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.
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