Essay on The Supernatural in Toni Morrison's Beloved


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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.

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Elements from either world might show up in the other, but, like oil and water, they never quite mix together. Morrison breaks these stereotypes by mixing her elements completely together in the character of Beloved.

Morrison provides the reader with a transition between the two worlds. First, she introduces Beloved the ghost as just that -- a ghost, obviously still part of the spiritual world. She then weaves this spiritual part into the real world by manifesting Beloved into a seemingly live person. However, Morrison reaffirms the old standards by implying that while the two worlds appear to be meshed perfectly on the surface, deep down they are in total chaos. This idea is emphasized when Beloved concentrates on holding herself together. She dreads the day (implied as being inevitable) when "pieces of her would drop maybe one at a time, maybe all at once" (133).

Mysticism and magic saturate Beloved. The roots of these elements come from experiences during slavery, which in turn, take their meanings from African culture. In the novel, examples of this influence can be found in medicine, religion, and superstition. Mysticism and magic are furthermore exemplified by the character of Beloved.


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