The character of Beloved embodies three generations of slavery and is a symbol of the ghost of the more general historical past of slavery just as she haunts the lives of her mother, Denver, and anyone else who comes in contact with family on Bluestone Road. She forces the characters in the novel, most notably her mother, to first recognize the pain from her past before she can begin to work through it and her presence causes all of the characters to come to terms with themselves before she leaves. Not only does this storytelling offer the possibility of reconciliation with the past or a better understanding of it on a symbolic level with the character Beloved serving as a symbol, it serves some important functions for the reader as well. Beloved, when viewed symbolically is more than merely a character in “Beloved” but holds great importance as a symbol in the novel as well. These stories that are contained within the complex character of Beloved in the novel by Toni Morrison, many of which are mere fragments that cannot be truly pieced together until the end of the novel, relate a vivid, stark and relentless portrait of some of the worst horrors of slavery.
Many of the reminisces detail a life of brutal and inhumane treatment and what is most striking is the way all of the main characters are unable to accept their past and look the future because of this past. On the one hand then, Beloved, as a symbolic character, offers a chance to unearth and make peace with the past before looking to the future as well as the supernatural possibility of rebirth into a new and better world but on the other, From the moment she arrives she is already a symbol as she is newly reborn and childlike, she forces the characters to understand their history and through this, the reader sees how Beloved represents three generations of slavery and the horrible historical impact of slavery; from Baby Suggs and her grandmother, whom Sethe barely remembers, to her own mother, to herself and sister—not to mention the departed presences of her long-gone brothers.
Unlike Baby Suggs who represents the older end of the chain of the damages of slavery who, by the end of her life, at the narrator of “Beloved” by Toni Morrison states her, “ past had been like her present—intolerable—and since she knew death was anything but forgetfulness, she used the little left energy to ponder color" (4) the presence of Beloved allows for pained and slow reconciliation of history and the past for a new generation that does not only include her sister Denver, but Sethe as well, as expressed in this as one of the important quotes from “Beloved” by Toni Morrison. By the end of the novel even the community in Cincinnati is brought closer together as they work together instead of functioning from the past as they come to aid the people at Bluestone Road. This is a hopeful symbolic message at the end of a novel that is almost impossible to read at times because of the pain it invokes and this ending is the result of Beloved’s presence as a symbol in the novel as she ties together the disparate generations of slavery.
Beloved acts as a mode of “intervention" in the novel as she interrupts the cyclical nature of the pain and unwillingness to face memory and history by both the reader as well as her mother and other characters in the novel. As one scholar notes, “In the absence of intervention, the trauma might continue unabated, involving its survivors in the patterns of precipitating violence, while also—and perhaps more importantly for our historical sense—exercising a mystifying influence on our social narratives of agency" (Spargo 115). As a character, Beloved represents not only her own history as being one who, before her murder, lived along the edge of the line between freedom and slavery, but the history of several generations as she acts out the pain of others by forcing along their remembrances.