Monday, 10 November 2008

Theme Exploration: Community and Relationships

Community and relationships

Community and relationships is an important theme in the novel Beloved. The book shows how individuals always need to be part of the society they live in and also to count with their support. For example this is clearly demonstrated in the passage when Paul D is in Alfred, Georgia. In order to survive, the prisoners had to work together and help each other because they were chained to each other and if one was lost “all lost”. When they escaped it was essential that they all did it together and if someone lost the way, the others helped him“. The chain that held them would save all or none” This quotation reflects how important are the relationships and how working together and being surrounded by other people makes survival easier.

Beloved and Denver are isolated from the community to which they belong because of Sethe´s actions in the past. At the end of the book Denver realizes that the situation in which they are living in its very complicated and that she has to do something to solve the problem. “She would have to leave the yard… Leave the two behind and go ask somebody for help” Denver goes out and asks Lady Jones for help, by doing this Denver finally opens up to the community, she tells them the story about Beloved and by doing this she ends up being part of the community once more and it works because everyone starts contributing with what they can. “Every now and then, all through the spring, names appeared near or in gifts of food” The people started sending food because they knew Sethe and Denver didn’t have what to eat anymore and finally when they discover the whole story they come together and walk towards 124 in order to get rid of Beloved and help save Sethe. Without the help from others Denver wouldn’t have been able to help her mother. Even more they ended being part of the community again.

The relationships in the community also had some traditions. For example Stamp Paid talks about how after he did a favour to a family “he took the liberty of walking in your door as though it were his own”. This means that they were a close community and they had close relationship between them, they helped each other and worked together.

Sandra Gomez

Theme Exploration: The Effects of Slavery

The effects of Slavery and Racism as a theme in “Beloved”

In general, “Beloved” is a novel that tells the story of a group of people that has been discriminated and gravely mistreated because of their skin colour. These ethnical differences exist everywhere in the world but should not affect the condition as human beings that all people share. Nevertheless, in the United States of America (and many other countries with a history of being colonized) the discrimination towards black people led to slavery, which is one of the most traumatic and extreme situations that human beings have ever endured. In “Beloved” the effect of this condition is portrayed in a very clear and raw manner: it’s fair to say that the characters former condition as slaves is what led to the development of the rest of the story, in particular, the murder of Beloved committed by her mother.

Throughout the story there are many mentions of the effects that racism and slavery have on black people and their culture. The next three quotes are the most important, as they summarize the views of Toni Morrison, that reflect the feelings of the entire black community, towards this issue.

“That anybody white could take your whole self for anything that came to mind. Not just work, kill, or maim you, but dirty you. Dirty you so bad you couldn’t like yourself anymore. Dirty you so bad you forgot who you were and couldn’t think it up. And though she and others lived through and got over it, she could never let it happen to her own. The best thing she was, was her children. Whites might dirty her alright, but not her best thing, her beautiful, magical best thing–the part of her that was clean. No undreamable dreams about whether the headless, feetless torso hanging in tree with a sign on it was her husband or Paul A; whether the bubbling-hot girls in the colored-school fire set by patriots included her daughter; whether a gang of whites invaded her daughter’s private parts, soiled her daughter’s thighs and threw her daughter out of the wagon. She might have to work the slaughterhouse, but not her daughter.

And no one, nobody on this earth, would list her daughter’s characteristics on the animal side of the paper. No. Oh no. Maybe Baby Suggs could worry about it, live with the likelihood of it; Sethe had refused–and refused still.” p. 251

“A shudder ran through Paul D. A bone-cold spasm that made him clutch his knees. He didn’t know if it was ban whiskey, nights in the cellar, pig fever, iron bits, smiling roosters, fired feet, laughing dead men, hissing grass, rain, apple blossoms, neck jewelry, Judy in the slaughterhouse, Halle in the butter, ghost-white stairs, chokecherry trees, cameo pins, aspens, Paul A’s face, sausage or the loss of a red, red heart.

“Tell me something, Stamp.” Paul D’s eyes where rheumy. “Tell me this one thing. How much is a nigger supposed to take? Tell me. How much?”

“All he can,” said Stamp Paid. “All he can.”

“Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?” p. 235

“Very few had died in bed, like Baby Suggs, and none that he knew of, including Baby, had lived a livable life. Even the educated colored: the long-school people, the doctors, the teachers, the paper-writers and businessmen had a hard row to hoe. In addition to having to use their heads to get ahead, they had the weight of the whole race sitting there. You needed two heads for that. Whitepeople believed that whatever the manners, under every dark skin was jungle. Swift unnavigable waters, swinging screaming baboons, sleeping snakes, red gums ready for their sweet white blood. In a way, he thought, they were right. The more coloredpeople spent their strength trying to convince them how gentle they were, how clever and loving, how human, the more they used themselves up to persuade whites of something Negroes believed could not be questioned, the deeper and more tangled the jungle grew inside. But it wasn’t the jungle blacks brought with them to this place form the other (livable) place. It was the jungle whitefolks planted in them. And it grew. It spread. In, through and after life, it spread, until it invaded the whites who had made it. Touched them every one. Changed and altered them. Made them bloody, silly, worse than even they wanted to be, so scared were they of the jungle they had made. The screaming baboon lived under their own white skin; the red gums were their own.” pp. 198-199

Andrea Alatorre and Sofia Murua

Theme Exploration: Redemption

In the Bible it is suggested that:

“Our Redeemer is "the Beloved"--Jesus Christ. We are acceptable to God because we have been made one with Christ through faith. In Him that we are made acceptable and given redemption.”

a) His ascription

The term “Beloved" was God's special name for His Son.

Beloved forces people to face their past experiences. Her supernatural force makes them confront the past and forces them to reflect about it. In an ironic way, Beloved’s ghost apparently looking for a vengeance that could save her, enhances Sethe, Paul D and other characters to open their memories and find a sort of redemption in them.

Morrison's novel appears twenty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act when in many ways African Americans are worse off than they were back then. In this post-Civil Rights era the African American community wrestles with whether to tie their redemption to the white community's redemption or whether they should instead separate, turn inward, and heal themselves. Morrison uses Ella, the leader of the black community's posse to get rid of Beloved, to explore the topic:

"Whatever Sethe had done, Ella didn't like the idea of past errors taking possession of the present. . . . Daily life took as much as she had. The future was sunset; the past something to leave behind. And if it didn't stay behind, well, you might have to stomp it out. Slave life; freed life -- every day was a test and trail. Nothing could be counted on in a world where even when you were a solution you were a problem. "Sufficient unto day is the evil thereof," and nobody needed more; nobody needed a grown up evil sitting at the table with a grudge. As long as the ghost showed out from its ghostly place shaking stuff, crying, smashing and such -- Ella respected it. But if it took flesh and came in her world, well, the shoe was on the other foot. She didn't mind a little communication between the two worlds, but this was an invasion." (Pg 256)

While not condemning Sethe as many of the novel's characters do, Morrison extends a vision that moves beyond victimization for sectors of the black community unable to escape a dreadful past that won't let go of their present like Beloved and Sethe wouldn't let go of each other. As Beloved exacts her vengeance and as the community plays both the role of judge and redeemer the protagonists go down different, and surprising paths. Those who can't let go of the past self destruct while those who choose to respect and mourn the past but not be beholden to it find unexpected freedom.

Beloved invades Sethe’s world at a time when memories were starting to fade. Beloved does not only bring forth the painful memories of Sethe but forces her to seek in them salvation.

Esteban Olholvich


Here's a great link to Cliff's notes to show the different events in the novel.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Plot Synopsis

By Toni Morrison

Beloved is not narrated chronologically; it is composed of flashbacks, memories, and nightmares. As a result, it is not an easy read. Sethe, a 13-year-old child of unnamed slave parents, arrives at Sweet Home, a plantation in Kentucky operated by Garner, an unusually humane master, and his wife, Lillian. Within a year, Sethe selects Halle Suggs to be her mate and, by the time she is 18, bears him three children. After Garner dies, his wife turns control of the plantation over to her brother-in-law, the schoolteacher, who proves to be a brutal overseer.
Schoolteacher's cruelty drives the Sweet Home slave men—Paul D, Halle, Paul A, and Sixo—to plot their escape. In August, fearful that her sons will be sold, a very pregnant Sethe packs her children Howard, Buglar, and Beloved in a wagon and sends them to safety with their grandmother in Cincinnati. Schoolteacher discovers what she has done, and as Halle watches from the loft of a barn, schoolteacher takes notes as his nephews—the "two boys with mossy teeth"—suck the milk from Sethe's breasts. Unknown to Sethe, schoolteacher roasts Sixo alive and hangs Paul A for trying to escape the plantation. Before she leaves Sweet Home, Sethe confronts Paul D, who is shackled in an iron collar for his part in the escape attempt. Sethe then makes her own escape.
Sethe flees through the woods and, with the help of Amy Denver, a runaway white indentured servant, gives birth to her fourth child. Then, with the help of Stamp Paid, a black ferryman, she crosses the Ohio river into freedom.
Safely reunited with her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, and her babies in Cincinnati, Sethe enjoys 28 days of contentment. Then one day as Stamp Paid replenishes the woodpile and Baby Suggs and Sethe work in the yard, schoolteacher, the sheriff, a slave catcher, arrive to recapture Sethe and her children. To spare her children a return to bondage, Sethe slices the throat of the eldest girl, tries to kill her two boys, and threatens to dash out the brains of her infant daughter, Denver. The sheriff takes Sethe and Denver to jail, and Sethe is condemned to hang. Three months later, pressure from the Quaker abolitionist Edward Bodwin and the Colored Ladies of Delaware, Ohio produces Sethe's freedom. She barters sex for a gravestone inscribed "Beloved" to mark her daughter’s burial site. Immediately, Beloved's ghost makes itself known in Baby Suggs’s house at 124.
Sethe is granted a release from her death sentence, but after leaving jail she finds the black community closed to her. Her mother-in-law withdraws completely from the community and dies several years later. Shortly after Baby Suggs’s death, Sethe’s sons leave home, unnerved by the presence of Beloved’s ghost. Left with only Denver, Sethe lives in uneasy solitude.
Years later, after escaping a cruel Georgia prison and wandering North, Paul D arrives in Cincinnati and reunites with Sethe. He immediately banishes the disruptive ghost from the house. The two former slaves attempt to form a family, although Denver is uncomfortable with Paul D’s presence. Sethe and Paul D’s relationship is interrupted by the appearance of a mysterious young woman who calls herself Beloved, the same name that is on the headstone of Sethe’s murdered daughter.
Beloved quickly becomes a dominant force in Sethe’s house. She drives Paul D out of Sethe’s bed and seduces him. She becomes the sole focus of Sethe’s life after Sethe realizes that this young woman is the reincarnation of her dead child. Drawing Sethe into an unhealthy, obsessive relationship, Beloved grows stronger while Sethe’s body and mind weaken. Sethe quits her job and withdraws completely into the house. With the aid of Denver and some female neighbors, Sethe escapes Beloved’s control through a violent scene in which she mistakes Bodwin for a slave catcher and tries to stab him with an ice pick. Beloved vanishes, and Paul D returns, helping Sethe rediscover the value of life and her own self-worth.

Thanks to Cliffs Notes for the information.

Messages and Meanings in the text

Messages & Meanings

In the novel of Beloved, we can see that Toni Morrison wants us to reflect on the problems of the black people in the novel, and she shows us how life was in 1850. Sethe kills Beloved when she was a baby for love to her and because she didn’t want Beloved to suffer as Sethe had suffered. Morrison shows us what it was like to be a slave and all the conflicts that the race had. Moreover, she also shows how society interacted with the black people in 1850. So the main themes that Toni Morrison shows us are slavery's destruction of identity and the importance of community solidarity.

Slavery’s destruction of identity

Paul D: “Saying more might push them both to a place they couldn't get back from. He would keep the rest where it belonged: in that tobacco tin buried in his chest where a red heart used to be. Its lid rusted shut”.

In Chapter 7, Paul D begins sharing his painful memories with Sethe, but he fears that revealing too much will wrench the two former slaves back into a past from which they might never escape. Both Sethe and Paul D avoid the pain of their past as best they can. Sethe has effectively erased much of her memory, and Paul D functions by locking his memories and emotions away in his imagined “tobacco tin.” The rustiness of the tin contributes to the reader's sense of the inaccessibility and corrosiveness of Paul D's memories. His separation from his emotions means he is alienated from himself, but Paul D is willing to pay the price to keep himself from his painful and turbulent past.

2. Stamp Paid: “White people believed that whatever the manners, under every dark skin was a jungle. Swift unnavigable waters, swinging screaming baboons, sleeping snakes, red gums ready for their sweet white blood. In a way . . . they were right. . . . But it wasn't the jungle blacks brought with them to this place. . . . It was the jungle whitefolks planted in them. And it grew. It spread . . . until it invaded the whites who had made it. . . . Made them bloody, silly, worse than even they wanted to be, so scared were they of the jungle they had made. The screaming baboon lived under their own white skin; the red gums were their own.”

In Chapter 19, at the beginning of Part Two, Stamp Paid considers the ways in which slavery corrupts and dehumanizes everyone who comes in contact with it, including the white slave owners. It makes them fearful, sadistic, and raving. For example, one could say that schoolteacher's perverse lessons and violent racism exist because they are his means of justifying the institution of slavery. The passage derives its power from the way Morrison moves the images of the jungle around, so that, by the end, the whites are the ones who hide a jungle under their skin; they are consuming themselves.

For the importance of the community solidarity. and more information, see this.

Historical Context

The Historical Context of 'Beloved'


More information on the life of Margaret Garner, the inspiration for Sethe in Beloved, can be found here.

Character Guide: Sethe



Sethe is the protagonist of the novel; she is a black woman, child of an African-born slave woman whose name she never knew. Sethe used to be a slave at Sweet Home, where she married Halle and met Paul D, whom later would be her lover. A particular characteristic of Sethe is her devotion to her four children, even though they are not longer with her, except for Denver, who lives at 124 with Sethe.

After escaping from Sweet Home, while being pregnant, her life turned even more frustrating. Rather than allow her children to be returned to slavery, she attempted to kill all of them, claiming to have a thick love for them, succeeding only in killing the baby girl, in an act that is, in her mind, one of motherly love and protection. Since then, she hasn’t been able to release herself from that episode of her life.

Too thick? Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t no love at all.

Sethe is traumatized for what she experienced as a slave. One event that marked her is when some boys took her milk, which belonged to her baby daughter and then whipped her, leaving scars in shape of a chokecherry tree.

After I left you, those boys came in there and took my milk.
That’s what they came in there for. Held me down and took it.
[…] Schoolteacher made one open up my back, and when it closed it made a tree.

When Sethe escaped all alone from Sweet Home she thought that she wasn’t going to make it, as she was pregnant of Denver, but then a white angel appeared, a girl named Amy, and helped her with the job.

After this event, Sethe went to Baby Suggs’ house, where she stood all her life in company of Denver.

Character Guide: Denver


Denver is the daughter of Sethe. She is about 18 years old but her character shows her as an immature 10 year-old. She is extremely lonely and feels miserable because of her loneliness. She is quite concerned about her own past and dislikes any subject that does not have to do with herself, for example, when Sethe and Paul D start talking about Sweet Home, Denver looses any interest she had gathered in the conversation in which her dad, Halle, was mentioned. She has a friendly relationship with the ghost and feels empty because of its disappearance at Paul D’s rampage. She is scared of her mother due to her dark past and dislikes Paul D for trying to break the balance they had built.

In term of the character towards Beloved, she is obsessive, compulsive and possessive in terms of love of her. She feels envious that Beloved only wants Sethe’s love and therefore feels frustrated. Her loyalty is with Beloved, she supports her in everyway she can. An example of this is when Beloved “disappears” in the shed and Denver feels like she has broken down or even dead.

Character guide: Beloved

Character Guide: Paul D

Character Guide: Paul D

Paul D is a black man marked by his past as a slave. The memories of his physical and mental suffering at Sweet Home buried his emotions deep within him and have sealed them shut from everyone, and even from himself. He represses his memories and emotions and believes that the key to survival is not to get attached to anything or anyone. Paul D incites the opening up of others’ hearts, in specific of Sethe’s as they share some of the experiences that haunt them and therefore can share the burden of their memories. Paul D comes to live to 124 as Sethe’s lover and Sethe provokes a small opening of Paul D’s heart and emotions. Paul D is also the source of Denver’s and Beloved’s jealousy, but he’s seen by Sethe as the potential for a happier future for her and for Denver. While Sethe provides him with stability and allows him to come to terms with his past, Paul D continues to doubt fundamental aspects of his identity, such as his values as a person. At the end we can see that Paul D has begun to move beyond his past and to envision a future hope. He also aims to help Sethe heal physically and mentally from her past to provide her and Denver with brighter futures.

Word bank For Paul D


Character Guide: Baby Suggs

Character Guide: Stamp Paid

Stamp Paid made a serious sacrifice during his enslavement that has caused him to consider his emotional and moral debts to be paid off for the rest of his life, which is why he decided to rename himself “Stamp Paid’’. He was called Joshua when he killed his wife ‘Vashti’.

‘‘Scuse me. You seen Vashti? My wife Vashti? […] Wear a black ribbon on her neck.’’ P.233

As an agent of the Underground Railroad, he helps Sethe to freedom and later saves Denver's life from her mother’s hands. He tells Paul D about ‘The Misery’ by showing him a newspaper clipping. When Stamp Paid hears that Paul D has left 124, he feels guilty for having told Paul D about Sethe's crime without considering her family's happiness.

And it was the lateness of this consideration that made him feel so bad. P 170.

For that reason, although he has a habit of walking into houses without knocking, Stamp Paid feels uncomfortable entering 124 unannounced. Stamp Paid is considered by the community to be a figure of salvation, and he is welcomed at every door in town. He feels very angry when he finds out that Paul D is living in the church.

‘‘What’s going on? Since when a Blackman come to town have to sleep in a cellar like a dog?’’ P 186

Word bank for Stamp Paid:

Community spirit

Character Guide: Schoolteacher

Character Guide: The Sweet Home Men

The Sweet Home Men

Paul A, Paul F, and Sixo - Paul A and Paul F are the brothers of Paul D. They were slaves at Sweet Home with him, Halle, Sethe, and, earlier, Baby Suggs. Sixo is another fellow slave. Sixo and Paul A die during the escape from the plantation.

“It had been hard, hard, hard sitting there erect as dogs.” P27

Sixo: One of the slaves at Sweet Home, Sixo was one of the planners behind their flight to the North. He regularly visited a woman who lived thirty miles away, dubbed the Thirty-Mile woman. He was close to Paul D during the time of Sweet Home, but was killed during their escape attempt.

“ Sixo plant rye to give the high piece a better chance. Sixo take and feed the soil, give you more crop. Sixo take and feed sixo give you more work.” Pg.190

The constant torture the slaves went through was due to the physical attributes of Sweet Home. The closely packed shacks they slept in barely allowed for them to rest and freely think. It is possible that they would take on similar doings because of the suppressing of the slaves' individualities. "One step off that ground and they were trespassers among the human race." (131) There was a lack of privacy and the people could not express themselves freely even if the Garner's allowed them much more than other slave owners. Sweet Home consisted of a field, the shacks and the home, and the lines that they could not cross.

“Sixo said freedom is that way” pg 197

“one crazy, one sold, one missing, one burnt, and one licking iron with my hands crossed behind me. The last of the sweet home men.” Pg 72


Monday, 3 November 2008

Character Guide: Mr Garner

Mr Garner is the owner of Sweet Home whose death brings about the arrival of schoolteacher, who comes to help the ailing Mrs Garner. Mr Garner is proud of his slaves, saying he has raised them as men. They have more privileges than many slaves and Garner will trust their judgement and opinions about their work:

Now at Sweet Home, my niggers is men every one of em. Bought em thataway, raised em thataway. Men every one.

He is kind to Baby Suggs and allows Halle to buy her freedom. However, this is also hypocritical because he is still placing a price on a person's life. This is represented by the conversation he has with Baby on the way to the Bodwin's house when she has been freed and he laughs at her name:

if I was you I'd stick to Jenny Whitlow. Mrs Baby Suggs ain't no name for a freed Negro

Later in the novel (chapter 24), Paul D questions that whether that treatment was any better as it prevented him from defining his own identity:

Everything rested on Garner being alive. Without his life each of theirs fell to pieces. Ain't that slavery or what is it?

Wordbank for Mr Garner:



Hello there! This is the study guide to Toni Morrison's 'Beloved' that has been compiled by U6th students from the Lancaster School in Mexico City. We hope it is helpful... enjoy!