By Toni Morrison
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Point of View
Plot Summary
Figures of Speech
Study Questions
Essay Topics
Biography of Morrison
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2010
Type of Work and Publication

.......Beloved is a novel centering primarily on the psychological scars that slavery leaves on blacks during and after their bondage. The book contains elements of the historical and Gothic genres. Alfred A. Knopf published the novel in New York in 1987. The winner of a 1988 Pulitzer Prize, Beloved has received acclaim as one of the better books of the last two decades of the twentieth century. 


.......The action begins in 1873 just outside Cincinnati, Ohio. Frequent flashbacks tell of life for slaves at a farm in Kentucky. Brief episodes of the novel involving Paul D, one of the major characters, take place in Alabama, Tennessee. Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Delaware.


.......The quotation preceding the novel begins with the words of Morrison ("Sixty million and more") and finishes with a verse from the King James version of the New Testament of the Bible. The verse (Romans 9:25) is the King James translation of words spoken by St. Paul when he paraphrased a passage from the Old Testament (Hosea 2:23). What the epigraph says, in effect, is that God loves everyone, including all the abducted Africans sold into slavery and all the descendants of those Africans. Here is the epigraph:

Sixty million
and more
I will call them my people,
which were not my people;
and her beloved,
which was not beloved.

.......Toni Morrison derived inspiration for her novel from a true story about Margaret Garner, a slave. In January 1856, she and her husband, Robert, escaped from a Kentucky plantation with their children and other slaves, crossed the frozen Ohio River, and safely reached the home of a former slave living near Cincinnati, Ohio. While the Garners were making plans to go farther north, slave catchers tracked them to the home to arrest them. Mrs. Garner then decided to kill herself and her four children. But she succeeded only in killing her two-year-old and wounding the other children. After a sensational trial, authorities returned Mr. and Mrs. Garner and one of their children to slavery in the South.


Sethe Suggs: Former slave, age 38 at the beginning of the novel in 1873. While in bondage at Sweet Home farm in Kentucky years before, she endures the brutality of a cruel overseer and his nephews. After she escapes and makes her way to freedom in a community on the outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio, her Kentucky taskmaster tracks down her and her children. However, he turns around and leaves without his quarry after Sethe commits an unspeakable act to save her children from a life of slavery. 
Lu: Name Sethe uses when she runs away out of fear that giving her real name might work against her.
Beloved: Sethe's first daughter, born in 1854. She dies in 1855 and many years later haunts Sethe's home. 
Denver Suggs: Sethe's second daughter, born in 1855. Sethe was pregnant with her when she escaped from the Kentucky farm.
Howard and Buglar Suggs: Sons of Sethe and Halle. When they are adolescents, Howard (born in 1850) and Buglar (born in 1851) run away from home to escape the ghost of their little sister.
Halle Suggs: Sethe's husband. He loses his mind after witnessing an assault on Sethe.
Baby Suggs: Mother of Halle and mother-in-law of Sethe. She was born in 1795 or 1796. While she is at Sweet Home, Halle earns her freedom by doing extra work. Afterward, she takes up residence outside Cincinnati before the arrival of Sethe and Denver. Baby was a pet name her husband gave her, but Jenny was written on the bill of sale when she was sold to the Sweet Home farm. 
Mr. Garner: Owner of Sweet Home farm. He treats the slaves with a measure of courtesy and even provides them guns to hunt game.
Lillian Garner: Wife of Mr. Garner. Her attitude toward the slaves is the same as her husband's.
Schoolteacher: Cruel overseer who manages Sweet Home after Mr. Garner dies. He is Mrs. Garner's brother-in-law.
Paul D: Slave at Sweet Home farm who is fond of Sethe. He failed in his attempt to escape from the farm. Later, after he was sold, he attempted to kill his new owner and ended up at a prison in Alfred, Georgia, where he worked on a chain gang. One day, he succeeds in escaping and slowly makes his way northward over several years, eventually turning up at Sethe's home near Cincinnati. 
Paul A: Another male slave at Sweet Home. Schoolteacher hangs him.
Sixo: Slave at Sweet Home who impregnates Thirty-Mile woman. She lives thirty miles from Sweet Homehence, her namebut Sixo manages to rendezvous with her. After failing to escape from Sweet Home, his captors set fire to him after tying him to a tree. Defiantly, he shouts the name he has given to his unborn child.
Thirty-Mile Woman (Patsy): Companion of Sixo. They meet near a deserted stone structure once used by Indians. When the Sweet Home slaves make their escape, Sixo is supposed to meet up with Thirty-Mile-Woman. However, he is caught but she gets away. 
Amy Denver: White indentured servant who helps Sethe during the latter's escape. Amy delivers Sethe's baby and nurses the wounds she suffered in a beating before her escape. Sethe names the baby Denver. 
Stamp Paid: Former slave who takes Sethe and her newborn baby across the Ohio River to the free state of Ohio. Later, he helps Sethe and her family in other ways. The narrator explains his unusual name: "Born Joshua, he renamed himself when he [was forced to submit] his wife to his master's son . . . With that gift, he decided that he didn't owe anybody anything. Whatever his obligations were, that act paid them off."
Vashti: Wife of Stamp Paid. When she was a slave, her master forced her to go to bed with him. 
Edward Bodwin: Quaker abolitionist in his seventies who lodges Baby Suggs in a home he owns. In return, she does chores for him.
Miss Bodwin: Edward's sister. She treats Sethe and Denver with kindness.
Janey Wagon: The Bodwins' servant. 
Ella: Woman who assists Sethe when the latter reaches Ohio. She later helps Sethe in many ways. When Ella was a young girl, a white man and his son repeatedly assaulted her sexually while holding her as their prisoner.
John: Husband of Ella.
Ma'am: Sethe's mother, who came to America on a slave ship. Sethe says she was hanged but remembers little else about her.
Nan: Slave who came to America with the mother of Sethe. When Sethe is a baby, Nan breastfeeds her.
Mr. Sawyer: Restaurant owner who employs Sethe.
Judy, Willie Pike, Able Woodruff: Members of the black community near Cincinnati. Before Paul D moves in with Sethe, Stamp Paid suggests that any of them might be willing to lodge Paul.
Scripture Woodruff: Sister of Able Woodruff. She works at a brush and tallow factory.
Lady Jones: Woman who teaches arithmetic and spelling to Denver when she is a child. She and other children each pay a nickel a month for Lady Jones's services.
Nelson Lord: Boy in Lady Jones's class. He asks Denver a question about the woodshed incident (recounted in the plot summary). Embarrassed, Denver never returns to class.
Weaver Lady: Woman in Delaware with whom Paul D stayed before going to Cincinnati.
Mr. Buddy: Amy Denver's master. Amy says he would whip her just for looking at him the wrong way. 
Mrs. Buddy: Mr. Buddy's wife.
Whitlow: Owner of Baby Suggs before she was sold to Mr. Garner's Sweet home farm. 
Reverend Pike: Minister who presides at the burial of Beloved.
Hi Man: Man imprisoned with Paul D in Georgia. One of Hi Man's duties is to alert the other prisoners that the day's work is to begin.
Brandywine: Man who purchased Paul D from Sweet Home.
Joe Nathan: Acquaintance of Amy Denver. He tells her that Mr. Buddy fathered her.
Old Negro woman: Woman who does sewing for Mr. Buddy.
Mother of Amy Denver: Woman who lived in Boston before she was turned over to Mr. Buddy.
Cherokees: Indians who hack off Paul D's chains after he escapes from the Georgia prison.
Patty, Famous, Johnny, Ardelia, Rosa Lee, Tyree, John, Nancy: Baby Suggs's eight children.
Dunn: Purchaser of Baby Suggs's daughter Ardelia.
Seven-O: Sixo's unborn child.
Colored Ladies of Delaware: Women who submit a petition for the release of Sethe when she is in jail.
Maryland Slaves: Four families of slaves that Paul D meets when traveling north through Maryland.
Doctor: Physician who attends Mrs. Garner during her illness.
Aunt Phyllis: Woman whom Sethe says slept with her eyes open. 
Jackson Till: Man whom Sethe says slept under his bed.
Carnival Performers: One-Ton Lady, Midget, Giant, Arabian Nights Dancer, Abu the Snake Charmer, Two-Headed Man, Wild African Savage.
Preacher With Eighteen Children: Previous occupant of 124 Bluestone Street.


.......The main conflicts in the novel pit the protagonist, Sethe, against slavery and its overseers; against the ghost of Beloved, against neighbors who shun her, and against her own inner turmoil. 

Point of View

.......The point of view is third-person omniscient, enabling the narrator to reveal the thoughts of a character in the language he or she would use when speaking, making it seem as if the character has taken over the narration. Sometimes, the narrator presents the freely flowing thoughts (stream of consciousness) of a character. In stream of consciousness, a term coined by American psychologist William James (1842-1910), an author portrays a character’s continuing “stream” of thoughts as they occur, regardless of whether they make sense or whether the next thought in a sequence relates to the previous thought. The narrator frequently presents such thoughts without punctuation marks, as in the following passage from Beloved

In the beginning I could see her I could not help her because the clouds were in the way in the beginning I could see her the shining in her ears she does not like the circle around her neck I know this I look hard at her so she will know that the clouds are in the way I am sure she saw me I am looking at her see me she empties out her eyes I am there in the place where her face is and telling her the noisy clouds were in my way she wants her earrings she wants her round basket I want her face a hot thing in the beginning the women are away from the men and the men are away from the women storms rock us and mix the men into the women and the women into the men that is when I begin to be on the back of the man for a long time I see only his neck and his wide shoulders above me I am small I love him because he has a song when he turned around to die I see the teeth he sang through his singing was soft his singing is of the place where a woman takes flowers away from their leaves and puts them in a round basket 
Plot Summary

.......It is 1873. Sethe Suggs, 38, and her daughter, Denver, 18, live in a two-story house at 124 Bluestone Road in the rural outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio. 
.......Eight years earlier, Sethe's two sons—Howard and Buglar—ran off, no longer able to tolerate the presence of the ghost of their dead baby sister. They left after Howard saw handprints in a cake and Buglar saw a mirror shatter when he was standing before it. Before these incidents, the spiteful phantom had upset the boys in many other ways, dumping a kettleful of chickpeas on the floor, for example, or crumbling soda crackers and spreading them in a line in front of a door. So they had had enough, and they ran off. Shortly after their departure, Sethe's elderly mother-in-law, who had been bedridden with illness, died. 
.......People don't visit Sethe's house because of something She did in 1855 that earned her the disdain of her neighbors. In fact, whenever a wagon passes the house, the driver speeds up his horse. However, one day, a man from Sethe's past—Paul D, a former slave who once worked alongside Sethe—shows up on her porch and eventually moves in as he and Sethe, bit by bit, recall the days of their bondage. Here's is the story of Sethe, the protagonist of the novel.
.......Sethe was born into slavery in the South in 1835 to a woman known only as Ma'am, who came to America from Africa. Sethe knows little about her mother except that she was hanged when Sethe was still a small child. 
.......After being sold to to Sweet Home farm in Kentucky in 1848, Sethe meets a slave named Halle Suggs. He and his mother had worked at the farm since 1835, the year that the owner of Sweet Home, Mr. Garner, purchased them from a Carolina slaveowner. Four other male slaves also work the farm: Paul A, Paul D, Paul F, and Sixo. With the permission of Garner, Halle has been doing extra work outside the farm on Saturdays and Sundays to earn enough money to buy freedom for his mother, called Baby Suggs, who works indoors for Mrs. Garner. (Baby was her nickname. The bill of sale from the Carolina slaveowner, Whitlow, identified her as Jenny. Baby Suggs had given birth to eight children fathered by several men. (Slave owners forced female slaves to mate with male slaves. The offspring of such unions became valuable commodities to be sold at market.) But, she has no knowledge of the whereabouts of any of her children except Halle. They had been sold or they had disappeared for other reasons. The narrator says,

She didn't know to this day what their permanent teeth looked like; or how they held their heads when they walked. Did Patty lose her lisp? What color did Famous' skin finally take? Was that a cleft in Johnny's chin or just a dimple that would disappear soon's his jawbone changed? Four girls, and the last time she saw them there was no hair under their arms. Does Ardelia still love the burned bottom of bread? All seven were gone or dead. 
.......After Baby Suggs gains her freedom at age 60, Mr. Garner takes her to Cincinnati and turns her over to abolitionists, Edward Bodwin and his sister. They lodge her at the house on Bluestone Road. In return, she performs various chores for them, such as cleaning, canning food, making and repairing shoes, and working as a seamstress. She also becomes “an unchurched preacher, one who visited pulpits and opened her great heart to those who could use it," the narrator says. "In winter and fall she carried it to 
AME's and Baptists, Holinesses and Sanctifieds, the Church of the Redeemer and the Redeemed. Uncalled, unrobed, unanointed, she let her great heart beat in their presence.” 
.......Halle's concern for his mother impresses Sethe. Although Paul D wants her, it is Halle who gets her. In 1849, she and Halle marry. Mrs. Garner gives her a set of earrings as a wedding present. 
.......Howard is born in 1850 and Buglar in 1851. Two years later, Mr. Garner dies of “a hole in his ear that Mrs. Garner said was an exploded ear drum brought on by stroke,” the narration says. And Mrs. Garner herself has “a lump in her neck the size of a sweet potato and unable to speak to anyone.” Because she cannot manage Sweet Home and because she does not want to be the only white person on the farm, she hires the husband of her late sister to run the operation. With him are two nephews who call him “Onka.” He is not at all like Mr. Garner, who treated the slaves “like paid labor, listening to what they said, teaching what they wanted known.” Instead, the new man—whom the slaves refer to as schoolteacher—treats them cruelly and writes down his observations of them as if they were laboratory animals. What is more, he no longer allows Halle to do extra work. (Halle had hoped to earn money to buy freedom for Sethe and the children.) Mrs. Garner is in no condition to intervene. 
.......In 1854, Sethe bears her third child. 
.......Meanwhile, life for the slaves under schoolteacher and his nephews becomes unbearable. A constant worry for Halle and Sethe is that schoolteacher will eventually sell their children. So Halle and Sethe decide to join other slaves planning to escape. Sixo broaches the idea to Halle. Sixo loves a woman thirty miles away (he calls her Thirty-Mile woman, although her name is Patsy) and sometimes sneaks off to meet with her. One day, she tells him that two slaves at her location are going to lead seven other slaves during an escape northward. The two slaves leading the caravan know the terrain. She invites Sixo and the other slaves at Sweet Home to join them. Paul F will not be among them, for he has been sold. 
.......When the slaves are ready to make their break for the north, Sethe is six months pregnant but remains determined to escape. However, Halle does not appear at the place where she is supposed to meet him. Sethe decides to hang back to wait for him but sends her little ones—Howard, Buglar, and the baby—with a woman driving a wagonload of slaves. 
.......But the Sweet Home slaves do not get very far. Paul A ends up at the end of a rope. And when Sixo's captors hold a rifle on him, he defiantly charges and grasps it. His pursuers subdue him, tie him to a tree, and set him on fire. When Sixo shouts out the name of the unborn child he fathered with Thirty-Mile woman, his tormentors shoot him. Paul D is taken back to sweet home and shackled. 
.......Then, in a barn, schoolteacher's frenzied nephews hurl themselves upon Sethe and suck milk from her breasts. Halle, who is hidden in the barn, witnesses the assault but is unable to intervene. Later, Sethe tells Mrs. Garner about the assault. But after schoolteacher's nephews find out that Sethe told Mrs. Garner what they did  to her, they beat her so severely that she bites off the tip of her tongue.
.......But even after all the physical and mental trauma she has suffered, Sethe is firm in her resolve to escape. When schoolteacher and the others are paying little attention to her, believing that in her condition she does not need to be watched, Sethe runs off.
.......Remarkably, she makes it all the way to the Ohio River. If she can cross it, she will be a free woman in the free state of Ohio. But she is in a sorry state. Not only is she worn out and very sore, she is also about to give birth. Fortunately, another escapeea white woman who was laboring as an indentured servantcomes upon her. Her name is Amy Denver. She nurses her injuries and attends her while she is delivering her baby, which she names Denver. Then Sethe receives more help, this time from a from a member of the Underground Railroad. His name is Stamp Paid. He takes Sethe across the river to freedom. A woman named Ella is waiting on the other side with a wool blanket, baked sweet potatoes, and a jacket. When Sethe informs her of her destination, Ella takes her there.
.......After arriving with her newborn at the home of her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, the latter welcomes her warmly, and Sethe reunites with her other children. She spends several happy weeks there. Then the past catches up with her in the form of schoolteacher. With him are a sheriff, one nephew, and a slave tracker. When Sethe sees schoolteacher coming, she hurries with her children to a woodshed on the property. There, she plans to kill the children so that they will not grow up in slavery. She will then kill herself. First, she decapitates the baby with a hand saw. Then she turns the saw on the boys but succeeds only in cutting them. By this time, Stamp Paid has arrived on the scene and he stops her.
.......When schoolteacher enters, he sees Sethe holding the dead baby to her breast with one hand. With the other, she is swinging Denver by the heels, attempting to dash her head against a wall. Schoolteacher decides not to take her or the boys with him. They are no good to him anymore. Here are his thoughts:
Enough nigger eyes for now. Little nigger-boy eyes open in sawdust; little nigger-girl eyes staring between the wet fingers that held her face so her head wouldn't fall off; little nigger-baby eyes crinkling up to cry in the arms of the old nigger [Stamp Paid] whose own eyes were nothing but slivers looking down at his feet. But the worst ones were those of the nigger woman who looked like she didn't have any. Since the whites in them had disappeared and since they were as black as her skin, she looked blind.
.......While Baby Suggs tends to the boys' injuries, the sheriff takes Sethe to jail in a cart, past a crowd of Negroes who had gathered outside. However, Mr. Bodwin pleads with a judge on her behalf, as do Negro women from Delaware and Ohio who sign petitions. A newspaper reporter covers her story, and two white ministers come around to pray for her. Eventually, the sheriff releases her to attend the burial of her child, and three months later “they let me out for good,” she says. Edward Bodwin recalls that he and his abolitionist friends "managed to turn infanticide and the cry of savagery around, and build a further case for abolishing slavery."
.......The whole affair greatly disturbs Baby Suggs, and her health begins to decline. Meanwhile, the black community snubs Sethe. 
.......Eighteen years pass as Sethe continues to live at 124 Bluestone Road with the children and the painful memories of the past. She works as a cook at Sawyer's Restaurant, where she earns $3.40 a week. She also gets dinner on the job and dinner to take home. A constant presence in her house is the ghost that caused Howard and Buglar to run away. 
.......One day, one of the former slaves from Sweet Home, Paul D, comes to visit her. After he last saw Sethe, schoolteacher sold him to a man called Brandywine. Because he attempted to kill Brandywine, he was sentenced to a prison at Alfred, Georgia, to serve on a chain gang. During heavy rains over several days, he escaped, along with other prisoners. The fugitives ran into Cherokee Indians hiding in the forest to avoid government-ordered resettlement. The Indians used their axes to free the runaways from their chains. When Paul asked one of the Indians for directions northward, the Indian told him, “Follow the tree flowers.” And so, during the spring and summer seasons over many years, Paul followed the flowers. However, before reaching the north, he served duty in the Civil War with other blacks. After meeting up with two soldiers in AlabamaPrivate Keane and Sergeant Rossiter of the Massachusetts 54thhe joined them on a skiff that they took out into Mobile Bay, an inlet of the Gulf of Mexico. They then hailed a Union gunboat, which took the men northward. Eventually Paul ends up in Wheeling, West Virginia. From there, he goes to New Jersey and to Delaware. He stayed in Delaware for eighteen months with a weaver lady, then moved on again and eventually made it to Ohio.
.......Paul was one of Sethe's admirers at Sweet Home. After he arrives at her home outside Cincinnati, he and Sethe eventually become intimate. One day, the ghost makes its presence known. 
.......“The floorboards were [shaking] and the grinding, shoving floor was only part of it,” the narrator says. “The house itself was pitching.” 
.......Paul fights back. The narration says, 
"Leave the place alone! Get the hell out!" A table rushed toward him and he grabbed its leg. Somehow he managed to stand at an angle and, holding the table by two legs, he bashed it about, wrecking everything, screaming back at the screaming house. "You want to fight, come on! 
.......The spirit leaves the house. Its disappearance displeases Denver, for she has no friends. Because of the woodshed incidentwhich Paul does not yet know aboutthe neighbors shun the family. 
.......When returning home from a carnival one day, Paul and Sethe find a young woman waiting for them in the front of the house. She calls herself Beloved. (On the headstone of  Sethe's baby appeared the words Dearly Beloved.) The young lady is very tired and so thirsty that she drinks down four cups of water from a tin cup. Sethe and Paul think she is ill, so they allow her to sleep in Baby Suggs's bed. For four days, she sleeps off and on in the bed. Denver eagerly attends to her needs. Finally, she seems to come around after Denver gives her a piece of sweet bread. It seems she likes anything sweet: honey, molasses, taffy, lemonade, desserts. Paul eventually becomes suspicious of the girl and says, "You just gonna feed her? From now on?" Sethe says, “"Denver likes her. She's no real trouble. I thought we'd wait till her breath was better. She still sounds a little lumbar to me."
.......Paul says there is “something funny” about her.
.......After Beloved becomes part of their life, the narrative reveals that she seems to be the reincarnation of Sethe's dead child. In other words, the baby ghost that Paul chased away has returned as a grownup. But her behavior remains similar to a child's. Her goal is to torment Sethe for killing her, as Denver seems to realize. The narrator says, "Denver thought she understood the connection between her mother and Beloved: Sethe was trying to make up for the handsaw; Beloved was making her pay for it." 
.......Janey Wagon, the Bodwins' servant, finds out that Sethe's dead daughter has come back to haunt her and spreads the news. As the story makes the rounds, the tellers exaggerate the details. They say that "Sethe was worn down, speckled, dying, spinning, changing shapes and generally bedeviled. That this daughter beat her, tied her to the bed and pulled out all her hair."
.......Although Denver likes Beloved,  Paul grows to despise her. The ghost plays games with him and even seduces him in an apparent attempt to drive him away from Sethe. 
.......One day, Paul finds out what Sethe did on that fateful day in the woodshed. Stamp Paid makes excuses for her saying, "She ain't crazy. She love those children. She was trying to out hurt the hurter."
.......But when Paul sees Sethe, he says, "What you did was wrong, Sethe. There could have been a way. Some other way."
......."What way?" Sethe asks.
......."You got two feet, Sethe, not four," he said, and right then a forest sprang up between them; trackless and quiet.
.......Then he leaves. At night, he sleeps in a church.
.......Beloved then dogs Sethe, who eventually begins to lose her grip on her sanity. Denver gets help from Ella, a neighbor, and other women. Thirty women in all parade down the street to Sethe's house. Grouping together outside, most of them knelt down and began praying. "Hear me. Hear me. Do it, Maker, do it," they said. When they start to sing, Sethe, who had been chipping ice, comes to the door with Beloved. The ice pick is still in Sethe's hand. When the women see Beloved, they think, "The devil-child was clever . . . and beautiful. It had taken the shape of a pregnant woman, naked and smiling in the heat of the afternoon sun." 
Sethe runs out of the out of the house toward a figure approaching in a buggy. It is Edward Bodwin, who has come to take Denver to work. Sethe mistakes him for schoolteacher and attack him with the ice pick. She manages only to cut him before she is subdued.
Meanwhile, thanks to the efforts of the neighborhood women, the ghost has left the house. 
.......Paul D reunites with Sethe. With Denver, they begin to face up to the past while hoping for a brighter future. The narrator says, 
So they forgot [Beloved]. Like an unpleasant dream during a troubling sleep. Occasionally, however, the rustle of a skirt hushes when they wake, and the knuckles brushing a cheek in sleep seem to belong to the sleeper. Sometimes the photograph of a close friend or relative—looked at too long—shifts, and something more familiar than the dear face itself moves there. They can touch it if they like, but don't, because they know things will never be the same if they do.



.......The climax occurs when thirty neighborhood women pray and sing outside Sethe's house on Bluestone Street and drive out the ghost. Their action provides Sethe the wherewithal to begin anew without the nagging guilt that caused her to focus continually on the past. It also reunites her with the community, healing the division that separated her from them. 


The Haunting Aftermath of Slavery

.......The theme of Beloved is the continual intrusion of a nightmarish past on the present life of Sethe Suggs, a former slave.  When the Kentucky overseer steps out of the past to return her to slavery, she kills her own baby so it will not have to grow up in the yoke of white men. Later, when the court releases her from jail, the past appears as the ghost of her baby and then in the flesh of a young woman. The spirit scourges her soul, her conscience, just as her taskmasters scourged her body. The story ends with a glimmer of hope that Sethe will learn to live in the present and look forward to the future.


.......Slavery not only isolated blacks from society; it also separated them from family members and friends. For example, of the eight children whom Baby Suggs bore, seven were taken away from her. The only child she really knows is Halle. But after he buys his mother her freedom and sends her to Ohio, she never sees him again.
.......Sethe grew up without her mother, Ma'am, who was hanged. When Sethe escapes from Sweet Home, her husband disappears, and she never sees him again. When schoolteacher comes to reclaim her, she kills her baby so it will not have to grow up in bondage. After her release from jail, the community ostracizes her; she and her family receive no visitors. Then, after the ghost of the baby haunts her household, her two adolescent boys run off. All of these happenings upset her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, and her health declines. While bedridden, she laments the absence of her two grandsons: "She couldn't get interested in leaving life or living it, let alone the fright of two creeping-off boys," the narrator says. 
.......Sixo is isolated from the woman he lovesexcept for brief assignations with herand dies tied to a tree while shouting the name of his unborn child.
.......Two years before Paul D attempts to escape from Sweet Home with other slaves, his half-brother Paul F is sold. Then, during the escape attempt, Paul D's other half-brother, Paul A, is caught and hanged. After Paul D himself is sold, he attempts to kill his new owner, Brandywine, and ends up at a Georgia prison on a chain gang. After Paul D escapes, he makes his way northward, alone, and eventually finds Sethe. But the ghost of the babynow taking the form of a young womantries to separate him and Sethe. It succeeds for a while. Meanwhile, the narrator says, "Denver was lonely. All that leaving: first her brothers, then her grandmotherserious losses since there were no children willing to circle her in a game or hang by their knees from her porch railing."

Loss of Identity

.......Historically, many slaves had no knowledge of their country of origin and no knowledge of their family history. Some of them did not even have a last name. In Beloved, Paul D, Paul A, and Paul F have no last name until they receive the surname of the owner of Sweet Home, Garner. Before Sethe married Halley Suggs, she had no last name. All she knew was that her mother's name was Ma'am. Her third child dies nameless. Only after her death does she receive the name Beloved.
.......Because slaves had no citizenship, they had no national identity. Because their owners sold them from time to time, slaves had no geographical identityno place that they could call home.


.......All the slaves in Beloved suffer the humiliation of being treated as less than human. Their overseers beat them like animals and regard them as commodities to be bought and sold at auction. Recalling the day when he was sold to Brandyine, Paul D says to Sethe, "Mister was allowed to be and stay what he was. But I wasn't allowed to be and stay what I was. Even if you cooked him you'd be cooking a rooster named Mister. But wasn't no way I'd ever be Paul D again, living or dead. Schoolteacher changed me. I was something else and that something was less than a chicken sitting in the sun on a tub."


.......Racism was of course rampant before the Civil War. But it did not end when President Lincoln promulgated the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, as Paul D notes eleven years later:

Eighteen seventy-four and whitefolks were still on the loose. Whole towns wiped clean of Negroes; eighty-seven lynchings in one year alone in Kentucky; four colored schools burned to the ground; grown men whipped like children; children whipped like adults; black women raped by the crew; property taken, necks broken.
Lack of Fulfillment

.......Deprived of freedom, the slaves at Sweet Home (as well as all other slaves) could not fulfill their dreams or even lead a normal life. And even after gaining their freedom, slaves such as Baby Suggs, Sethe, and Paul become preoccupied with the past, preventing them from taking full advantage of their freedom. Consider Baby Suggs. When lying on her death bed, she attempts to "catch up" on the colorful world that she missed. "She never had time to see, let alone enjoy [colors] before," Sethe says. "Took her a long time to finish with blue, then yellow, then green. She was well into pink when she died."


.......Following are examples of symbols in the novel.

Tin tobacco box: This represents Paul D's painful past. After he arrives at Sethe's home near Cincinnati, he begins to discuss his feelings about the past. Then he stops talking because "saying more might push them both to a place they couldn't get back from," the narrator says. "He would keep the rest where it belonged: in that tobacco tin buried in his chest where a red heart used to be. Its lid rusted shut. He would not pry it loose now in front of this sweet sturdy woman. . . ."
Sweet Home: This name for Mr. Garner's farm symbolizes the attempt of white society to justify the institution of slavery. Sweet Home farm was, of course, anything but sweet. 
Denver's birth: Sethe bears her fourth child, Denver, just before crossing the Ohio River, the boundary between slave states and free states. Denver's birth thus symbolizes the life of freedom awaiting Sethe on the other side of the river, as well as the "new birth of freedom" for the United States that Abraham Lincoln referred to in 1863 in his Gettysburg Address.
Mrs. Garner's lump: The lump in Mrs. Garner's throat may symbolize the cancer of slavery that afflicted the Confederate South and eventually destroyed it in the smoke of war.
Animals: Mister (a rooster) and the other animals symbolize the slaves and the inhumane treatment slaves had to endure. Note that Here Boy, the name of a dog, is also a phrase that overseers and other whites often used to summon a male slave. 
Slave trackers in Ohio: The four mounted slave trackers who come to Ohio for Sethe and her children may symbolize the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: pestilence, war, famine, and death. According to the New Testament of the Bible, the appearance of the Four Horsemen heralds the nearness of the end or the world. In Beloved, the appearance of the four slave trackers signals the end of freedom for Sethe and her children. At the cost of the life of one of her children, she preserves her world.
Beloved's death: The death of Sethe's third child by the hand of her own mother may symbolize the death of Christ. In His death, Christ saved humankind. In her death, Beloved saved the rest of her family. 

Figures of Speech

.......Following are examples of figures of speech in the novel. (For definitions of figures of speech, click here.)


pool of pulsing red light

she couldn't get interested in leaving life or living it, let alone the fright of two creeping-off boys. 

The water sucked and swallowed itself beneath them. 

This here Sethe talked about love like any other woman; talked about baby clothes like any other woman, but what she meant could cleave the bone. This here Sethe talked about safety with a handsaw. This here new Sethe didn't know where the world stopped and she began. 

Before 124 and everybody in it had closed down, veiled over and shut away; before it had become the plaything of spirits and the home of the chafed, 124 had been a cheerful, buzzing house where Baby Suggs, holy, loved, cautioned, fed, chastised and soothed. Where not one but two pots simmered on the stove; where the lamp burned all night long. 

But now even the daylight time that Beloved had counted on, disciplined herself to be content with, was being reduced, divided by Sethe's willingness to pay attention to other things. Him mostly. Him who said something to her that made her run out into the woods and talk to herself on a rock. Him who kept her hidden at night behind doors. And him who had hold of her now whispering behind the stairs after Beloved had rescued her neck and was ready now to put her hand in that woman's own.

Certainly no hazelnut man with too long hair and no notebook, no charcoal, no oranges, no questions.

As soon as one strip of husk was down, the rest obeyed and the ear yielded up to him its shy rows, exposed at last. How loose the silk. How quick the jailed-up flavor ran free.

One makes him feel righteous. One makes him feel ashamed. 

her skin . . . used to make him think of a mask with mercifully punched out eyes. 
Comparison of the face to a mask

A breastplate of darkness hid all the windows except one
Comparison of the darkness to a breastplate (part of a suit of armor)

the girl who walked down . . . round and brown with the face of an alert doll.
Comparison of the face to that of a doll

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.
Comparison of the space enclosed by the boxwood bushes to a room

Pig boats jammed the Ohio River, and their captains' hollering at one another over the grunts of the stock was as common a water sound as that of the ducks flying over their heads. 
Shivering, Denver approached the house, regarding it, as she always did, as a person rather than a structure. A person that wept, sighed, trembled and fell into fits. 
Use of an adjective associated with one sensation to describe a noun referring to another sensation
The closer the roses got to death, the louder their scent.
her eyes . . . were like two wells into which he had trouble gazing. 
Comparison of the eyes to water wells

although her voice was heavy as a man's, she smelled like a roomful of flowers
Comparison of her smell to that of a roomful of flowers

[The quilt] was smelling like grass and feeling like handsthe unrested hands of busy women: dry, warm, prickly. 
Comparison of the smell of the quilt to the smell of grass; comparison of the surface of the quilt to the surface of hands

A mighty wish for Baby Suggs broke over her like surf. 
Comparison of the sudden occurrence of a wish to the sudden occurrence of an ocean surf 

So Stamp Paid did not tell him how she flew, snatching up her children like a hawk on the wing; how her face beaked, how her hands worked like claws.
Comparison of a woman to a hawk

Study Questions and Writing Topics

1...Write an essay defending the thesis that the ghost and the reincarnation of Sethe's child, Beloved, are not real.
2...Write an essay defending the thesis that the ghost and the reincarnation of Sethe's child, Beloved, are real.
3...Define the following terms that appear in the novel: Fugitive Bill (Fugitive Slave Act), manumission, and Dred Scott.
4...To what do the words Klan and dragon refer in the following sentences: "It was one thing to beat up a ghost, quite another to throw a helpless coloredgirl out in territory infected by the Klan. Desperately thirsty for black blood, without which it could not live, the dragon swam the Ohio at will."