One of the major themes throughout Beloved is the loss of identity suffered by the characters. Obviously this loss of identity was due to the institution of slavery which was widely practiced within the setting of Beloved. Though it is not difficult to imagine how truly horrible being a slave must have been, it can be difficult to understand the post-slavery effects suffered by the slaves, once they were freed.
Logic dictates that a slave being freed would rejoice and walk tall. However, under the surface, is the freed slave really free? Free from the chains and the whip of his former master, yes. But free from the memories? No.
Think about a Holocaust survivor. When they were liberated in 1945, they could not simply pick up their lives and just start going back to work. Many of the survivors had no family left, and if they were lucky enough to be reunited with family, it was rarely with the entire family. It was impossible for a survivor to just pick things up right where they left off and head home.
Now imagine how a freed slave must have felt, being freed into the world, some of them having to leave their families behind forever. Many of the slaves that were freed came from families that had served as slaves for generations, so now released from duty, these former-slaves suddenly found themselves homeless in a country that still half resented them.
On top of this constant memory shackle, the bearer must also keep alive the memory of those horrible times from their lives. Holocaust survivor and author of Night, Elie Wiesel, wrote,
“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time,” (Night).
which goes in-hand with what Amy said to Sethe in Beloved:
“Anything dead coming back to life hurts,” (Morrison Ch 3).
These characters, and of course, the people who lived through the actual events, must come to terms that the only way to escape the pain of their past is to never forget what they lived through and to not fear it any longer.