Toni Morrison's Beloved


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Toni Morrison's Beloved Throughout the novel Beloved, there are numerous and many obvious reoccurring themes and symbols. While the story is based off of slavery and the aftermath of the horrible treatment of the slaves, it also breaches the subject of the supernatural. It almost seems like the novel itself is haunted. It is even named after the ghost. To further the notion of hauntings, the characters are not only haunted by Beloved at 124, but they are haunted by their past, and the novel is not only about ridding their home of the ghost, but releasing their hold on what had happened to them in worse times.

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Obviously, Sethe is the most dramatically haunted throughout the book, both by her past and by Beloved. As far as her past is concerned, so many things had happened to her and by her, it'd be impossible to not be haunted by something. For starters, she was beaten so badly that her back has a permanent blossoming scar, one that she calls 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). The significance of this obscene scar on her back has much to do with the fact that it is just one more thing she cannot see, but knows it is always there. Also, the line "Could have cherries too now for all I know" may show that she understands that she is not only stuck with her past, but it is growing and feeding off of her. This gives a sense of foreshadowing into the ominous past brought to light with the return of Beloved and the stories of Sweet Home exchanged between Sethe and Paul D.
The most obvious haunting of the story is that which the story revolves around – the haunting of 124. Beloved's presence is apparent to Sethe, Baby Suggs and Denver, and they live with it for some time. It is not until the day that Paul D steps into the house that things change. He wastes little time in antagonizing the spirit to leave. "God damn it! Hush up! Leave the place alone! Get the Hell out!" (18). And with that, the spirit is gone, much to Paul D's delight but Denver's horror, as Beloved was her only companion. This may be significant as Paul D is not only a figure from Sethe's past, but also he is the first man to really enter 124 on their behalf. His actions as a "savior" only contrast the haunting.
There is little that Beloved does not do to disrupt life in 124. She seizes Sethe and tries to make her her own. One way to look at Beloved is like that of a vampire: sucking the life out of all close to her. She sucks the life out of Denver with her insane jealousy – both of Denver and Sethe's relationship, and also the simple fact that Denver survived when Beloved did not. Beloved also seizes Sethe, making her her own before sucking the life out. "I am Beloved and she is mine" (210).
Beloved was able to play off of Sethe's own haunting of her past to get what she wanted. Sethe's judgment was obviously clouded as she focused primarily on the daughter she had murdered years ago. Beloved made demands, ridiculous ones. "Anything she wanted she got, and when Sethe ran out of things to give her, Beloved invented desire" (240). Sethe wound up quitting her job, completely neglected Denver to the point that she moved out of the house, and completely neglected herself, dwindling down to bones as Beloved ate them out of house and home. The analogy of a vampire could also be used in the sense that Beloved drained Sethe's physical body with her needs and demands.
It also seems somewhat significant the word choices that the characters say when talking of the past. It's clear they don't forget, and could never forget, their past and what had happened to them. So rather than forget, they "disremember." They push it to the back of their mind where they won't think about it, but it is always there, waiting for them to "rememory" it.
It could also be said that the readers themselves are haunted in this story. Morrison clearly depicts disturbing stories and events that had happened the characters – stories that a normal reader would not soon be able to forget. It seems that she wanted us to not just live through the characters' hauntings, but to feel the pain of the past in our own thoughts as well.
Of course, the story is not all about the supernatural. Slavery also plays a large part in the story. As Sethe and Paul D reminisce over Sweet Home, Paul D told a story about Mister the rooster. The irony of the story was that Mister couldn't get out of his egg himself. Paul D had to help him, yet, once he was out, he ruled the farm. "Mister, he looked so...free. Better than me. Stronger, tougher. Son a bitch couldn't even get out the shell by hisself but he was still king and I was... (72)" Mister had all the freedom Paul D never thought he would have, and it was all thanks to him. He could save others but couldn't save himself. That sentence also is applied to Sethe, as she murdered her own daughter, not to kill her, but to save her from a life of misery and torture.
One repeated symbol that caught my attention was that of Paul D's tobacco tin. Mentioned throughout his own thoughts a few times, it was a sad representation of his heart since Sweet Home.
It was some time before he could put Alfred, Georgia, Sixo, schoolteacher, Halle, his brothers, Sethe, Mister, the taste of iron, the sight of butter, the smell of hickory, notebook paper, one by one, into the tobacco tin lodged in his chest. By the time he got to 124 nothing in this world could pry it open. (Pg 113)
The tin can wasn't just a hindrance for him accepting and moving on from his past, it also played a role in his relationship with Sethe. When she asked him to talk to her about what he went through and what he knew from Sweet Home, something in him couldn't.
Paul D. had only begun, what he had told her was only the beginning when her fingers on his knee, stopped him... He would keep the rest where it belonged: in that tobacco tin buried in his chest where a red heart used to be. Its lid rusted shut/ He would not pry it loose now... the contents would shame him. (Pg 72)
Throughout the story, there are so many different anectdotes and metaphors, ways to interpret and ways to analyze, however, the main focus of the story always reads through clearly. Some may choose to read into the supernatural aspects while some read into the slavery aspect, but in the end, we all read the same story. And if Morrison really did intend on her readers to be haunted by the stories she tells, I think it's safe to say she did her job well.


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