Role of Sixo in Beloved
Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved contains many secondary characters, of which one of the most significant is the character of Sixo. Though the novel is based in post-Reconstruction America, much of the content is in the form of memories of ex-slaves. It is in these memories that the character of Sixo is revealed. Both Sethe and Paul D were among six slaves that lived at Sweet Home, the remaining four of which are long since gone yet live on in their memory. Morrison seems to have intended Sixo’s name and roots to be ambiguous to portray a sense of “everyman” in him. Along with this representation, there are several Christ-like parallels that can be drawn from Sixo’s character. Though only a minor character, Sixo is representative of a larger slave ideology that is apparent in Morrison’s depiction of him.
The name Sixo is extremely important for a number of reasons, the most prominent being found in the dedication in the front of the novel. It reads, “Sixty Million and more.” By naming a character Sixo, Morrison is paying homage to the number of slaves that were in America which is what the dedication refers to. This is especially significant because Sixo encompasses the ideology and has the ambiguity that makes him a good representation of those people as a whole. The number six is also representative of the number of slaves there are at Sweet Home. He is the sixth and of the men he is the only one without a last name. For example, in the beginning of the book they are introduced as “Paul D Garner, Paul F Garner, Paul A Garner, Halle Suggs and Sixo, the wild man.” (11) Both having a number for a name and not having a last name gives an impression of anonymity. This lends to the argument that Sixo is representative of the slave population as a whole. He doesn’t take the owner’s name as the Pauls do and has no family to take the name of as Halle does. This emphasizes his rootlessness and, in a sense, his individuality. In addition, calling him “the wild man” brings to mind commonly held perceptions of indigenous peoples which is more applicable to Sixo representing any enslaved person.
In several instances Sixo is described in a way that gives his character a sense of ambiguity. For example, twice his skin color is described as “indigo.” (22, 26) The color indigo is a deep, reddish blue color which is not normally associated with skin color. This image brings to mind not only the dark color of African Americans but also Native Americans who also fell prey to white injustices. Native American imagery is used another time in relation to Sixo when he comes across “a deserted stone structure that Redman used way back when they thought the land was theirs.” (25) This juxtaposition of a slave in an abandoned Indian ruin suggests a strong connection between the two and is a powerful image. Though not implying that he has a Native American background, there is another aspect of Sixo that makes his roots suspect. Several times there is mention of Sixo speaking another language that is foreign to the other slaves. This of course could be an African language but it is never made clear. It is this ambiguity that makes Sixo’s character one that could fit any of the cultures that have been oppressed and enslaved.
Sixo represents the ideology of freedom. Of all the slaves, “he was the only one who crept at night.” (107) This sets him apart from the others because he knows what is beyond Sweet Home. He has a better sense of what freedom is and he wants it. He is never satisfied being a slave. For example, when their master Mr. Garner dies, Sixo is “the only one of them not sorry to see him go.” (231) Though the other slaves feel lucky to have a decent owner like Mr. Garner, Sixo knows that it is not right to be owned at all. His knowledge gives him a certain amount of freedom and also draws attention to the ignorance of the other slaves. When the Paul D wonder why Mrs. Garner sent for the schoolteacher to come to Sweet Home, Sixo plainly says, “She need another white on the place.” (231) This is obvious to Sixo though not to the others. The need to escape is also obvious to him —“It was Sixo who brought it up.” (206) The others haven’t even considered this possibility. He organizes everything and in this way tries to save his people.
The idea of Sixo as savior calls to our attention the Christ-like imagery in regard to Sixo’s death. On the night of the escape when everything begins to go wrong, “Only Sixo shows up, his wrists bleeding, his tongue licking his lips like a flame.” The bloody wrists bring to mind the crucifiction of Jesus Christ because of the nails he had through his wrists. It also portrays Sixo as a martyr. This may, like his name, be an homage to all people who died in slavery. Upon being caught, the Christ-like imagery continues as he is strung up to a tree and tortured while still alive. He is not in pain because he is finally free. The idea of freedom upon death transcends the pain and “By the light of the hominy fire Sixo straightens…He laughs. A rippling sound like Sethe’s sons make when they tumble in hay or splash in rainwater.” (238) The image of the children is one of true freedom because of their innocence. Sixo’s laugh is one of the most persistant images in the novel because it is engrained in Paul D’s memory. Therefore it is repeated throughout the novel only to be explained at the end. This makes it an even more powerful image because something associated with joy is brought about by the most horrific circumstances.
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