Literature / Beloved

Beloved is a Pulitzer Prize-winning 1987 novel by Toni Morrison.

In 1873, during the aftermath of slavery and The American Civil War, a ghost haunts 124 Bluestone Road. Sethe and her youngest daughter Denver live with the ghost of a vengeful dead baby (Sethe's firstborn daughter) until the arrival of Paul D, an old acquaintance from Sethe's past days as a slave. After Paul D chases away the spirit and situates himself into their lives, it appears as though Sethe finally has a chance at stability and happiness. However, this changes when a beautiful young woman in a pretty hat emerges from nowhere and magicks her way into 124.

Beloved is not your typical ghost story. It is, however, a complex character study filled to the brim with tragedy, examinations of horrific historical injustices, the pain caused by slavery, the bonds between mothers and daughters, and Mind Screws of epic proportions.

Was cited as one of the books instrumental in Morrison winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993.

It was made into a film in 1998, directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover.

The novel and the movie provide examples of:

  • Benevolent Boss: Deconstructed by the kindly Garners, at least as the trope applies to slavery. The owners of the Sweet Home ranch treat their slaves well and deplore the abuses endemic on neighbouring farms, but ultimately are no more than watered-down versions of the sadistic schoolteacher, who have no moral qualms about possessing fellow human beings.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: Sethe's severe state of lethargy after Beloved disappears.
    • Very similar to what happened to Baby Suggs after Sethe arrived at 124.
    • Halle after seeing his wife being beaten. If he ever recovers, we don't see it.
  • Gilligan Cut: Sethie plainly refuses to go to the carnival. Next line she is already dressed and they are on their way.
  • Knight Templar Parent: Sethe takes this to its extreme, tragic conclusion.
    • Her personality takes a complete 180 after the ice skating scene with her, Denver, and Beloved, gradually transforming her into a warm, motherly figure. She then becomes obsessed with Beloved to the point of ignoring Denver and the outside world completely.
  • Magic Realism: Beloved's original form (the ghost at 124) and later corporeal aspect are supernatural in nature, but never explained. The why of her return isn't a plot point, with the novel focusing on its effect instead.
  • My Greatest Failure: For Oprah; she spent years trying to get the film made and despite hyping it on her show for the bulk of 1998, it flopped at the box office. This is partly because Oprah stayed true to the book's dark tones, which scared off critics.
  • Parental Abandonment: Beloved views her murder at the hands of her mother as Parental Abandonment.
  • Pater Familicide: This is what Sethe tried when the schoolteacher arrived at 124. She succeeded in slitting Beloved's throat, severely injured her two sons, and nearly bashed Denver's brains against the shed wall. Keep in mind that her oldest children were toddlers.
  • Title Drop: Beloved, and the inscription on Sethe's daughter's tombstone.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Sethe was inspired by Margaret Garner.
  • Working on the Chain Gang: Paul D spent time on a chain gang in a Georgia prison after trying to kill his master.
  • You Are Number 6: There were several slaves named Paul at Sweet Home. Paul D's brothers names were Paul A and Paul F. It's quite dehumanizing and suggests a total lack of identity and interchangeability of slaves in their master's minds.