The main characters in Beloved are Sethe, Denver, Baby Suggs, Halle, Beloved, and Paul D.
- Sethe is a former slave who attempts to kill her children to prevent them being taken back into slavery. She's haunted by the death of her third child.
- Denver is Sethe's fourth child and her only surviving daughter.
- Baby Suggs is Sethe's mother-in-law and a spiritual leader in her town. She became a freewoman thanks to Halle's efforts.
- Halle is Sethe's husband. He goes insane after witnessing Sethe's assault.
- Beloved is a mysterious woman whom Sethe believes to be the spirit of her murdered child.
- Paul D. is Sethe's friend.
Sethe, a fugitive slave woman. She killed one of her four children eighteen years earlier, when she saw her former owner come to capture them. This happened a month after she escaped to Ohio, where her mother-in-law resided. After the incident, she alienated herself in the community while living with her youngest child in a house occupied by a ghost spirit. the dead daughter, Beloved, returns as a ghost. Sethe enjoys their reunion and responds to all of her demands. When Beloved’s demands increase, she exhausts herself physically and psychologically.
Beloved, a bodily ghost of Sethe’s baby. Having died at the age of two, her throat cut with a handsaw by Sethe, she reappears as a woman of twenty. She calls herself Beloved, the only word carved on her tombstone. She is eager to listen to Sethe’s stories, demands her attention, and accuses Sethe of forsaking her. She disappears with the singing of thirty women in the community.
Denver, Sethe’s youngest child. Denver was born in a river while Sethe was escaping to Ohio as a runaway slave. She was named for a white woman who helped Sethe’s delivery. When Beloved appears, Denver soon recognizes that she is the ghost whom she had seen as a child and welcomes her company. Witnessing her mother’s exhaustion from meeting Beloved’s demands, she asks for help from the community, from which she and Sethe had been isolated since Sethe’s murder of her child. Eventually, she is offered a job working for a white family.
Paul D, a former slave. He comes to Cincinnati to look for Sethe and her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, after eighteen years of absence. He used to belong to the plantation where Sethe was enslaved. the last time he had seen Sethe was during a failed escape attempt. After his sale to a new plantation, he was moved to a camp, joined the army, stayed with a woman, and continued his journey north. Upon their reunion, Paul D and Sethe rejoice, but he is soon chased away by Beloved and informed of Sethe’s actions. Following that revelation, he avoids her. Later, he reconsiders and assures Sethe that he wants to spend his life with her.
Baby Suggs, Sethe’s mother-in-law. Her son, Halle, earned her freedom in return for years of his extra labor. She had seven other children, fathered by different men, and did not know where they were sold. As soon as she arrives in Ohio, she enjoys a sense of possessing her own body. She preaches to the community that they too should love their own bodies. Sethe’s murder of Beloved occurs on the following day, when Baby Suggs provides a huge banquet for the community, an action that invites their anger. She dies after pondering colors for her last eight years.
The novel takes its name from the character Beloved, a ghost. Beloved was killed by her mother, Sethe, as a baby to keep her from being returned to slavery by her owner, schoolteacher, who has come to Ohio to reclaim his slave property. As a result, the opening lines of the novel state that the house where Sethe, her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, and her daughter, Denver, live is spiteful and full of a baby’s venom. The frightful atmosphere caused by the antics of the baby ghost causes Beloved’s brothers, Howard and Buglar, to run away by the time they are thirteen.
Subsequently, Beloved walks out of the water a fully dressed woman of twenty, the age the murdered...
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baby would have been if she had lived. The author reveals the character of Beloved through the thoughts, emotions, and reactions of Sethe, Denver, and Paul D (Beloved’s uncle and Sethe’s lover). Sethe is at first flattered by Beloved’s quiet devotion and adoration, which pleases her. Denver is devoted to the care and protection of her ghostly sister, but Paul D is suspicious of Beloved. He notices that she is “shining” and questions her closely concerning her origins. Sethe notices that Beloved vexes Paul D, and he is eventually run out of the house and seduced by Beloved. Moreover, Denver notices “how greedy” Beloved is to hear Sethe talk, and that the questions Beloved asks—such as “where are your diamonds?”—are perplexing since she did not understand how Beloved could know of such things. As a result of her murder, Beloved has a need for retribution, which she seeks by literally using up her mother with her constant and insistent demands for time and nurturing.
Beloved’s murder is the cause of Sethe’s constant state of guilt and Denver’s alienation from the community. The efforts of Sethe to provide unity and support for herself and her daughters after Beloved’s return are dramatically revealed in the ice-skating scene. Beloved, Denver, and Sethe skate on a frozen pond holding hands and bracing one another. The three cannot stay upright for long, however, and the author states that “nobody saw them falling.”
Sethe’s inability to hold out physically or mentally against Beloved’s need for vengeance and constant attention eventually leaves her jobless and confined to the house. Beloved takes the best of everything. Denver is forced out into the community to provide for the family; moreover, the community is forced to come to the family’s home to rid it of the invasion of the ghost. A replay of the scene that caused her murder causes Beloved to disappear, and Sethe takes to Baby Suggs’s dying bed with “no plans at all.”
Ironically, Sethe’s wasting away is paralleled by Denver’s emergence, thus allowing the rounding out of Denver’s personality. As a result of Beloved’s disruption of the household, Denver becomes acquainted with her community, and that community gives Denver the help and support that she and her family need to survive. Denver’s shyness is overcome, and she finds a job to provide for her family; however, this job brings her white employer to her home, an episode that in turn causes the flight of Beloved and allows Denver’s emergence into full maturity. Denver’s thoughts are revealed through a stream-of-consciousness technique, and she is the first to recognize that Beloved is “the white dress that had knelt with her mother in the keeping room, the true-to-life presence of the baby that had kept her company for most of her life.” In fact, Denver begins to come alive in the novel when Beloved enters the household, for her mind begins to work fervently trying to understand the acts and desires of the spiritual presence that has entered her life.
Morrison, therefore, uses a variety of literary techniques to develop well-rounded principal characters in Beloved. The use of flashbacks, which reveal the background of each primary character as well as the perceptions of the minor characters, allows the author to delineate character in an effective and artful manner.
Most characters in Beloved are exslaves, and they are treated with respect and compassion as victims of oppression. By contrast, the few white characters in the novel come off generally as malicious, whether passively so like the Garners and the restaurant owner for whom Sethe works, or actively so like Schoolteacher. One exception, the Bodwin family, championed abolition and contributed to the underground railroad. Ironically, in the second exorcism of Beloved, Sethe confuses Mr. Bodwin, who has come by to give Denver a ride to work, with Schoolteacher coming to take her family back to slavery, and attacks him, in one sense reliving the past to escape it. Another exception, Amy Denver, helps runaway slave Sethe deliver Denver, but Amy's language betrays that she, like Twain's Huck Finn, must rise above her innate prejudices to be decent to Sethe. The ex-slaves are defined by their ability to withstand the trauma inflicted by slave culture, but like Stamp Paid who tells Paul D about Sethe's killing Beloved, must accept moral responsibility for the decisions they make.
Except for Sethe, Paul D, and Denver, in many ways the most important characters of the novel never appear as living entities, but as part of the other characters' memories. Sethe's husband Halle represents a heroic ideal, a slave of great moral courage who volunteered to work extra Sundays to buy his mother's freedom and learned to read and count so the owners couldn't cheat him. Baby Suggs taught Denver to remember the father she never knew as an "angel man" who will someday return to liberate the family. While Denver must unlearn that hope, as Sethe accepts her life with Paul D as acknowledgment that Halle cannot return, Paul recalls Halle as the best of the Sweet Home Men, but finally tells Sethe of seeing Halle smearing himself with clabber to express his humiliation at not being able to rescue Sethe from the nephews' abuse. Thus Halle represents the power of racism to destroy the will of even the bravest and noblest man.
Something similar is true of his mother, whom the narrator calls "Baby Suggs holy." Herself broken and crippled by slavery, Baby takes up the mission of healing other ex-slaves. In "the Clearing" she preaches to them not of Christian submission, but of self-acceptance. She exhorts them to love their flesh, to dance and cry and pray about it, because "[y] onder they [white people] do not love your flesh. They despise it." But even Baby Suggs's desperate optimism cannot sustain her after the Misery (Stamp Paid's word for Sethe's killing her child). She retires to her room and studies individual colors, staying away from the more aggressive shades, until her death. Only through the process of rememory can Sethe and Stamp Paid come to terms with the cause behind Baby's despair: "Those white things have taken all I had or dreamed, ... and broke my heartstrings too. There is no bad luck in this world but white folks." Like her son, the character of Baby suggests that even a holy, life affirming person can be driven to despair by racism and hatred.
About the novel's central enigma, Beloved herself, it is hard to decide whether she is a character or a presence, a ghost made flesh or a succubus. After Paul D exorcises the "venomous ghost" haunting 124, a young woman who possesses memories specific to Sethe's lost daughter as well as memories of "the other place," which is both death's kingdom and the hold of a slave trader ship, takes up residence with Sethe, who gradually recognizes this young woman as her daughter — Denver earlier made the same identification. As she evolves into the identity Sethe and Denver create for her, Beloved forms a bond with Denver, makes an attempt on Sethe's life in the Clearing, drives Paul D from Sethe's bed and eventually seduces him; by the novel's end she is draining Sethe of her life and is exorcised by Ella and the community.
There is no denying that she is an otherworldly presence even if she appears in the flesh, but her nature remains ambivalent. By superimposing trader-ship memories on Beloved's abbreviated life experiences, Morrison suggests that she is a representative victim for many who were destroyed by racism. But however much one sympathizes with Beloved as victim of slavery and Sethe's impromptu choice, there remains an inescapable malice, something Sethe has to come to terms with in order to forgive herself and experience her life. As Sethe's victim, and that of her culture, Beloved longs to possess her mother; but in seeking to possess Beloved very nearly destroys the thing she loves and wants to become.