Beloved, a novel written by Toni Morrison is set after the civil war focusing on a family who were once slaves. The author uses several flashbacks and anecdotes to piece together proceeding events. In the novel there’s a certain ambiguity surrounding one of the main characters, Beloved. A woman who emerges from the water early in the book. Behind the eyes, she appears to be a grown up physical representation of the one child who was murdered by Sethe in an intended act to spare their lives to slavery. However, some consider the possibility that she’s a mentally disabled woman and perhaps an escaped slave, on whom Sethe fills the void of her guilt and the memory of her dead child. In addition to being a character Beloved is also, a representation of how people should deal with their past, rather than suppressing it. Overall, Beloved is a symbol of the dead daughter who helps Sethe deal with her past and guilt due to the environment of slavery, which cannot be erased.
The woman has the same age that the dead child would’ve had, had it been alive. Beloved throughout the book appears very infantile in her actions. For example, she is described as having “sleepy eyes” and “failure to wipe her own dribble off of her chin”(60). Beloved is barely able to hold her head up, walk, and speak. On top of it all, she is constantly sleeping. Beloved has to be taught and relearn things she missed during development. She acts as such because the child Sethe killed was only two years old, having the mindset of the baby as her past self. This supports the idea that Beloved is an incarnation of Sethe’s dead child. She constantly seeks the maternal nurturing and teaching that she was denied in death. The excessive need and desire for Sethe and her stories only strengthens the argument that Beloved is Sethe’s dead child. Denver, The youngest of Sethe’s children, watches Beloved’s obsessive need to Sethe including “how greedy she was to hear Sethe talk” (72) and the same way in which she “took every opportunity to ask some funny question and get Sethe going” (72). Sethe was also feeding into the questions of this stranger because it was child like. As someone very curious about the past of someone. Children love to learn who their parents once were. Beloved, later on, even admits that she came back to see Sethe’s face (86) and that “she is the one” whom Beloved needs (86) and also belongs to. Beloved acting as such places Sethe in a position where she can fill the void of being able to nurture her daughter had she lived. While all this happens Sethe begins to finally be happy again.
Beloved is obsessed with her “mother”, Sethe to a point that becomes unusual. This is an outcome of Beloved’s desire for motherly love. Sethe never had the opportunity to raise Beloved as she did Denver. The image of Beloved crawling out of the water is meant to represent rebirth, Beloved exiting from the lake as she did her mothers womb. She is “sopping wet” (58) just like any new born baby. Additionally, Sethe’s first encounter with Beloved, “the moment she got close enough to see the face, Sethe’s bladder filled to capacity…like flooding the boat when Denver was born” (59). Creating a scenery of childbirth, specifically with Sethe. It hints that Beloved emerging from the wateris connected to Sethe’s womb because the moment eyes were laid on Beloved, Sethe experienced the symptoms of labour. This shows us how history can repeat itself even unexpectedly. Suppressed thoughts causes the body to act out on it, once Sethe was able to release her urine it foreshadowed how the past finally got out and she can begin to deal with it.
On top of her infantile demeanour and obsession with Sethe, Beloved is able to remember and bring up certain things from Sethe’s past, which makes Beloved even more suspicious for knowing the past of a stranger. For example, Beloved was humming to a song that Sethe created and once sung to her baby, telling us that Beloved has some kind of knowledge on Sethe. This is important because Sethe is forced to think back to when she sung this to her kids and only her kids would know this song. It shows how life would’ve been in the present had she not taken her child’s life. Beloved also asks Sethe about her “diamonds” (67). As a slave, it’s unlikely for Sethe toown diamonds, but was gifted crystal earrings by ms. Garner. By Beloved referring to this, it is implied that she has more of a connection to Sethe than anyone can possibly imagine. Referring to them as diamonds rather than crystals suggests that she’s unable to tell the difference because of her oblivious and small mind, the mind of Sethe’s dead baby.
Beloved recalls her experience during the time between her death and return. This becomes clear when she tells Sethe that “dead men lay on top of her…ghosts without skin stuck their fingers in her” (281). This is a referenceto the afterlife and to the ground she was buried in which was already full of other buried corpses. Beloved repeatedly says that she was somewhere “dark” (86) before arriving at Sethe’s home. Beloved also says she is “small in that place” (86). Here she’s referring to her baby body and the distinction she makes between “that place” and the place she is now, Her home and the underground in which she was in. Beloved tells Denver that “in the dark my name is beloved” (86). She is referring to the gravestone she was buried underneath which Sethe engraved the name ‘Beloved’, making the child believe it was her name tag. The family dog is gone when Beloved first arrives, succumbing to the idea of animals being able to sense spirits and keep a distance from them. Beloved is described as “acting sick and sounding sick but not looking sick” (65), by Paul D. Just like when a child wants to stay home from school so they pretend to act sick, but literally look perfectly fine. The description of her “new skin, lineless and smooth” (59) also pushes us to believe that her skin is as flawless as a baby’s skin.
Sethe is constantly feeding into Beloved’s wants and needs as a result of her grief and guilt over the act she committed. Beloved is Sethe’s baby ghost, the return of her repressed past, and she forces Sethe to confront the space between motherly love and a mother’s love in slavery. Sethe throughout the book repeats how she wants her daughter to know why she had done what she did. Needing to get closure for her actions rather than keeping the guilt inside. That she wasn’t the only one to be on the other side. That Sethe still loves her no matter what. On page 5 Sethe says “But if she’d only come, I’d make it clear to her.” Wanting to explain the position she was put in and the outcome she desired for her family. Sethe lived her life haunted by the memory of her murdered child, as stated from the beginning of the novel when house 124 is apparently haunted by a spirit of Sethe’s dead child. Here, Sethe tells Denver that the ghost baby’s power is “no more powerful than the way I loved her” (2).Kind of trying to make Denver feel safe by saying her power isn’t any stronger than the love she has for her. She also refuses to leave the house, and tells Paul D that this is because she will “never run from another thing on this earth” (15). The experiences she went through were horrific and unimaginable, she survived through all of it and knows how strong she is. She doesn’t have to run from anything, but in fact face it head on, which is what she does with her past throughout the novel. Here’s a moment where Sethe regrets her past actions, and does not want to leave the thing she believed to be her child for a second time, all over again. Causing Sethe to still be stuck in the past by wanting to stay in the house she knows is haunted by her child rather than moving on.
Beloved is often interpreted as being a ghost, both by Sethe’s family and by the community. But she is also a symbol for the way in which the characters are haunted by their traumatic pasts, much as 124 being haunted by Sethe’s dead baby’s spirit. They have buried their pasts, just like Sethe buried her child.Toni Morrison uses past traumatic experiences to show that if you do not get to the roots of your issues and solve them, then it will keep on occurring till done so. When Sethe is around Beloved she becomes completely hypnotized by her, and is always revisiting the past. In this way, Beloved is a healing force, allowing the characters to reform their identities from their slave lives by revisiting and dealing with the past. Denver’s observation of how Beloved “took every opportunity to ask some funny question and get Sethe going” (73) not only gesticulates Beloved’s obsession with Sethe, but also the way in which she forces out stories of memories Sethe had kept hidden and refused to speak of.Throughout the novel, both the dead child and the traumatic pasts of Beloved comes into contact with other characters to highlight that the past needs to be dealt with and not shunned in order to truly move forward.
People will argue that Beloved is more than just a character in the novel, she is a physical representation for slavery itself, and the outcome of the traumatic experiences many black people suffered because of it. Beloved is read to be a character who is a slave and who has suffered unimaginably because of it. Her return after years of being dead tells the message that the experience of slavery, even after escaping or running free, would stay with a person for life haunting them much like a ghost.
Beloved, also helps us see dark memories of slavery for Paul D and Sethe. For example, as she seduces Paul D in the barn, he thinks through horrifying memories he had buried inside. The reasoning behind Beloved’s appearance at 124 and the history behind Sethe’s dead daughter, exemplifies the suffering that black people have been subjected to throughout history.
Beloved being a representation of Sethe’s dead child is supported by the footprints in the woods mentioned in the final chapter of the novel. The footprints Beloved leaves behind are described as being “so familiar. Should a child, an adult, place his feet in them, they will fit” (321). Representing losses for those who were slaves. Although they may not all have lost their lives as Beloved did, they lost their freedom, possessions, families and were forcibly taken from their native homes.
Sethe’s baby is never named in the book. When the baby is buried the word “Beloved” gets engraved on her tombstone. Beloved is the name of the adult woman, but that is simply what was engraved into the baby’s gravestone, highlighting the loss of identity which many slaves experienced. White slavers rarely referred to slaves by their names, leading them to become estranged from their humanity and identity. Like when Mr. Garner told baby suggs the name on her tag was Jenny.
Through the character of Beloved, the reader is put in a position where they’re able to understand what slavery did to people mentally, physically, and emotionally. To confront the past of slavery just as much as the characters. In a post slavery world where the horrors are brushed under the rug, Toni Morrison uses a characters return from the dead to show that just because a horror is in the past, does not mean the repercussions are. Forcing us to thus, confront the past to move on.
In conclusion, Beloved certainly is, to an extent, a physical representation of the child which Sethe killed. The importance of her physical presence in the novel is to demonstrate the importance of being stuck in the past and having to revisit traumatizing experiences to move on from them. Who Beloved is remains ambiguous throughout the novel, as she is never given a specific name. Overall, Beloved stands for how people should deal with troubling pasts in order to truly move forward in life. Although things can not be forgotten you have to accept history for what it is and learn how to not let it get the best of you and your future. In addition the horrors of slavery, which cannot be forgotten as if never existed.