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.