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.
In July of 1862, President Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves. In 1865, the Civil War between the states, basically fought over the slavery issue, had ended. By 1871, all the states were once again part of the federal government. However, some of the states were slow to accept the now-freed slaves. Although they were free, random violence against them was still commonplace: lynching, rape, beating. Concurrently, blacks were still judging each other through white values, such as monetary worth and “uppityness.” At the same time, the blacks who had established their own Underground Railroad during slavery continued to help. Most blacks, along with the poor whites with whom they shared the community, worked together assisting without waiting to be asked but as a matter of course, preaching, urging on, and sharing.
The flashback portions of Beloved take place in Kentucky, a border state during the Civil War, and one which practiced slavery as exemplified in Sweet Home (after schoolteacher comes to take the deceased Mr. Garner’s place) where Sethe was a slave 16 years before the story begins. Kentucky is also the state south of Ohio. The book’s present takes place in Cincinnati, Ohio, Ms. Morrison’s home state (although not her home city) eight years after the end of the Civil War.
The novel is based upon the Margaret Garner incident that Ms. Morrison read about when she edited The Black Book. In 1855, Mrs. Garner escaped slavery in Kentucky and fled to Cincinnati, Ohio, to live with her mother-in-law, who was a preacher. She brought her four children out of slavery with her. When she realized that a slave catcher had found them, she killed her daughter by slitting her throat, attempted to murder her two sons by beating in their heads with a shovel, and also attempted to murder her infant daughter by slamming her against a wall. All this was done in a shed behind her mother-in-law’s house while the slave catcher was approaching. Her reason for the attempted murders of her children was that she would rather have them dead than alive in slavery as she had been.
Master List of Characters
Sethe—the protagonist of the novel; a former slave.
Beloved—possibly the twenty-year-old reincarnation of Sethe’s two-year-old daughter.
Denver—Sethe’s living daughter.
Baby Suggs—Sethe’s mother-in-law, who was the spiritual leader of the Cincinnati community.
Howard and Buglar—Sethe’s two sons who ran away—first one, then the other—as soon as they reached their teens.
Paul D—one of the several male slaves at Sweet Home when Sethe was a slave there.
Stamp Paid—an older, former slave who ferried Sethe and the newborn Denver over the river to freedom.
Lady Jones—a light-skinned, yellow-haired black who is the school teacher in Cincinnati.
The Bodwins—brother and sister; rented the house at 124 Bluestone Road to Baby Suggs, and after her death to Sethe.
Mr. Garner—owner of Sweet Home.
Mrs. Garner—Mr. Garner’s wife.
Sixo—another of the male slaves at Sweet Home.
schoolteacher—Mr. Garner’s brother-in-law; came to manage Sweet Home at Mrs. Garner’s request after her husband’s death.
Sawyer—the owner of the restaurant where Sethe works as a cook.
Janey Wagon—a freed black woman who works for the Bodwins.
Ella—a member of the Underground Railroad who responded to Stamp Paid’s signal when Sethe and Denver arrived.
Thirty-Mile Woman—Sixo’s love and the mother of his unborn child.
Summary (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
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...
(The entire section is 841 words.)
Summary (Identities & Issues 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...
(The entire section is 421 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
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...
(The entire section is 817 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
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...
(The entire section is 914 words.)
Chapter Summary and Analysis
Pages 1–19: Summary and Analysis
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. Garner’s request to manage the farm and the slaves after Mr. Garner’s death
schoolteacher’s nephews: possibly his sons, it is not made clear which they are; Sethe’s attackers while she was nursing and pregnant
Howard and Buglar: Sethe’s sons; each one runs away as he reaches his teens, fearing the spirit that lives in the house
Sethe and Denver have lived alone since Baby Suggs’ death almost nine years earlier, right after Howard and Buglar—Sethe’s sons and Denver’s older brothers—had run away from the spirit that haunts the house within two months of each other. The spirit is thought to be that of Sethe’s daughter (born two years before Denver), who died.
(The entire section is 679 words.)
Pages 20-42: Summary and Analysis
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
Sethe and Paul D retire to the upstairs bedroom, unable to wait to fully undress one another before they make love. As they wake afterward, Sethe is aware that Paul D is different from Halle, who felt almost like a brother to her since they only saw each other in daylight one day a week—Sunday—despite being married for six years. Paul D is aware of the differences that 18 years have made in Sethe’s body.
Denver tells Sethe of the vision she had while peeking in the window. Sethe knelt, and next to her, so did a white dress with its arm around her waist. They ascertain it was not the dress Sethe made herself from remnants for her “bedding” to Halle and decide it must be a symbol for the spirit’s coming plans. Sethe remembers this discussion as she...
(The entire section is 629 words.)
Pages 43–64: Summary and Analysis
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
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. After he explains that Sethe will not be abandoning Denver by allowing him to stay, they decide that he will stay.
The next day, Paul D takes them to Colored Tuesday at the carnival and succeeds in winning over both the women. When they return home, they find Beloved sleeping on the tree stump near the house. As soon as they see her, Sethe has an overwhelming need to urinate copiously. They can learn only Beloved’s name from her but it is clear she is ill. After four glasses of water, Paul D leads her to Baby Suggs’ bed, where she sleeps for four days. Since it was common in post-Civil War days for ex-slaves to have secrets they were not ready to share, no questions were asked of strangers, but they were expected to offer their...
(The entire section is 636 words.)
Pages 64–85: Summary and Analysis
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
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 with the bit in his mouth and of having Mister, the rooster he helped hatch, free and watching this humiliation.
Denver believes Beloved is the spirit of her sister returned in the flesh and urges Beloved not to tell Sethe. Denver’s advice ends the dancing they have been doing and causes an argument. In an attempt to soothe Beloved, Denver tells her how Amy helped Sethe give birth to Denver.
As the story switches from present to past, the divisions between the two become vague. Denver has no difficulty accepting that Beloved is her sister, although her sister had died almost nineteen years earlier. Paul D finds himself telling Sethe of Halle’s insanity and his own torture as if it were...
(The entire section is 388 words.)
Pages 86–113: Summary and Analysis
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
Sethe feels she needs a ceremony to lay down her burdens and so takes Beloved and Denver with her to The Clearing, where Baby Suggs formerly led her spiritual community. She feels fingers massaging her neck and then choking her. She thinks it is the spirit of the nine-years-dead Baby Suggs, but Denver quietly tells Beloved she knows Beloved did this. While in The Clearing, Sethe remembers her 28 days of freedom (before the murder and after her escape from slavery), acknowledges Halle is gone forever, and realizes she does want Paul D in her life.
We learn of Denver’s two years of deafness after her classmate, Nelson Lord, innocently asked her about the murder and she, in turn, asked her mother but could not abide to hear the answers. Paul D remembers his imprisonment for the...
(The entire section is 522 words.)
Pages 114–147: Summary and Analysis
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
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 entertain Beloved with stories and songs or Beloved will go back from whence she came.
Paul D doesn’t understand why he is having sex with Beloved when he loves Sethe more each day. He decides to meet Sethe after her workday to tell her, but asks her to have his baby instead. She decides, after having brought Paul D back to her bed, that another baby is not a good idea.
In flashback, Baby Suggs remembers the feast for 90 people that had started with Stamp Paid bringing pail after pail of black berries to her and ending with the community agreeing that she is too “uppity”—which they claimed was caused by her abundance of good fortune.
It seems there was no winning for freed...
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Pages 148–165: Summary and Analysis
Aunt Phyllis: the midwife from Minnowville who Mr. Garner sent for each time Sethe gave birth
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 dead Beloved; therefore, Baby Suggs told her it was time to nurse Denver but they had to trade children in order for Sethe to do so. Sethe and her daughter, nursing from a nipple still covered with Beloved’s blood, were taken to prison after the sheriff had sent off schoolteacher, his nephew, and the slave catcher.
Stamp Paid brings a newspaper article to Paul D. It has a picture of a woman who looks remarkably like Sethe, but Paul D keeps insisting the mouth is not right. Stamp Paid tells Paul D about the picnic-barbecue, then reads the article to him since Paul D cannot read. Paul D goes home to Sethe to ask her about the veracity of the newspaper article. Instead of answering him, she spins in a circle and tells rambling...
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Pages 169–199: Summary and Analysis
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
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 he’s used to doing in the community. His knock is not answered although he hears voices, so he looks in the window and sees the girls. He recognizes Denver, but not Beloved, and decides to make inquiries about her. Six times in as many days he tries to force himself to knock on the door, but simply can’t.
Beloved finds a pair of ice skates. Sethe searches the house and finds one half of another pair. The three women have an uproarious time skating on the lake. Sethe’s laughter turns to uncontrollable weeping, but the girls are not immediately aware of the change in her emotions nor her lack of control over her emotions. They return to the house to warm up and Beloved begins humming a song she couldn’t have known, since...
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Pages 200–217: Summary and Analysis
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 Sethe tried to kill her as she had Beloved. Except for Baby Suggs’ funeral and the day at the carnival, Denver has not left the house nor the yard since going deaf at the age of seven when she had asked Sethe if what Nelson Lord said about the murders and imprisonment was true. She feels she must keep Beloved safe from Sethe this time because Halle will be coming for them.
Beloved describes her journey back to the flesh after existing as the spirit that haunted 124 Bluestone Road and mentions Sethe’s earrings several times. She remembers three frustrations: first, the clouds of gun smoke which blinded her and prevented her from following Sethe; second, when Sethe jumped into the sea instead of smiling at Beloved; and third,...
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Pages 218–235: Summary and Analysis
Vashti: Stamp Paid’s now-deceased wife
Joshua: Stamp Paid’s former slave name
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 with Sixo’s child—being sent running by Sixo when it was clear they were going to be caught; not knowing his father; not remembering his mother; his own torture; and the way his heart stopped when Sethe had told him she’d already sent the children ahead and was going to run herself.
Then Stamp Paid tells Paul D how he renamed himself, how his wife Vashti had to sleep with the young master, and how frustrating it had been to Stamp Paid that he could neither kill the young master nor break Vashti’s neck. He asks about Beloved, and together they figure out she is probably the young girl who had been locked up in a house with a white man all winter. When spring came, the man was dead and the girl gone.
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Pages 239–262: Summary and Analysis
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 goes to Cincinnati seeking the Bodwins. Janey Wagon greets her there and arranges a job for her at the Bodwins, sleeping overnight and being available should she be needed. Janey spreads the news of “the sick cousin” visiting the now insane Sethe. Ella soon reasons that this person must be the embodied spirit of Beloved, returned to seek revenge, and organizes the women of the community in a prayer vigil.
During the vigil, the very pregnant Beloved and Sethe come to the door to see who is singing as Denver awaits Mr. Bodwin’s arrival on the porch. Sethe, confused, thinks Mr. Bodwin is schoolteacher come to take Beloved again and attacks him with the ice pick she had in her hand.
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Pages 263–275: Summary and Analysis
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 she is laying in bed dying. He recognizes her state from what she had told him about Baby Suggs deciding to die and becomes very angry.
Sethe cries that her best thing—Beloved—is gone. Paul D tells her that SHE, herself, is her best thing and that they need some tomorrows together for they have had too many yesterdays together. Beloved is slowly forgotten, even by those who loved/hated her.
Stamp Paid and Paul D have a joint fit of hysterical laughter as they discuss Sethe’s attempt on Bodwin’s life. This seems appropriate, not for the macabre jokes they make, but because she has ironically attempted to kill the man who kept her alive when she was being tried for Beloved’s murder. It...
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