Author: Toni Morrison
Publication Date: September 1987
Literary Period: After the Civil War
Subgrenre: Magic Realism
Setting: 1873 with flashbacks to the early 1850s in Cincinnati, Ohio with flashbacks to their plantation in Kentucky. The characters live in a tiny house known as 124 on the edge of town.
Plot Summary: Sethe(former slave), her teenage daughter Denver(who was named after the white woman who helped free Sethe. Amy Denver.), and her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs live in house 124 that has been shunned by the rest of the town because 15 years before the story takes place, Sethe murdered one of her children by slitting it's throat to keep it from slave catchers. The house is also haunted by the child that Sethe murdered but they don't pay much attention to it. After some time Baby Suggs dies 8 years before the start of the book and Denver feels lonely. A man named Paul D, who was enslaved at Sweet Home with Sethe, shows up to 124 and comes back into her life. He talks about everything that happened at Sweet Home such as Sethe's husband(Halle) and all of the bad things that happened there. Sethe begins to open up to Paul D and after they sleep together, they begin to like each other.
Denver is upset about Paul D coming back into Sethe's life. A strange woman comes up to 124 and introduces herself as Beloved Sethe is taken aback because the name carved on her child's grave is also Beloved. The woman seems to know things about Sethe that nobody else knows. Sethe begins to believe that this woman might be the baby she killed so she lets her stay in the house. Denver is excited that Beloved is staying so that she will have an older sister to talk to. Beloved begins haunting Sethe and wanting everything she has, even Paul D. Beloved seduces Paul D and they end up sleeping together . An old family friend comes to the house and ends up telling Paul D that Sethe murdered her baby and went to jail for it. Because of this news, Paul D and Sethe split up. After Paul D leaves, Beloved begins tearing Sethe and Denver's lives apart. Sethe ends up getting fired from her job as a cook because of Beloved and they spend all of their time together. And now they don't have money and therefore they have no food.
Denver realizes that she has to do something or they will all starve so she decides to leave the house(which she hasn't done in years) and go ask for help. The townspeople give Denver food and offer her a job. Beloved is now pregnant so Denver uses the money she gets to buy necessities for her. Once the neighbors figure out that Beloved is invading and haunting Sethe's life, they decide to perform an exorcism because Beloved was going crazy and hurting Sethe. Meanwhile, Denver's boss(who is white) came to pick her up from work. Sethe saw the white man and freaked out thinking it was a slave catcher coming to take her baby so she chased after him with an ice pick. Nobody knew exactly what happened but after everything was over, Beloved was gone. After some time, things calm down and Paul D comes back to 124 where him and Sethe make up. Beloved is still gone and nobody knows where she is. And the residents of 124 have forgotten about her.
Proud and Independent woman. In order to keep her baby from having to endure the physical, mental, and sexual pain of being a slave, she murders her child. Sethe is haunted by her past.
Denver – Protagonist
Sethe's youngest child. She has stayed inside all her life so she has hasn't grown emotionally or socially. After going into the town to recieve help, she begins to become more independent.
Beloved – Antagonist
Nobody knows exactly who or what she is. Her identity is a mystery. She represents Sethe's past as a slave. Beloved becomes parasitic to Sethe.
Paul D – Protagonist
Lived as a slave at Sweet Home with Sethe. Becomes Sethe's lover. Begins to question is identity.
Sethe's mother-in-law. Was an inspirational and spiritual mentor.
Destruction of identity: The novel shows how slavery can destroy self-esteem and identity. Sethe has committed murder because slavery ruined her morality. People who were slaves were treated as property rather than humans with basic rights. Many slaves didn't feel human after many years of living on a plantation. Paul D spends much of his time wondering whether or not he's valued as a person.
Importance of community: When Denver needs help with he family, she goes out into the community and asks for help. With no questions asked they begin to help her, even though her mother was shut out because of the crime she committed. The community then helped Denver get a job so she was able to take care and provide for her family.
Symbolism: In the novel, Morrison uses Beloved as a symbol of Sethe's past. Beloved is a constant reminder of the pain and suffering Sethe went through before she was free. From being invasive to stealing her sense of self-identity, Beloved has symbolized the hard times of being a slave. Paul D carries around a tin tobacco box. This is a symbol of his privacy and secrecy.
Irony: In the novel, Toni Morrison uses irony in Sweet Home. Sweet Home was Sethe and Paul D's plantation that they worked on. It was not a sweet place to live nor was it enjoyable.
Family shows that in the novel, being together was the most important. After Baby Suggs died, Sethe and Denver were alone until Paul D came along. They had to be there for each other and support one another when the rest of the town hated them.
The past shows that Sethe was affected for the rest of her life because of what she did to save her baby. She is haunted by her past and feels guilty because of her crime. Sethe can not overcome the past and forgive herself for what she did.
Power shows that Beloved had control over Sethe while she was at 124. When Beloved was staying at the home, she took up everything Sethe has including her time and her relationship with Paul D.
Overall Theme Statement: In Beloved, Toni Morrison uses family to show that being together and being supportive of your family is the most important thing in life. Morrison utilizes the past to reveal that Sethe was haunted by her decisions she made with her child. The author employs power to argue that Beloved had too much freedom and power when living with Sethe and Denver and she took advantage of them while staying in their home.
Dynamic Character: Denver- In the novel, Denver started out as a normal girl who went to school everyday. Until a boy asked her about her mother killing her baby. After that, she was taken out of school and never left 124. She stopped growing emotionally and did not know how to act out in public. When Paul D arrives, Denver immediately shuts down and block him out. She believes that her father is still alive and will not think of Paul D as a father figure or have any respect for him. Denver holds on to the hope that her father may still be alive because she misses being around people. After Paul D leaves, Denver becomes more loving toward Sethe. She then becomes protective over Beloved and treats her like a sister until she realizes that Beloved is parasitic to her and her mother. Denver comes to the conclusion that Beloved is evil and Sethe needs protection from her rather than Beloved being protected. Denver then decides to go out into the community and get a job to hold the family together. After Beloved disappears, Denver is finally at peace and picks up another job to help take care of her mother. Denver learned that family is the most important aspect of life. She realized to help take care of her family, she will have to learn to stand up for herself and be responsible. Throughout the novel, Denver became a strong, independent woman who is willing to do what it takes to help out her family.
"I was talking about time. It's so hard for me to believe in it. Some things go. Pass on. Some things just stay. I used to think it was my rememory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it's not. Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it's gone, but the place”the picture of it”stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world. What I remember is a picture floating around out there outside my head. I mean, even if I don't think it, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there. Right in the place where it happened." (pg. 43). This passage is significant because it is the first time that Sethe uses the word rememory. Re is used as an emphasis on a memory replayed or recalled. This shows that Sethe thinks about her past as a slave quite often. It is important in developing the story line because it gives insight to Sethe's traumatic past as a slave.
Minor Characters: Amy Denver- Amy is a white girl who helped Sethe escape slavery. To thank her, Sethe named her daughter after Amy Denver. Amy was a servant and had things in common with Sethe such as their limited freedom. Amy Denver advances the theme Destruction of Identity because she was also treated poorly and had no self-identity. This makes slavery in the novel seem more diverse.
Stamp Paid- Stamp is a man who had given his wife up to his master's son as a form of payment for his services. Because he gave up his wife, he became free. Stamp Paid now helps other slaves escape to freedom to live a productive life. He helps further the theme of Destruction of Identity because he takes slaves who have been treated as only animals and property and helps them find their purpose in life. As a former slave himself who lost his sense of identity, he can relate and help many other people.
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