Faith is often described as a feeling one cannot describe nor explain. Faith is intuition and a belief that something or someone exist without any evidentiary proof. This form of indescribable faith is present in the novel, Beloved, by Toni Morrison. The novel takes place in the post civil war south of United States surrounding the lives of Suggs family who were all former slaves. The plot of the story heightens when Beloved, the deceased child, of Sethe is somehow resurrected and exists as if she was never dead.
Toni Morrison uses the sense of faith and mystic to develop the character, Beloved, and how she is brought to life. Because of this mystic and altered reality, it is sometimes difficult to accurately characterize Beloved as a real person within the novel or as a symbol for something much grander. In her novel, Toni Morrison uses many biblical references and illusions and relates them to the personal story of her fictional character to successfully develop their character and personality.
Through this use, Morrison is also able to continue the theme of the novel by further developing the spiritually and religiousness of the former slaves.
Originating from the highly spiritual land of Africa, the black slaves of colonial American often turn to their faith during times of need and hardship. Being forced to suffer many horrible and cruel ordeals, the slaves accepted the Christian faith that was being presented them. Nevertheless the slaves knew that the Christian faith was of the white man; therefore, it was necessary for them to incorporate their cultural indigenous beliefs in it.
Baby Suggs is the oldest in the Suggs family. She has eight children who all except one were taken away from her before adolescent. She is the voice of wisdom and knowledge within her community. People often looked to her for spiritually support and revival. Although she was very religious, her views on life are includes, but different from the Christian faith.
While Baby Suggs is at the Clearing, preaching, Toni Morrison develops her character by saying, “She did not tell them to clean up their lives or to go and sin no more. She did not tell them they were the blessed of the earth, its inheriting meek and or its glorybound pure,” (88). In this statement, Morrison uses a biblical reference of the beatitudes in Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” It is evident in these two statements that although Baby Suggs is very religious, her views on life includes, but are different from the Christian faith. Baby Suggs stresses the need of living your fullest in the present life rather than depend on your afterlife. She also makes clearly that one should always love themselves as she preaches, “More that your life-holding womb and you life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize,” (89). Baby Suggs knows that in a slaves’ life, no one has loved them or cared for them, so she lets them know that it is necessary that they love themselves. Through these two references, Toni Morrison is able to successfully in creating Baby Suggs’ character.
In the Christian faith, it is necessary for one to be baptized to become part of the Lord’s kingdom. The sacrament of baptism could be considered the initiation process into the religion by many Christians. The sacrament of baptism through holy water and God rids one of the original sin created by Adam and Eve in the beginning of time in Genesis. It is also taught that when one is baptized, one dies in their old life and is resurrected in the Lord and is given a new life. John the Baptist in Matthew states, “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier that I,” (Matt3:11). In this verse, John the Baptist implies that with Jesus, one will receive new life with the water.
The sacrament of baptism is similar to the first encounter of Beloved. Toni Morrison states, “A fully dressed woman walked out of the water. She barely gained the dry bank of the stream before she sat down and leaned against a mulberry tree,” (50). The resurrection of Beloved is very mystical and could only be described as supernatural. Toni Morrison uses the illusion of Beloved coming out of the water as if she is a baby being baptized. Morrison also implies using this illusion that it is through water, Beloved is able to be resurrected such as a Christian is able to have a new life after they are baptized. Like the newly baptized baby dying and living again through baptism, Beloved’s resurrection can only be believed through faith. Through this illusion, Morrison is able to communicate the fact that Beloved’s rebirth should be questioned in the literal sense, but be accepted as if it was a religious or spiritually phenomenon.
Before the American Civil War, there was a law passed to prevent slaves to run away known as the Fugitive Slave Law. The law states that if a slave is found even in a free state, they must be return to their owner in the south United States. This law was created to discourage and ultimately stop runaway slaves from getting freedom. This law was a huge obstruction against abolitionist groups and their project such as the Underground Railroad. After the death of a Sixo, a fellow slave at the Sweet Home plantation, Sethe could no longer stay at the plantation and is adamant about running. Being at her third trimester of pregnancy, no one thought that she would be capable of running away and making safely to her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs. Fortunately, Sethe, through much perseverance, makes it safely to Baby Suggs along with her baby,
Denver. Sethe thought that being slave was all behind until the day the previous owner, schoolteacher, comes for her. As Sethe’s owner comes, Toni Morrison describes, “When the four horsemen came-schoolteacher, one nephew, one slave catcher, and a sheriff-the house on Bluestone Road was so quiet they thought they were too late, Three of them dismounted, one stayed in the saddle, his rifle ready, his eyes trained away from the house to the left and to the right, because likely as not the fugitive would make a dash for it,” (148). The biblical illusion in this statement is evidently being made to the four horsemen of the Apocalypse in the Book of Revelation. In chapter 6 of the Book of Revelation, John the disciple states about the entrance of the four horsemen, “I looked, and there was a white horse, and its rider has a bow. …Another horse came out, a read one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth …I looked, and there was a black horse, and its rider held a scale in his hand. …I looked, and there was a pale green horse. Its rider was named Death, and Hades accompanied him,” (Rel 6:2-8).
In the bible, the four horsemen represent the Apocalypse, the end of the world. To the Sethe, seeing her owner and the slave catcher was the end of her world, and her life. It is in this moment that Toni Morrison lets the reader know the true cause to how Beloved dies when she is baby. In desperation, Sethe kills Beloved and attempts to kill the rest of her children so that they would not have to be in slavery. The four horsemen that came to get Sethe represent slavery which was worse that death as seen in her extreme actions. Toni Morrison use of the illusion of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse shows the hatred that Sethe had toward slavery and the doom and destruction that came along with slavery.
Beloved’s departure is as mysterious as her arrival. She leaves without a trace and never returns. Her family acts as if she never exists and never came back. Although Beloved, at the end of the novel, creates more problems for the family than help them, she was able to help Sethe live her life past the doors of 124 and start over again. Beloved like Jesus Christ comes back to life after death and she leaves like Christ’s Ascension after spending a short time on Earth. The most noticeable reference that Toni Morrison makes is in the epigraph as she states, “I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved which was not beloved,” (Romans 9:25). As Christ loved the people of Israel and call them his own, Beloved loved Sethe and her family even though Sethe killed her. Although it is bold statement to compare Beloved to Jesus Christ, the son of God, this claim does not exist without proof.
During his crucifixion, Jesus Christ makes a plea to his father to forgive the people that are killing him and to bless them. Similar to Jesus Christ Beloved forgives her mother and loves mother regardless of the fact that her mother killed her. Jesus Christ’s life exist only in the supernatural, and his life past on through age by the records of his disciple. To many people Beloved, the entirety of her existence and her departure are mysteries that no one could ever solve. Her life is only present in those who remembers her, but as Toni Morrison in the last pages of the novel, “This is not a story to pass on,” (275).
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