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Literature: Toni Morrison

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The idea of a ghost story or horror story has long since been introduced into
the world of American literature starting in the late 18th century. These works
played with the idea of life after death and its effects on the present. The
term gothic or gothic horror has been used to describe this form of literature.
The literary meaning of the gothic style of is hard to define, but to give it a
simple meaning the gothic is when the supernatural encounters the natural. In
the novel Beloved by Toni Morrison this form of the gothic is used. The story
involves Sethe, an ex-slave, whom the ghost of her dead daughter haunts. The
ghost of this novel is a two year old who is young in age, yet strong in power.
The character Sethe, is based on the real life story of the slave Margaret
Garner. On Jan. 28, 1856, Garner killed her two-year-old daughter rather than
have her sent back to slavery due to the fugitive slave law. Garner was later
found guilty and sent back to the plantation she fled in Mississippi. The story
of Beloved delves into the most painful part of the African American heritage,
slavery. The memory of this horrifying time is presented in what Morrison calls
"rememory"-- actively making the past real in the present. The novel
is set during the Reconstruction(1870-1890) which follows the Civil War and
emancipation. Much of the characters' pain occurs as they themselves try to
"reconstruct" their families, communities and their own sense of
identity. While this novel has been compared many times to that of a slave
narrative, Morrison chooses to use the gothic to tell her story. Yes this novel
does use slave narrative form, but it explores a greater range with the gothic.
Morrison chooses to use the gothic because it allows her to explore the true
effects of her characters and their effects on each other. Beloved comes back to
haunt not only Sethe but everyone around her. She feels that her life has been
taken away from her and for that reason she wants to "suck" the life
out of Sethe, Paul D, and Denver. The novel is broken into three major parts. As
part one opens Morrison introduces the house with, "124 was spiteful. Full
of baby's venom. The woman knew it and so did the children" (Morrison 3).
Immediately the reader is thrown into this house with a ghost that is spiteful.
The only surviving members of the family are Denver, the child Sethe was
carrying in her escape to freedom, and Sethe. With the gothic, Morrison is able
to show just how horrifying slavery and its effects are. Morrison goes into
great detail to describe the horrors of Sweet Home and the people who lived
there. As the reader hears of these effects the emotion is relased. Sethe
describes one account saying " after I left you, those boys came in there
and took my milk. That's what they come for. Held me down and took it." (
Morrison, 16) Paul D instantly gets rid of the horrifying presence that has
consumed this house for so long, and up to this point had only been physical as
red light. With this sense of relief Paul D, Sethe, and Denver go to the local
fair. Later they return home to find a mystical woman who is referred to as
"Beloved". Denver identifies the woman as the returned ghost in now
human flesh and receives her as a sister. This is where the novel begins to take
on its own existence. Beloved becomes the focus of everyone's attention. Beloved
has both mental and physical difficulties. Parts of her body threaten to fall
off; some teeth do fall out. She has a scar on her throat. Her infrequent speech
is childish. Although apparently she is a stranger, Beloved knows intimate
things about Sethe, one of which includes the lullaby that Sethe sang to her
babies. Denver takes a great liking to Beloved. Having been isolated for so many
years, Denver finally feels that she has a friend. Soon, however, she is
frightened to discover that the spirit is covertly attacking Sethe. For example,
while pretending to massage Sethe neck, Beloved tries to choke her. Paul D on
the other hand, dislikes Beloved but finds her sexually irresistible. Under some
kind of spell or conjure, he has sex with her. The presence of this ghost now in
human form thus disrupts every relationship. With this "rebirth" of
Beloved, Sethe is forced to remember the past. Sethe now beings her emotional
journey form slavery to freedom. At first, Sethe recalls only being shown a mark
under her Ma'am breast as a way to identify her. This mark was probably the
result of ritual scarification, an African tribe that recognizes an person's
transition into adulthood with a visible sign that they belong to a particular
tribe. When Ma'am was lynched and burned, her body is too badly damaged that he
mark does not show. Symbolically, slavery has wiped out African identity.
Another critical part of identity is language, and the African language has also
been taken away from the slaves. Sethe eventually recalls Nan's stories of
Ma'am.

Bibliography
Kubsitschek, Missy Dehn. Toni Morrison a Critical Companion. Westport:
Greenwood Press, 1998. History Behind Beloved . 19 Jan 1999.
Bontemps, Arna .Great Slave Narratives. Boston: Beacon Press, 1969. Harris,
Trudier. Fiction and Folklore: The novels of Toni Morrison .Knoxville: The
University of Tennessee Press, 1991 Solomon, Barbara H. Critical Essays on Toni
Morrison's Beloved . New York: G.K. Hall&Co., 1998. A Past that can not be
Forgotten by Shavone White African American Literature Dr. Dudley
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