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 schoolteacher’s intentions may also include the eventual selling of her children, she resolves to escape North to freedom.
Sethe and Halle make plans to take the Underground Railroad to Ohio to join Baby Suggs. Sethe succeeds in getting her children on the Underground Railroad, but before she can join them, she is violated by schoolteacher’s nephews, who brutally beat her while she is pregnant with her fourth child. Pregnant, barefoot, and mutilated, Sethe escapes to Ohio to join her mother-in-law and her already crawling baby girl, Beloved. She arrives in Cincinnati with Denver, her...
(The entire section is 841 words.)