Part One: Chapter 1
Note: The text of Beloved is divided into Parts One, Two, and Three. Within each part, there are
smaller sections. They function like chapters, but are never designated as such by the book itself.
For ease of reference, this SparkNote has labeled these sections as numbered chapters. This
numbering system runs continuously through all three of the book’s parts.
124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom.
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The novel opens in 1873 in Cincinnati, Ohio. For the past eighteen years, Sethe, an ex-slave, and
her daughter, Denver, have been living in a house that is haunted by the ghost of Sethe’s
firstborn baby daughter. Until eight years ago, Sethe’s mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, also lived with
them in their house at 124 Bluestone Road. Before she died, Baby Suggs sank into a deep
depression, exhausted by a life of slavery and by the loss of all eight of her children. She spent
her last days requesting “color”—bits of brightly colored objects she hoped would alleviate her
sadness. Her death came only a short while after Sethe’s sons, Howard and Buglar, each ran
away from 124 following encounters with their dead sister’s ghost.
Sethe works hard to remember as little as possible about her past, and the memory of her sons is
fading fast. Most of her painful memories involve Sweet Home, a plantation in Kentucky where
she lived as a slave until her escape eighteen years ago. On this day, however, she returns home
and finds an unexpected and surprising guest: Paul D. Paul D was one of five men who were
Sethe’s fellow slaves at Sweet Home; these had included Paul A, Paul F, Sixo, and Sethe’s
husband, Halle. Although Sethe hasn’t seen Paul D in eighteen years, they slip into easy
conversation and Sethe invites him inside. Paul D walks into a pool of eerie red light and feels a
wave of grief come over him. Sethe explains that the presence is the sad specter of her dead
baby, whose throat was cut before it was two years old. At her daughter’s funeral, Sethe mistook
the preacher’s reference to the “Dearly Beloved” mourners for a reference to her dead daughter.
Afterward, she agreed to ten minutes of sex with an engraver in order to have the word “Beloved”
carved on the baby’s headstone.
Paul D has desired Sethe ever since she arrived at Sweet Home at the age of thirteen to replace
Baby Suggs. Baby Suggs left because her son Halle had bought her freedom with five years of
weekend labor. Sethe was beautiful then, and the five male Sweet Home slaves waited in
agonizing sexual frustration, having sex with calves and dreaming of rape, while she took a year
to make her choice among them. She chose Halle, and together they had two sons and a
daughter. Sethe was pregnant with a fourth child, Denver, when the family made its escape from
Sweet Home. Sethe and Halle were separated during their escape, however, and neither Paul D
nor Sethe knows what happened to Halle. Seeing her mother flirting and talking about Sweet