732732
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Sethe, the protagonist of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, suffers from a dermatologic entity common to many African Americans: a keloid. While a slave on a plantation, she was assaulted by 2 white men. When Sethe informs her mistress of the attack, her master punishes her further, ordering Sethe to be whipped. This brutality scars her back and ultimately develops into a keloid in the shape of a “chokecherry tree.”1 Throughout the novel, Sethe’s “tree” serves as a direct representation of the cruelty of slavery and becomes a constant reminder of its impact on Sethe’s psyche. Morrison was not the first to represent the cruelty of slavery through keloid scarring. In 1863, Harper’s Weekly, an American political magazine popular during the Civil War, demonstrated slavery’s brutality with photographs of “Whipped Peter,” an escaped Louisiana slave named Gordon who was ruthlessly beaten. The photographs of his severe keloids were later used throughout the United States by abolitionists, such as William Lloyd Garrison and Henry Ward Beecher, to provide visual evidence of the inhumanity of slavery. They claimed it was “symbolic of the brutality of the slave system, and of the society that sustains it.”2 In both Morrison’s Beloved and the historical account of “Whipped Peter,” keloids are more than scars; they symbolize the complex history of slavery. For Sethe, they are a constant reminder of the physical and psychological cruelty of slavery, while for Gordon, his keloids became a call for abolition. Back to top Article Information Corresponding Author: Jules B. Lipoff, MD, Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, Medical Arts Building, Ste 106, 51 N 39th St, Philadelphia, PA 19104 (jules.lipoff@uphs.upenn.edu). Additional Contributions: We thank Heather Nelson, PhD, visiting assistant professor of literature, Antioch College, for her comments on the manuscript. She was not compensated for her assistance. References 1. Morrison T. Beloved. New York, NY: Vintage; 2004. 2. Silkenat D. A typical negro: Gordon, Peter, Vincent Colyer, and the story behind slavery’s most famous photograph. Am Nineteeth Cent Hist. 2014;15(2):169-186.Google ScholarCrossref

Journal

JAMA DermatologyAmerican Medical Association

Published: Oct 1, 2016

References

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