Toni Morrison’s Beloved may as well be renamed Adversity because adversity, much like the title character, haunts every single crack and crevice. No character or setting is exempt from turmoil, and there seems to be no end to vicious cycles plaguing the two main characters: Denver and Sethe. That is where the similarities stop. Despite both women confronting the same challenge, the vengeful Beloved, one woman succeeds and the other fails. Denver, in the face of adversity, thrives. She becomes a working class individual with real aspirations and dreams; college being one of them. Sethe, however, crumbles and withers away when dealt with disaster. She allows her life force to be taken away from her and is reduced to a shadow of what she used to be. The glaring question in this is why does the young Denver prosper, while her older much more experienced mother whither away? Denver blossoms when facing the challenge because she decides to take initiative and be proactive, while her mother remains passive towards Beloved.
Much of Denver’s triumph against the forces of adversity can be attributed to a burst in initiative and her ravenous gung ho spirit. Seeing the writing on the wall, Denver must leave the house. Abandoning her reclusive ways in a last ditch effort to save her mother, Denver shyly and hesitantly prepares to take her first steps, “She stood on the porch of 124 ready to be swallowed up in the world beyond the edge of the porch,” (Morrison 286). Although extremely uncomfortable and new, Denver moves past her comfort zone and into a realm of growth. Symbolically, Denver represents a post-slavery America stepping into the great unknown, emerging from the shadow of adversity. And, as it turns out, both parties are better off because they took an initiative and became proactive. A major part of adversity is shifting from neutral to drive. There is something dangerous about staying put. Denver does amazing things when faced with certain adversity because, to her, the “world beyond the edge of the porch,” is the only chance she has to save her mother.
On the other hand, Sethe deteriorates in the face of adversity because she remains stagnant and indifferent. Obeying seemingly every command dictated by Beloved, Sethe fails to break away from her ghostly daugher. She puts Beloved before her in almost every phase of her life and never once takes a stand against her. This creates an aura of passiveness about her. It is this habitual apathy that becomes the root cause of Sethe’s degradation. And in the end, Sethe becomes a shriveled shadow of her former self: “He is thinking about her wrought iron back… The mean black eyes,” (322). Where Denver represents the positive future of post-slavery America, Sethe embodies the flip side of that coin. She is the negativity and bitterness of a nation still divided. She cannot seem to let go of her past no matter how hard she tries, so much so that she just becomes docile in her own standing. Part of achieving despite the challenges that present themselves is to become enthused and energetic. Sethe, however, fails to do this and pays dearly.
The dichotomy presented with Sethe and Denver is fascinating. They are two separate generations dealing with a similar problem much bigger than a hostile spirit. That issue being dealing with the past, while moving towards the future. Winning in the face of certain doom is somewhat a similar motion. There is a level of exorcism of demons that needs to take place for one to conquer misery, a sort of burning the bridges of the past and building new ones towards the future. Because “Even if you fall on your face, you’re still moving forward,” -Victor Kiam.