African slavery began when Africans were torn from their homes and shipped across the ocean to America. Once in America, the slaves not only lost their liberty but also their past. They had no one to appeal to for help when they were starved, beaten or sold away from their families. Northerners began to notice the injustice against the slaves. Some northerners decided to proclaim justice for these slaves and to fight for their free will. The subject of slavery became a sectional issue as it divided northerners regarding their stance on slavery. This sectional issue inevitably caused a civil war as people held strong convictions regarding slavery. The military conflict between the United States of America (the Union) and the Confederate States of America (the confederacy) lasted from 1861 to 1865. ?The war took more than 6oo,ooo lives, brought freedom to 4 million black slaves and opened wounds that have not completely healed to this day? (Encarta). The slaves that were freed were now faced with a new dilemma, how to deal with daily life. Toni Morrison depicts this struggle in Beloved. She connects the horrors of slavery to a victim and her descendants. The torment and torture suffered by Sethe, not only affects her but rather all those around her. Beloved?s character serves as a catalyst for re-introducing the past. Beloved re-introduces the past in two different ways. The first example is her presence in Sethe and Denver?s life. Beloved is there to remind them of the suffering she lived through when she was away from her family and have them experience the same suffering. The second way Beloved re-introduces the past is by bringing back the past horrors of slavery that victims tried so hard to keep repressed in their subconscious.
Beloved?s first goal is to remind Sethe of the suffering that was beginning to be forgotten due to Paul D?s presence. Paul D is the obstacle that scares the ghost off and leads to Beloved?s return in a physical form. Sethe and Denver were finally beginning to find happiness and acceptance within their community. Their fears had begun to subside and things became what they were: ?drabness looked drab; heat was hot. Windows suddenly had view?(p.39). However, Beloved?s return enforced the pain and misery Sethe had so desperately tried to forget. Beloved is determined to remind her of her past where she lived on through Sethe?s memories. Paul D?s presence took third place in the household, a position which once belonged to her. Beloved felt that Paul D not only pushed her spirit away from the house, but abruptly took over the household she once controlled and empowered: ?And on the way home, although leading them now, the shadows of three people still held hands?(p.49). Beloved could no longer accept that someone else was reinstating her position so she decided to return as ?a hot thing?(p.210) and not a ghost. Beloved refuses to let Sethe live in happiness as long as she has to live in a world of darkness where?there is nothing to breathe and no room to move in?(p.75). As soon as Beloved arrives at their home, Sethe?s life goes through dramatic changes. Sethe and her family?s happiness slowly decline. Beloved eventually gets rid of Paul D, the barrier to getting to Sethe?s heart. Beloved contemplates ways of seeking revenge by trying to learn the most possible about Sethe?s past and use it in the context in which she once lived. Beloved?s plan is successful as Sethe attempts to make up for the past years. Sethe?s guilt is overwhelming and is demonstrated in her attempt to give to Beloved everything she lacks. While paying Beloved all her attention, she neglects Denver. Sethe begins to arrive late to work and ?spends her thirty eight dollars of life savings to buy fancy food, ribbons and expensive fabrics to make fancy dresses?(p.240). When she lost her job and had no financial comfort, Beloved continued to demand things. ?Anything she wanted, she got and when Sethe ran out to give her, Beloved invented desire? (p.240). Beloved began to order around the household and Sethe, like an obedient child, fulfilled all her needs. Her power over Sethe is present in the following: ?Was it past bedtime, the light no good for sewing? Beloved didn?t move; said, ?Do it?, and Sethe complied?(p.241). She also physically abuses her mother: ?this daughter beat her, tied her to the bed and pulled out all her hair? (p.255). Beloved?s goal to make Sethe suffer was a success.
The presence of Beloved, which once brought Denver joy, now caused her grief. Denver had a difficult childhood as her mom murdered her sister; her brothers, Howard and Buglar, ran away because they could no longer bear to live in a haunted house and Baby Suggs, who she looked up to, died. Denver lived in fear of her own mother: ?I love my mother but I know she killed one of her own daughters, and tender as she is with me, I?m scared of her because of it?(p.205). Denver grew up alone and waited for the day happiness would come into her life. Paul D?s presence enforced her misery as he chased away the ghost, her only friend, from her home and by occupying much of her mother?s time which was once reserved for herself: ?Now her mother was upstairs with the man who had gotten rid of the only other company she had? (p.19). The resentment towards Paul D enhanced until she could no longer tolerate him: ?Denver ran a mighty interference and on the third day flat-out asked Paul D how long he was going to hang around? (p.43). Her hatred for Paul D diminished as Beloved emerged and gave Denver company. She finally felt like she had a companion: ? She smiled then and Denver?s heart stopped bouncing and sat down-relieved and peaceful like a traveler who had made it home?(p.55). Denver lived in a confined world that Sethe had created for her. Denver was extremely content to have someone, Beloved, to share her feelings with. Denver began to notice how Beloved?s attachment to Sethe surpassed her desire to be with her: ?Denver noticed how greedy she was to hear Sethe talk? (p.63). As time progressed, Beloved and Sethe increasingly neglected Denver and ?cut her out of the games?(p.239) until she was isolated once again. Denver felt that unless she did something about the present situation they would all die. She built up enough courage and decided to do something even though ?they were too busy rationing their strength to fight each other. So it was she who had to step off the edge of the world and die because if she didn?t, they all would?(p.239). Although Beloved?s presence seemed to be ideal for Denver in the beginning, the chaos that inevitably arose made her suffer more than she ever had previously.
Moreover, Beloved represents the suffering of all black slaves. The physical and psychological traumas of slavery are depicted through the use of a slave on a slave ship. She mentions this man to demonstrate the conditions slaves underwent on a slave ship from Africa to America. The latter where clustered up together in unsanitary conditions and rarely nourished. Hence, not only were they starved but also beaten if they did not conform to the captain?s demands: ?knelling in the mist they waited for the whim of a guard, or two or three. Or maybe all of them wanted it. Wanted it from one prisoner in particular or none-or all.?(P.107). On pages 210-213, the narrator presents passages of a slave on the slave ship. Through this man, we begin to get a sense of what it was like living in the times where your future was in the hands of the unknown:
?I am always crouching the man on my face is dead his face is not mine his mouth swells sweet but his eyes are locked some eat nasty themselves I do not eat the men without skin bring us their morning water we have none at night I cannot see the dead man on my face daylight comes through the cracks and I can see his locked eyes I am not big small rats do not wait for us to sleep someone is trashing but there is no room to do it in if we had more to drink we could make tears.?(p.210)
Here, we see the horrible conditions in which slaves lived where they are all stuck together, with no food, having to face death right in their face. The ?men without skin? are the white people who put them in the state that they are in. ?Daylight comes through the cracks? refers to how they were put in to these confined areas in which the only daylight they saw was through the cracks of the wood: ?a door of bars that you could lift on hinges like a cage opened into three walls and a roof of scrap lumber and red dirt. ?(p.106). ?The small rats do not wait for us to sleep? demonstrates once again that the Africans resided in inhumane conditions.
?in the beginning the women are away from the men and the men are away from the women storms rock us and mix the men into the women and the women into the men that is when I begin to be on the back of the man for a long time I see only his neck and his wide shoulders above me I am small?(p.211)
This quote refers to the life of a slave, which was based on physical capabilities:? but now he discovers his worth, which is to say he learns his physical value. The dollar value of his weight, his strength, his heart, his brain, and his future?(p.227). Also, it is an image of the auction block on which the slaves were sold away from the family or friends they were accustomed to and taken over by a new master. They often left behind their past and were even assigned new names, often the name of their master. ?I am small? refers to their lack of knowledge, power and freedom, which made them inferior to the rest of the population. Therefore, ?I?, which is the first person singular, is used in the context of all black slaves that Beloved represents.
To conclude, Sethe?s fear that her children would inherit the same status she once possessed led her to kill her child, to avoid her from having the life she had. However, this act prevented her from moving on because she could not face her past. Hence, the guilt overwhelmed her for the rest of her life. As demonstrated previously, the horrors of slavery can tear apart a family in unimaginable ways. In other words, Toni Morrison uses the character of Beloved to portray this detachment to the family unit.