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An Analysis of the Character Beloved by Toni Morrison: Supernatural or Physical?

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Beloved, by Toni Morrison, encompasses the supernatural and the history of slaves in all of its horrors and traditions. One of the main characters of the novel, Sethe, murdered her two-year-old child to protect her from a life of slavery. Regardless of the victory she felt she had over the slave owners, she hurt herself ten times more in her murder. Sethe believed she was saving the child and that she was doing a good thing. However, the memories of what she did come back to haunt her. Beloved, a mysterious young woman, arrives at the 124 Bluestone Road eighteen years after the incident. Her origins are debatable, for it is unknown where exactly she came from. She could be a ghost, something out of Sethe's imagination, or she could be a person who lost her way. Either or, Beloved has been described as "part-ghost, part-flesh, individual and collective memory separately and simultaneously" (Kang 26) that haunts Sethe "first as a ghost and later as a physical reincarnation" (Plasa 52). She may

The spirituality found in Beloved may stem from the African culture as during the time of slavery there were many stories about "mysticism and magic", including legends about ghosts that were passed down from generation to generation ("The Supernatural"). Contrary to this belief, many agree that "she's a ghost for part of the novel and a 'ghost-in-the-flesh' for the major part of the book", instead of being a real person or reincarnation ("The Supernatural"). There are many views on the novel, however one thing is known: Beloved is a complex and key character in the novel. Ghost or person, she significantly affects all other characters around her with her unexplained origins and her ability to draw others in to her. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the character Beloved in Morrison's novel Beloved, displaying her in the light of her being a ghost and her being a person.

It is argued that the character Beloved is a ghost, manifested by Sethe's memories. Indeed, Atwood says that Beloved is in "full possession of the house" showing that Sethe's memories are too overwhelming and are controlling her (Atwood 40). Bloom agrees and argues that Beloved is part of the supernatural world by saying she "knows more intimate details about Sethe that a stranger could not possibly know, mentioning, for example, Sethe's 'diamond' earrings; her familiar knowledge for Sethe's past adds more mystery to Beloved" (Bloom 23). Indeed, Beloved knows more about Sethe than a stranger should. She treats Sethe with intimacy, as if she was family or a close friend rather than someone that she only recently met. This confuses the reader as one does not understand how Beloved could know so much about Sethe. Beloved seems to have come out of nowhere, yet she is knowledgeable about one of the people she has just met and is staying with.

How Beloved may know so much is explained by another theory regarding Beloved as a ghost: that Sethe is hallucinating, or dreaming her whole experience with Beloved. This hypothesis implies that Sethe has lost her sanity due to her scarring past and horrifying memories. Although she acts sane and seems to be rational, many wonder if Sethe is "insane or mentally disturbed" (Canton). The memories of her past haunt Sethe, causing her to "see things" such as Beloved (Canton). Canton says the "horrific situations [she] witnessed" and "appalling happenings" took a toll on Sethe's mental health (##). Sethe may have killed her baby to protect her, but years later guilt is overcoming her. She feels so bad about what happed to the point where she may be thinking that her daughter is there, even though she died eighteen years ago and there is no possibility Beloved is her daughter.

Even though Sethe believes Beloved to be her long lost daughter, she still questions her about where she came from. Sethe wants to know if Beloved came from the other side, where one goes after death, to see if she is truly her dead daughter or just some other lost human being.

Tell me the truth. Didn't you come back from the other side?

Yes. I was on the other side.

You came back because of me?


You rememory me?

Yes. I remember you (Morrison 254).

If Sethe is dreaming, as many think, then she imagined having this conversation with Beloved about where she came from. Sethe asks Beloved of her origins, and asks if she remembers her. The hallucination, guided by Sethe's thoughts, would thus act as Sethe wants it to. Sethe wants Beloved to be there, to be a ghost. Her guilt haunts her and she needs to make it up to her daughter. She thinks it is necessary to apologize for the terrible things she has done and wants to be able to live her life without looking back upon the past all the time.

On the other hand, some believe that Beloved is but a normal human being with a complicated past. In Beloved, Beloved describes a time in her life where she went on the middle passage, or the famous transatlantic journey across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa to America, and explains the horrors she had to go through on the slave ship. She talks about the small space, the dead around her, the lack of food and drink that caused death, sickness, and dehydration, and how little hope she had. Beloved recalls the dead in the water and how a woman in the water has the same face is hers. The reader can infer that her mother is in the water; thus she either died and was thrown in the water, or she threw herself off the ship so she would not have to live the rest of her life in slavery. Gale Cenage supports this theory, stating "Beloved's memories of her past, however, suggest that she is not a ghost, but someone who has suffered the rigors of a transatlantic crossing aboard a slave ship and the trauma of watching her mother throw herself overboard" (Cenage). Seeing their mother dead in the ocean is enough to make anyone undergo extreme emotional suffering. Beloved has just lost her mother, the woman that gave her life and cared about her throughout her whole existence, and was probably the last person Beloved had left with her to trust and rely on for help and strength.

Beloved is traumatized by her own memorie and is broken inside. She feels lost without her mother, and thus when she later on finds Sethe, another middle-aged African American woman, Beloved "transfers her feelings for her late mother to Sethe" and "considers Sethe her long-lost mother" (Cenage). Beloved is a real human being,



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