Beloved opens in the black neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio in the year 1873. An ex-slave named Sethe and her daughter, Denver, live in a house at 124 Bluestone Road. After Baby Suggs (Sethe's mother-in-law) has died and Sethe's boys have fled, the house remains haunted by the spirit of Sethe's dead daughter. Sethe is haunted herself by memories of Sweet Home, a Kentucky plantation, where she raised three children with her husband, Halle - she has never seen him since she ran away. After wandering in her backyard, Sethe thinks that her mind is playing tricks on her because she finds Paul D - one of the Sweet Home slaves - sitting on her porch. Paul D has arrived to see Baby Suggs and his presence is a "blessedness" for Sethe. Paul D listens to her stories and becomes her lover: chasing the ghost out of the house and taking Sethe and Denver to a carnival.
The three return home from the carnival to find an oddly-dressed twenty-year-old woman sitting on the porch. Immediately, Sethe's water breaks and she runs to the outhouse, puzzled and reminded of the pregnancy of her daughter Denver. Sethe was eight months pregnant with Denver when she ran away from Sweet Home, and she would have died had it not been for a young white girl named Amy Denver. Amy was an indentured servant who had the compassion to tend to Sethe's wounds; she was en route to Boston in search of carmine velvet.
Sethe returns to the house to find the young woman sitting at the table, drinking an endless quantity of water. The young woman is disoriented and she barely remembers that she has arrived by way of a bridge and her name is "Beloved" - the same name as Sethe's dead child. Sethe welcomes the addition to the home, and Denver is especially grateful for the company. A lonely child, Denver is only further embittered by Paul D's arrival because he has taken both Sethe and the ghost away. Beloved wages war on Paul D and she makes him uncomfortable in the house. Eventually, Paul D is sleeping in the shed and he is hopeless to fight off Beloved's advances when she seduces him in the chilly nights.
Sethe is Beloved's sole desire and Denver quickly realizes that Beloved is the baby ghost returned in the flesh. Beloved intends to get rid of Paul D so that she might have Sethe for herself, and a series of events bring Sethe, Beloved and Denver closer together while Paul D lingers on the margins of the family he desperately wants to join.
Sethe arrived in Ohio in the year 1855. There was an elaborate plan of escape that included all of the Garner's slaves and a slave from another plantation, but Sethe was the only one of the Sweet Home slaves who successfully emancipated herself. After sending three of her children ahead of her, Sethe reached the Ohio River with her newly born baby, and a freed slave named Stamp Paid ferried her across the way. After this, an Underground Railroad operator named Ella brought Sethe to Baby Suggs' house. After a few weeks, there is a celebratory feast but Sethe's happiness is cut short after 28 days of freedom - the day that Stamp Paid refers as the Misery.
The Fugitive Slave Bill gave the owners of runaway slaves the right to track the slaves into northern states and return them into captivity. 28 days after arriving at Baby Suggs' house, Sethe sees her former master, Schoolteacher, coming down Bluestone Road. Sethe "flew" into action, determined to prevent her children from living the life of slaves. She gathers her four children into the shed and takes a handsaw to kill them. By the time she is restrained, Sethe has only managed to kill one child: Beloved, slitting her neck. Sethe intended to kill her children and herself but only the one child is killed. Schoolteacher has no interest in returning any of them to Sweet Home as they are irremediable and Sethe spends some time in jail.
Eighteen years later, Stamp Paid gives Paul D a news-clipping of the story and because Paul D cannot read, Stamp simply reads the story of Sethe's act of infanticide. This is to warn Paul D that Sethe's love is intense, and when Paul D confronts Sethe he insults her and tells her that her "love is too thick." Paul D soon leaves the house and in the quiet time that Sethe spends with Denver and Beloved, it does not take her long to discover Beloved's genuine identity.
Sethe is overjoyed because she thinks that she will now be able to explain the "Misery" to Beloved. If Sethe recounts the horrors of slavery, her child will understand the magnitude of Sethe's love. Beloved is greedy for Sethe's love but she is increasingly demanding and she intends to punish Sethe with guilt and humiliation. Sethe loses her job to spend more time with Beloved and as the family starves and Denver is completely ignored, Beloved only grows happier and fatter. Denver has to get help for the family and she returns to Lady Jones' house -where she once went to school. Lady Jones sends word of the dire circumstances and the community offers charity to Denver. Denver gets a job with the Bodwin family, as a second maid and when she relates her story to their current maid, an older black woman named Janey Wagon, Janey Wagon perceives that this "third woman" in the house is the dead child come back from the dead. Janey and Ella organize an "exorcism" and on the afternoon that thirty black women march to 124 Bluestone Road, their path converges with Mr. Bodwin, who is collecting Denver for her work. The scene overwhelms Sethe who thinks that Mr. Bodwin is Schoolteacher and Ella narrowly prevents Sethe from killing Mr. Bodwin. In the chaos, Beloved's fat and glistening naked body is on display on the porch, but the exorcism works. In the aftermath, nobody knows whether Beloved exploded or faded away, but the town considers it wisest to leave the past in the past. Denver continues working and Paul D returns to the house, offering Sethe hope for the future.
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Points To Ponder
Did You Know
Chapter 8 and 9
Chapter 10 and 11
Chapter 14 and 15
Chapter 17 and 18
Chapter 19 and 20
Chapter 21 and 22
Chapter 23 and 24
Chapter 27 and 28