The idea of a ghost story or horror story has long since been introduced into the world of American literature starting in the late 18th century. These works played with the idea of life after death and its effects on the present. The term gothic or gothic horror has been used to describe this form of literature. The literary meaning of the gothic style of is hard to define,
but to give it a simple meaning the gothic is when the supernatural encounters the natural.
In the novel Beloved by Toni Morrison this form of the gothic is used. The story involves Sethe, an ex-slave, whom the ghost of her dead daughter haunts. The ghost of this novel is a two year old who is young in age, yet strong in power. The character Sethe, is based on the real life story of the slave Margaret Garner. On Jan. 28, 1856, Garner killed her two-year-old daughter rather than have her sent back to slavery due to the fugitive slave law. Garner was later found guilty and sent back to the plantation she fled in Mississippi.
The story of Beloved delves into the most painful part of the African American heritage, slavery. The memory of this horrifying time is presented in what Morrison calls "rememory"-- actively making the past real in the present. The novel is set during the Reconstruction(1870-1890) which follows the Civil War and emancipation. Much of the characters' pain occurs as they themselves try to "reconstruct" their families, communities and their own sense of identity. While this novel has been compared many times to that of a slave narrative, Morrison chooses to use the gothic to tell her story. Yes this novel does use slave narrative form, but it explores a greater range with the gothic.
Morrison chooses to use the gothic because it allows her to explore the true effects of her characters and their effects on each other. Beloved comes back to haunt not only Sethe but everyone around her. She feels that her life has been