What is the significance of this passage from Beloved? “124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom.”
Toni Morrison's Beloved starts with this line, a reference to the noises and spirits that occupy the house of Sethe, an escaped slave who escapes north to Cincinnati, Ohio, with her children. As the book starts (the action begins in 1873), Sethe's house, where she lives with her daughter Denver, is plagued with the memory of Sethe's dead child. Sethe killed the child to prevent her from being taken by slave captors, and the epitaph on her grave reads "Beloved." The house, number 124, symbolizes Sethe's continually troubled memory as she recalls her murder of her daughter, carried out to save the child from slavery, and other haunting memories of her enslaved past.
The other two parts of Beloved begin with references to 124, including "124 was loud" (in Part Two) and "124 was quiet" in Part Three. The ghost of the dead child will continue to trouble the house until Part Three, when Sethe is able, with the help of members of the community, to put her past into a more comfortable place and face the future. The ghost of Beloved is a symbol of the suffering of countless of slaves and the memory of the horrors of slavery. It is not until the community can come together in Beloved that Sethe is able to move on and rid 124 of the vengeful spirits that possess it.
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