Toni Morrison’s Beloved

What does Beloved represent to her mother, Sethe? Why is Beloved finally “exorcised”?

In Toni Morrison‘s Beloved, Sethe is haunted by Beloved because she is her past and she cannot let her go.  One on hand, Sethe wants Beloved’s forgiveness but on the other she does not want it so much that she does not justify what she had done. “It was as though Sethe didn’t really want forgiveness given; she wanted it refused. And Beloved helped her out” (297). As a result, Sethe and Beloved are so involved that they become one. As someone had said, the relationship is codependent. For example, Beloved grows with Sethe’s guilt and eventually overpowers her (her pregnancy makes Beloved larger, so large that she diminishes Sethe’s own body). In other words, their codependency comes from the desire to protect themselves from the outside but the relationship, like all codependent relationships, is toxic because the problem is internal. Their codependency makes them oblivious to the real problem, the real problem that exists in between them.

Why does the novel Beloved have a much more powerful legacy than if, say, Toni Morrison had simply written (no matter how well) a polemical essay against slavery, racism, and injustice?

Real people in a realistic setting, even if it is fantastical, are often more powerful than essays. Everyone agrees (I think/hope) that the broad notions of slavery and racism and injustice are wrong but the key to maintaining this position within a culture lies in particular sets circumstances. For instance, many people today continue to do and say racist things mainly because they don’t think that they are being racist (or homophobic or misogynistic, etc.). Unlike fiction, essays don’t allow authors to put readers into someone else’s shoes. As a result, people have a hard time seeing how abstract notions found in philosophical essays relate or apply to their everyday lives. Here is where fiction comes in. Fiction is about experimenting with “what if”. Thus people who enjoy reading fiction get to transport themselves into another world, another place, another human being and experience firsthand otherwise they could lead. These are circumstances that are impossible to replicate/experience in one’s lifetime (and many are circumstances that no one would probably want to experience firsthand). Nevertheless, they allow the reader to put themselves into someone else’s shoes and empathize with this stranger as they empathize with themselves.

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