Beloved as a Gothic Novel
The term Gothic fiction refers to a style of writing that is characterized by elements of fear, horror, death, and gloom, as well as romantic elements, such as nature, individuality, and very high emotion. These emotions can include fear and suspense. This style of fiction began in the mid-1700s with a Text titled, The Castle of Otranto (in 1764), by Horace Walpole. The settings were often old, dilapidated buildings or houses in gloomy, lifeless, fear-inducing landscapes. Toni Morrison’s Beloved is widely considered an example of gothic novel. It represents the gothic elements under the background of slavery and racism.
Although Beloved begins with a ghost, it does not strictly adhere to the gothic genre at the beginning of the text. If the essence of gothic is secrets, danger, mystery, distress, and an increasing sense of foreboding (Harris n. pag.), the ghost at the beginning is quite distinct. The ghost appears to be Sethe’s murdered daughter and this notion is accepted by the family. While the ghost has driven Howard and Burglar out of the house, the protagonists have made their peace with it. As the incarnate Beloved threatens Sethe and reveals her past from the other side, something far more dangerous and mysterious emerges that threatens both the family and the community: a return of all the repressed death and anger of the “sixty million and more”.
The ghost (incarnation of Beloved) represents the power of the legacy of slavery, which continues to trouble Sethe eighteen years after she won her freedom. Beloved is the spirit of the dead baby returned but she is also an embodiment of all suffering under slavery: her memory extends back to the slave ships that first carried blacks to the Americas.
The conventional gothic narratives usually end with the predictable destruction or repression of the ghost. But in Beloved, the situation is different. On the contrary, the novel Beloved begins with the supernatural disturbance in the real world at the very beginning. In Beloved the ghost seems to be baby’s ghost whom Sethe had earlier murdered. The intervention of the baby ghost creates problems for everyone. The ghost appears to be breaking and shaking the things in the house and causes everyone’s private uneasiness and anxiety.
The first place depicted to be haunted by ghost in the novel is 124, Bluestone Road. Sethe’s two sons Howard and Buglar cannot stand the terror caused by the ghost. They get horrified so they flee. Since 124 is a source of the gothic atmosphere, Morrison keeps this place within the subjective focus.
The manifestation of the ghost contributes to grotesque plot and horrid atmosphere. It creates disappointment and loathing of the characters, except Denver, who anticipates her dead sister’s companionship, carrying with “a vague smile on her lips”
The setting of the novel Beloved uses flashback to create gloominess. It is the feeling of Sethe and other residents of the house traveling not only in physical distance but also the passage of time that creates a haunting quality. It is the element of the ghost that furthers the notion of the unknown for the reader.
Like conventional gothic novel, Morrison’s Beloved transgresses the boundary of physical laws beyond rationality. Through various manifestations, the ghost makes itself not only visibly but also audibly perceptible, of which Stamp Paid is the witness.
Madness is a common theme in the Gothic novel, which creates suspense for the readers. It also explores aspects of human nature that cannot be easily understood. Beloved, in seeming madness, presents herself a dramatic figure of the devil. She carries insatiable desire for revenge on her mother.
The gothic elements in the novel are explicit. The character, plot and narration carry various references of the ghost, soul, blood, and killing. Morrison uses these gothic elements to manifest how slavery and racism at their cruelest level disfigure black slaves like Sethe. Such elements play an important role in Beloved. The supernatural occurrence creates the terrible and suspicious atmosphere.
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