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"Beloved" Summary

By Toni Morrison

fiction | 294 pages | Published in 1987

Toni Morrison--author of Song of Solomon and Tar Baby--is a writer of remarkable powers: her novels, brilliantly acclaimed for their passion, their dazzling language and their lyric and emotional force, combine the unassailable truths of experience and emotion with the vision of legend and imagination. It is the story--set in post-Civil War Ohio--of Sethe, an escaped slave who has risked death in order to wrench herself from a living death; who has lost a husband and buried a child; who has borne the unthinkable and not gone mad: a woman of "iron eyes and backbone to match." Sethe lives in a small house on the edge of town with her daughter, Denver, her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, and a disturbing, mesmerizing intruder who calls herself Beloved. Sethe works at "beating back the past," but it is alive in all of them. It keeps Denver fearful of straying from the house. It fuels the sadness that has settled into Baby Suggs' "desolated center where the self that was no self made its home." And to Sethe, the past makes itself heard and felt incessantly: in memories that both haunt and soothe the arrival of Paul D ("There was something blessed in his manner. Women saw him and wanted to weep"), one of her fellow slaves on the farm where she had once been the vivid and painfully cathartic stories she and Paul D tell each other of their years in captivity, of their glimpses of freedom...and, most powerfully, in the apparition of Beloved, whose eyes are expressionless at their deepest point, whose doomed childhood belongs to the hideous logic of slavery and who, as daughter, sister and seductress, has now come from the "place over there" to claim retribution for what she lost and for what was taken from her. Sethe's struggle to keep Beloved from gaining full possession of her present--and to throw off the long, dark legacy of her past--is at the center of this profoundly affecting and startling novel. But its intensity and resonance of feeling, and the boldness of its narrative, lift it beyond its particulars so that it speaks to our experience as an entire nation with a past of both abominable and ennobling circumstance. In Beloved, Toni Morrison has given us a great American novel. Toni Morrison was awarded the 1988 Pulitzer Prize in Literature for Beloved.


Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

Sethe, a former slave, is haunted by the memories of her past and the ghost of her baby daughter in this powerful exploration of the impact of slavery on individuals and families.


Beloved is a novel by Toni Morrison, a powerful and haunting story about the impact of slavery on one woman's life. Set after the American Civil War, the novel explores the trauma and legacy of slavery, as well as the struggles of African Americans to find their place in a society that continues to be shaped by the horrors of the past.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview

The story is set in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1873. It follows the life of Sethe, an African American woman who is living with her daughter, Denver, in a house haunted by the ghost of her deceased child. The ghost, known as Beloved, is a manifestation of Sethe's past trauma and guilt, as she had murdered her own child to spare her from a life of slavery. When a mysterious young woman, also named Beloved, arrives at their home, Sethe's life is thrown into turmoil as she tries to come to terms with her past and the impact of slavery.


The novel is primarily set in the house at 124 Bluestone Road, Cincinnati, but it also delves into the past through flashbacks to Sethe's life as a slave on the Sweet Home plantation in Kentucky. The story also explores the broader societal context of post-Civil War America, where the legacy of slavery continues to cast a long shadow over the lives of African Americans.

Main Characters

SetheA former slave who escaped from Sweet Home plantation and is haunted by the trauma of her past.
DenverSethe's daughter who has grown up in the shadow of her mother's trauma and the ghost of Beloved.
BelovedThe ghost of Sethe's deceased daughter, whose presence continues to haunt the house and its occupants.
Paul DA former slave from Sweet Home who re-enters Sethe's life and becomes entangled in the family's struggles.

Story Points Over Chapters

Chapter 1-5

Sethe and Denver are living in isolation, haunted by the ghost of Beloved. Paul D, a man from Sethe's past, arrives and disrupts their quiet life. Sethe's traumatic past as a slave is revealed through flashbacks.

Chapter 6-10

Beloved's arrival at the house brings both joy and turmoil. Sethe becomes increasingly obsessed with the young woman, and her relationship with Paul D becomes strained.

Chapter 11-15

Beloved's presence becomes more sinister, and the family's dynamics are further strained. Denver seeks help from the community, and Sethe's past is exposed to scrutiny.

Chapter 16-20

The community becomes more involved in the lives of Sethe and her family, and the truth about Beloved's identity begins to unravel. Sethe's guilt and trauma come to a head as she confronts the ghost of her past.

Main Events

  1. Sethe's haunting past as a slave on the Sweet Home plantation is revealed through flashbacks, shedding light on the trauma that continues to affect her.
  2. The arrival of Beloved, a mysterious young woman, disrupts the fragile peace of Sethe and Denver's isolated life, leading to a series of tumultuous events.
  3. Paul D's return brings both hope and conflict, as he becomes entangled in the family's struggles and the haunting presence of Beloved.
  4. Sethe's guilt and trauma come to a head as she confronts the ghost of her deceased daughter and grapples with the legacy of slavery.

Themes and Insights

  • Trauma and Memory: The novel delves into the enduring impact of trauma and the ways in which memories of slavery continue to haunt the characters, shaping their identities and relationships.
  • Motherhood and Sacrifice: Sethe's act of murdering her own child to spare her from a life of slavery raises profound questions about the nature of maternal love and the sacrifices made by women in the face of oppression.
  • Community and Support: The importance of community and support in healing from trauma is a recurring theme, as Denver seeks help from the community and the characters navigate their shared history.

Reader's Takeaway

Beloved offers a profound exploration of the lasting impact of slavery on individuals and communities, delving into themes of trauma, memory, and resilience. The novel's haunting narrative and complex characters leave a lasting impression, inviting readers to confront the legacy of America's history and its ongoing repercussions.


Toni Morrison's Beloved is a powerful and evocative novel that delves into the enduring legacy of slavery through the haunting story of Sethe and her family. Through its richly drawn characters and evocative storytelling, the novel offers a profound exploration of trauma, memory, and the complexities of human experience in the aftermath of slavery.

Beloved FAQ

  1. What is the genre of 'Beloved'?

    Beloved is a historical fiction novel.

  2. What is the book 'Beloved' about?

    Beloved tells the story of Sethe, an escaped slave who is living in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her daughter. The novel explores themes of slavery, motherhood, and the legacy of trauma.

  3. Who is the author of 'Beloved'?

    Beloved was written by Toni Morrison, a Nobel Prize-winning author known for her powerful storytelling and exploration of African American experiences.

  4. What time period is 'Beloved' set in?

    Beloved is set in the years following the American Civil War, during the period of Reconstruction.

  5. Is 'Beloved' based on a true story?

    While 'Beloved' is a work of fiction, it is inspired by the true story of Margaret Garner, an enslaved African American woman who escaped slavery and later faced the prospect of being recaptured.