Who or what is Beloved? College

In Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, there is a certain ambiguity surrounding the nature of the titular character. On the surface, she appears to be a reborn and grown up version of the child who was murdered by Sethe in an intended act of merciful infanticide. However, it is also possible that she is simply a mentally ill living woman, and perhaps a runaway slave, on whom Sethe imprints her guilt and the memory of her lost child. In addition to being a character Beloved is also, on a non-literal basis, a symbol for the repressed past returning to haunt the present. These multiple possibilities over the nature of Beloved’s existence and identity make her a subject for much debate.

It is tempting to argue that Beloved is exactly what she is believed to be by the other characters, a supernatural physical manifestation of Sethe’s dead child, aged to the point that she would have been had she been allowed to live and grow up. Indeed, the adult Beloved appears to be, in many ways, very infantile in her behaviour. For example, this is apparent when we’re told about her “sleepy eyes”[1] and failure to wipe her own dribble off of her chin (60). Paula Gallant Eckard highlights this as she argues that “she is incontinent, unable to walk,...

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