In 1807 the British Parliament passed a bill prohibiting the slave trade; in January the following year the United States followed suit by outlawing the importation of slaves. However, neither of these acts worked to curtail the slave trade within the nation’s borders, but only ended the overseas commerce in slaves.
Conditions aboard the slave ships were dismal. Men, women and children were crammed into every available space, denied adequate room, food or breathing space. The stench was appalling, and the atmosphere inhumane to say the least. John Newton, a slave trade captain, described the living quarters thusly:
“Their lodging-rooms below the deck, which are three (for the men, the boys, and the women) besides a place for the sick, are sometimes more than five feet high, and sometimes less; and this height is divided towards the middle, for the slaves lie in two rows, one above the other, on each side of the ship, close to each other, like books upon a shelf. I have known them so close, that the shelf wouldnot, easily, contain one more.”
When looking at Beloved, there is evidence to support the notion that the adult-Beloved was a passenger on one of these slave ships. Although she gives little information about her past, there are instances in which she illustrates scenes that parallel Newton’s description.
In relation to this first image, Beloved describes twice a scene with similar imagery:
‘[It’s] dark […] I’m in that small place. I’m like this here.’ She raised her head off the bead, lay down on her side and curled up.
Denver covered her lips with her fingers. ‘Were you cold?’
Beloved curled tighter and shook her head. ‘Hot. Nothing to breathe down there and no room to move in.’
‘You see anybody?’
‘Heaps. A lot of people is down there. Some is dead.'(Morrison 90).
There is also the scene within the tool shed, which even Denver admits that it reminds her of the hull of a ship. As for Beloved, she is quoted saying that she can see herself laying in the fetal position laying in the corner.
There is also the instances where Beloved relates to Sethe the memories she has of a woman that she claims is Sethe herself, who was forced, along with others into the river. According to the first-hand account of Reverend Robert Walsh, he claims, “they [the slavers] had thrown overboard no less than fifty-five [slaves], who had died of dysentery and other complaints in that space of time.”
Using these historical, eye witness accounts, it can be inferred that Beloved is, in fact, not the reincarnation of Sethe’s murdered infant. While there are other characteristics of magical realism within the text, Beloved’s origins are predominantly bound in reality. Even Stamp Paid admits, “[there] was a girl locked up in the house with a whiteman over in Deer Creek. Found him dead […] and the girl gone” (Morrison 270). It can be inferred that this girl is, in fact, Beloved.