The 1987 novel, ”Beloved”, won the Pulitzer Prize and led to Toni Morrison winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. Morrison based her novel of the horrors of slavery on a grisly true story. This lesson will cover the summary and analysis of ”Beloved”.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Beloved, by Toni Morrison, is based on fact, which makes it all that much more horrifying. Morrison’s inspiration for the story was Margaret Garner, who killed her two-year-old daughter in 1856, to keep her from being returned to slavery. Before she could kill the rest of her children and herself, slave catchers pried the knife from her fingers.
On the backbone of this gruesome story, Morrison builds Beloved, a novel of a baby who haunts the mother who killed her.
The story opens in Cincinnati, where former slave and current cook Sethe lives at 124 Bluestone Road with her daughter Denver and her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs. Fifteen years before the start of the story, Sethe killed her infant daughter, trying to keep her from being brought back into slavery.
The community knows about the murder and rejects Sethe. Sethe’s two sons, Buglar and Howard, left years before the novel’s start.After Baby Sugg’s death, Denver and Sethe are alone in the house…with the ghost of the baby who died years ago. Furniture, and even people, often move around mysteriously. Sethe has accepted her lot, at least until Paul D Garner, who knows Sethe from their slavery days, arrives at the house.
Sethe welcomes Paul D into the house, and the two become a couple. Denver is not happy about this arrangement. However, the ghost of the baby has seemed to disappear, and Denver and Sethe breathe a sigh of relief.When a strange woman shows up at their house, Denver is thrilled to have someone to talk to.
The woman introduces herself as Beloved, which is the name of Sethe’s murdered baby. Beloved knows things she shouldn’t be able to. Though she makes Sethe uncomfortable, she lets Beloved stay because Denver needs a friend. Sethe wonders if Beloved could be her own daughter, returned from the grave.
Paul D wants the girl to leave, but he has no say. He doesn’t own the house and isn’t officially part of the family.Beloved wants to own everything Sethe has, including Paul D. She seduces him. Then Paul D hears from a family friend that Sethe killed her baby.
When he challenges Sethe with the truth, they fight and he storms out. Sethe isn’t bothered. She focuses all her attention on Beloved, leaving Denver wondering what has happened to her mother.
Beloved’s attention to Denver and Sethe changes. Sethe, spending all her time with Beloved, loses her job and soon money and food are scarce at 124 Bluestone Road. Denver, who hasn’t left the house in years, has to go and ask for help. She gets a job to provide for her mother and the pregnant Beloved.
The women of the town decide Beloved is haunting Sethe and have an exorcism. Denver’s employer Mr. Bodwin, who is a white man, arrives to take her to work. Seeing this, Sethe imagines again the slave catcher coming to take her children away, and attacks the man with an ice pick. When the craziness settles, Sethe is safe, and so is Mr.
Bodwin. Beloved has simply disappeared. Paul D returns and he and Sethe make up. No one ever finds out what happened to Beloved.
The biggest symbol, or a thing that represents an abstract concept, presented in Beloved is the house itself. 124 Bluestone Road symbolizes the American Dream. Sethe has come so far from her days as a slave.
She now has a job, and more importantly a house, to support her family in. 124 Bluestone Road is often contrasted with Sweet Home, the plantation where Sethe and Paul D were slaves. Other symbols in this novel include water, which symbolizes rebirth when Beloved emerges from water fully clothed, and the color red which is the blood of the dead baby, the sex Paul D has with Beloved, and the red stone heart on the baby’s tombstone.The biggest theme, or topic matter, of Beloved is mother-daughter relationships. Sethe’s relationship with Denver, with the dead baby Beloved, and with the Beloved who comes to wreak havoc are all examined. Also, slavery is a theme in this novel.
Slavery fractures the soul of each character who survived it. It leaves scars that do not heal, results in innumerable deaths, including the innocent baby Beloved, and breaks apart the parent-child relationship. Slavery in Beloved is compared to a Holocaust that ruined an entire race of people, and the trauma cannot be forgotten or pushed aside. By showing the absolute worst that humanity can come up with, in the form of the murdered baby, Morrison shows how slavery continued to affect African-Americans, years and even generations later.
Beloved is Toni Morrison’s best known and most lauded book.
The fact that the story of the murdered baby is true is most horrifying of all. Beloved, through the story of Sethe, Denver, and Beloved, shows us that the scars left by slavery are horrible and disfiguring, and never truly heal.