Study Guide

Beloved

by Toni Morrison

Beloved Summary

Overview Summary

Summary of the Novel
Mr. and Mrs. Garner owned Sweet Home, a farm where they used the slave labor of Paul F, Halle, Paul A, Paul D, and Sixo—although they treated their slaves with a modicum of respect, asking for their ideas and allowing them the use of rifles for hunting. Sethe, a young female slave, was bought and allowed to choose Halle for her husband. With the Garners’ permission, the two slaves were “married.” They had a family of two sons and a daughter before Mr. Garner became ill and died.

Prior to his death, Mr. Garner had allowed Halle the privilege of hiring his labor out so that he could buy his mother, Baby Suggs, out of slavery. At 60 years of age, Halle’s mother was a free woman and moved to the next state north, Ohio, where she rented 124 Bluestone Road from the anti-slavery Bodwins and became a spiritual leader (rather than a preacher since she preferred not to preach) and a mender of shoes.

After her husband’s death, the weak-willed Mrs. Garner became very ill. She complied when she was told she must have other whites in residence and invited schoolteacher and his two nephews to live with her and manage the farm, including the slaves. Schoolteacher and his nephews were a different breed than the Garners and introduced whippings, torture, humiliation, and the dehumanizing of the slaves, but Mrs. Garner was too ill to take heed. The slaves (with the exception of Paul F, who had been sold two years prior for the money needed to keep up the farm) decided to flee via the Underground Railroad. Sethe, pregnant again, had sent her two-year-old daughter and two older sons ahead with some of the other slaves when her husband, Halle, did not arrive to meet them in the predetermined place at the predetermined time.

She stayed behind to look for him but was caught by schoolteacher’s nephews who held her down and sucked milk from her breasts. Schoolteacher discovered that she told Mrs. Garner about the incident and whipped her, flaying open the skin of her back despite her being six month’s pregnant.

Unbeknownst to Sethe, her husband was in hiding in the loft where he had a view of the attack on her. Watching without being able to come to her aid drove him insane. Paul D was watching Halle, although unable to see what was happening to Sethe. At some undetermined time soon after, he saw Halle sit down and calmly smear the butter from the churn all over his face while his eyes remained vacant. Sethe managed to escape, but had to stop because her baby was being born. An indentured servant, Amy, happened upon her and helped her. The infant was named Denver, which was Amy’s last name.

Sethe reached her mother-in-law’s home with the newborn infant and was overjoyed to be reunited with her other three children. Soon after, Baby Suggs and Sethe hosted a picnic-barbecue for all the neighbors. The abundance of food and good times, in addition to Baby Suggs’ good fortune in having been bought out of slavery, driven to freedom in a wagon by her former master, and befriended by the Bodwins who rented her their two-story house (unlike the one-story houses everyone else lived in), led the neighbors and friends, who also were Baby Suggs’ congregation, to believe she and her family were “uppity.” Thereafter, the residents of 124 Bluestone Road found themselves being shunned until they no longer had any visitors and Baby Suggs stopped being the spiritual leader at the clearing in the woods.

Schoolteacher, one of his nephews, the sheriff, and a slave catcher arrived to bring Sethe and her children back to Sweet Home. No one had warned them but Sethe recognized schoolteacher’s hat as he approached the house on his horse. She whisked her children into the shed and attempted to murder them, rather than allow them to live the kind of life in slavery she had led, as both her mother-in-law and Stamp Paid stood in the yard behind the house, frozen in terror. She succeeded in killing her two-year-old daughter by slitting her throat and would have also killed her infant daughter, Denver, if Stamp Paid had not caught the baby as Sethe swung her against the wall in an attempt to bash her brains out. The two boys had been severely beaten on their heads with a shovel.

Howard and Buglar were nursed back to health by their grandmother while Sethe was jailed to await her trial for the murder. Since Denver was still a suckling infant, she went to jail with her mother. The Bodwins used whatever influence they had in Cincinnati to ensure Sethe’s imprisonment, rather than the death sentence. They were successful.

After serving her sentence, Sethe and Denver returned to Baby Suggs’ home to join her, Howard, and Buglar. Once there, it was apparent that the spirit of the murdered child was haunting the house. Howard and Buglar were so affected by this that each left home as he reached his teens. Sethe found work cooking for most of the day at Sawyer’s restaurant: the owner was not afraid to hire an ex-convict. However, the rest of the community, except for Stamp Paid, continued to avoid the family.

Denver, a lonely and very quiet child, was brought up in the house with her mother and grandmother. When she was seven, she discovered that Lady Jones was teaching the local children in her home and joined the classes, only to leave when one of the children innocently asked Denver about the murder of her older sister. Baby Suggs decided to die, despite Stamp Paid’s efforts to dissuade her, and did after keeping close to her house or in her bed for many years. Her death came soon after Howard and Buglar left, but had nothing to do with their departure.

Eighteen years after the murder, Paul D arrives in town. He, too, had attempted to flee Sweet Home but was caught in the attempt and forced to wear an iron bit which holds down the tongue—a form of torture and humiliation. He had been sold to Brandywine, the man he soon tried to kill. The murder attempt led to his imprisonment in the worst possible type of work–gang prison in Alfred, Georgia. He escaped from the prison and stayed with the Cherokee until he was the only escaped prisoner left out of the original forty-six. The Cherokee showed him how to follow the trees to the north, which he did. Eventually he reached Delaware, where he stayed for eighteen months with a woman who had been kind to him. Once he left her, he was rootless until he came to Sethe’s home.

Upon finding Sethe, he is dismayed to hear of Baby Suggs’ death and—despite Denver’s hostility—moves into the house. On the first night there, he has a confrontation with the spirit in the house and wins, thereby effectively sending away Denver’s only companion for the last eighteen years and practically wrecking Sethe’s kitchen. In an effort to win both Sethe and Denver over, he talks them into going to colored day at the carnival. When they return home, they discover a young, very tired, nattily dressed black woman waiting for them. Sethe immediately discerns that she is her daughter’s spirit reborn in the flesh. Paul D and Denver see only that the girl needs sleep and water.

Beloved, who seems to have no memory other than her name, is incorporated into the household, much to Paul D’s chagrin. She becomes devoted to Sethe, following her from room to room and even meeting Sethe after work once she regains her strength. Beloved’s obvious interest in seducing Paul D makes him so uncomfortable he moves into the shed, but Sethe and Denver fail to see “the shining” on her, as Paul D calls her seductiveness. Beloved seems simple: she talks little, doesn’t know how to do much, acts childishly (except when it comes to Paul D), and needs Denver to keep her occupied. As Paul D moves further and further away from her and, finally, out of the house, she occupies more and more of Denver and Sethe’s energy.

At work, Stamp Paid and Paul D are moving pigs toward the slaughter house when Stamp Paid shows him the newspaper article about the murders. Paul D, unable to read, does not know what it says but recognizes the likeness of Sethe. He insists it is not her; the mouth is different. Much to his later regret, Stamp Paid reads the article to Paul D. When Paul D confronts Sethe, she tries to explain that she was saving her children. Paul complains that her kind of loving is too “thick” for him, and he begins to disengage his life from hers, eventually moving out of it for a while.

So involved are the women with Beloved that Denver becomes less sullen and Sethe eventually loses her job for not showing up. Denver knows Sethe cannot take care of them anymore and implores Lady Jones to find her a job, not realizing that jobs are hard to come by and everyone in the community is just about as poor as they are. Unable to offer a job, Lady Jones does make certain the community shares with the family, each different community member leaving some food in their yard at intervals.

By this time, Paul D is living in the basement of the town’s storefront church, which horrifies Stamp Paid, who feels that the community should have opened its doors to Paul D, especially since he is a working man willing to pay for his keep. He finds a drinking Paul D on the church steps and apologizes for his neighbors’ behavior toward Paul D. He also explains that he was there the day of the murder and it wasn’t the way the newspaper said it had been.

Until Denver finds employment, the three women are not doing well—even with their neighbors’ sharing. Instead of dividing the food evenly, Sethe gives most of it to Beloved, who is now pregnant with Paul D’s child, although Sethe and Denver seem not to know it. Sethe appears to be shrinking, and Denver is losing so much weight that her clothes are too big on her. Besides always being hungry, Sethe is becoming Beloved’s slave and complacently abides with her temper tantrums. She is no longer safe from Beloved either, since Beloved apparently attempted to strangle her in Baby Suggs’ clearing. After much deliberation, Denver goes to the Bodwins to seek work.

Janey Wagon convinces the Bodwins they need someone to stay with them at night since they are older now and she has her own family to tend. She also spreads the news in the community that Sethe’s dead daughter has come back to bedevil her. The women of the community decide to go to 124 Bluestone Road to drive Beloved out. Just as thirty of them gather, Mr. Bodwin arrives to pick up Denver for work. When the women begin to sing, Sethe and Beloved come to the door to see them. Sethe has a confused flashback and thinks Mr. Bodwin is schoolteacher, come to take her children back to slavery. She rushes toward him with the ice pick in her hand as Denver intercedes to save him by leading some others in wrestling her mother down so that Ella may hit her on the jaw. Mr. Bodwin is unaware of the attempt on his life, aware only of the beautiful, naked, pregnant woman standing in the doorway and what he thinks is Sethe going to stop some of the other women from fighting amongst themselves.

Paul D and Denver run into each other on the street. She is still working for the Bodwins, and Miss Bodwin is teaching her. Beloved disappeared the day her mother tried to kill Mr. Bodwin. Sethe is not doing well. Soon, Paul D resumes his residence in Sethe’s house. He tries to convince Sethe that she, not Beloved, is her own best thing.

Estimated Reading Time
Because of the constant shift from past to present and back again and the rich metaphoric language which does not state—but rather implies—this is not a quick novel to read despite its moderate length. Rather than rush through it and miss all the visual images, it is suggested you read it in ten sittings, totaling approximately eight hours.

Part One will take half this time with the following breakdown:
pages 3–42—one hour
pages 43–85—one hour
pages 86–113—45 minutes
pages 114–147—45 minutes
pages 148–165—half an hour

Part Two will take two and a half hours:
pages 169–199—one hour
pages 200–217—45 minutes
pages 218–235—also 45 minutes

Part Three will need the remaining hour and a half:
pages 236–262—one hour
pages 263–275—half an hour

These page numbers are based on the softcover edition of the novel (Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Plume Books, 1988). Please remember this is simply an estimation; reading speeds are different for individual readers and some may prefer to dwell on certain parts of the novel while others may choose different sections of the novel in which to invest their time.

The Life and Work of Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford on February 18, 1931, in Lorain, Ohio. Her parents, Ramah (Willis) and George, survived the Great Depression with the aid of government assistance and by sharing with their equally poor black and white neighbors. Her great-grandmother had been a slave and her grandfather was born in slavery, not being freed until he was five, when the Emancipation Proclamation became law.

Ms. Morrison earned a B.A. in English from Howard University in 1953 and, while a student there, changed her name to Toni. She also joined the Howard Players during her undergraduate years and toured the South, playing to mostly black audiences. Her M.A. was earned in 1955 at Cornell University; her thesis was on the theme of suicide in the works of William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf. She moved to Texas Southern University, where she became an instructor of English from 1955 to 1957. There she wrote a play entitled “Dreaming Emmett” which dealt with the 1955 lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till. Ms. Morrison returned to Howard University to be an Instructor of English for the next seven years and began writing. During that time, in 1958, she married a Jamaican architect, Harold Morrison. Two sons were born during this six-year marriage. After divorcing her husband, she took her sons back to Lorain to their grandparents’ home. The next year, she became an editor for the textbook subsidiary of Random House in Syracuse, New York.

Five years later, in 1970, her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published and Ms. Morrison took an editorial position at Random House’s New York office, where she eventually became a senior editor. During this time—1971 and 1972—she was also an Associate Professor of English at the State University of New York–Purchase. In 1974, Sula, her second novel, was published and she edited The Black Book, a collection of memorabilia from three hundred years of black history, which contained the Margaret Garner story—the springboard for Beloved. Upon the publishing of The Black Book, Ms. Morrison wrote an article entitled “Rediscovering Black History.” The following year, Sula was nominated for the National Book Award. For the next two years, she was a visiting lecturer at Yale University. In 1977, her third novel, Song of Solomon, for which she received the National Book Critics’ Circle Award and the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letter Award, was published and quickly became a paperback best seller with 570,000 copies in print. Ms. Morrison was then named Distinguished Writer of 1978 by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Tar Baby, her fourth novel, published in 1981, was on the New York Times best seller list for four months. During this time, Ms. Morrison was on the cover of Newsweek.

From 1984 to 1989, Ms. Morrison was the Schweitzer Professor of Humanities at the State University of New York–Albany and won numerous honors. In 1986, her play was produced by the Capitol Repertory Company and she won the New York State Governor’s Art Award. The following year, Beloved—which was dedicated to the 60 million who died in slavery—was published and nominated for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics’ Award. In 1986, Ms. Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction as well as the Robert F. Kennedy Award for this fifth novel. In 1989, Ms. Morrison became the Robert F. Goheen Professor of Humanities at Princeton University, where she teaches both creative writing and Afro-American Studies. Jazz, which is her sixth novel, and her non-fiction Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, were published in 1992.

Toni Morrison has been featured on the Public Broadcasting System’s Writers in America, London Weekend Television’s South Bank Show, and Swiss Television Production’s In Black and White. She was appointed to President Carter’s National Council of the Arts and elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Many books of interpretation and criticism have been written about her novels. Her own novels have been translated into German, Spanish, French, Finnish, and Italian and are taught in Afro-American, American Literature, and Women’s Studies courses.

Beloved Summary (Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Beloved moves back and forth through time, telling in flashbacks the story of the characters’ past as slaves. Throughout the narrative, readers learn the background of the characters and the pertinent incidents of their slavery. Beloved is killed by her mother, who will not allow her daughter to be returned to slavery. As the ghost of a woman of twenty, the age the baby would have been if it had survived, Beloved haunts the Ohio house where Sethe and her youngest daughter, Denver, live; Beloved is the past brought to life in the present. Before the spirit of Beloved is manifested in flesh, she is seen as a “baby ghost” who haunts her family and her house.

Sethe once belonged to Mr. Garner, a humane master who treats his slaves well. Mr. Garner purchases Sethe at the age of thirteen to replace the recently freed Baby Suggs. Sethe marries Halle Suggs, Baby Suggs’s son, who fathers every one of her four children; such monogamy was the exception rather than the rule in slavery. With the death of Mr. Garner, and the coming of his brother, “schoolteacher,” and his nephews, Sethe and the other slaves experience the full degradation and inhumanity of slavery. Schoolteacher beats the male slaves and deprives them of their guns. He treats his brother’s slaves as property, keeping a record of their behavior as part of his scientific experimentation with them. Schoolteacher measures their heads and numbers their teeth. When Sethe learns that schoolteacher’s intentions may also include the eventual selling of her children, she resolves to escape North to freedom.

Sethe and Halle make plans to take the Underground Railroad to Ohio to join Baby Suggs. Sethe succeeds in getting her children on the Underground Railroad, but before she can join them, she is violated by schoolteacher’s nephews, who brutally beat her while she is pregnant with her fourth child. Pregnant, barefoot, and mutilated, Sethe escapes to Ohio to join her mother-in-law and her already crawling baby girl, Beloved. She arrives in Cincinnati with Denver, her fourth child, who was born en route. Halle, her husband, fails to escape and is driven crazy from having witnessed the crime against Sethe, which he could not prevent.

Because schoolteacher values Sethe for her childbearing capabilities, he decides to capture her and return her and her four children to slavery. Sethe is nursed back to health by her mother-in-law before schoolteacher finds her. Sethe, rather than allow her children to be returned to slavery, kills Beloved and attempts to kill her other children as well.

After the killing of Beloved and the appearance of the baby ghost, Baby Suggs takes to her bed to die, and Sethe’s sons, Buglar and Howard, leave the house, driven away by the ghost.

Eight years later, Paul D, another former slave from the Garner plantation, arrives at Sethe’s house seeking Sethe and Baby Suggs. He drives out the spirit of the baby ghost, striking it with a table and ordering it to get out. The baby ghost returns later as a twenty-year-old spirit that succeeds in taking over Sethe’s mind, body, and heart. Beloved follows Sethe everywhere, questions her, and feeds on her until Sethe deteriorates physically and mentally. Meanwhile, Beloved grows fat and appears in this guise to the women of the community, who come to drive her out.

When Denver finds Sethe is no longer able to provide for the family, she ventures out of the house to find food. Denver has once attended a school taught by Lady Jones, and she knows only two places to go, her mother’s former place of work and the house of the lady who once taught her. Lady Jones offers Denver food and relays the plight of Denver’s family to the neighbors, who join in leaving food where Denver can find it. Denver, by returning the bowls and plates to their respective owners, is able gradually to rejoin the community and find a job to provide for her family. The community of women, led by Ella, who had helped Sethe when she first came to Ohio, is incensed upon learning of the intrusion of the ghost into the lives of Sethe and Denver and its debilitating effect on the family. The women converge upon Sethe’s house, singing songs and bringing all the magic and charms they know of in order to rid the house of the vengeful spirit. When Denver’s employer approaches the house to pick up Denver for work, Sethe relives the visit of schoolteacher, and she picks up an ice pick with murderous intentions. Beloved thus vanishes.

Paul D, who had previously been seduced by Beloved and who had left after hearing about Sethe’s murder of the baby girl, returns to the house and finds that Sethe has taken to the “keeping room” and given up on life. As the novel ends, he attempts to infuse a will to live into Sethe by endeavoring to make her realize her own self-worth.

Beloved Summary (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Beloved’s dedication, “Sixty Million and more,” commemorates the number of slaves who died in the middle passage—from Africa to the New World. Toni Morrison’s protagonist, Sethe, is modeled upon the historical figure of a fugitive Kentucky slave, who in 1851 murdered her baby rather than return it to slavery.

A pregnant Sethe flees on foot to Cincinnati, Ohio, sending her children ahead by way of the Underground Railroad. Her overwhelming concern is to join her baby daughter, who needs her milk. On the bank of the Ohio River she goes into labor, her delivery aided by a white girl who is herself fleeing mistreatment. The new baby is named Denver. Although Sethe reaches her destination, slave-catchers soon follow to return her to Kentucky. Frantic, she tries to kill her children rather than submit them to slavery, but she succeeds only with the older baby. “Beloved” is carved on the child’s tombstone.

Sethe accepts her identity of black woman, escaped slave, wife, mother. Her antagonist is life, which has taken so much from her. She and Paul D, the man who becomes her lover, are the last survivors of Sweet Home, the Kentucky farm that was neither sweet nor home to them. Their charge is to endure memory and accept the unforgivable past.

A vengeful spirit, that of the dead baby, invades Sethe’s house. After Paul D drives it away, a strange young woman appears in the yard, and they take her in. Her name is Beloved. She is the ghost of Sethe’s dead child. She is also, less clearly, a ghost from the slave ships and an African river spirit. She alters relationships in the household, exerting control over the two adults and Denver. Denver hovers over Beloved; Beloved dotes on Sethe. Once Sethe recognizes Beloved as her daughter, she struggles to make amends while Beloved grows plump and cruel.

Denver develops a new identity. At eighteen, she is self-centered, jealous, and lonely. Beloved becomes her dear companion. Gradually, Denver grows aware that Beloved’s presence is destroying Sethe, who loses her job along with her meager income and begins to waste away. Denver, who has rarely ventured past her own yard because of the neighbors’ hostility, realizes that only she can save her mother. Terrified, she walks down the road to seek work from strangers and, by accepting this responsibility, becomes a woman.

Morrison expected this painful, fiercely beautiful novel to be controversial. Instead, it was widely praised, receiving the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988.

Beloved Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In 1848, at the age of thirteen, Sethe is sold to Mr. Garner and his wife Lillian, who run a plantation in northern Kentucky called Sweet Home. Intended to replace Baby Suggs, whose freedom was purchased by her son Halle by renting out his labor on Sundays, Sethe marries Halle, one of five male slaves (the “Sweet Home men”) owned by the Garners, in 1849. Each of the other Sweet Home men—Paul A Garner, Paul D Garner, Paul F Garner, and Sixo—wants Sethe for himself, but each accepts her choice and respects her position as Halle’s wife.

Mr. Garner dies in 1853, and his financially strapped, cancer-ridden widow sells Paul F and then brings her cruel brother-in-law, “schoolteacher,” and his equally cruel nephews to Sweet Home as overseers. Fearful that schoolteacher might sell them all, the remaining Sweet Home slaves begin planning an escape in 1855. Before the plan can be effected, the pregnant Sethe is attacked by schoolteacher’s two nephews. One holds her down while the other sucks the milk from her breasts. Schoolteacher watches and takes notes. Unknown to Sethe, her helpless husband sees the entire “mammary rape” from the hayloft, and the event destroys his sanity. Determined to escape, Sethe sends her three children (Howard, age five; Buglar, age four; and Beloved, age nine months) to join the emancipated Baby Suggs in Cincinnati, planning to follow the next day. The four Sweet Home men fail to escape. Sixo is captured and burned alive, Paul A is hanged, Paul D is sold, and the broken Halle, who dies soon after, loses the will to escape. Only Sethe stumbles into the woods toward freedom.

Sethe nearly dies of exposure, but she is found by a runaway white girl, Amy Denver, who doctors her torn feet and helps her to the Ohio River, where they find an abandoned, leaking boat. Before they can cross, Sethe’s water breaks and with Amy as midwife she gives birth prematurely to her second daughter, Denver, in the nearly swamped boat. Amy, also on the run, abandons Sethe and Denver. Stamp Paid, a black riverman, finds mother and daughter and ferries them across the Ohio to the Bodwins, Quaker conductors on the Underground Railroad. The Bodwins deliver Sethe and Denver to Baby Suggs’s house on Bluestone Road outside Cincinnati, where Sethe is reunited with Howard, Buglar, and Beloved.

Sethe enjoys twenty-eight glorious days of freedom before the slave catchers track her down. When the slave catchers approach, Sethe tries to kill her children rather than allow them to be returned to slavery. Three miraculously survive, but Beloved dies. Sethe is arrested and sentenced to hang, but the Bodwins obtain a pardon for her and she is allowed to return to Bluestone Road. The ghost of the murdered Beloved also returns and haunts the house for eighteen years, during which it keeps away all visitors, drives away Howard and Buglar in 1865, and breaks the spirit of Baby Suggs, who takes to her bed and dies just months before the Civil War ends. Paul D, after escaping from a Georgia chain gang and wandering through much of the eastern United States, finds Sethe on Bluestone Road in 1873. He drives out the ghost and moves in with Sethe.

Just as Paul D, Sethe, and Denver begin to bond into a family, a young black woman, calling herself Beloved, appears from nowhere, seeking sanctuary. Sethe takes her in, and Beloved begins disrupting the new family by insinuating herself into the affections of Sethe and Denver and seducing Paul D. In 1874, Stamp Paid tells Paul D about Sethe’s murder of her child nineteen years before, and Paul D leaves Sethe. Shunned by all as they had been since the murder in 1855, Sethe and Denver form a family with Beloved.

The following year Sethe comes to believe that Beloved is her own murdered child and gradually becomes obsessed with her, neglecting Denver as she tries desperately to make up for the murder. The diabolical Beloved soon consumes Sethe entirely. Sethe loses her job, and the starving Denver goes begging for work. Through Denver the community learns of Beloved’s presence and determines to help the Bodwins, who had rescued Sethe in 1855, rescue Denver from Sethe and Beloved. The women of the community begin praying outside the house just as the elderly Mr. Bodwin arrives for Denver. The deranged Sethe, mistaking Mr. Bodwin for a slave catcher, tries to stab him with an ice pick. Denver and the other women stop her, and Beloved disappears. Broken in spirit by losing Beloved again, the twice-bereaved Sethe takes to her bed as the broken Baby Suggs had done in 1865. At the end of the novel Paul D, who has loved Sethe since she first arrived at Sweet Home twenty-five years before, returns to her. He refuses to let Sethe die and begins trying to heal her wounded heart.

Beloved Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Morrison’s novel Beloved is her single greatest novelistic achievement and is a tour through some of the nightmares created by slavery. When the novel begins in the post-Civil War era in 1873, Sethe, a former slave who escaped to the North while pregnant during the time of slavery, is living with her oldest daughter, Denver, in a house they both believe to be haunted by the ghost of the infant daughter Sethe killed when she was about to be recaptured (rather than let the daughter grow up in slavery). The novel is loosely based on the account of a former slave named Margaret Gamer who, as an escaped slave, tried to kill all of her children when they were captured in 1850 and succeeded in killing one; the novel is also a triumph of imagination.

When Paul D, who along with Sethe was a former slave at a plantation known as Sweet Home, comes to Sethe’s house on 124 Bluestone Road and quickly becomes her lover, the ghost disappears. Very shortly thereafter, however, a well-dressed young woman about the age that Sethe’s daughter would have been had she lived appears on the doorstep and introduces herself as “Beloved”—which is the only word on the gravestone that Sethe placed over her dead infant.

Paul D’s reappearance and Beloved’s sudden appearance force Sethe to confront the past locked away in what she calls her “rememory.” She tells Paul D the story of spotting Schoolteacher, the cruel master of Sweet Home, and determining to put her babies “where they’d be safe”—that is, to death. What frightens Paul D more than anything else is her continued defense of her actions years later. Paul D is also forced by his meeting with Sethe to confront his own past. When he tells her, “You got two feet, Sethe, not four,” to upbraid her for her infanticide, he is accusing her of acting like an animal. The comment seems to relate also to Paul D’s past and his own struggle to retain his human dignity despite having been a slave and treated as a beast of burden for much of his life.

Beloved herself is presented as childlike and self-centered, very much like the petulant ghost that had haunted the house for years. Even when the narrative goes inside her head, it is not clear to what extent she is supposed to be literally the ghost of Sethe’s daughter. Stamp Paid, a local black man, suggests that she might be the young woman who was kept locked up as a sex slave in a nearby town. Her own interior dialogue seems to suggest two separate minds at work, and perhaps the explanation most consistent with everything the novel contains is that Beloved is the escaped sex slave possessed by the ghost of Sethe’s dead daughter. To see this explanation as a resolution to the puzzle presented by Beloved, however, would be to miss the force of Morrison’s careful ambiguity. Beloved is a ghost, and, as Denver tells Paul D toward the end, something more; she is a person and something more. That something more is the key to unlocking the past to release the future.

As events draw to a climax—as Paul D becomes Beloved’s lover and then moves out, as the household on 124 Bluestone becomes more removed from the outside community, and as Beloved demands almost obsessive attention—it is Denver, the daughter Sethe gave birth to while racing to freedom, whose future seems the most to be a prisoner to the past. It is unexpectedly Denver who finds the way to unlock the future for all of them, by getting a job that takes her outside her home. By working in the community, Denver reawakens in the community a sense of responsibility for Sethe, and they come together to try to exorcise Beloved—who is fat and maybe pregnant by now—from the house.

When members of the black community are gathered around the house at 124 Bluestone, Sethe sees Mr. Bodwin, her white landlord and Denver’s employer, appear on horseback, looking a bit like Schoolteacher had two decades earlier when he had come for her. She tries to attack him with an ice pick but is intercepted. In the confusion, Beloved runs into the forest; later, there are reports of a madwoman having been spotted running naked. When it ends, Sethe seems finally to have given in to the despair that she had repressed for twenty years. Paul D tries to comfort her, however, and there is a strong suggestion that she is better off for being able to feel her despair.

In many ways, Beloved is a meditation on the ownership of human beings. Ironically, when Sethe kills her infant daughter to save her from slavery, she is committing the ultimate act of ownership—deciding that it is better for another person to die than live. She cannot help but repeat some of the sins of slavery, even in her reaction against it. The point is that slavery is so destructive that ending it is merely one step in healing the wounds it creates. Baby Suggs, Sethe’s mother-in-law, who lived with Sethe for a while, seems to summarize the novel’s theme early in the book when she says, “Not a house in the country ain’t packed to the rafters with some dead Negro’s grief.” Beloved is a novel about healing such grief.

Beloved Chapter Summary and Analysis

Pages 1–19: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Sethe: the protagonist of the novel

Denver: Sethe’s almost 19-year-old, somewhat simple, daughter who lives with her in isolation at 124 Bluestone Road, the house that had originally been rented, unhaunted, to Baby Suggs

Paul D: a former slave who was at Sweet Home in Kentucky with Sethe 18 years earlier

Baby Suggs: bought out of slavery at the age of 60 by her son, Halle, who is Sethe’s husband; spent many years in her bed deciding whether or not to die

The Garners: husband and wife who own Sweet Home; they treat their slaves with a modicum of respect

schoolteacher: Mr. Garner’s educated brother-in-law who comes to Sweet Home at Mrs....

(The entire section is 679 words.)

Pages 20-42: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Sixo: a male slave from Sweet Home who had not allowed slavery to dominate his soul and who was in love with Thirty-Mile Woman

Amy Denver: the white, runaway, indentured servant who had helped Sethe as she gave birth to her second daughter while fleeing slavery

Lu: the name Sethe had used instead of her own with Amy

schoolteacher and his nephews: Mr. Garner’s educated brother-in-law, who had come to Sweet Home at Mrs. Garner’s request to manage the farm after Mr. Garner’s death. He had brought his two nephew with him.

Thirty-Mile Woman: Sixo’s love and the mother of his unborn child

Summary
Sethe and Paul D retire to the...

(The entire section is 629 words.)

Pages 43–64: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Beloved: a young, well-dressed, apparently ill, black woman with soft hands and feet who appears near 124 Bluestone Road unable to remember more than her name

Here Boy: Sethe’s family dog who refused to enter the house once the haunting began and who disappears when Beloved appears

Nan: the one-armed slave who minded the slave children and cooked wherever it was that Sethe had been before Sweet Home

Summary
Denver snidely asks Paul D how long he’ll be “hanging around.” Her attitude promotes an argument between Denver and Sethe about Denver’s lack of manners and then another between Sethe and Paul D about whether or not she wants him to stay....

(The entire section is 636 words.)

Pages 64–85: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Mister: the rooster from Sweet Home whose egg shell Paul D cracked so that he could live and who now preys on Paul D’s mind

Mr. Buddy: the possible father, and definite master, of Amy Denver

Summary
Paul D is wary of Beloved’s attentions to him and wants her to leave, but cannot ask her to since it is Sethe’s home. As he relentlessly questions her as to how she came to be there, she chokes on a raisin, effectively ending the questioning. She and Denver go to Denver’s room, and Paul D tells Sethe that Halle saw schoolteacher’s nephew steal her milk, which caused Halle to lose his mind because he could not stop them. He also tells her about his own torture...

(The entire section is 388 words.)

Pages 86–113: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Stamp Paid: an older, ex-slave who is part of the Underground Railroad and ferries Sethe, with the new-born Denver, over the river to freedom

Ella: another freed slave, a contemporary of Stamp Paid’s, who helps Sethe and Denver once they’ve crossed the river to freedom and arrive at Baby Suggs’ home in Ohio

Lady Jones: a light-skinned, free black who runs the children’s school that the then seven-year-old Denver attends for a year

Nelson Lord: Denver’s classmate, who innocently asks her about the murder, Sethe’s imprisonment, and Denver’s accompanying her mother to jail

Summary
Sethe feels she needs a ceremony to lay down her...

(The entire section is 522 words.)

Pages 114–147: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
John: Ella’s husband and also a part of the Underground Railroad

Janey Wagon: a free black woman who washes and cooks for the Bodwins

Summary
Paul D is forced out of the house by Beloved. He moves from Sethe’s bed to the rocker, from the rocker to Baby Suggs’ bed, from Baby Suggs’ bed to the storeroom, and finally from the storeroom to the coldhouse. It is in the coldhouse that Beloved succeeds in seducing him over a three-week-period during which he feels his heart come back to life. Denver becomes certain that Beloved was the white dress she saw holding Sethe’s waist in the vision she’d had before Beloved’s arrival. She feels she must continuously...

(The entire section is 401 words.)

Pages 148–165: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Aunt Phyllis: the midwife from Minnowville who Mr. Garner sent for each time Sethe gave birth

Summary
Schoolteacher, one of his nephews (the other having been kept home as punishment for stealing Sethe’s milk), and a slave catcher had arrived with the sheriff to capture Sethe and her children. Sethe recognized schoolteacher’s hat and had gathered her children in the shed where she beat the boys on the head with a shovel in an attempt to kill them, slit Beloved’s throat, and tried to bash Denver’s brains out against a wall. Stamp Paid caught Denver and saved her life. Baby Suggs saw that the boys were still breathing and tended to them. Sethe would not loosen her hold on...

(The entire section is 431 words.)

Pages 169–199: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Mr. Bodwin: the brother of Miss Bodwin, also an anti-slavery white person who does whatever he can to help with the Underground Railroad and the newly-liberated slaves

Reverend Pike: the reverend of the store-front church where Paul D is living in the basement, also the religious leader who conducted the funerals for both Beloved and Baby Suggs

Sawyer: Sethe’s employer at the restaurant

Summary
Stamp Paid, remorseful for having read the newspaper article to Paul D, and now worried about Sethe’s well-being, goes to 124 Bluestone Road for the first time since Baby Suggs’ death. He has a hard time getting himself to knock instead of just walking in as...

(The entire section is 591 words.)

Pages 200–217: Summary and Analysis

Summary
Sethe comes to the conclusion that Beloved is the embodiment of her murdered daughter who had no choice but to come back in the flesh since Paul D drove her non-material spirit out. She suspects Baby Suggs helped her return. She thinks over the scratches on Beloved’s forehead and sees them as her own fingernail prints from where she had held Beloved’s head back in order to slit her throat and remembers she had wanted to die when she put up Beloved’s gravestone, but couldn’t—she had other children to care for.

Denver had been afraid of Sethe ever since she can remember, feeling safe only in Grandma Suggs’ room at night. Her brothers, before they left, kept telling her how to kill Sethe if...

(The entire section is 539 words.)

Pages 218–235: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Vashti: Stamp Paid’s now-deceased wife

Joshua: Stamp Paid’s former slave name

Summary
Paul D is drinking on the steps of the church, remembering when Stamp Paid finds him in order to apologize for no one in the community offering to take him in (Paul D tells him Reverend Pike offered, but he preferred to be alone), and to tell him he, Stamp Paid, had been present when Sethe killed Beloved and tried to kill her other children. He tells Paul D it wasn’t like he thinks it was. Paul D is full of his own thoughts about the past: the attempted escape from Sweet Home; Sixo being burned and shot; Halle going insane; Paul A being missing; Thirty-Mile Woman—pregnant...

(The entire section is 433 words.)

Pages 239–262: Summary and Analysis

Summary
Denver is excluded from Sethe and Beloved’s games after a winter of the three of them playing together. Sethe has been fired for going in to work later and later and, finally, not at all. Denver no longer feels she has to protect Beloved from Sethe, but rather vice-versa. She realizes that if anyone is to provide food for them, since they are becoming lethargic from starvation, it must be she. She forces herself to go out of the yard to Lady Jones who is unable to provide a job, but who—despite Denver’s refusal of charity—makes certain her church members share their food with Sethe, Beloved, and Denver.

Since this still does not provide enough food, Denver decides to hire herself out and...

(The entire section is 448 words.)

Pages 263–275: Summary and Analysis

Summary
Paul D returns, reversing the path by which he left: coldhouse to storeroom, storeroom to kitchen, kitchen to bed. Here Boy is home again, a sign that Beloved is surely gone. Stamp Paid says the house is quiet now and Miss Bodwin is going to sell it. Her brother, although against the sale, will not stop her. Mr. Bodwin is still unaware of the attempt on his life, having been mesmerized by the naked black woman on the porch while the scuffle to save him was on.

Paul D asks Denver about her mother. Denver says she’s not all right and that Paul D must be careful how he speaks to her. When he gets to the house and finally finds Sethe in the storeroom by following the sound of her humming, it is clear...

(The entire section is 364 words.)