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Explore the different forms of haunting in Toni Morrisons Beloved.

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Introduction

'The return of Beloved becomes not only a psychological projection, but also a physical (rather than spiritual) manifestation. Her "rebirth" represents, as it were, the uncanny return of the dead to haunt the living, the return of the past to the present' (Mae G. Henderson, 'Toni Morrison's Beloved') Explore the different forms of "haunting" in Toni Morrison's Beloved. Haunting, in general terms, can be defined as something, either a physical presence or something as insubstantial as a memory, which returns from the past in a manner it should not. In Toni Morrison's 'Beloved', the theme of haunting is unquestionably the main theme and as such it manifests throughout the book, figuratively, literally, literarily, metaphorically, psychologically and as Mae G. Henderson agrees, "physically". The main haunting in 'Beloved' is the physical reincarnation of the eponymous Beloved herself. Although some critics, such as Elizabeth B. House (1990) would argue that Beloved the woman is not a ghost: "the girl is not a supernatural being of any kind", it is clear that Beloved is a ghost. The idea of her being a human can be discounted for several reasons, firstly her superhuman strength. Beloved is clearly very weak after she is found at 124, yet she is still able to lift a rocking chair up with one arm: "I seen her pick up the rocker with one arm". This is despite being also described as someone who: "Acts sick, sounds sick". Beloved has strength clearly beyond her capabilities, which indicates that she is not in fact human. Furthermore, when Beloved seduces Paul D, it is clear that Beloved is indeed from the past and a ghost. Firstly, it is stated "He should have been able to hear her breathing", which is evidence in itself that Beloved is not a human. However, it is more Beloved's actions and effect on Paul D. which indicate she is not human. ...read more.

Middle

Morrison often makes it clear that the characters of Beloved haven't come to terms with their traumatic past, by always eluding to but never stating the past. For example, Sethe's traumatic past haunts her, as it's very clear that she has not dealt with killing Beloved; the trauma is revealed to the reader in the same cryptic and difficult way that the memories of the Middle Passage are. There's no explicit explanation of what happened, everything is alluded too, for example when the white men first see the murder scene they state "But never made him...I mean no way he could have...What she do and so that for?" Nowhere in the text is it actually said explicitly: Sethe killed Beloved. The truth is eluded, but Sethe simply says "I took and put my babies where they'd be safe". Even with Paul D., rather then admit to himself Sethe was a murderer, instead thinks "This here Sethe talked about safety with a handsaw". The way Sethe is elusive and refuses to be frank is indicative of her mental state; she clearly hasn't come to terms with the event and thus Morrison makes it clear that she is haunted by the event. Sethe puts a veneer over the truth; she was protecting her children, she found safety with a handsaw, rather then simply stating the truth; she committed infanticide. Literarily, it is also not revealed until the middle of the book, chapter 18, which represents to the reader how far this is buried in Sethe's mind. Sethe constantly circles as she admits the truth to Paul D.: "Circling, circling, now she was gnawing something else", which indicates her state of mind. Unlike Paul D, whose emotions and memories haunt him so much he has locked them entirely away in a "tobacco tin", Sethe's are more available, but only in a hazy, cryptic form. Sethe is unable to be succinct and open, because that is too painful, although the past relentlessly presents itself to her, she cannot express it which she must do in order to process it. ...read more.

Conclusion

It's clear that Morrison believes America must take responsibility for their past, and also accept it, rather then rushing away from the past. This links also with the transgenerational haunting shown in 'Beloved'; Denver is haunted by Beloved in the same way Sethe is, though Denver herself is innocent. It's clear that the past is inescapable if not dealt with; Sethe can not deal with it and as such it's transferred to the next generation, which parallels with America; if they do not deal with their slave past it will transfer to the next generation. It's also clear that Morrison has used Beloved as a voice for the African slaves from the Middle Passage; unlike those that made it to America, those that died on the Middle Passage had no voice: "She (Beloved) speaks a traumatised language, of her own experience...she was on that ship as a child...those that died en route. Nobody knows their names, and nobody knows about them...they never survived in the lore". This also explains Beloved's chain of thoughts during her first person narrative: "I do not eat the men without skin bring us their morning water to drink we have none at night I cannot see the dead man on my face". Clearly Morrison emphasised Beloved's thoughts and perceptions, rather then her physical actions (unlike Sethe), to help redress the lack of psychological insight traditional slave narratives traditionally have. Morrison clearly wanted to tell the collective story of slaves on the Middle Passage, as well as an individual account. Both these reasons explain why Morrison has made such extensive use of haunting throughout 'Beloved'; she clearly wanted to promote the message that it is important to come to terms with your past, and also wanted to tell the story of a generally forgotten people from the past (the slaves of the Middle Passage), and the best way to promote this message was to have an actual character who is from the past return, thus the importance of haunting throughout the novel. Word Count: 2,998 ?? ?? ?? ?? Holly Maria B. Daher, 13M ...read more.

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