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Free Study Guide: Beloved by Toni Morrison

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FREE STUDY GUIDE FOR BELOVED BY TONI MORRISON

PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS

Beloved is an extremely complex novel whose plot, told largely through flashbacks, spans several decades. The flashbacks come largely through storytelling, which is a way for the ex-slaves to deal with their repressed memories of a painful past. The stories are often told and retold in bits and pieces by different characters and from different perspectives. The characters also ponder the stories in their minds, giving a different twist. As a result, it is only towards the end of the novel that the pieces of the puzzle all fit together into a complete whole.

The plot of Beloved has an intentional loose structure. It never proceeds in a straight line. Instead, it meanders, with flashbacks and storytelling, through forty years, from the birth of Sethe in 1835 to the close of the novel in 1875. Most of the novel, however, takes place in 1873, after Paul D arrives at 124 Bluestone; his presence causes many of the flashbacks, for he and Sethe constantly talk about their past lives. The novel is largely set at 124 Bluestone. The flashbacks, however, take the reader to a variety of locations: to Kentucky, where Sethe, Halle, and Paul D were slaves at Sweet Home Plantation; to the Ohio River, the line of demarcation between the slave states and the free states and the place where Denver was born; to Delaware, where Paul D lived with the weaver woman for several years; to the Clearing, where Baby Suggs preached to the black community about loving themselves; and to the land outside of Sweet Home, where Paul D and Sixo were recaptured and where Sixo was burned to death.


The novel also repeatedly changes its point of view. Some of the stories are told by Sethe; others are told by Denver, Beloved, Paul D, and other characters. Although the novel is not unified by time, place, character, or point of view, it is clearly developed around its main theme of the necessity of dealing with the painful past caused by slavery. All of the characters must deal with their history in order to heal themselves in the present. By the end of the book, Sethe, Denver, and Paul D have all made remarkable progress in their recoveries.


TIME LINE OF THE PLOT OF BELOVED BY TONI MORRISON

  • 1795 Baby Suggs, Halle's mother and Sethe's mother-in-law is born a slave

  • 1835 Sethe is born to "Ma'am," the only name given to her mother

  • 1835 Halle is born to Baby Suggs

  • 1838 The Garners purchase Baby Suggs and Halle to work at Sweet Home in Kentucky

  • 1848 Halle buys the freedom of Baby Suggs by doing extra work

  • 1848 Sethe arrives at Sweet Home as a replacement for Baby Suggs

  • 1849 Sethe marries Halle; they consummate their marriage in the cornfield

  • 1850 Sethe gives birth to Howard

  • 1851 Sethe gives birth to Buglar

  • 1853 Mrs. Garner hires Schoolteacher to run Sweet Home after the death of her husband

  • 1854 Sethe gives birth to Beloved

  • 1855 Sethe sends Buglar, Howard, and Beloved to live with Baby Suggs, for she is afraid they will be sold away from her; Paul D, Sixo, Halle, and Seth plan to escape from Sweet Home; Sethe, pregnant with her fourth child, is attacked by the nephews of Schoolteacher, who suck the milk from her swollen breasts; Sethe is beaten by the nephews when she tells Mrs. Garner about the attack; Schoolteacher kills Sixo and Paul A; Sethe leaves Sweet Home; Sethe gives birth to Denver with the help of Amy; Sethe goes to 124 Bluestone to find Baby Suggs; Sethe tries to kill her children to save them from slavery; Beloved dies, but Buglar, Howard, and Beloved survive; Sethe is taken to jail for murder, and Denver is with her; Sethe and Denver are released from prison; Beloved ghost's takes up residence at 124 Bluestone

  • 1856 Paul D is captured and locked up in Albert, Georgia

  • 1857 Sethe takes a job at Sawyer's Restaurant

  • 1862-1863 Denver attends Lady Jones' school; she is dismissed when it is learned that she and Sethe spent time in jail

  • 1865 Buglar and Howard leave home; Baby Suggs dies

  • 1873 Paul D comes to Sethe's house in Cincinnati; Beloved arrives at 124 Bluestone; Beloved seduces Paul D.

  • 1874 Paul D leaves Sethe when he learns she killed her child

  • 1875 Sethe tries to stab Edwin Bodwin with an ice pick when he tries to take Denver from her; Beloved vanishes; Paul D returns


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