AP American Voices
Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved is based on an article Morrison read about a mother who killed her own child to keep her from the horrors of enslavement, a feat fairly common at the time. However, in Beloved, the dead child returns to be reunited with her mother. Throughout Beloved, color plays a significant role in portraying the emotions of the characters. Morrison uses color as a way to express the character’s freedom from their past, as seen through 124, Amy Denver’s carmine velvet, Paul D’s red heart, the carnival roses, the red rooster, and Beloved. Red especially, is used as a positive symbol to represent life and energy, as well as a negative symbol of death and apathy.
From the very beginning of the novel, color is used to set the scene and show the mood of the characters. 124 Bluestone Road is described as “gray and white house” (1), which gives the impression of the overarching misery already. The family’s lack of money means that 124 has an absence of color – “the full range of the dark and the muted that thrift the modesty allowed” (46). The lack of color and the empty feeling that it brings links to how Baby Suggs feels; she has had such a bad experience that she chooses to starve herself of color. In Baby Suggs’ last moments, she wanted to surround herself with color because “in that sober field, two patches of orange looked wild-like life in the raw” (46). When Sethe finally reaches a comfortable enough position in her life, after creating peace with Beloved and their past, she says to herself, “now I know why Baby Suggs pondered color her last years” (237). This point is reached only when her haunting memories can be more easily controlled with the assurance of Beloved’s understandability of her past.
Every time that Sethe thinks about her dead baby girl, Beloved, she can’t help but recall the pink flecks in Beloved’s headstone, which along with the blood when Sethe killed Beloved. The narrator states “[Baby Suggs] slipped in a red puddle and fell. So Denver took her mother’s milk right along with the blood of her sister” (179). The two—baby blood and pink-flecked headstone—go hand in hand. If the blood of a dying baby is vital, fresh and, therefore, bright red, the lighter shade of red—pink—comes to represent the trace of the dead baby, almost but not completely gone. The faint pink in the headstone represents how the memory of Beloved will always be present in the characters’ lives. Even though Beloved won’t be at the front of everyone’s lives, Beloved will still be in their memory. The pink mineral of the gravestone is also the last color that Sethe really remembers, mainly because killing Beloved was such a traumatic experience for her that she shut down all of her emotions after, resulting in the loss of color.
In the beginning of the novel, she states that she finds it “strange that she had not missed [color] the way Baby did...it must be deliberate, because the last color she remembered was the pink chips in the headstone of her baby girl. After that she became color conscious as a hen” (46). However, by the end of the novel, she understands why Baby Suggs craved color so much. “She never had time to see, let alone enjoy it before...She was well into pink when she died. I don’t believe she wanted to get to red and I understand why because me and Beloved outdid ourselves with it. Matter of fact, that and her pinkish headstone as the last color I recall. Now I’ll be on the lookout” (237). After Beloved comes back into Sethe’s life, Sethe has begun to let go of her past at Sweet Home and express her basic freedom of really paying attention to color. From this statement, Morrison shows the reader how slavery completely took away the life of the slaves; slaves had little ownership or even control over their own bodies so Sethe never got to experience this basic pleasure of observing color. But now that she is free from her past at Sweet Home, she can