Color has such beautiful meanings in all sorts of literature, and each color has come to be its own archetype. Blue represents calmness, water, and peace; yellow, happiness and sunshine; green, new life and hope; red, passion and love. But in Beloved the colors often take on their own meanings. They hold so much symbolism and intricacy in the plot. The significance they play in the novel is confusing at times yet contains great depth. Two of the most prominent colors that stick out in the novel is black and white.
Slavery takes all the color out of life, except black and white. At least that’s what I thought at first. When I read the book, I pictured everything in black in white. Slavery takes the color out of life, all except for these two colors: black and white. The color of skin determined your freedom of lack of it. There was a right, and there was a wrong. Slaves were the property of their masters-simple as black and white. Maybe slavery doesn’t take the color out of life though. Maybe it just renders the victim unable to see color and leaving only black and white. Life as a slave is so oppressive, so painful, so degrading that the slaves cannot see the joy and beauty of color in the world. This could be why Baby Suggs retreats to dwelling on colors while Sethe forgets color. Does Sethe choose to block color from her mind because of the painful memories it evokes?
When I read through Beloved, Morrison does stray from only black and white and introduces us a whole spectrum of colors. Looking for color quotes, not only did I find that Morrison uses many colors of the rainbow including red, green, white, blue, yellow, and pink, as strong symbols, but she even describes color without using color words. When she describes Halle smearing “creamy butter” on his face, we can see the yellow tones of it. We can see the harsh grey of the “iron bit” in Paul D’s, the rich black of blackberries, the pure white of the falling snow, and the vivid orange of the fire licking Sixo’s skin. We can see all this images because of painting Morrison does with her words.
I find the use of each color fascinating in Beloved. Color is very important. It is vivid. It’s as if it becomes tangible. Red is the most significant and most common color. Instead of representing love, red represents pain, death, oppression, and pain. Morrison gives us so much evidence to support the painful use of red: the baby’s blood, the rooster’s red comb, the red light occupying 124, Sixo’s tounge, the carmine velvet, Paul D’s read heart, the chokecherry tree, the blood red bird Beloved sees, the red ribbon Stamp Paid finds, red gums of the “savage blacks” in the white jungle. “Sixo […] Indigo with a flame of red tongue, […]” (20). “Yeah he was hateful all right. Bloody too, and evil. Crooked feet flapping. Comb as big as my hand and some kind of red.” (68). “He would keep the rest where it belonged: in that tobacco tin buried in his chest where a red heart used to be.” (68) Those are just a few of the quotes showing Morrison’s use of red in her novel. One of the very significant uses of red is the mentioning of it when Stamp Paid finds a red ribbon attached to a piece of scalp. “He tugged and what came loose in his hand was a read ribbon knotted around a curl of wet woolly hair, clinging still to its bit of scalp. […] He kept the ribbon; the skin smell nagged him, and his weakened morrow made him dwell on Baby Suggs’ wish to consider what in the world was harmless. He hoped she stuck to blue, yellow, maybe green, and never fixed on red.” (172) This image of a red ribbon is so horrible and leads us to picture the death of the little girl to which the ribbon belonged. If this is what red represented, I see why Stamp Paid did not want Baby Suggs to dwell on it. In this book, red is the pumping, hot blood shed by thousands of slaves, a painful memory, a hot thing. Sethe goes through the same experience with red. “It was as though one day she saw red baby blood, another day the pink gravestone chips, and that was the last of it.” (37) The pain of the mocking rooster, the pain of the tree of scars: both made the color red too painful to contemplate.
Other colors cannot be forgotten. Pink is merely a lighter tone of red, used to describe the headstone of a baby. “Pink as a fingernail it was, and sprinkled with glittering chips” (5) Maybe the headstone was pink because that’s the color associated with baby girls, or maybe because that’s as close to red as Sethe was able to grasp. White is used as another archetypal color in the book. It is a symbol of cleanliness, purity, innocence, and relief. The white staircase was always described as ascending, never descending. I think that it may represent the stairway to heaven given its color and the fact that the baby ghost can be heard crawling up them. There is the white knot tied on a pole to let John and Ella know a child is waiting for them (85) Blue is a color that has some connections with white in that they both can sometimes be considered “safe” colors. Blue comes up in the book through water as well as the blue wallpaper. Green is another color that appears in the book in the form of the emerald closet and leaves. Yellow can be in placed in the same “safe” category as the previous colors and it appears in the form of flowers as well as the fields. “Blue. That don’t hurt nobody. Yellow neither.” (170) The colors we think of as calm, cool, and relaxed are safe. Move into orange or red and those symbolize pain and suffering.
Color is not the only archetype that Morrison incorporates into Beloved. Trees also have strong archetypal ties to the novel. Trees symbolize growth, life, beauty, strength, and protection. For example, Denver’s emerald closet, “In the woods, between the field and the stream, hidden by post oaks, five boxwood bushes, planted in a ring, had started stretching toward each other four feet off the ground to form a round empty room seven feet high, its walls fifty inches of murmuring leaves […] veiled and protected by the live green walls, she felt ripe and clear, and salvation was as easy as a wish.” (27-28) Denver’s safe place in the woods not only offers her protection and comfort, but is described as beautiful as well. Another tree that follows this common archetype is Brother- “old, wide and beckoning.” (211) Paul D and his “brothers” say in his shade on Sweet Home, comforted by his protection and strength. The clearing is another place where this archetype appears. The trees offer protection to the followers and they are able to take refuge in them. The last use of an archetypal tree is the one that is on Sethe’s back. “It’s a tree Lu. A chokecherry tree. See- here’s the trunk- its red and split wide open, full of sap, and this here’s the parting for the branches. You got a mighty lot of branches. Leaves too, look like, and dern if these ain’t blossoms. Tiny little cherry blossoms, just as white.” (74) Defined, the chokecherry tree is a small tree or shrub that grows thick and dense in poor soil and is most commonly found in Ohio. It grows delicious berries, however they are often avoided by humans because of their name. Why does Morrison choose a chokecherry tree? I think it is because it helps to envision the extent of Sethe’s pain- thick, dense branches with a multitude of berries. Maybe its to show that for slaves, beautiful images such as trees come to take on a more painful meaning.