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October 2016

The Keloid Scars of Slavery

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
JAMA Dermatol. 2016;152(10):1121. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2015.6263

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.

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