Introduction of Beloved
Beloved was written by an African American feminine icon, Toni Morrison, and published in 1987. It took the literary world of the African American community in the United States by storm. Set in the time of the Civil War, Beloved has surpassed the actual life depiction of Margaret Garner, an escapee of slavery. When she was captured, she kills her child for fear that the child might be taken into slavery though she crossed the borders to the free state of Ohio. The depiction of that true story created ripples in the American literary circles and the novel won her Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988, making Toni a household name.
Summary of Beloved
The story of the novel revolves around Sethe, a slave woman, who starts living in Ohio in the state of Cincinnati on 124. It happens in 1873 when both mother and daughter escape from slavery following the Civil War. The story, then, moves to this haunted house, Sethe’s daughter, Denver, her two sons, who have run away when quite young for which Sethe thinks because of the ghost in the house, and Baby Suggs, her mother-in-law, who lives with her but later dies after her sons flee.
The story unfolds in a manner of switching from the past to the present with a series of flashbacks. Sethe meets Paul D on 124 which takes her back to the days she has worked in Sweet Plantation for Mr. & Mrs. Garner along with Halle, Paul D, Paul A, Sixo, and Paul F. These men lust over Sethe but never make a move on her. Sethe chooses to marry Halle and she gets pregnant. Meanwhile, the owner of the Plantation dies leaving the responsibility to be taken over by Mrs. Garners’ Brother-in-law and his nephews. The Brother-in-law known as the school teacher among the slaves was very sadistic and racist. One day, he whips Sethe in spite of knowing she was pregnant. Sethe complains to Mrs. Garner.
Knowing this school teacher and the nephews surround her in the barn and steal her breast milk. All along this was watched by Halle who was hiding in the loft above her but doesn’t come out to save his wife since he feared losing his life. Later, in the story Paul D states that he sees Halle rubs his face with churned butter and acting like a crazy person. Later, Baby Suggs and Sethe escape from there to Ohio along with her other children. While traveling in the boat with Amy and Denver, they help her deliver the baby which is why she names her daughter after one of the girls. Sethe gets help from Stamp Paid.
Later, the school teacher comes to Sethe’s to take her and the children to work in the farm. In order, to escape the shackles of slavery and the cruelty of racism for her and her children, she tries to kill her children and herself later. So, she kills one of her daughters whose name is never mentioned in the story. When she was taken to prison, the white abolitionists-Bodwins help her release her to release from prison. The family lives in isolation after the community shuns them.
While at Sweet Plantation Sixo is killed by a school teacher and Paul D sold to Brandywine slave owner and later sent to a chain gang experiencing torture and humiliation along with other slaves because he tried to kill the owner. Luckily, rainstorms in the region helped them escape and Paul reaches Cincinnati on 124. Paul D tries to convince Sethe stating that he is the perfect man for her and continues to stay in 124 in spite of the haunted house situation. Paul D dismisses his superstitious thoughts and returns to the family to help them forget their horrible past.
However, he could not remove Denver, the revenant, from the house as when all of the return, they find her sitting on the floor and showing herself as Sethe’s daughter, Beloved. Despite his warnings, Sethe does not leave Beloved and feels charmed, while Paul D, feels highly discomfort in her presence and starts sleeping at different places. Despite this, Beloved corners him and has sex with him when he thinks about his horrible past of slavery. Soon he tells Sethe about it, but she feels gladdened over this relation, though, Paul D, does not accept it and repels her influence on him.
He also does not face any acceptance on work and gets information from Stamp Paid that the community shuns them on account of Beloved. However, he leaves after he comes to know about this event, though, Sethe, does not leave the ghost, seeing in it her dead daughter, Beloved. Spoiling the ghost of Beloved through time and money, Sethe soon loses her job yet she is unable to meet her demands and tolerate her ever-increasing tantrums. Finally, Beloved takes a toll on her, making her a skeleton and herself heavy as a pregnant woman.
Finally, Denver, her other daughter, musters up the courage and seeks assistance from her community and former teacher Lady Jones, at which some women come to help them get rid of the ghost. Meanwhile, Mr. Bodwin, too, arrives to offer them a place for work, but instead, Sethe attacks assuming it was the school teacher, while Beloved disappears from the scene forever. Denver, then, takes the lead and becomes a worker, while Paul D returns finding Sethe on the bed and making her feel that she is the best woman for him.
Major Themes in Beloved
- Slavery and Dehumanization: The long-lasting effects of slavery and its dehumanizing impacts on the African American community is an important theme of this novel. Sethe’s final escape toward Ohio shows that despite having fled slavery, she stays emotionally in it. Paul D, too, flees to become a good human being and when all of them meet at the same house, they become hostage to Beloved, who proves that they will take time to come into their proper senses. Also, constant beatings, bad treatment such as the thrashing of the Schoolteacher’s nephews, and animal images to show this mistreatment are the influences of this dehumanization.
- Naming: The theme of naming is significant in Beloved in that it shows the white sense of superiority that does not let this ethnic race come down to see that the African American people like Pauls, Baby Suggs, and Sethe are also humans and Christians too. The naming of Paul as different alphabets show this mentality of eliminating the true identity of an individual. Not only were they named in this way, but also they were sold and purchased on bills such as in the case of Baby Suggs’ mother, Whitlow.
- Role of Mother: The role of the mother in an African American structure is significant in that a mother becomes a protective figure for anyone who comes to her. Baby Suggs assumes this role when she sees that she has lost almost all of her children. However, Sethe replaces after taking care of her and assumes this role to take care of the children whoever comes to her despite the fact that she has tried to kill them and even killed Beloved out of love that her children should not be damned into slavery again.
- Slavery: The main theme of slavery reverberates in almost every part and every character of Beloved. Sethe, Baby Suggs, Paul D, and all other characters have had to face the worst on account of their being from the African American race. For example, the Schoolteacher, who owns Sweet Home, treats them brutally like animals and they are traded like livestock. That is why Paul D considers Sweet Home just another name of a center of exploitation instead of sweetness.
- Identity: Individual identity and its elimination or erasure is another significant theme in that different characters from the African American community lose their individuality when they are exchanged for money or otherwise. Pauls are named as B, C, and D while other kids and adults are named as if they are not human beings or worse than animals. The treatment of the School teacher is quite opposite to his title, showing an entirely new way of identifying the African Americans. That is why Stamp Paid is of the view that it is slavery that has twisted and turned their identities.
- Masculinity: Masculinity is a thematic strand, and it runs parallel to femininity that does not and cannot exist in the absence of masculinity. The life of Sethe seems incomplete without Paul after Halle and the same goes for Paul D that he cannot exist or live without the active presence of Sethe.
- Past: Past exists in the present in Beloved in that Sethe is settled at 124, yet the scars of past slavery stay afresh in her mind, constantly haunting her into seeing the ghost of her dead daughter as if she is living with her. Despite her balanced personality, Denver, too, seems to have the impacts of the scars of past slavery. That is why she nudges Sethe to narrate her stories of Amy and others.
- Home: The theme of the home appears in Beloved in that almost all the African American characters vie to have a home of their own. When Sethe arrives at 124, she does not seem to reconcile to the idea that she has her own home, the reason that she attacks the white man in the end.
- Freedom: Although somewhat implicit, the idea of freedom for the African American community constantly comes to the fore when Sethe flees and then Paul D, follows. Even living at 124, it seems that the main obsession of the other characters such as Baby Suggs and even Denver is freedom; freedom from financial pressure, and freedom from social constraints.
Major Characters in Beloved
- Sethe: The protagonist of Beloved, Sethe is the representative of the African American community and a sign of the hateful slavery that existed. Although she shows generous-heartedness by keeping everyone at 142, yet her own problem of the dead daughter and the new revenant compounds her dilemmas. She has reached this stage after having been sold to many hands and finally marrying Halle Suggs, though, she has had to take care of his mother later in life. Her passion to save her children from slavery is so strong that she reaches Ohio by hook or crook. Yet, her desire to keep the family together fails, for she could not keep her sons at home and that Baby Suggs also leaves her to her eternal abode. Finally, she stays contented with Denver, her other daughter, and Paul D.
- Baby Suggs: Baby Suggs is Halle’s mother and Sethe’s mother-in-law. She appears when Halle buys her freedom, though, she remains passive. Finally, she becomes a sacred woman in the community at 124 when Sethe takes her to Cincinnati so that she could lead her life in peace and comfort. Baby Suggs becomes so weak that she thinks it better to withdraw from day-to-day activities and while staying at 124.
- Denver: Sethe’s second daughter and the future breadwinner, Denver gets her name from Amy Denver, the white lady, who helps Sethe during her delivery. Her insistence on Amy’s story is perhaps an indicator of her attachment to her benefactor. To kill her loneliness, she stays with Sethe all the time and starts working by the end when going becomes tough in the household.
- Beloved: Beloved appeared in the novel as two persons. The first one is the daughter of Sethe to whom she kills when Sweet Home’s owner and the police find her and try to forcibly take her back. The second is the ghost of Beloved who starts living with them at 124 and leaves only when Sethe is almost eaten up, making Beloved very fat. Although Beloved dies in childhood, yet the revenant becomes very touchy and temperamental and finally disappears from the scene.
- School teacher: The role of the School teacher is very important in Beloved in that he wields power over the slaves at Sweet Home. His sadism, sometimes, surpasses his biological knowledge of slave taming. His cruelty against Sethe and other slaves reminds them of the scars they receive at Sweet Home.
- Paul D: Paul D has lived at Sweet Home as a slave with other Pauls and Halle. He, like others, suffers at the hands of School teacher and later appears at 124 to live with Sethe including the ghost of Beloved. When Sethe finally faces mental dilemmas, he again appears to support her, though, he himself is engaged in repelling his bitter memories with his tobacco tin.
- Mr. Garner: Mr. Garner is significant in the storyline on account of his pride in his treatment of slaves. His free handling of the slaves earns him some praise, though, he stays hypocritical in his attitude and actions.
- Sixo: Markedly different from others due to paint color, Sixo seems well-versed in his masters’ language, the reason that he rebels wherever he goes. He is presented in the story as a gentle spirit.
- Amy Denver: Her character in the novel defies all predictions about her being a white lady and still helping the slaves. Her generosity and free spirit win the hearts of the African American community in that Sethe names her daughter after her for whom she helps Sethe during the birth.
- Stamp Paid: Stamp Paid, formerly called Joshua, faces very cruel slavery when his wife gets sexually abused despite his payment of debts. He appears as a problem solver even at 124 when he serves the community.
Writing Style of Beloved
Tony Morrison adopted a very unusual style in this novel, starting it by breaking the usual structure that is a non-linear story. The story starts en medias res and takes the readers to different characters who either tell their tales or a third person omniscient narrator starts telling the story. Most parts of the storyline are in the present tense in flashbacks, while some are in the past tense with the juxtaposition of the past with the present. The sentence structure, however, is quite simple, to the point, and direct, using both formal as well as informal diction.
Analysis of Literary Devices in Beloved
- Action: The main action of the novel comprises Sethe and Baby Suggs ordeal under slavery, their freedom, and the life of their kids. However, the rising action occurs when Sethe kills Beloved for fear that she may be taken back to be a slaver. The falling action, however, occurs when Beloved, the revenant, disappears from the home at 124.
- Allegory: Beloved is presented as an allegorical figure as she represents the past that keeps on haunting Sethe and other people living in 124.
- Anadiplosis: Beloved shows the use of anaphora in the below example,
i. Harder, harder, the fingers moved slowly around toward her windpipe, making little circles on the way (One)
The sentence shows the repetitious use of “harder, harder” at the beginning of the sentence.
- Antagonist: Beloved shows a system demonstrating itself as an antagonist. For example, slavery has been shown as an antagonist of Sethe that it does not let her free its shackles and enjoy a free life.
- Allusion: There are various examples of allusions given in the novel.
i. I will call them my people,
Which were not my people;
And her beloved,
Which was not beloved.
ii. Maybe he should have left it alone; maybe Sethe would have gotten around to telling him herself; maybe he was not the high minded Soldier of Christ he thought he was, but an ordinary, plain meddler who had interrupted something going along just fine for the sake of truth and forewarning. (One)
iii. When the horsemen came—schoolteacher, one nephew, one
slave catcher and a sheriff—the house on Bluestone Road was so
quiet they thought they were too late. (Two)
These three allusions are related to religion and Christianity; the first one is a direct quote, the second alludes to Christ and the third alludes to four horsemen in the Bible in Apocalypse.
- Conflict: The are two types of conflicts in the novel. The first one is the external conflict that is going on in the African American community led by Sethe and the institution of slavery. The second one is going on in the mind of Sethe about the freedom of her children and slavery.
- Characters: Beloved presents both static as well as dynamic characters. The young girl, Denver, and her mother, Sethe, are the two dynamic characters as they constantly change themselves according to the circumstances. However, all other characters, like all Pauls, Baby Suggs, Stamp Paid, and other white characters are static characters as they do not change during the course of the novel.
- Climax: The climax occurs by the end of the first part where Sethe kills her daughter due to the fear that she might have to live life in slavery like her.
- Foreshadowing: The novel shows the following examples of foreshadowing,
i. 124 was spitefull. Full of a baby’s venom. The women in the
house knew it and so did the children. For years each put up with the
spite in his own way, but by 1873 Sethe and her daughter Denver
were its only victims. (One)
ii. Out of site of of Mister’s sight, away, praise His name, from the
smiling boss of roosters, Paul D began to tremble. Not all at once and
not so anyone could tell. (One)
iii. 124 was quiet. Denver, who thought she knew all about
silence, was surprised to learn hunger could do that: quiet you down
and wear you out. (One)
These quotes from Beloved foreshadow the coming events.
- Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example,
i. And the wrought-iron maze he had explored in the kitchen like a gold miner pawing through pay dirt was, in fact, a revolting clump of scars. Not a tree, as she said. Maybe shaped like one, but nothing like any tree he knew because trees were inviting; things you could trust and be near; talk to if you wanted to as he frequently did since way back when he took the midday meal in the fields of Sweet Home. (One)
ii. The crickets were screaming on Thursday and the sky, stripped of blue, was white hot at eleven in the morning. (One)
iii. Slow, what-if thoughts that cut deep but struck nothing solid a man could hold on
to. So he held his wrists. Passing by that woman’s life, getting in it, and letting it get in him had set him up for this fall.
These passages from Beloved shows different images of sounds, colors, and movements.
- Metaphor: Beloved shows good use of various metaphors, for example,
i. “Whitegirl. That’s what she called it. I’ve never seen it and never will. But that’s what she said it looked like. A chokecherry tree.” (One)
ii. “White people believed that whatever the manners, under every dark skin was a jungle” (Second).
iii. “It was some time before he could put Alfred, Georgia, Sixo, schoolteacher, Halle, his brothers, Sethe, Mister, the taste of iron, the sight of butter, the smell of hickory, notebook paper, one by one, into the tobacco tin lodged in his chest” (Second).
The first is the metaphor of a tree, the second of the jungle, and the third of tobacco tin.
- Mood: The novel shows various moods in the beginning but it turns out quite suspenseful and ominous in tone. However, by the end, it becomes somewhat tragic and ironic.
- Motif: Most important motifs of the novel are tobacco tin, jungle, black color, and 124.
- Narrator: The novel, Beloved, is unique in that it presents different narrators and does not stick to a single narrative; at times it is narrated in the third person point of view and at other times, it is in the first-person point of view.
- Protagonist: Sethe is the protagonist of the novel. The novel starts with her house at 124 and moves back and forth in flashbacks to tell the story of her life and the story of her children.
- Repetition: The novel shows the use of repetition in the poem given in the novel as the example given below,
“You forgot to smile
I loved you
You hurt me
You came back to me
You left me
I waited for you
You are mine
You are mine
You are mine (One)”
Although it is a type of poem, it shows various repetitions among which “You left me” and “You are mine” significant.
- Rhetorical Questions: The novel shows good use of rhetorical questions at several places. For examples,
i. ‘I took one journey and I paid for the ticket, but let me tell you something, Paul D Garner: it cost too much! Do you hear me? It cost too much. Now sit down and eat with us or leave us be.”. (One)
ii. Trust things and remember things because the last of the Sweet Home men was there to catch her if she sank? (One)
iii. Unless carefree, motherlove was a killer. What did he want her pregnant for? To hold on to her? have a sign that he passed this way? (One)
This example shows the use of rhetorical questions posed but different characters not to elicit answers but to stress upon the underlined idea.
- Setting: The setting of the novel is Cincinnati in Ohio during the Civil War.
- Simile: The novel shows good use of various similes as the examples given below,
i. The picture of the men coming to nurse her was as lifeless as the nerves in her back where the skin buckled like a washboard. (One)
ii. Looking, in fact acting, like a girl instead of the quiet, queenly woman Denver had known all her life. (One)
iii. And when the top of her dress was around her hips and he saw the sculpture her back had become, like the decorative work of an ironsmith too passionate for display (One).
iv. She smelled like bark in the day and leaves at night, for Denver would not sleep in her old room after her brothers ran away. (One).
These are similes as the use of the word “like” shows the comparison between different things.