Beloved Summary

Beloved is a novel by Toni Morrison about Sethe, a runaway slave who believes that the spirit of her dead child has returned to life as a woman named Beloved.

  • When runaway slave Sethe's former slavemaster arrives to reclaim her and her children, Sethe panics and attempts to kill her children. She only succeeds in murdering her eldest daughter. 
  • Years later, Sethe and her remaining daughter Denver take in a woman named Beloved, who Sethe believes is the spirit of her deceased daughter.
  • Beloved is demanding and gluttonous, draining Sethe and Denver's energy.
  • The community successfully stages a cleansing to banish Beloved's toxic spirit.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on April 10, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2055

Mr. and Mrs. Garner were the proprietors of Sweet Home, a farm where they employed the forced labor of Paul F, Halle, Paul A, Paul D, and Sixo. Despite using slaves, they exhibited a degree of consideration, seeking their opinions and permitting them to carry firearms for hunting. Sethe, a young enslaved woman, was purchased and given the freedom to select Halle as her spouse. With the Garners' approval, the pair became husband and wife, raising two boys and a girl together. Unfortunately, Mr. Garner fell sick and eventually passed away.

Before he passed away, Mr. Garner had given Halle the opportunity to work for hire in order to purchase his mother, Baby Suggs', freedom from slavery. At the age of 60, Halle's mother became a liberated woman and relocated to Ohio, a state north of her previous location. There, she leased 124 Bluestone Road from the abolitionist Bodwin family and assumed the role of a spiritual guide, focusing on mending shoes and avoiding preaching as a traditional religious leader would.

Following her spouse's passing, the frail Mrs. Garner fell seriously sick. She agreed to have other white people live with her when advised it was necessary, and so invited schoolteacher and his two nephews to stay at the house and oversee the farm, which included managing the slaves. Schoolteacher and his nephews were unlike the Garners, implementing beatings, torment, degradation, and dehumanization of the slaves. However, Mrs. Garner was too unwell to pay attention. Except for Paul F, who was sold two years earlier to maintain the farm, the slaves chose to escape through the Underground Railroad. Sethe, who was pregnant, had already sent her two-year-old daughter and two older sons with some other slaves when Halle, her husband, failed to appear at the agreed-upon location and time.

She remained behind to search for him, but was apprehended by the nephews of the schoolteacher who restrained her and drew milk from her breasts. Upon finding out that she informed Mrs. Garner of the episode, the schoolteacher punished her with a whipping, causing severe damage to her back's skin, even though she was six months into her pregnancy.

Unknown to Sethe, her spouse had concealed himself in the attic, where he witnessed her assault. Helpless to intervene, this experience pushed him over the edge. Paul D observed Halle but could not see Sethe's situation. Shortly thereafter, he saw Halle calmly spread butter from the churn across his face, his gaze hollow. Sethe managed to flee, but had to pause due to her baby's impending birth. A serendipitous encounter with an indentured servant named Amy led to her assistance. The newborn was named Denver, adopting Amy's surname.

Sethe arrived at her mother-in-law's residence with her newborn baby, overjoyed to reunite with her other three children. Shortly after, Baby Suggs and Sethe organized a picnic-barbecue for the neighborhood. The plentiful food and joyful atmosphere, combined with Baby Suggs' fortunate escape from slavery, her journey to freedom in a wagon driven by her previous owner, and her friendship with the Bodwins who leased her a two-story home (unlike the single-story dwellings others resided in), caused the neighbors and friends in Baby Suggs' congregation to consider her and her family as pretentious. Consequently, the inhabitants of 124 Bluestone Road were ostracized until they no longer received visitors, and Baby Suggs ceased serving as the spiritual guide at the forest clearing.

Schoolteacher, his nephew, the sheriff, and a slave hunter arrived to take Sethe and her children back to Sweet Home. Though no one had given them warning, Sethe identified the schoolteacher by his hat as he neared the house on horseback. She quickly hid her children in the shed and tried to kill them, refusing to let them endure the same enslavement she had suffered. Both her mother-in-law and Stamp Paid stood petrified in the backyard. Sethe managed to kill her two-year-old daughter by cutting her throat and nearly killed her infant, Denver, who was saved by Stamp Paid as Sethe attempted to smash her against the wall. The two boys had been brutally attacked with a shovel, receiving severe blows to their heads.

Howard and Buglar recovered under their grandmother's care while Sethe was in prison awaiting her trial for homicide. Denver, being a breastfeeding baby, accompanied her mother to jail. The Bodwins utilized their connections in Cincinnati to secure Sethe's incarceration instead of capital punishment, and they succeeded in doing so.

Having completed her prison term, Sethe and Denver went back to Baby Suggs' residence to reunite with her, Howard, and Buglar. Upon their arrival, it was evident that the ghost of the slain child was lingering in the house. This supernatural presence had such a profound impact on Howard and Buglar that both of them departed the household upon reaching adolescence. Sethe secured employment as a cook at Sawyer's restaurant, where the proprietor was untroubled by her criminal past. Nevertheless, the wider community, with the exception of Stamp Paid, persisted in steering clear of the family.

Denver, a solitary and introverted child, was raised in a household alongside her mother and grandmother. At the age of seven, she learned that Lady Jones was providing lessons for the neighborhood kids and decided to attend. However, she left the classes when another child unintentionally inquired about her elder sister's murder. Despite Stamp Paid's attempts to change her mind, Baby Suggs chose to pass away and spent her remaining years confined to her home or bed. Her death occurred shortly after Howard and Buglar's departure, but it was not connected to their leaving.

Nearly two decades after the killing, Paul D arrives in the city. He had also tried to escape from Sweet Home but was apprehended and subjected to a brutal form of torture and degradation - being forced to wear an iron bit that pressed down on his tongue. Afterward, he was sold to a man named Brandywine, whom he attempted to murder. This effort led to Paul D's incarceration in the most deplorable work-gang prison in Alfred, Georgia. He managed to break free from the prison and found refuge with the Cherokee. Eventually, he became the last remaining escapee of the initial group of forty-six. The Cherokee taught him to use the trees as a guide towards the north, and he followed this path. In due course, he arrived in Delaware, where he lived for a year and a half with a compassionate woman. Once he left her, he wandered aimlessly until he discovered Sethe's residence.

After locating Sethe, he is disheartened to learn about Baby Suggs' passing and, in spite of Denver's unfriendliness, decides to live in their home. During his initial night there, he faces the house's ghost and triumphs, effectively banishing Denver's sole companion for nearly two decades and causing significant damage to Sethe's kitchen. To gain Sethe and Denver's acceptance, he persuades them to attend the carnival's colored day. Upon returning, they find a young, exhausted, and stylishly dressed black woman awaiting them. Sethe instantly recognizes her as the reincarnation of her daughter's spirit, while Paul D and Denver only notice the girl's need for rest and hydration.

Beloved, whose memory appears to be limited to her name, is welcomed into Sethe's household, much to Paul D's annoyance. She becomes deeply devoted to Sethe, accompanying her from room to room and meeting her after work once she recovers her strength. Beloved's obvious attempts to seduce Paul D make him very uncomfortable, causing him to move into the shed. However, Sethe and Denver do not notice her attempts at seduction, which Paul D refers to as "the shining." Beloved appears to be simple, speaking very little, lacking in many skills, and acting childishly except when it comes to Paul D. Denver is responsible for keeping her occupied as she requires a lot of attention. As Paul D distances himself from Beloved and eventually leaves the house, she becomes more and more of a drain on Denver and Sethe's energy.

At the workplace, Stamp Paid and Paul D are herding pigs to the slaughterhouse. During this, Stamp Paid shares a newspaper article about some murders with Paul D. However, Paul D is illiterate and cannot read the article, but he recognizes Sethe's picture in it. He denies it is her, pointing out the difference in the mouth. Stamp Paid makes the mistake of reading the article to Paul D, who later confronts Sethe about it. Sethe explains that she did it to protect her children, but Paul D complains that her love is too overwhelming for him. As a result, he begins to distance himself from Sethe and eventually moves away from her for some time.

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.

The women are so absorbed with Beloved that Denver's mood improves and Sethe is fired from her job for being absent. Denver realizes that Sethe is no longer able to provide for them and asks Lady Jones to help find her a job, but she doesn't know that jobs are scarce and the community is also struggling financially. Although Lady Jones cannot offer a job, she ensures that the community supports the family by leaving food in their yard at different times.

At present, Paul D resides in the lower level of the town's commercial church, which greatly disturbs Stamp Paid. He believes that the community ought to have welcomed Paul D, particularly since he is a hardworking individual who is willing to pay for his expenses. When he discovers Paul D drinking on the church steps, Stamp Paid apologizes for the way Paul D was treated by the locals. He also reveals that he witnessed the day of the murder and that the newspaper's description of events was inaccurate.

The three women are struggling financially until Denver can secure a job, despite their neighbors' assistance. Sethe distributes the food unevenly, giving most of it to Beloved, who is pregnant with Paul D's child - although Sethe and Denver are unaware of this fact. Sethe seems to be getting smaller, while Denver is losing weight to the point where her clothes are too big. Sethe is now subservient to Beloved and tolerates her outbursts, becoming Beloved's slave. Furthermore, Sethe is no longer safe from Beloved, who previously attempted to strangle her in Baby Suggs' clearing. After much thought, Denver decides to approach the Bodwins for employment.

aney Wagon convinces the Bodwins that, due to their age, they need someone to stay with them at night. She explains that she cannot do it herself, as she has her own family to care for. Janey also spreads rumors in the community that Sethe's deceased daughter has returned to haunt her. In response, the women in the community decide to go to Sethe's home to force Beloved out. However, when they arrive, Mr. Bodwin unexpectedly shows up to pick up Denver for work. As the women begin to sing, Sethe and Beloved appear at the door. Sethe becomes disoriented and mistakes Mr. Bodwin for Schoolteacher, who she believes has come to take her children back into slavery. Sethe rushes toward Mr. Bodwin with an ice pick, but Denver intervenes by leading some others in restraining her mother. Ella then hits Sethe on the jaw. Mr. Bodwin remains unaware of the danger he was in, only noticing the pregnant and naked Beloved in the doorway and believing that Sethe is attempting to break up a fight between the women.

Paul D and Denver unexpectedly meet on the street. Denver is still employed by the Bodwins, and Miss Bodwin is her teacher. On the day that Sethe's mother attempted to harm Mr. Bodwin, Beloved vanished. Sethe is struggling with her emotional well-being. Shortly after, Paul D returns to live in Sethe's house. He attempts to persuade Sethe that she is her own greatest asset, not Beloved.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Chapter Summaries