Supernatural in Toni Morrison's Beloved
Length: 900 words (2.6 double-spaced pages)
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One aspect in the novel Beloved is the presence of a supernatural theme. The novel is haunted. The characters are haunted by the past, the choices made, by tree branches growing on backs, by infanticide, by slavery. Sethe, Denver and Paul D are haunted by the past that stretches and grasps them in 124 in its extended digits. A haunt, Beloved, encompasses another supernatural realm, that of a vampire. She sucks the soul, heart and mind of her mother while draining the relationships that exists between Denver and Sethe and Sethe and Paul D.
Sethe is the most dramatically haunted in the book. 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). But Sethe's infant daughter is her greatest haunt and it is when Beloved arrives in physical form that Sethe is forced to turn around and confront the past.
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.
She loves her mother and wants her all to herself like a typical two-year old child. She even loves Denver though she is jealous of her and the relationship Denver has had with her mother. She is also jealous that she survived. She claims Sethe "I am Beloved and she is mine" (210). Beloved "made demands. Anything she wanted she got, and when Sethe ran out of things to give her, Beloved invented desire" (240).
The reversal of power from Sethe to Beloved is when the vampiric nature of Beloved intensifies. In the novel the vampiric or parasitic aspect of motherhood is amplified. Like the fetus is a parasite to the mother whose uterus it is sucking life from and continues to nourish its body by gleaning the nutrients from the mother's body after birth by nursing; Beloved is the supernatural representation of that. Beloved takes on the bodily form of a pregnant woman though she may be likened to a mosquito that has swelled with a host's blood. Sethe's mental capacities decline because she has given up any thought of life other than focusing on the baby she murdered. Her own guilt about the act allows for her to become entrapped by Beloved. Her greatest fear was "that Beloved might leave. That before Sethe could make her understand what it meant--what it took to drag the teeth of that saw under the little chin; to feel the baby blood pump like oil in her hands; to hold her face so her head would stay on..." (251). Beloved, like a child denied something by the parent takes advantage of parental guilt and drains the life of Sethe. Sethe did nothing except "those times when Beloved needed her...She sat in the chair licking her lips like a chastised child while Beloved ate up her life, took it, swelled up with it, grew taller on it. And the older woman yielded it up without a murmur" (250). She enacts revenge on Sethe, by killing her like Sethe did to her. Her style of killing is full of love just as Sethe's have been. The daughter and mother are complete in this macabre circle. In the process of killing her mother, she would "go to Sethe, run her fingers over the woman's teeth while tears slid from her wide black eyes" (250). There is the gentleness, the loving between these people, mother and daughter, murderers of each other.
As with the haunting of 124, the haunting of the occupants inside, the reader of the novel is haunted by the memories of the experience of reading it. Beyond the supernatural that most people would reject to believe in, the true hauntings that happen to people are very real. Everyone grapples with their demons. Slavery may seem like a distant evil this country and its people no longer have a conscious awareness of. The haunting this novel demonstrates reverberates even today as this country's psychological being still is haunted by slavery.