Supernatural Haunting & Healing in Beloved

Throughout Beloved, Toni Morrison uses the supernatural to trigger moments of Sethe’s past that simultaneously haunt and heal her. Specifically, she does this by fashioning Beloved as a ghost, who haunts Sethe and her home at 124 until she is resurrected into a physical, embodied representation of her dead child at the age she would have been in the present time. Denver hypothesizes that “Beloved was the white dress that had knelt with her mother in the keeping room, the true-to-life presence of the baby…” (140-1). However, it is unclear whether Beloved is necessarily “real,” as she is described several times as frankly creepy and bizarre in mannerisms. For example, there are repeated sounds of a baby crawling even though there isn’t one in the house, and Sethe notices that when Beloved walks, “they ought to heard her tread, but they didn’t” (118). There is an ominous and almost “witchy” presence associated with her, especially when considering her resurrection. Beloved is also violent at times, as she possesses Paul and attempts to choke Sethe in the clearing scene. Morrison writes that Beloved feels frustration that “she had been so close, then closer,” in murdering Sethe, implying that she is there with some kind of malicious intent (118).

However, upon Beloved’s mystical entrance, Sethe immediately sympathizes and feels a connection to the girl, providing her care and shelter while she regains her health. Beloved is able to gain Sethe’s trust, and is able to somehow unlock memories that have been repressed by Sethe for so long as a means of coping. It is clear that Beloved has some means of manipulating the emotions of others in ways that can be toxic and forced, like in the case of Paul, which makes me wonder if this immediate trust Sethe has for Beloved is forced and for some ulterior motive or authentic. Regardless, because of this sense of trust, Beloved is able to get the story behind Sethe’s diamond earrings out of her, even though she had never been able to tell Denver about the earrings before. After Beloved chokes Sethe, Beloved is also the one that soothes her; “… she was feeling so fine letting Beloved massage away the pain, the fingers she was loving and the ones that had soothed her before they strangled her had reminded her of something that now slipped her mind” (115). She triggers memories through questions and instances such as this one often for Sethe, similarly to how Paul begins to trigger memories of Sethe’s past at Sweet Home. Overall, Beloved simultaneously serves as a violent and ominous ghost of Sethe’s past, but also allows her to reckon with the past in a way that is (hopefully) healing by forcing her to literally face and vocalize memories that have been blocked away.

One thought on “Supernatural Haunting & Healing in Beloved”

  1. You make really interesting connections here between Sethe’s character development and Beloved’s role in the plot. I had especially not thought about how Beloved serves as the key to Sethe being able to reckon with her past. While Sethe was comfortable with the state of the house while it was haunted, it tore her family apart. I think that this is common with trauma and even mental illness– one can become comfortable in their struggles, and almost dependent on them. But, their refusal to help themselves can completely destroy the people in their life. Your post also made me think that, perhaps, the spirit of Baby Suggs sent Beloved to Earth so that she could force Sethe to heal. This seems in line with the scene of Baby Suggs, holy, in the Clearing.

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