Denver and Her Fight Against the Aftermath

In Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved, she focuses on writing about after the life of a slave and even generations that did not belong to slavery w ere still majorly effected by it.

Denver is Sethe’s fourth and last child that she has while escaping to the North to freedom. Denver will never know what life was like as a slave, and that is thanks to her mother but she is pressured by what lies in front of her because of the past.

Denver hears stories of the past lives her mother and grandmother lived and things they did when Denver was only a baby. the trauma and oppression Sethe and Baby Suggs felt as being slaves follows them even in good times. Denver who was not part of slavery also can feel the oppression by not getting an equal opportunity in many things, being wary of the outside world, and feeling lonely even with loved ones around her.

Throughout the book Denver becomes more independent and stronger. She overcomes the bad things that were dealt to her at birth. She reaches out to others, she stands up against people she thought were good, and she did not stop.

Overall, life after slavery is neither glamorous, perfect, or easy. But it is the fight to overcome these events to make life worth living and loving.

Beloved Symbolism

Beloved is a very intriguing book, as Toni Morrison shows her incredible writing technique. One of Morrison’s many impressive writing skills is her ability to weave many different narratives together. Beloved’s story is particularly well crafted and hints to the message of the entire novel.

In her own chapter in part two of the novel, Beloved begins to recount events that seem totally random to the reader, given the rest of the story. She says, “I am Beloved…there will never be a time when I am not crouching and watching the others that are crouching too…the man on my face is dead…we are all trying to leave our bodies behind,” (248).

It becomes clear to the reader that the experiences that Beloved is describing her experiences with slavery on the middle passage, which at first was confusing to me because those events seemed to occur at the beginning of slavery, whereas the story told in the novel occurs at its’ tail end. When Beloved started to describe the relief of death from these circumstances, it reminded me of Sethe’s own reasoning for killing her children. She believed that death was less painful than living in captivity. Clearly, Beloved shares the same mentality as she is on the middle passage when she is longing to die as the other slaves on the middle passage had. The fact that Beloved is Sethe’s dead daughter that Sethe killed for the same reason, makes Beloved representative of the greater trauma that black people as a whole have experienced in America at the hand of slavery. These people would rather die than suffer in captivity, explaining Sethe’s actions in the novel.

Rose Colored Past

I remember there being a massive gas meter or electrical box near my house growing up. It was a colossal eyesore, so the company that owned it painted it blue. A nice shade of blue. This is what some of the characters from Toni Morrison’s Beloved do to their pasts. Paint a pretty color on it.

the earliest example of this starts out in the first chapter of the book. Sethe’s mother in law Baby Suggs spends the final 8 years of her life an invalid staring out the window and looking at the pretty colors that the clouds make. We later discover the person she was before this. She was a strong pillar of the community, even so that everyone envied her. A sacred holy preacher, turned into a shell of her former self following the murder of her granddaughter by Sethe. Unable to understand the horror show that was before her, she gave up. Sat on her bed and looked at the pretty colors.

After Sethe killed her 2 year old daughter to keep her from re-entering slavery, she gave her a tombstone. On it bore the word Beloved, not being able to afford the word dearly, painted pink. A light pastel pink, painted the past away. This white washing of the past ties into the main theme of the story. In the book Beloved comes back reincarnated as what she would be if she survived that day. After integrating herself in Sethe’s family she begins to Isolate Sethe and bleed her dry. Here the books theme of one’s inability to come to terms with the past and let it go is tied with color. In Sethe’s lowest point, practically banishing everyone in her life baring Beloved, she spends what little money she has on candy and pretty yellow ribbons. this is the ultimate expression of the previous two points.

The past of the characters is an eye sore. one that instead of coming to terms with it, they paint it a pretty color.

Denver’s Agency

As I read Beloved, I kept expecting a romantic interest for Denver to be introduced. However, as I kept reading, I noticed there is a lack of romantic love throughout the book. Sethe and Paul D. get together, but even that relationship seems to blossom out of the need for an escape, the need to remember the past, not just love for each other. Even Halle and Sethe’s relationship is described as familial, not romantic. I think that Toni Morrison chose not to give Denver a romantic interest because it would take away her agency.

A romantic interest would have hindered Denver’s growth and made her arc shallow. If Denver had a romantic interest that swept her off her feet, that boy would have been the reason she separated from Beloved and Sethe. She would not have had to make the conscious decision to get help without knowing that she would have anyone to return to. Denver’s power comes from her actions. Without a boy, she is only influenced by her mind, not someone else.

A Ghost’s Purpose

Throughout the story Beloved by Toni Morrison, a few questions were constantly in the back of my head… Why do ghosts haunt certain people? And, why ins’t there millions of ghosts haunting millions of people? Do only some dead people get to come back as ghosts?

After doing some research and finding some strange websites, I found a lot of ghost stories and a lot of different opinions. One opinion believed by J.K Rowling worshipers is that ghosts are only wizards or witches that choose to come back after death, but “muggles (humans)” can not come back as ghosts. So maybe all ghosts are wizards and witches and kept it a very good secret. (https://www.wizardingworld.com/writing-by-jk-rowling/ghosts)

Another article had the idea that if people die in a place, they will come back in haunt that place. So what about hospitals? Why aren’t there a ton of ghosts in hospitals? (https://www.history.com/topics/halloween/historical-ghost-stories)

After asking Google a bunch of ghosts questions, I got a lot of different ghost stories, and found that ghosts aren’t very consistent. Some ghosts appear in certain places or haunt different people, or maybe they are late wizards.

To connect this back to Beloved, Beloved, who haunts 124, seems as if she is just at the house because she likes the company of Sethe and Denver. However, towards the end of the story people start going crazy and Sethe ends up killing Beloved in order to save herself and her daughter.

In conclusion, from reading a couple of ghost stories and Beloved, none of them seemed like Casper the friendly ghost. Ghosts seem to be scary, spooky creatures at the end of the day, even if they seemed nice at first.

What is the Significance of Breast Milk?

*slight spoilers for Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon*

When first reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved, I tried my best to be a good Nabokovian reader and approach the novel as something brand new, but as the story progressed, I couldn’t help myself from drawing similarities between Beloved and Song of Solomon, another acclaimed novel of Morrison’s.

Not only do the novels have similar storytelling techniques and sentence structures, but they even share several central themes and motifs. Both novels have roots in slavery, even though they are both set in post-slavery America and have central characters who were born into freedom. Milkman, the great-grandson of a slave, tries to uncover his family history, whereas Sethe, a former slave, tries to hide her past as a slave from her children. 

There was one particular motif that I was quite surprised to find in both novels: breast milk. In Song of Solomon, Macon Dead III is given the nickname “Milkman” because when he was four years old, he was caught by a neighbor breastfeeding from his mother. His mother breastfeeds him for such a long time because it is the only physical intimacy she has with another human being. Their community views the exchange of breast milk between Milkman and his mother as inappropriate and incestual. In contrast, in Beloved, breastfeeding is seen as the ultimate expression of maternal love in an intimate and affectionate but not sexual way. 

“All I knew was I had to get my milk to my baby girl. Nobody was going to nurse her like me. Nobody was going to get it to her fast enough, or take it away when she had enough and didn’t know it. Nobody knew that she couldn’t pass her air if you held her up on your shoulder, only if she was lying on my knees. Nobody knew that but me and nobody had her milk but me” (19).

In Beloved, milk symbolizes a mother’s love, yet in Song of Solomon, it represents a mother’s impure desires. In both cases, the mother’s milk provides nourishment to the children, but the intentions are completely different. I find that Morrison’s ability to use different connotations of motifs interchangeably across books is the most sophisticated form of symbolism there is. Is Nabokovian reading really the best way of reading if it prevents people from making connections like this, or did making this connection somehow negatively impact my reading of Beloved?

Narrative of the Life of Sethe

In the novel Beloved, Sethe and Paul D recount their journey through slavery and the reprocussions of freedom. Although author Toni Morrison didn’t have first hand experience, her descriptions and experiences in slavery accurately portray a variety of true stories. In particular, Morrison’s stories of Paul D and Sethe reflect a lot of the key themes and experiences in Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.

To start, both Sethe and Paul D don’t have many familial connections and rely on the other slaves at their plantation for a sense of comradery. Frederick Douglass was also separated from his family at a young age and found it hard to build relationships due to him fearing their separation. As seen in Beloved, Sethe has a similar anxiety around trusting that Paul D will stay with her. After Sethe had lost her mother, Halle, and multiple kids out her life, she struggled with relying on people.

Another of many similarities between the two narrations is the restrictiveness of humanity under slavery. Paul D’s bit in his mouth reflected a lot of the physical barriers causing Frederick Douglass to feel inhumane. Frederick Douglass recounts the songs the slaves would sing as they were allowed to run errands off of the plantation. The songs retained their freedom of speech again as they could express their cries of sadness, hope, and any other suppressed emotions. The bit in Paul D’s mouth is restricting his freedom of expression and compromising his humanity like the slaves in Frederick Douglass’ autobiography.