Topics for Further Study
The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 changed the way free states were required to deal with fugitive slaves, leading to Sethe's terrible response to her capture. Research the history of the legal status of fugitive and freed slaves in America. Create a timeline tracing these legal developments, and include both Supreme Court decisions and state and federal laws.
In preparing to write Beloved, Toni Morrison read several slave narratives—autobiographies by freed slaves. What was missing from these narratives, said the author, was a portrayal of the inner lives of their subjects. Read one or two such slave narratives, such as those by Frederick Douglass or Harriet Jacobs. Does Morrison's point have validity? Argue for or against this opinion in an essay, comparing the narrative with Morrison's novel and using examples from the text to support your arguments.
In Beloved, Amy Denver has also escaped from a situation where she faced beatings and forced labor. Research the history of indentured servitude in America. Who was subject to such contracts? In what ways was it similar to slavery? In what ways was it different? Write a paper describing your findings.
Read some African-American ghost stories, such as the folktales in Patricia McKissack's The Dark Thirty or Virginia Hamilton's The People Could Fly and Her Stories. What elements do they have in common with the "ghost story" of Beloved? Present your conclusions in an essay, and use examples from the texts.
One of the important themes in Beloved is the significance of the bond between mother and child; Sethe, Denver, and Beloved all suffer to some extent because of a rupture in this bond. Do some research into the psychology of the mother-child relationship. What happens when small children are not permitted to bond with a parent? Compare your findings with what happens to the characters in the novel. Remember to cite both research studies and the novel.