Toni Morrison uses a variety of literary techniques in the novel Beloved, however, the most dominant technique is that of magical realism. The term magical realism was created in the early twentieth century, originally to describe a new style in German painting, but later applied to Latin American fiction (Faris 1). This technique blends realistic narrative with supernatural elements in such a way the reader does not question the impossibility of these events. Magical realism is used in this novel to enhance three major concepts: the concept of love, the destructive impact of slavery, and the impact of traumatic memory on the human psyche.
The novel is written using nonlinear narrative style to tell the story of Sethe, an escaped slave woman, who is literally haunted by her past after she attempts to kill all of her children with a hacksaw. Sethe succeeds only in murdering her baby daughter, Beloved; however, the ghost of Beloved haunts Sethe’s home until Paul D, a friend from the plantation, arrives unexpectedly and successfully exorcises the spirit. Later, when a young woman baring the name Beloved physically appears in the lives of Sethe, Paul D, and Sethe’s other daughter Denver, magical realism enables the reader to recognize that this woman is the reincarnation of Sethe’s murdered daughter who has returned as an adult. Beloved appears to be frail and vulnerable in the beginning, but proves to be powerful and malicious and in the end.
Not only does the use of magical realism enable the reader to immediately become familiarized with the spirit of Beloved, it also provides a framework for the paranormal activity occurs throughout the story. Morrison opens the story by describing 124, the home Sethe lives in with her daughter Denver, by stating, “124 was spiteful. Full of a babies venom,” (Morrison 9). In this passage the reader is introduced to the malevolent spirit of Sethe’s murdered child, and Morrison successfully shows readers how 124, the home Sethe lived in, represents a place of negative emotions like pain and fear.
Morrison’s writing style emphasizes the theme of love, sharing the message that unconditional love takes many forms. For Sethe, her sense of self-love and self-worth is viewed in terms of her ability to be a good mother. By Sethe’s logic it is an act of unconditional love that she to chooses to murder her children rather than watch them figuratively be killed through the unbearable nature of slavery she herself had endured. Demetrakopoulos summarizes Sethe’s line of thinking by stating, “it is better…to die in the cradle than to live out one’s full life span soul-dead, a zombie/puppet daily treading the process requirements of someone else’s life and needs,” (Demetrakopoulos 53). This sentiment suggests that while Sethe’s murderous act act may seem unthinkable to most people, that in the context of Sethe’s situation she did the most loving thing she could have done to protect them from living a life of unbearable...