One thing that stands out in Toni Morrison’s Beloved is the use of comparison between almost every element of the narrative. Sethe is compared to Beloved, who is compared to Denver, who is compared to Sethe, in a seemingly endless cycle. Not only characters, but overarching themes like life and loss, love and hate, black and white are all juxtaposed in Morrison’s novel. Needless to say, Morrison did not undervalue the effectiveness of likening her novel’s components to one another. Traditionally in creative writing, the metaphor is considered the strongest way to compare two dissimilar things, as it omits the words “like” and “as.” However, from this reader’s take on the final pages of the novel, Morrison conveys the strongest sense of haunting through her careful use of simile, and it is precisely the inclusion of the word “like” that drives each comparison home.
The closing pages of the novel are most likely from the perspective of Beloved, but in a very spectral way. It is almost the disembodied memory of whatever Beloved had been. While describing the immense loneliness felt by this being, Morrison writes, “It’s an inside kind — wrapped tight like skin” (323). The use of simile highlights its advantages over the metaphor in this case. Had Morrison described the loneliness as “skin-tight” rather than “tight like skin” the image would not be as evocative of haunting. The former is reminiscent of clothing, but nothing more. The latter conjures images of the delicate ways skin is warped over human bone and muscle.
The other powerful simile in this section comes when Beloved describes how she was put out of mind. “They forgot her like a bad dream,” and “So they forgot her. Like an unpleasant dream during a troubling sleep” (323-4). Here simile is used to convey the way Beloved was forced from the family’s memory. We’ve all had nightmares we never let ourselves think about again, because they were just that upsetting. Morrison paints Beloved as that nightmare both to express the ways the family will move on from her, but also to make the reader question how real she ever was.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York, Vintage Books, 2004.