At a Glance
- Morrison cultivates ambiguity about the character of Beloved. She could be the spirit of Sethe's murdered child, but she could also be an ordinary woman with a traumatic past who find a mother in Sethe. This ambiguity allows for many different interpretations of the novel.
- "124 was spiteful." This is the first line of Beloved. It sets the scene (124 Bluestone Road in Ohio) and the tone of the novel (of darkness and bitterness). It also subtly hints as to why the house is spiteful: the missing "3" is often interpreted to represent Sethe's third child, the one she murdered. The absence of this 3 haunts the rest of the novel.
- Morrison was inspired to write Beloved after coming across an article about the real-life Margaret Garner, a former slave who, like Sethe, killed her daughter to prevent her from returning to a slave plantation.
Sample Essay Outlines
Mother love is supposedly the strongest and strangest love there is. For example, Sethe maintains throughout the novel that murder was a better alternative than slavery for her children. How may her statement be supported?
II. Treated as Animals in Slavery
Sethe’s animal characteristics listed alongside her human ones as an exercise in schoolteacher’s classroom
B. Schoolteacher’s nephews suckle Sethe’s milk from her breast
C. Thirty-Mile Woman is almost old enough to “breed”
III. Denied Dominion over Self in Slavery
A. Baby Suggs’ seven babies sold without her consent
B. Sethe’s mother branded
C. Paul A sold from Sweet Home to meet expenses after Mr. Garner’s death
IV. Torture Used on Slaves
A. Sethe whipped when schoolteacher discovered she has told Mrs. Garner that his nephews stole her milk
B. Paul D forced to wear the iron bit and three-prong collar after his abortive attempt to escape
C. Sixo burned and shot to death after his escape attempt
V. Usually Denied Family Life in Slavery
A. Sethe’s mother “given” to many different men
B. Baby Suggs permitted to keep only one of her children
C. Nan, rather than their mothers, cared for all the slave children
An argument exists that while the body may be enslaved, it is possible to keep the soul free. Sixo effectively demonstrates this argument. What does this statement mean in terms of the novel?
I. Thesis Statement: Sixo’s spirit was never enslaved.
II. Refusal to Do Without Love
A. 20-years-old with no women available at Sweet Home
B. Thirty-Mile Woman was just that—thirty miles away
C. Sixo found a way to convince her to meet him half way
III. Refusal to Accept Mental Dominance
A. When accused of stealing food, reasoned that he was only “improving the master’s property”
B. Successfully pilfered blankets for the escape
C. Had his own unique theories about the ways of the masters
D. Made a convincing argument that Mr. Garner died of being shot in the ear rather than from an exploded ear drum caused by a stroke
IV. Refusal to Behave like an Animal
A. In no way disturbed Sethe when she came to Sweet Home as a girl of 14
B. Chose Thirty-Mile Woman for himself and with her agreement
C. Rejoiced that Thirty-Mile Woman was pregnant with his child
D. Sacrificed himself so that Thirty-Mile Woman could escape the white men hunting them
V. Refusal to be Limited by Constraints of Slavery
A. Would sneak out at night to meet Thirty-Mile Woman
B. Devised new and different ways to bake the potatoes he stole
C. Laughed as he was being burned as punishment for trying to escape
The spirits of the dead often return to this world for revenge. Beloved has not just come back to be reunited with her mother but to seek revenge for her mother’s having murdered her. How do we know this is so?
I. Thesis Statement: Beloved seeks revenge for her murder.
II. Beloved is the Older, Murdered Daughter’s Re-embodiment
A. Hums the song Sethe had made up for her children
B. Asks where Sethe’s diamonds...
(The entire section is 1,267 words.)