Her name she said, was Beloved. Slowly, she wormed her way into the lives of the residents of 124 until she was considered a resident herself. Only Paul D was suspicious of her and felt uncomfortable around her. With Beloved's arrival, Sethe in particular started having her memories resurface. All of her past life from slavery to freedom. Some good and some bad, but mostly bad. One in particular was the day she took her baby's life in a shed shrouded by trees. Throughout the story, Morrison alludes to the possibility of Beloved being a reincarnation of the baby Sethe thought was long dead. There are little signs that support this theory such as Beloved asking about Sethe's earrings or humming a song the Sethe only hummed to her dead daughter. The real question is what is Beloved's purpose in the book?
Many theories are being tossed around about the real reason Beloved makes an appearance at 124, and all of them have multiple instances to support it. If Beloved truly was Sethe's dead daughter, what did she do to influence Sethe? Was she there for revenge? Want? Need? Was Beloved destined to reemerge and alter Sethe's life, reminding her of the past she thought was done for? If Beloved never appeared before Sethe, would Sethe have ever thought to face all those demons? I think in some way, Beloved was supposed to bring some closure to Sethe and her family by letting her know how her decision impacted her daughter. And in a way, she brought the members living in 124 closer to each other and the community by forcing them to relive and come to terms with their past.
However, there was a passage in the last few pages that made me pause and rethink about who Beloved really was: "Down by the stream in back of 124 her footprints come and go, come and go. They are so familiar. Should a child, an adult place his feet in them, they will fit" (Morrison, 324). In this small snippet Beloved seems to be more of a symbol of slavery and the hard times that come with it because the fact that everyone can fit into her footprints makes her relatable to more people than just Sethe, Denver, and Paul D. Her journey can be traced by all people who try and find it. So maybe, in fact, Beloved was not destined to be the reincarnation of Sethe's long lost child. Perhaps she is just a lost young girl that reminded Sethe of her daughter, but really ended up there on pure coincidence.
I don't think anyone could ever be sure exactly who or what Beloved is. Not even Toni Morrison, the author, is willing to share her thoughts about Beloved. She could be both a symbol and a reminder. Or just a symbol. Or just a ghost. What's great about Beloved is that even though you feel like you have started to figure her out, she can be something completely different. Her purpose is up to interpretation, but one thing for sure is that she forced the characters to drudge up their past and in a sense, brought them and their community closer together when all was said and done.