Beloved Critical Essays

  • 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.

Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 120

It has been noted that Beloved, Morrison’s fifth novel, is more explicit than most early slave narratives, which could not fully reveal the horror of the slave experience either because the authors dared not offend their white abolitionist audiences or could not bear to dwell on the horrors of slavery. Reviewers have also often remarked on the author’s emotional distance from her characters and her ability to relate grotesque stories without extreme emotionalism. Beloved won Morrison a 1988 Pulitzer Prize, though the novel was at the center of controversy when it did not receive two other major literary awards. In 1993, any earlier critical slights of Morrison’s work were redressed by her receipt of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

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Critical Evaluation