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Beloved | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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

Beloved | Symbols



Colors represent different things to each character. Red is a symbol of pain, evil, and death. When Paul D first walks through the door of 124, a pool of red light stops him in his tracks. He asks Sethe, "What kind of evil you got in here?" To Paul D, red is also the color of the rooster Mister's comb, which represents the evils of slavery and the freedom he feels he will never have.

Baby Suggs contemplates colors such as yellow and blue, which signify peace for her. She never gets to red, the color of the dead baby's blood. Red would be painful for Baby Suggs, and Sethe understands why she never thought about it.

Pink is the last color Sethe remembers seeing—the pink of her baby's headstone.


Water symbolizes escape. Paul D and the chain gang escape when rainwater floods their enclosure. Likewise, Sethe crosses the Ohio River to escape slavery. Denver is born on the river, after her mother's water breaks, and she is freed from her mother's womb. Sethe breaks water again, feeling the need to urinate when she sees a young stranger named Beloved, symbolizing her freedom from the memories of murdering her. Beloved herself emerges from the river and is born again. She has been freed from the confines of death.


In Beloved trees signify both comfort and evil. Trees are the means of death for Sethe's mother (hanged), Sixo (tied to a tree and burned), and numerous other, unnamed slaves, both before and after the war. The "tree" on Sethe's back, scars from whippings, is a symbol of the evils of slavery.

However, trees are also a source of comfort. Denver retreats to her emerald closet of boxwood trees, where she finds solitude. Paul D follows the flowering trees to the North, as he makes his escape. Both Sethe and Paul D find comfort in remembering the trees at Sweet Home. Paul D especially remembers the sycamore he called Brother, under which he and the other Sweet Home men would gather to cool off and share companionship.


The house on Bluestone Road is referred to as 124. Each of the three books of the novel begins with a description of 124. This number is significant in that it symbolizes Beloved, the baby Sethe murdered. Sethe had four children, and number 3 is missing because she is dead by her mother's own hand.

Baby Ghost

The ghost is the dead child Sethe murdered. She symbolizes slavery and its horrors; Beloved is her reincarnation. Sethe is still enslaved by the memory of killing her daughter. Beloved intervenes and breaks the cycle of painful memories, especially those of Sethe and Paul D. Only then are they able to go on with their lives.

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