One of the most important aspects of any character analysis of Beloved, the character who lends her name to the title of Morrison’s novel, is that she is not really a flesh-and-blood character at all; she is a ghost. It is this fact that makes the presence of the character of Beloved a symbol in terms of her effect on the narrative and its other characters so compelling and profound. For a specter being, Beloved exerts a tremendous and powerful sphere of influence over most of the characters, affecting almost every aspect of their lives: their ability to live in peace, their capacity to love one another in healthy relationships, and their ability to be content with themselves and to move forward in their lives.
As this character analysis of Beloved in the novel by Toni Morrison suggests, it is not embodied in flesh and blood, she “lives" among the cast of characters and her presence, while not hostile, creates among the characters a persistent discomfort and discontent. The reader of “Beloved" by Toni Morrison realizes just how profound is the impact that Beloved has upon Sethe and her family when Beloved, or the notion of her, is introduced early in the novel and, as stated early in one of the important quotes from “Beloved” by Toni Morrison, “‘We have a ghost in here," the reader is told. “Not evil….But not sad either’" (13). “‘What then?’" asks one character, trying to understand precisely what kind of presence Beloved constitutes and what impact she might have on the characters. “‘Rebuked. Lonely and rebuked,’" and “‘Mad, maybe….’" (13). In other words, it is only through a retroactive character analysis of Beloved in the novel by Toni Morrison or, in other words, reading back after the first time through the novel, that a full presentation of her character becomes clear.
As the reader learns more about Beloved’s history in this novel by Toni Morrison, and specifically, the fact that she was killed at the hands of her own mother, he or she begins to understand how Beloved’s ghost can convey such a wide range of feelings and how the psychological burden that everyone carries with respect to Beloved’s presence is a heavy one. The ghost represents far more than Beloved herself; Beloved is a symbol for all of the victims of slavery. Although Beloved’s story is particularly gruesome and it is the locus around which the plot of the novel is developed, Beloved’s character is intended to keep fresh the stories and the presence of all slaves and those affected by slavery. Beloved’s mother, Sethe, made the “rough choice" to kill her own child because she did not want Beloved to grow up within the cruel system of slavery.
It is also important to note as a part of a character analysis of Beloved in the novel by Toni Morrison that at this point, she knew that Beloved would never be able to determine her own destiny within that system, and rather than subject her to a lifetime of suffering, Sethe decided to end Beloved’s life. While this part of the story of Beloved by Toni Morrison is among the most difficult slavery stories to hear because it involves the excruciating and inexplicably painful decision of a mother and the death of her child, its dramatic power serves to emphasize the difficult choices and losses of all African Americans who were trapped within that system, their autonomy and decision-making power not simply limited, but non-existent.