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Beloved | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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Plot Summary

Kristen Over, Associate Professor at Northeastern Illinois University, explains the plot summary in Toni Morrison's book Beloved.

Beloved | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Beloved is divided into three sections. Each section begins with a description of the house in which the main characters live. Through a series of flashbacks and dialogues in the present, readers learn about major events in the lives of people, who have been all but ruined by slavery.

Part 1

Beloved begins, "124 was spiteful." This house at 124 Bluestone Road in the outskirts of Cincinnati is being haunted by the ghost of a dead baby. Sethe, a former slave, and her daughter Denver live there with the ghost, who has become part of their lives. But Sethe's two sons, Howard and Buglar, have been driven out by the ghost. Baby Suggs, Denver's grandmother and Sethe's mother-in-law, has died. Paul D, a former slave who used to work at Sweet Home plantation with Sethe, arrives at 124, drives out the ghost, and moves in.

Just as they all are getting used to the new family arrangement, a strange woman arrives at 124. She doesn't know where she's from, but she tells them her name is Beloved. Completely unable to care for herself, this disturbed and disturbing person moves in with the family, asking strange questions that bring up painful memories of the past. Sethe and Denver are drawn to Beloved, feeding her and caring for her as if she were an infant. Sethe begins to answer Beloved's strange questions, which contain details of the past that only Sethe knows. Denver comes to believe that Beloved is the ghost of her dead sister.

Paul D is irritated with Beloved's presence and eventually moves out into the cold house. Beloved talks him into sleeping with her, awakening in him raw memories of his past. Through a flashback the reader learns that their former master arrived at 124 to capture Sethe and her children and take them back to Sweet Home in Kentucky. Rather than face that ugly life again, Sethe tried to kill her children and herself. However, she only succeeded in killing her toddler, slitting her throat with a hacksaw. Her sons were wounded but survived, and Denver was unharmed. The master left without the slaves, and Sethe and Denver were taken to jail.

Another former slave, Stamp Paid, shows Paul D a newspaper clipping about the murder. Paul D can't read and denies that the story is about Sethe. When he confronts Sethe, she tells him the truth: that she killed the baby out of love. Paul D compares her to an animal and leaves 124.

Part 2

"124 was loud," begins Part 2. Stamp Paid feels that he is to blame for what happened between Paul D and Sethe, so he goes to 124 to try to make amends. As he approaches he hears strange voices coming from the house. He leaves and returns several times, each time without entering. On his final attempt, he looks through the window and sees Beloved but can't make sense of what he sees.

Sethe is content with her life inside 124 with Denver and Beloved. Scenes from her life—cooking at a restaurant and spending time with the girls—are interspersed with her memories of Sweet Home. She no longer minds talking about her horrific past. Beloved tells Sethe that she has come from the other side, and Sethe understands that the strange girl is her dead baby who has come back to her. She tries to explain to Beloved that she killed her as an act of love.

Paul D sits on a church porch and tries to make sense of his memories of their last days at Sweet Home. He wonders what went awry in the escape plan for the Sweet Home men, including Halle, Sethe's husband, and Sethe and her children. Stamp Paid finds him and apologizes for telling him the truth about Sethe.

Part 3

"124 was quiet," begins the last part of the novel. Sethe has stopped working at the restaurant, and everyone in the house is starving. They have squandered their meager savings on ribbons and colorful clothes that delight Beloved. Denver has been shunned, and Sethe now spends all her time with Beloved. Denver decides to search for work outside. The neighbors leave food on a stump by the house to aid the troubled residents.

News spreads of Beloved's puzzling appearance at 124. Joining together, a group of women decide to free Sethe and Denver. Denver's boss, Mr. Bodwin, also approaches the house to pick up Denver for work. Sethe sees him and mistakes him for her former master. She attacks him with an ice pick but is stopped by Denver and the women, whereupon Beloved vanishes, never to return.

Sethe loses her mind and lies down to die, as Baby Suggs had. Denver has a good job and is working toward attending college. Paul D returns to Sethe to tell her he wants a future with her, getting her back up on her feet to walk again. The members of 124, along with the community, have been released from the tragedy of Beloved so that they can move forward into a better life.

Beloved Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 124 is being haunted by a baby ghost.

Rising Action

2 Former slave Paul D moves into 124 and banishes ghost.

3 A strange girl who calls herself Beloved moves in.

4 Memories of being enslaved surface in Sethe and Paul D.

5 Sethe tells Paul D she killed her child; Paul D moves out.

6 Sethe becomes weak; neighbors begin to help.


7 A group of women arrive at 124; Beloved disappears.

Falling Action

8 Paul D promises to take care of Sethe.


9 Welcomed by community, the family forgets Beloved.

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