Toni Morrison’s Beloved:

Slavery Haunting America


  • Inez Martinez University of Wisconsin-Madison



Toni Morrison’s Beloved explores how the American decision to enslave Africans was a failure in love affecting the love relationships between enslaved mothers and children, mates, and members of the free black community. Through focus on maternal infanticide, the novel makes conscious the slave mothers’ plight: since they could not offer their children lives in freedom, they experienced motherlove as “as a killer.” The concepts of cultural phantom, cultural shadow, and cultural complex help identify what in Beloved is being drawn from collective unconsciousness for purposes of collective healing. The following analysis distinguishes personal complexes, such as the protagonist’s negative mother complex, from cultural complexes, such as the guilt issuing from the structural impossibility of protecting ones children from slavery. Morrison’s giving conscious representation to the psychological legacy of slavery opens a possibility of increased psychological freedom for the African-American community. Further, because Beloved offers to American collective consciousness the understanding that enslaving people is a failure in love, it provides an opportunity for all Americans to help heal the American dream, making it more whole by enabling the rights to life, liberty, and equal justice for all through incorporating the ideal of love of one another.