Set primarily in southern Ohio during the period immediately following the Civil War, BELOVED centers on the attempts of the protagonist, Sethe, to come to terms with the extremely painful events associated with her attempt to escape from slavery a decade earlier. After extricating herself and her four children from an increasingly intolerable situation on the ironically named “Sweet Home” plantation in Kentucky, Sethe is tracked down by her master, at which point she chooses to kill her children rather than allow them to be returned to slavery. Although three of the children live, the death of her two-year-old daughter provides the center of the intricate and fascinating plot of BELOVED.
Morrison casts BELOVED in the form of a ghost story, a Jamesian ghost story reminiscent of THE TURN OF THE SCREW or THE BEAST IN THE JUNGLE. The memory, spirit, and/or presence of the dead baby take a number of forms. Clearly, Morrison is less interested in the metaphysics of the spirit world than in the psychological responses of Sethe, her surviving daughter, Denver, and Paul D, a man Sethe knew in Kentucky who reappears in her life near the start of the novel. Each of the characters must grapple with the experiences of loss--many, but not all of them, directly attributable to slavery and racism--which make it difficult to accept any powerful emotions without erecting barriers.
Morrison uses this scaffolding to construct a novel of overwhelming beauty,...
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