Toni Morrison enhances the effectiveness of Beloved with symbolism. This symbolism has a myriad of origins as well as forms. Number symbols come from astrological sources, while characters’ names are allusions from ancient Egyptian mythology, the Bible, and African culture. Furthermore, important color symbols are discernible throughout the novel.
From the very beginning of Beloved, the number 124 is distinguishable. In fact, it appears as the first character of each book of the novel. As the address of the
home where most of the plot takes place, this number is extremely important. According to astrology, the numbers 1, 3, 7, and 22 are “ascribed with magical powers” (Samuels 135). These magical powers are said to be symbols of completion and creation. 124 fits this astrological delineation because the sum of the three digits in the number add up to the aforementioned 7. In addition, a significant association among characters in the novel is in the form of three people — Sethe, Beloved, and Denver.
Secondly, the name of the protagonist of the novel, Sethe, is associated with “one of the major gods of ancient Egypt and the Biblical Seth, who was the child of Adam and Eve” (Samuels 136). This Egyptian god was part man and part animal or bird, which explains the animal imagery surrounding Sethe in the novel. For example, when explaining her secret about Beloved to Paul D., Sethe is described as if she is a circling falcon or bird. Morrison writes, “She just flew…and the hummingbird wings beat on” (163).
The name Sethe is also unique as a name for a female slave because it is derived from the names of Egyptian and Biblical males. Morrison uses the name to add to the masculinity of Sethe’s character. Sethe’s ability to overcome overwhelming tragedies and challenges such as her escape from slavery in Kentucky and the murder of her child identifies her with this quality.
Additionally, the name Sixo symbolizes the dehumanization of slaves during the late 19th century. His name, derived from the number 6, implies that white masters didn’t consider their slaves with enough respect to recognize them with more than a number. This renaming also symbolizes the power the slaveowners felt by stripping slaves of their individuality.
The distinction of color in slavery adds to the color symbolism which pervades Beloved.
Essay on The Supernatural in Toni Morrison’s Beloved
Supernatural in Beloved
Elements of the supernatural pervade Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved. These elements include evidence of African-American folklore and tradition in the everyday lives of the inhabitants of 124 Bluestone Road. Beloved’s character is another obvious use of the supernatural: she’s a ghost for part of the novel and a “ghost-in-the-flesh” for the major part of the book.
In Beloved, Morrison extracts African folklore from history in order to enrich the authenticity of an account of the lives of ex-slaves during the late 19th century. Her extractions include medicinal, religious, and superstitious components from African life. As doctors were not available to most blacks during this time — slave or free — they were forced to depend upon their intuitive nature and upbringing. For instance, spiderweb is used as first aid for cuts, while grease is spread liberally over these same cuts as a long-term ointment of sorts.
For slaves, church was simply another segregated part of life which forced them to develop their own way of practicing their faith. African roots are very visible in Baby Sugg’s “sermons” in the Clearing. White men go to church, sit down in wooden pews, and settle in for a lengthy dissertation on their sins. On the other hand, Baby Suggs calls her people into Nature to dance, cry, and finally, to laugh. Her version of a sermon is actually an outpouring of the vast contents of her heart.
Superstitions are a natural part of any culture’s make-up. However, some superstitions are firmly rooted in one specific culture. This is evident in Baby Sugg’s statement to Sethe where she says, “Not a house in the country ain’t packed to its rafters with some dead negro’s grief” (Morrison 5). Similarly, Ella comments to Stamp Paid, “You know as well as I do that people who die bad don’t stay in the ground” (188).
Morrison’s style embodies an additional aspect of African philosophy. According to John S. Mbiti, “[it] emphasizes that the spiritual universe is a unit with the physical, and that these two intermingle and dovetail into each other so much that it is not easy, or even necessary, at times to draw distinctions or separate them” (Samuels 138). One can see how Morrison fits this definition with her constant interweaving of the spiritual world along with the physical world.
Stereotypical thinking says that a fine line exists between the spiritual world and the natural world.