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Suppressing the Horrors of Slavery

In the first three chapters of Beloved, we are introduced to Sethe and her daughter Denver, who live in a house that is haunted by a ghost suspected to be Sethe’s eldest daughter who died. Sethe herself is an escaped slave who tries in vain to suppress the memories of her past in enslavement, all for the sake of insuring a better life for her daughter Denver. Despite her efforts, she is constantly reminded of her past through the ghost and through Paul D, one of the male slaves who also worked at her plantation called Sweet Home.

As of these chapters, it seems to me that the ghost in the story is a representation of the psychological impact that is left on those who lived as slaves. Having lived their entire life considered as sub-human and under the threat of torture or death for any action considered out of line, slaves bear the weight of these horrors every single day. What makes it worse for Sethe is that she was never actually freed from slavery, but rather escaped. This makes her even more paranoid of her past, because she could be easily returned to Sweet Home if she were to be discovered. All of these factors together show a clear impact on Sethe’s psyche, and form a representation of the mental state of those who were once in captivity.

It even goes a step further and shows the impact that Sethe’s efforts to forget her past have on her daughter, who is practically home-ridden because of the “ghost” in the house. While the ghost itself seems real in the story, I again believe that this goes to show the impact that witnessing her mother’s traumatized mindset has had on Denver. With every reminder Denver seems to understand more and more about what her mother went through and in turn becomes more secluded from society. Overall, it seems as though Sethe’s efforts to suppress her past and secure a better future for her daughter have been in vain due to constant reminders of slavery through the ghost of her daughter and through her paranoia of being returned to captivity.

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4 Comments

  1. Nora Apt Nora Apt

    I think you made an interesting point by mentioning the dynamic between Sethe and Denver with respect to trauma. While Denver observes slavery’s impact on her mother, I think this trauma serves as a divide between them. Denver will never be able to fully comprehend the atrocities that Sethe endured which creates both psychological and emotional barriers between them.

  2. Emma Joaquin Emma Joaquin

    I think your point about the ghost representing the trauma of their past is a good one. There are more “ghosts” in the house where Sethe and Denver live than just the ghost of the baby. The past is always haunting them in other ways.

  3. Alexander Seeley Alexander Seeley

    I immediately became curious of the ghost as well. Not only does this ghost represent a personal, very unique situation in which Sethe has to live with for the rest of her life. But, A more dramatic correlation can be made to the memories of suffering and their affects on former slaves and their offspring, in this case; Denver. Secondly, your idea of the ghost haunting Sethe as she ‘escaped’ slavery but never left ‘Sweet Home’ on her own free will, relates to the similar social- umbrella idea of the consequences of slavery. Freed African-Americans still faced many road blocks in every day life post-slavery.

  4. Michael Paul Michael Paul

    I love your connection between the ghost and Sethes’s past, especially considering that Denver and Sethe’s relationship with the ghost are significantly different. When Paul D arrives, he breaks down upon his first interaction with the ghost but because Sethe has suppressed the stories she tells to Denver, Denver doesn’t truly know the horrors of the past, now the ghost. There were some contradictory events that disconnect this theory, such as the white dress, but there is still so much that is unexplained.

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