How are racism and the institution of slavery presented through the characters by the symbolism associated with Beloved in Toni Morrison's Beloved?

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susan3smith eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Beloved represents various ways of healing from the wounds of slavery and racism.  Sethe caters to Beloved, trying to establish a relationship with this ghost, to overcome her guilt of killing her daughter to save her from the horrors of slavery at Sweet Home.  Beloved becomes Sethe's obsession and in some ways satisfies Sethe's need to atone for what she has done.  As Beloved grows bigger, however, Sethe weakens.  The community with Denver's help save Sethe by forgiving her.

To Paul D, Beloved is a release from the pent-up emotions that he is sealed in a "tobacco tin."  Paul D, too, suffered at Sweet Home, with a bit in his mouth used for punishment, where even the rooster had more freedom than he did.  He has suppressed these memories along with those of working on the Georgia chain gang.  When he makes love to Beloved, he is finally able to release these emotions and begin to heal.

To Denver, Beloved is a needed playmate.  Denver has been isolated from the community as the daughter of a crazy woman who would kill her own children.  Denver shows the repercussions of slavery on the second generation.  Denver was born free, has not experienced slavery directly, but has suffered from her mother's actions.  Denver becomes absorbed in the sister she never had, and when she is able to relinquish Beloved, she is able to interact with the community once again.

teachertaylor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Beloved, the title character functions as a symbol of the horrors of slavery that the characters have had to endure.  Sethe manages to escape Sweet Home with all her children, so when she sees the slave catchers who have come to take her back, she cannot bear to have her children live within the cruel institution of slavery as she has done for her entire life.  She attempts to kill all her children, yet only manages to kill Beloved before she is stopped by Stamp Paid.  When Beloved's ghost returns to haunt the family, she remains an ever-present reminder of the destructive nature of slavery.  Any institution that makes a mother feel that killing her own child is a better option than having that child remain alive may certainly be deemed as entirely horrendous.