When I first started reading Beloved, something really threw me about it. Other than the haunted house and its demonic baby ghost, of course. After getting a few chapters in, I realized that, despite how terrible and strange the things the main characters are going through are, in the early stages of the book, they’re pretty nonchalant about it all.
“’My sister,’ said Denver. ‘She died in this house.’
Paul D scratched the hair under his jaw. ‘Reminds me of that headless bride back behind Sweet Home. Remember that, Sethe? Used to roam them woods regular.’
’How could I forget? Worrisome.’” (pg 16, Beloved)
Worrisome? A headless ghost bride roaming around the place where you eat and sleep and live is ‘worrisome’? They’re talking about their house-haunting ghost baby in the same way other families talk to each other about their day. They treat horrible things as if they’re commonplace because they are.
Now, as we read The Color Purple, I notice that the characters, although they don’t have literal ghosts to deal with, are still far less laid back about things. However, Celie, our narrator, has dealt with so many terrible things throughout her life that she also treats horrible things as if they’re commonplace.
“I think bout this when Harpo ast me what he ought to do to make her mind. I don’t mention how happy he is now. How three years pass and he still whistle and sing. I think bout how every time I jump when Mr. ____ call me, she look surprise. And like she pity me.
Beat her. I say.” (pg 36, The Color Purple)
Granted, her definition of commonplace isn’t ‘dead baby’ so much as ‘husbands beating their wives’. But this comparison made something clear to me. The way the characters react to the haunting of the house in Beloved is the same way Celie reacts to intense sexism and racism. Celie’s internalized misogyny parallels Sethe and her family’s internalized ‘lack-of-fear-of-dead-baby-ghosts’. There’s probably a word for that.
The point is that the haunting in Beloved not only represents Sethe’s own personal haunting about killing her child, but also represents her own feelings and disconnect from the rest of the world. When that parallel became clear to me, it made Celie’s initial lack of empathy towards Sofia even more unsettling.