Dealing with trauma is one of the major concepts in Beloved. The novel explores both characters’ personal experiences with trauma along with group and cultural trauma. This page discusses the result of traumatic experiences from the novel and the psychological impact this has on the characters.
Beloved follows Sethe’s traumas through a concept developed by Toni Morrison called “re-memory.” This first appears in Morrison’s work in Beloved, but can be seen throughout her other novels as well. Re-memory is when characters deal with their past by recalling past events. This is most often shown in Beloved through Sethe. Sethe is able to better deal with her traumatic past by recollecting her painful memories. Sethe has had to deal with the loss of loved ones, isolation, race and sexual trauma, and abuse. The novel follows other characters’ traumas, but not to the depth that it shows Sethe’s pain.
The setting and timing of the novel have a profound impact on the psychological effect of trauma. The late nineteenth and early twentieth century are infamous for the inhumane treatment of mentally ill patients. During the timeframe of Beloved, psychological treatment centers were beginning to open, but almost exclusively in the northeast. The South, including the Golden Triangle Area, still dealt with most psychological problems privately. The common belief was that help from the family would help cure the troubled family member. Women in particular were encouraged to go about their normal lives, such as doing their household chores and caring for the children. In extreme circumstances families would put their loved ones under strict isolation and treat them almost as animals.