Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a novel set in 1873 Cincinnati, at the end of the Civil War. Beloved tells the Story of Sethe, a former slave. Sethe lives at 124 with her children two sons, Howard and Buglar, a daughter, Denver, and the ghost of her deceased daughter, known as Beloved. Soon after the ghost starts to haunts their house, her sons run away, never to look back again. A while back, when Sethe was a slave, she sent her children away to live with her mom, Baby Suggs. A little while later, Sethe left the plantation, known as Sweet Home, to join her children and her mother. When the schoolteacher found out that Sethe ran away, he went to a mission to find her and bring her back to Sweet Home. When he confronted her, she took her kids and ran in the shed. She was about to attempt the saddest thing imaginable. Kill her kids. Sethe believed that she would rather see her children dead, than for them to live in bondage, as she did, all of their lives. She only succeeded in killing one of her children, her youngest daughter. She was only a baby, less than 3 years of age, but the baby endured some serious distress.
An aspect that in most prevalent in Beloved presence of a supernatural theme. All of the characters are haunted by their past. Beloved is seen as another type of supernatural being, an energy and emotional vampire. Beloved sucks the heart, mind, and soul out of Sethe. She is the one who was beaten so badly her back is permanently scarred. She is the one who lived and escaped slavery. She is the one who murdered her child rather than return it to slavery. So, she is the one whose past is so horrible that it is inescapable. How can a person escape the past when it is physically apart of them? Sethe has scars left from being whipped that she calls a “tree”. She describes it as “A chokecherry tree. Trunk, branches, and even leaves. Tiny little chokecherry leaves. But, that was eighteen years ago. Could have cherries too now for all I know” (16). It is apt that her past is represented on her back–something that is behind her, something she cannot see but knows that is there. Also, it appeared eighteen years ago, but Sethe thinks that it may have grown cherries in those years. Therefore, she knows that the past has attached itself to her but the haunting of it has not stopped growing. Paul D. enters Sethe’s life and discover a haunting of Sethe almost immediately. He walks into 124 and notices the spirit of the murdered baby: “It was sad. Walking through it, a wave of grief soaked him so thoroughly he wanted to cry” (9). The haunting by Beloved in its spirit form is stopped by Paul D. He screams “God damn it! Hush up! Leave the place alone! Get the Hell out!” (18).
Beloved is the manifestation of a murdered two-year old in a 20-year old body. Her mind and actions speak as a child not an adult. Beloved has a very complex personality. Sethe’s first thoughts were that Beloved could be an ordinary woman who was locked up by a white man and never let out of doors. She was very baby-like. Incomplete speech. Clingy neediness. Baby soft skin. Emotional instability. Unbeknownst to Sethe, Beloved’s spirit is fits the age the baby if she was still alive. She also has the same name as the name engraved on the tombstone. She first appears to Sethe soaking wet, as though newly born, and Sethe has the sensation of her water breaking when she sees her. Along with this, Beloved has prior knowledge about a pair of Sethe’s earrings. Beloved hums a song that Sethe previously sang to her children, she has a long scar under her chin where her death-wound would have been, and milk breath.
Another interpretation of Beloved is a belief that the ghost is Sethe’s dead mother. Beloved has a unique smile and way of speaking and, the same traits of Sethe’s mother. In Chapter 26, Sethe and Beloved switch places. Beloved starts to act like the parent and Sethe as the child. This is evidence of supernatural. Usually a supernatural being likes to take charge, commanding what they want. On another hand, Beloved seems like she may stand for all of the slaves who made the passage across the Atlantic. She seems as if she may give voice to all of those who have been oppressed by slavery.
Beloved is seen as a supernatural figure. Beloved represents the past returned to haunt the present. The characters’ interactions with Beloved are very complex. Specifically, Sethe’s interaction with Beloved. When Sethe refuses to put up with Beloved unacceptable behavior, they become locked in a very unhealthy destructive relationship. Sethe is paralyzed by her past. She decides to devote all her time and attention to making Beloved understand why she killed her. Beloved allows Sethe to tell the stories about her own feelings of abandonment by her mother, about the hardship she endured at Sweet Home, and what her motivations were for murdering her daughter. By engaging with her past, Sethe begins to learn about herself and the of her ability to live in the present.
Beloved also inspires the growth of other characters in the novel. Although Paul D has a lot of hatred for Beloved, she allows him to love again. Denver automatically falls in love with Beloved. She sees her as a big sibling, someone to look up to. Soon enough, Denver discovers Beloved’s crazy, obsessive, and temperamental behavior and leaves 124, attempting to get help from the community. When Denver left 124, this started her social integration and of her search for independence and self-possession. By the end of the book, Beloved vanishes, but she is never truly gone. Her story, surprisingly, gives the community hope for a brighter future. She gives a chance to engage with the memories they have suppressed.
Beloved’s character is seen as a ghost and of the use of the supernatural in symbolic, not only Sethe’s past coming back haunting her, but also slavery in general haunting an entire community. Sethe is stuck, she can’t move on from the trauma of murdering her daughter and her memories at Sweet Home. Beloved is the embodiment of Sethe’s past. Beloved will not be put to rest and move on to peace, and Sethe will not move on from her time warp to living in the present. The use of the supernatural adds on to the concept of slavery because tells us that the past of slavery in American history is haunting, the same way ghosts are immortal. The trauma caused by slavery is something that will not die, it might be dealt with, but it will never be forgotten.
Beloved’s ghostly presence shown in Morrison’s novel, is to demonstrate to the reader that we can always be haunted by good and or bad decisions we make. Even though Sethe is being haunted, she is not the only one with problems. Beloved is dealing with her own issues. She cannot rest until she is at peace with herself. The ghost of Beloved connects with Sethe’s experiences. Sethe cannot get over her past fears until she faces them. The memory of Beloved would not go away and neither would the ghost. This is a prime example of how you cannot your past no matter how hard you try.
Beloved’s spirit represents how the memories of slavery as a whole never fade. 124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children. For years each put up with the spite in his own way, but by 1873 Sethe and her daughter Denver were its only victims. The grandmother, Baby Suggs, was dead, and the sons, Howard and Buglar, had run away by the time they were thirteen years old as soon as merely looking in a mirror shattered it (that was the signal for Buglar); as soon as two tiny hand prints appeared in the cake (that was it for Howard). Neither boy waited to see more; another kettleful of chickpeas smoking in a heap on the floor; soda crackers crumbled and strewn in a line next to the doorsill. (1.1) This excerpt from the novel tells just how powerful this supernatural being is and the massive amount of control that it had over everyone who stayed in 124.
Supernatural is not something that we can always see or explain, but we can feel it.
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