Adventures in Digital History

Thoughts on Beloved, Part #3

While we finished Beloved at the beginning of the week, there are many thing about the book that I wanted to explore more and thought this post would be a good place to do so. I know we have started W.E.B. DuBois’s Data Visualizations, but I have so many thoughts I need to get out about this book that I cannot help myself!

First off, the ending to Beloved was very abrupt to me. Morrison spent quite a bit of time building up the events and did not really explain what happened. Beloved was essentially strangling Sethe. I mean this figuratively, not literally. She was mooching off Sethe and Denver, consuming all their food while demanding all of Sethe’s attention. Now, this might not seem all that bad if Sethe wasn’t the breadwinner for their little family. Sethe becomes so obsessed with Beloved that she stops working, stops providing for her family, and even stops taking care of herself. Now, there’s two ways I interpreted this: guilt and/or supernatural influence.

We’ve known since the onset of the book that Sethe killed the infant Beloved. Whether the Beloved that lives with them now is actually Beloved, the traumatized girl Stamp Paid mentioned, or some amalgamation of the two is up for debate. What we do know is that the ghost had been haunting 124 suddenly disappeared after Paul D fought it off. Then Beloved shows up, a mysterious and creepy miracle wrapped up in one! She has all these connections to water, linking her back to the girl held by the river, but also exhibits supernatural powers. She forces Paul D out of the house and causes Sethe to progressively loose her inhibitions and willpower, turning her into a raving madwoman. The only one that appears unaffected is Denver, once she gets over her protective urges and sees Beloved for what she truly is: a parasite.

Now, I know there’s a lot to unpack there. First, I fully believe Beloved is a supernatural entity of some sort. Morrison’s descriptions of her link too closely to the supernatural for her not to be. We discussed in class how she resembles childlike ghosts from African folklore. I personally think Beloved is a cross between an Abiku and an Ogbanje. An Abiku is the ghost of a child who died prematurely and typically come back to haunt the mother in an effort to be ”reborn.” This sort of fits, however we also have Beloved getting pregnant herself (possibly with Paul D’s child?), which would fit into the reborn context I suppose. However, I think Ogbanje also fits more closely. These are changelings, which would explain Beloved’s multiple appearance changes. However, these ghosts also meant to cause negativity for those around them, which explains how Beloved unlocks Sethe’s and Paul D’s past traumatic experiences with her sheer presence. Regardless of what she is, this is how I interpreted it and think Morrison definitely had similar supernatural entities in mind when creating Beloved.

Now let’s move onto the character I am most interested in discussing: Denver. Denver grew so much towards the end of the book that I cannot help but be proud of her! Denver is shown to be a sheltered young woman who suffers from agoraphobia to such an extent she has only left 124 maybe three times, and never on her own. However, when Beloved starts to consume Sethe’s life in such a negative way, she casts aside her fears and steps up to take care of her family. Denver is still strange. Who wouldn’t after after being raised by child-killer Sethe and consuming your own dead sister’s blood? However, Denver starts working outside the home and engaging in the community. She pretty much switches places with Sethe as the breadwinner, but unlike Sethe, Denver is not ostracized by the community. Even Paul D sees the change in her, but he’s so caught up in the past that he wishes to return to Sethe. Sethe is in no condition to care for herself and Paul D does wish to move forward, but at least they all are trying to make progress once Beloved is gone.

That’s one other thing. Beloved is gone! It’s never really explained how or why, she just is. Perhaps she is banished by the combined efforts of the town? Perhaps she took off to haunt someone else? We don’t really know. She’s simply gone after Sethe tried (and failed) to kill her land lord. Fun times.

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