The Uniqueness of Toni Morrison's Ghost

Every culture has its ghosts, whether it be spectral images of the deceased such as in Hamlet, the monstrous spirits of Japanese folklore, such as the ones depicted in Spirited Away, or the more modern interpretation of ghosts, zombies. Every culture has their own unique spin on the ghost. Similarly, In Beloved, Toni Morrision creates a unique spirit to haunt 124. The beginning of Beloved would have the reader believe that the ghost haunting 124 is a fairly mundane ghost, with the rather generic ability to move objects around and causing some commotion in the house. This remains true even when Paul D. somehow banishes the spirit by causing some chaos of his own, most likely scaring the baby away from the house. 

When the spirit returns in the form of Beloved, however, Toni Morrison has truly created a unique spirit to cause chaos, in a way far different from the simple movement of objects, to the inhabitants of 124. Firstly, Beloved emerges, fully dressed, from a river, having aged alongside the rest of the world, which is very different from her previous form; Sethe reminds Denver that it was less than two years old and could not speak when it died, which explains why Denver could not communicate with it. Her new form is very similar to an Obake in Japanese folklore, who can change their appearance and impersonate others. The usually have a reason for returning, such as exacting revenge for wrongs committed to them during life. After fulfilling their purpose, they usually disappear, similar to how Beloved vanishes after the town chooses to help Sethe instead of abandoning her the same way they failed to warn Sethe of schoolteacher’s arrival along with Sethe’s decision to attack to who she believes to be schoolteacher instead of taking her child’s life.

Unlike the baby’s previous manifestation, Beloved is physically in the world, similar to a zombie. However, unlike a mindless zombie, Beloved has deep and complex thoughts and harms Sethe in a far more subtle way than any zombie. Beloved appears to have memories of being in a slave ship, crossing the middle passage, even though the baby was never in a slave ship. This implies that Beloved is far more than the spirit of Sethe’s deceased child, but embodies all the suffering that Slaves experienced. Beloved’s embodiment of slavery is similar to how zombies can embody mob rule as well as the fear of people who are different, xenophobia. Later on, Beloved appears to drain Sethe of her life by usurping the role of mother from Sethe and causing her to act like a child. During this, she appears to be pregnant with a child, most likely a representation of her new role as the mother. Beloved’s control over the household can be likened to possession, a common ability of ghosts in film, but in this case it is the possession of the entire family, not an individual. In this case Denver manages to see beyond Beloved’s illusion and resist the power of the ghost. All of these characteristics create a unique and memorable character to truly personify the horrors of slavery and how the ugly past manages to reach into the present, blinding it from seeing the future.

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