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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
Most of the action takes place at 124 Bluestone Road, the address of a gray and white house outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. The house had previously served as a way station, run by Baby Suggs, the mother-in-law of Sethe. At the time of the novel, Sethe, the main character, lives at 124 Bluestone.
The novel is largely set in 1873, after the Civil War, but there are many flashbacks to a variety of times and places, including a Kentucky slave plantation called Sweet Home and a prison in Alfred, Georgia.
LIST OF CHARACTERS
She serves as the catalyst for change for Sethe, Paul D, Denver, and the community. In actuality, she is the ghost and reincarnation of Sethe's older daughter, who was murdered by her mother to keep the child out of slavery. Angry over what has happened to her, Beloved relentlessly antagonizes and disrupts Sethe’s household. When Paul D drives her out of the house as an infant ghost, she returns as a female who is intent on devouring Sethe. By the end of the novel, Beloved stands for the repository of the painful past of African Americans.
Sethe (pronounced "Seth--uh") Suggs
A black woman and previous slave, who was orphaned by the death of her slave parents. She is the wife of Halle, who has disappeared before the start of the novel, the mother of Buglar, Howard, Beloved, and Denver, and the lover of Paul D. She tried to murder all four of her children to save them from slavery and succeeded in killing her oldest daughter. Now living at 124 Bluestone Road outside of Cincinnati, Sethe is haunted by the ghost of her daughter, Beloved. During the novel, she works as a seamstress and as a cook at Sawyer’s restaurant.
Paul D Garner
The last surviving male amongst the slaves from Sweet Home Plantation. While at Sweet Home, he lusted after Sethe and was sad when she chose Halle for her husband instead of him. After he escaped slavery and a chain-gang prison camp, he wandered for years, finally arriving at Bluestone Road to become Sethe’s lover after an eighteen-year separation. When he finds out that she murdered her oldest daughter, he deserts Sethe, but later returns to help her find wholeness.
Baby Suggs (Grandma Baby)
The mother of Halle and the mother- in-law of Sethe. She is bought out of slavery by her son, Halle, and moves to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she runs a way station at 124 Bluestone and preaches in the Clearing. When Sethe sends her three oldest children to her to get them out of slavery, Baby Suggs lovingly takes them in. When Sethe and her newborn appear on her doorstep, she welcomes them as well. Baby Suggs never recovers from Sethe’s murder of her daughter. Within a month, she gives her desire to live and dies.
Sethe's daughter, born in a boat on the border between slavery and freedom. She is named after Amy Denver, the young white indentured slave girl that helps Sethe deliver her baby. Throughout most of the book, Denver lives her life in solitude and plays only with the ghost of her dead sister. When Beloved comes to live at 124 Bluestone in flesh and blood, Denver is thrilled and tries to win her attention. By the end of the book, Denver has accepted the responsibility of helping her mother to get better. She is no longer afraid to leave home and actually has a paying job.
The widower of Mr. Garner’s sister. He takes over the Sweet Home Plantation after Mr. Garner dies. As master of the slaves, he treats them no better than animals. When he hears what his nephews have done to Sethe, he does nothing to punish them. When he catches Sixo after his escape, he burns him to death. When Sethe escapes, he travels to Cincinnati to bring her back to Sweet Home and serves as the motivating force for Sethe to kill her daughter and attempt to kill her other children. Sethe could not endure the thought of her babies being slaves under Schoolteacher.
Buglar and Howard
Sethe's sons, who leave home after Sethe tries to kill them and Baby Suggs dies.
The wife of Mr. Garner, the owner of Sweet Home. She is hardworking and attempts to treat the slaves on the plantation fairly; but she will not allow Sethe to have a wedding, thinking it inappropriate. She does, however, give her a pair of crystal earrings as a marriage gift. Overcome by poor health and an inability to run the plantation, she brings Schoolteacher, her cruel brother-in-law, to run Sweet Home.
A white indentured servant girl. While runaway from her master, she encounters Sethe and helps her to give birth to her daughter. Sethe names the child Denver, in honor of Amy Denver.
The master of Amy Denver, an indentured servant. A cruel man, he beats her for no good reason; as a result, Amy runs away from him.
Paul F Garner
One of the three Pauls who work on Sweet Home Plantation. After her husband’s death, Mrs. Garner sells Paul F to pay the farm's debts.
Paul A Garner
Paul D's brother, who is lynched by Schoolteacher and left as a symbol for other slaves to see.
Sethe's husband and the youngest of Baby Suggs' eight sons. He hires out his work on Sundays in order to make enough money to buy his mother's freedom. He literally loses his mind when he witnesses his wife being brutalized by the nephews of Schoolteacher. No one in the novel sees him after he escapes from Sweet Home, but he supposedly dies in 1855.
A slave known as the “wild man.” Although he is supposedly a ‘slow learner,’ Sixo discovers the workings of the Underground Railroad and begins to plan his escape with his lover, Patsy. Unfortunately, he is caught by Schoolteacher, who burns him alive. He dies smiling as he thinks about his unborn son who will be born in freedom. Paul D thinks Sixo is the bravest man he has ever known.
The Thirty-Mile Woman. She is so named because she lives on a plantation thirty miles away from her lover, Sixo. He often travels the sixty miles, there and back, in order to be with Patsy. When she escapes with Sixo, she is carrying his child.
The nephews of Schoolteacher
Two unnamed white boys, probably older adolescents. They brutalize the pregnant Sethe, stealing her milk, and then whip her so badly that her back is permanently and severely scarred. Schoolteacher never punishes them for the brutality inflicted on Sethe. One of the nephews goes on the search party to find Sethe and her children in Ohio.
A white abolitionist living in Cincinnati, Ohio. He works for the Underground Railroad and lets Baby Suggs live in his old family home in return for her labor. He also saves Sethe from being hanged for the crime of killing her daughter.
The sister to Edward Bodwin. She visits Sethe and gives her gifts and helps Denver to come out of her shell.
A one-armed slave woman whose responsibility is the nursing and care of the children of the slaveholders and the slaves. She cares for Sethe when she is a small child and tries to tell Sethe about her mother, who was on the same slave ship as Nan.
Sethe's mother whose name is never given. She survives the Middle Passage from Africa, but is raped repeatedly during the journey. She intentionally aborts all the offspring of these rapes. She finally delivers Sethe because Sethe’s father is an African man. She dies by hanging, and her body is left to rot on the rope, too mutilated to be identified.
A woman who helps Sethe get to Baby Suggs when she arrives in Ohio. She spent her adolescent years imprisoned by a white man and his son, who brutalized her sexually. She organizes the rescue of Sethe in the end and prevents her from attacking Mr. Bodwin with an ice pick.
A minister of the Church of the Holy Redeemer in Cincinnati, Ohio. He helps Baby Suggs in her unsuccessful attempt to locate her children by writing letters for her. He also preaches the sermon at Sethe's daughter's funeral and is the one who names her “Beloved.”
The lead man on the chain gang in the Alfred, Georgia prison camp.
A black schoolteacher. She hates her light skin color because it reveals her racial mix and reminds her of her mixed heritage. She is Denver's mentor and friend and assumes responsibility for seeing that Denver becomes a fully realized human.
A schoolmate of Denver, who reveals the secrets of Denver’s mother, concerning the murder and her subsequent imprisonment. He later tries to redeem with Denver.
An "agent, fisherman, boatman, tracker, savior, spy." He takes Sethe and Denver across the Ohio River and is a pillar of the African-American community in Cincinnati. He was originally named Joshua and was married to Vashti. He has devoted his life to helping those in need, especially fugitive slaves.
A white restaurant owner who gives Sethe a job as a cook.
Maid of the Bodwins, who comes to Denver’s aid when she is trying to get help for Sethe.
The wife of Stamp Paid, then named Joshua. She is repeatedly forced to have sex with the slaveholder's son and dies an early death.