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Literature / Beloved

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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.

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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:

  • All Take and No Give: Beloved becomes this by book's end, demanding to be fed more and more even as Sethe and Denver wither away from hunger and fatigue.
  • 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, they still have no moral qualms about possessing fellow human beings.
    • There's also the fact that, even if they themselves treat their slaves comparatively well, the very fact of keeping them as slaves means that a bad turn of fortune could put any or all of them in the hands of someone much worse — which is exactly what happens to set up the events of the novel.
  • Blood-Splattered Innocents: Sethe's children have blood all over them after she tries to kill them and kills Beloved. Baby Suggs even slips in a puddle of blood.
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  • Cheshire Cat Grin: Beloved's smile in the film is a rather terrifying example.
  • Child by Rape: Sethe's mother had several, all of which she "threw away". She kept only Sethe because Sethe's father was the one man she "put her arms around" (consented to) during sex.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl:
    • In a non-romantic way, Denver for both her mother and Paul D. She becomes jealous of Paul D, who becomes an opponent for her affection, and she says she will protect Beloved from Sethe, and then the other way around.
    • Beloved is also one of these, with her obsession over Sethe and attempts to have her all to herself.
  • Dedication: In the beginning of the novel, to "sixty million and more".
  • Disappeared Dad: Halle to Denver. He disappears during the escape after witnessing Sethe's rape, and what happened to him is never said.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: No, Beloved's manipulation of Paul D. is definitely not okay, and is Fan Disservice.
  • Dysfunctional Family: And how. Everyone is very possessive of each other due to isolation and their Dark and Troubled Past, and the mother even tried to kill the children.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: schoolteacher and his nephew are both genuinely horrified when they see what Seethe did to her children, with schoolteacher even sheding a Single Tear at the scene.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The schoolteacher is never named in the narrative.
  • Fan Disservice: So much. Sethe getting "milked," Beloved having sex with Paul D...
  • Heroic BSoD: 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: Sethe plainly refuses to go to the carnival. Next line she is already dressed and they are on their way.
  • Haunted Heroine: Sethe is haunted by Beloved and her tragic past, which is full of slavery, cruelty, and rape.
  • Hope Spot:
    • Sethe, Paul D, and Denver all enjoy a day together at the carnival and Sethe allows herself to hope for the first in a long time that a new and brighter future awaits them. Then Beloved shows up at their house...
    • Paul D, after being forced out of the house and sexually exploited by Beloved, is able to finally break free from Beloved's influence when Sethe, who has decided that she really does want him in her life no matter how complicated it may be, tells him to start sleeping with her again. Then Stamp tells Paul D about what Sethe did eighteen years ago and things go downhill rapidly.
  • I Die Free: By proxy. Sethe decided to kill her children (and possibly herself) rather than allow them to be dragged back to slavery.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: To horrific effect. Sethe loves her children so much she tries to kill them so they won't have to suffer the horror of slavery.
  • Infant Immortality: Horribly, horribly averted. Two year old Beloved is killed by her mother.
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: Exactly what happened is revealed slowly over the course of the novel, and even at the end some missing pieces remain.
  • 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.
  • Love Hungry: Beloved desperately craves Sethe's affection and tries to drive away Paul D so that she doesn't have to share her with him. Similarly, Denver hungers for Beloved's affection to the point where she has the disturbing thought that she doesn't care that Beloved probably tried to strangle Sethe because she's just that desperate to have someone who actually pays attention to her.
  • Mama Bear: Played very darkly. Sethe kills her children to rescue them from slavery.
  • 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.
  • Mind Screw: One of the best examples you'll find in English literature, with its Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane elements and constant flashbacks and flash-forwards.
  • No Name Given: The eponymous character is only referred to as "the crawling-already? baby" (in flashbacks or memories), or "Beloved" (in her ghost form). Her given name is never revealed.
  • Parental Abandonment: Beloved views her murder at the hands of her mother as Parental Abandonment.
  • Pater Familicide: When the schoolteacher arrived at 124, Sethe decided to kill her children and herself to save them from a life of slavery. She only injured her two sons, and was stopped just before she would have bashed Denver's brains against the shed wall, but she did succeed in killing her third child.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Beloved, who has the mind of a young child, and demands things from her mother, tries to choke her, and rapes Paul D.
  • Rape as Drama: Sethe is raped by the white boys, and Beloved rapes Paul D.
  • Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: Slavery is shown to be a horrible thing; Sethe, who was a slave most of her life, believes her children would be better off dead than enslaved.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Beloved can change from the nicest girl in the world to the coldest.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Sethe killed Beloved and intended to kill her other children, but it was because she believed they'd be better off dead than suffering in slavery.
  • Title Drop: "Beloved" is the inscription on Sethe's daughter's tombstone, and the name by which her ghost is known. (The child's true name is never given.)
  • Verbed Title
  • 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. Sixo is also named like this, refering to his son as Seven-O.

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