Beloved: A Review of The Mother, The Daughter, & The Unholy Spirit

Beloved is a 1987 novel written by Toni Morrison. The novel was transformed into a film directed by Jonathan Demme. The original film release date in America was on October 16, 1998. Both narrative forms of Beloved are set after the American Civil War, as the inspirational story of an African-American slave, Sethe, who escaped slavery in Kentucky in 1856 by fleeing to Ohio, a free state.

Sethe lives in Cincinnati with her daughter, Denver, and her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs. She’s been outcast from her community because she killed one of her own children to keep the child away from slave catchers.

Time passes. Baby Suggs dies. Denver is now all alone after her two brothers leave because of the ghost haunting their house and their mother, Sethe, not doing anything about it. The house they live in, 124 Bluestone, is not visited by any one for this reason.

An old friend, Paul D, shows up. He once lived with Sethe at Sweet Home, the plantation they were enslaved at. When Paul D comes around, Sethe feels like she can finally open up. Denver’s not happy about the new man in their life and it doesn’t get any better when a strange woman shows up in front of their house named Beloved.

In the film and novel, it is inferred that this woman is a spiritual being because in the opening scene there is a tomb stone with the name, Beloved on it; as well as the fact that Sethe claims the ghost in the house to be her daughter. It is also drawn on as a point in chapter one when there is a funeral where Sethe internalizes the word, beloved, when the pastor starts his prayer with, “Dearly Beloved we gather here today…” So we know that it’s no coincidence. Beloved even know things about Sethe that no one should know. Sethe lets Beloved stay and Denver makes friends with her by teaching and playing with her. Sethe thinks that this Beloved might actually be her Beloved, back from the dead and somehow all grown up but still childlike. Paul D is the only one who’s not so sure about Beloved.

01 Jan 1998 --- Original caption: Kimberly Elise, Oprah Winfrey and Thandie Newton on set. --- Image by © Bureau L.A. Collection/Sygma/Corbis

Once Beloved is welcomed as a member of the house, things start to change. Denver will do anything to please her. But yet, Beloved only wants what Sethe has and all Sethe cares about is Beloved (even after Paul D leaves).

Sethe and Denver give Beloved everything they have—but Beloved wants more. Pretty soon Denver realizes that Beloved only wants Sethe. Sethe is overworked and tired from the demands of Beloved. She gets fired from her job and is forced to spend all of her time with Beloved. From this point on, we realize that Sethe is “the mother” in comparison to the patriarchal, father of Christ, because she is compelled to do anything for Beloved which causes an unstable balance in the house.

Pretty soon there’s no food in the house. Denver realizes that they’re all going to die unless she steps up and does something. She gathers the courage to leave the house and ask for help. For this reason, Denver is “the daughter”. She potentially sacrifices herself for the sins commited by Sethe to save her and Beloved without any real regard to herself.

To our surprise, all of the townspeople who once banned Sethe and Denver now reach out and help where they can. They give Denver food and a new job; so she’s able to buy groceries. Soon, the neighbors figure out that Beloved is “haunting” Sethe. So they decide to do something about it. The women of the town perform an exorcism. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for; where it is finally clear that Beloved is not just some innocent child like murder victim who doesn’t know any better, but instead is “the unholy spirit” in this interesting remix of the religious trinity.

Both the movie and film end with Denver’s employer (a white man) driving by the house to pick up Denver. Sethe snaps when she sees ‘the slave catchers’ coming to take her children again and runs at the man with an ice pick. This is an ambiguous moment in both the novel and film where we don’t know what happens, but somehow Sethe is safe, the employer is safe, and Beloved is gone.

Some viewers who dissect the film and novel as an art, media, and narrative might think that the novel, due to its’ poetic language and description, presents a more vivid image than the actual film does. The film seems a little generic and reminds the audience of The Color Purple, which was actually released as a film before Beloved was.

In Chapter One of James Monaco, How to Read a Film: Film as Art, we are asked “How does the translation of an idea into the language of the art affect the idea? What are the thought forms of each particular language?” Well when we take a look at the nature of art it is considered as something you can’t define. This is because art isn’t normally done in words but in visuals such as paintings, sculptures, photography, and cinematography. The translation of the ideas in the novel to the art of film affect the way the concepts are scene from a visual, artistic, and even psychological perspective. The thoughts are formed differently based on the particular language of art as it relates to the film. For example, the genre of the film, Beloved, is considered as a cross between horror, romance, and even drama. The elements of all three of those considered genres are shown in the way the film is constructed.

From the close up shots between conversations of two or more people used to create a feeling of inclusion to the audience and as a device to build tension down to the sideways angles used as foreshadowing of something horror(ible).

As a result the film and novel for Beloved both do a great job at visually displaying the tension between the three main female characters: Sethe, Denver, and Beloved as the mother, the daughter, and the unholy spirit.


Works Cited:

Auwers, Kristine & Lyman,Scott. “The Book and the Film: A Comparison.” English 217 “Midwest Literature”. Umich Edu, 14 April 2003. Web. February 28, 2016.

Monaco, James. How to Read a Film. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.

McCloud, Daryl W. (@DarylMccloud). “Vivid.” 20 Feb 2016. 8:53pm. Tweet.

Wieman, Lydia (@lydia_wieman). “Direct Shots.” 20 Feb 2016. 8:38pm. Tweet.

Wieman, Lydia (@lydia_wieman). “Camera Angles.” 20 Feb 2016. 9:49pm. Tweet.

About Brittany J. Rosario 48 Articles
Brittany J. Rosario is a Versatile Writer, who isn't afraid of expressing herself through various media platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and Spotify podcast. She enjoys writing poetry, abstract painting, freestyle dancing and reviewing popular culture, history and iconic moments. Being a content creator gives her a different perspective on life. Her purpose is to maintain a positive and informative environment where people can be their true selves.