Beloved

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Beloved Character Analysis

It is never clear exactly who or what Beloved is. One day, she climbs out of the Ohio River with no memory of where she is from or who she is. She says she comes from “the other side” and has been looking for Sethe. She is, in some sense, the spirit of Sethe’s murdered child. But, as Denver recognizes at the end of the novel, she is also more. She can perhaps be understood as an embodiment of the seduction and danger of the past, as she causes Paul D and Sethe to remember and narrate their own personal stories and eventually become overwhelmed by them. She also seems to give voice to the pain and suffering of all slaves, as she is able to recall, somehow, the middle passage from Africa to the United States. Ella and the other women who come to rescue Sethe perceive her as a “devil child” and drive her away from 124 with song.

Beloved Quotes in Beloved

The Beloved quotes below are all either spoken by Beloved or refer to Beloved. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Slavery Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of Beloved published in 2004.
Part 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

Sethe learned the profound satisfaction Beloved got from storytelling. It amazed Sethe... because every mention of her past life hurt.... But, as she began telling about the earrings, she found herself wanting to, liking it. Perhaps it was Beloved’s distance from the events itself, or her thirst for hearing it—in any case it was an unexpected pleasure.

Related Characters: Sethe, Beloved
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

When Sethe recounts the tale of her earrings, she is surprised at how much the story pleases Beloved. She wonders why they relate to her memories so differently.

This passage returns to the theme of how the past continues to affect the present. Here, “storytelling” connects earlier memories to a current interaction—which is precisely what Sethe wished to avoid for both herself and for Denver. As a result, she is surprised that Beloved gains “profound satisfaction” from the tales: a combination of words that implies not only pleasure but also a deeper sense of meaning. More intriguing still, this enjoyment transfers from Beloved back to Sethe, from listener back to storyteller.

The precise significance of this transfer remains somewhat unclear. On the one hand, it might cast Beloved as helping heal Sethe—as providing a way for her to reconcile her past and find an “unexpected pleasure” in what has formerly haunted her. A more skeptical reading, however, would see in Beloved’s “thirst” a level of manipulation that painfully brings an unwanted past into the present. One way to resolve the tension might be to see how Sethe attributes Beloved’s enjoyment to her “distance from the events itself.” This line points to the reliance of storytelling on a certain detachment from what is being told: perhaps by forming a narrative of her past, Sethe is able to acquire her own distance from the events, to become an audience for her own story like Beloved.

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Part 1, Chapter 18 Quotes

And if [Sethe] thought anything, it was No. No. Nono. Nonono. Simple. She just flew. Collected every bit of life she had made, all the parts of her that were precious and fine and beautiful, and carried, pushed, dragged them through the veil, out, away, over there where no one else could hurt them. Over there. Outside this place, where they would be safe.

Related Characters: Sethe, Denver, Beloved
Page Number: 192
Explanation and Analysis:

Paul D confronts Sethe about murdering her child. During their discussion, she tells this story of her escape from Sweet Home.

Morrison juxtaposes two forms of potential action: a well-reasoned escape plan in which the route has been rationally conceptualized; and the haphazard, desperate style characterized of Sethe. Indeed, Sethe's mindset here does not seem to revolve around “thought” at all, but rather the absence of thought—the blunt rejection of “No” that grows and replicates itself into “Nonono.” We have little insight into Sethe’s thought process, for her journey lacks a coherent direction, a clear set of objects that she saves, or even a certain destination. Instead, she maintains the vague goal of “outside,” similarly defined in terms of negation, as was the “No.”

The language of this passage mimics Sethe’s style of thought. Composed of short fragments, it avoids normal, fluent syntax in order to place the reader in the mind of someone making stressed and disordered decisions. It is as if Sethe is trying to convince the reader of her disorientation just as she tries to convince Paul D. And Morrison thus makes sensible to us what might have motivated a series of decisions by Sethe. In particular, she demonstrates how deeply one’s psychology can be warped by the experiences of slavery—to the extent that one may even murder their own child as an act of intended love.

Part 2, Chapter 19 Quotes

I can forget it all now because as soon as I got the gravestone in place you made your presence known in the house and worried us all to distraction. I didn’t understand it then. I thought you were mad with me. And now I know that if you was, you ain’t now because you came back here to me... I only need to know one thing. How bad is the scar?

Related Characters: Sethe (speaker), Beloved
Page Number: 217
Explanation and Analysis:

After her skating outing with Denver and Beloved, Sethe grows increasingly convinced that Beloved is the spirit of her dead child. She ponders here how her dead spirit haunted 124.

This passage displays Sethe trying to reconcile with her memories—and to make sense of how past experiences exist alongside current ones. For instance, the new meaningful times with Beloved and Denver have caused her to “forget it all now,” thus distancing herself from the past. Similarly, she “didn’t understand it then,” but the past does have a more sensible nature when now considered in retrospect. It seems that Sethe is finally able to reconcile with her own guilt, believing that Beloved is not angry “because you came back here to me.” Thus her presence as a pseudo-child seems to recreate and to narrativize Sethe’s past.

These descriptions present Sethe as gaining greater clarity into her past based on her current moments with Beloved. But Morrison also implies that Beloved’s presence may be causing Sethe to sink inappropriately into the past—in a way that cripples her ability to progress into the future. Her singular focus on the “one thing” of the scar, for instance, speaks to emotional nearsightedness, which we also see in the way she has abandoned Paul D to be only with Beloved. Morrison thus shows how the symbolic return of the past has a double meaning: It can both order and obscure the present.

Part 2, Chapter 20 Quotes

Beloved, she my daughter. She mine.... She had to be safe and I put her where she would be. But my love was tough and she back now. I knew she would be.... I won’t never let her go.

Related Characters: Sethe (speaker), Beloved
Page Number: 236
Explanation and Analysis:

The novel has entered a pure stream-of-consciousness style at this point. Sethe repeatedly describes her deep love of Beloved and how that affection motivated her actions.

These lines reiterate that Sethe’s infanticide was the result of her deep love for Beloved. The action is phrased not even as a choice, but rather as a necessity given the circumstances: “She had to be safe.” In this way, Sethe seeks to justify her action not as the best choice given a set of circumstances, but indeed as the only one that could have been made. Morrison thus demonstrates how horrifically the definitions of safety and love have been warped under the specter of slavery: Love can be exemplified by murder, and safety is equated with death.

Yet the careful reader should not take this text at face value. Morrison uses halting statements and fragmented phrases to emphasize the lack of clarity in Sethe’s thought process. Further, her repeated use of possessives—“she my”; “she mine”; “my love”—present the mother-daughter relationship as deeply controlling, even obsessive. The moral compass in Morrison’s work is never entirely clear, and the text makes no clear pronouncement on Sethe’s actions. Thus even as she makes a compelling argument for how love motivated her behavior, parts of the stream-of-consciousness writing itself undermine the validity of that position.

Part 3, Chapter 26 Quotes

Yet [Denver] knew Sethe’s greatest fear was...that Beloved might leave.... Leave before Sethe could make her realize that far worse than [death]...was what Baby Suggs died of, what Ella knew, what Stamp saw and what made Paul D tremble. That anybody white could take your whole self for anything that came to mind. Not just work, kill, or maim you, but dirty you. Dirty you so bad you couldn’t like yourself anymore. Dirty you so bad you forgot who you were and couldn’t think it up.

Related Characters: Sethe, Denver, Baby Suggs, Paul D, Beloved, Stamp Paid, Ella
Page Number: 295
Explanation and Analysis:

As life at 124 grows ever worse, Denver reflects on what is motivating Sethe to acquiesce to Beloved’s wishes. Sethe, she explains, wants to prove to Beloved that her infanticide offered her a better end than she would have had alive under slavery.

This passage casts Sethe’s relationship with Beloved in a somewhat different light than before. Whereas earlier sections justified her actions as derived from pure affection, this passage presents them as seeking some kind of repentance or justice. That Sethe wants Beloved to “realize” that another fate (slavery) was “far worse” reveals a wish for acceptance and forgiveness on Beloved’s part. She wants her, in a bizarre way, to understand the horror of an alternative past that she never experienced—in order that Sethe's decision will be deemed merciful and the result of love.

Denver’s focus on the loss of identity is intriguing here. She presents the worst end of slavery as that one “forgot who you were and couldn’t think it up,” which speaks to how mentally fractured Sethe had become by the time she fled Sweet Home. Yet if Sethe had sought to save Beloved from this fate, she also has caused it to come true: if Beloved is indeed the ghost of her child, she lost her identity and came blindly to Sethe without a clear sense of self. Morrison thus presents the murder less as a real escape from the institution of slavery, but rather as a reproduction of its horrifying ends.

Part 3, Chapter 28 Quotes

They forgot her like a bad dream. After they made up their tales, shaped and decorated them, those that saw her that day on the porch quickly and deliberately forgot her. It took longer for those who had spoken to her, lived with her, fallen in love with her, to forget... In the end, they forgot her too.

Related Characters: Beloved
Page Number: 323-324
Explanation and Analysis:

In this novel’s final chapter, the narrator describes the outcome of Beloved’s disappearance. She explains that Beloved soon faded from the town’s communal memory.

That Beloved is described as a “bad dream” emphasizes her spectral and haunted nature. At this point, she is not deemed to be Sethe’s actual child, but rather an abstract embodiment of the horrors of slavery. As a result, she takes on different meanings for different members of the town. They “made up their tales,” thus fitting her into personal narratives, but those narratives soon diverge from actual memories as they “deliberately forgot her.”

Morrison here shows the way that people and communities edit their memories, both in active and passive ways. The process happens at different paces depending on the type of relationship each person held to Beloved, but slowly all move toward a similar end of oblivion. For a community to cleanse itself of negative occurrences, the novel implies, the past must be left behind.

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Beloved Character Timeline in Beloved

The timeline below shows where the character Beloved appears in Beloved. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 5
Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
...the strange woman eats nothing but drinks lots of water. She says her name is Beloved. Paul D decides not to ask her who she is or where she’s from, thinking... (full context)
Home Theme Icon
Sethe and Paul D think Beloved is sick with cholera, but Denver defiantly says that she isn’t. For four days, Denver... (full context)
Motherhood Theme Icon
Beloved begins to eat, but only sweet things, such as honey, sugarcane, candy, and lemonade. She... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 6
Motherhood Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
Beloved is devoted to paying Sethe attention. She waits for her in the kitchen in the... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
One night, Beloved asks Sethe where her diamonds are. Sethe is confused, but then realizes that Beloved is... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Sethe tells Beloved that she got the earrings from Mrs. Garner when she married Halle. She had heard... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
One day, as Sethe is unbraiding Denver’s hair, Beloved asks if Sethe’s mother ever did her hair. Sethe says she can’t remember and tells... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
...why she only ever asks Sethe about the white woman, Amy. Denver notices how “greedy” Beloved is to hear Sethe tell stories. She wonders how Beloved could have known about Sethe’s... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 7
Home Theme Icon
Paul D feels uneasy around Beloved and is still suspicious of her, since he still does not know anything about her... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Paul D still feels suspicious of Beloved, even though he has known many “Negroes so stunned, or hungry, or tired or bereft... (full context)
Home Theme Icon
Just as Paul D thinks of trying to get rid of Beloved, Beloved chokes on a raisin and then gets sick. Denver takes Beloved to her room,... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 8
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Beloved and Denver are dancing upstairs in 124. Denver asks Beloved what it was like where... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Denver asks Beloved never to leave and then asks her not to tell Sethe who she is. This... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 9
Slavery Theme Icon
Community Theme Icon
...lost her faith and stopped preaching. Missing Baby Suggs, Sethe decides to take Denver and Beloved with her to the Clearing. (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Beloved points out bruises on Sethe’s neck and rubs them soothingly, then starts to kiss Sethe’s... (full context)
Home Theme Icon
...Paul D bathing. Realizing how much she wants him in her life, she embraces him. Beloved sees this and is immediately jealous. She runs outside to a stream where Denver is.... (full context)
Community Theme Icon
...Denver was so upset she never returned to the schoolhouse. Denver walks over to join Beloved. (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 11
Home Theme Icon
Beloved gradually forces Paul D out of 124. He feels restless and uncomfortable everywhere, and doesn’t... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Beloved enters the cold house one night and asks Paul D to sleep with her. He... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 12
Slavery Theme Icon
Denver loves it when Beloved looks at her and prizes her attention. Sethe asks Beloved about her past, but all... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
By contrast, Denver thinks that Beloved is the white dress that knelt next to Sethe, some presence of the dead baby.... (full context)
Home Theme Icon
Denver finally finds Beloved, who assures her that she is not going to leave, because she wants to be... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 13
Slavery Theme Icon
...harsher. Paul D’s recent behavior—not being able to stay put in 124 and sleeping with Beloved—makes him question whether Schoolteacher was right about him being less than a man. (full context)
Home Theme Icon
...snow and they start to run, Paul D hoisting Sethe on his back. They encounter Beloved waiting for Sethe near 124, who breaks up the intimacy between Sethe and Paul D. (full context)
Motherhood Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
...D sleeping in the cold house and tells him to come upstairs at night, upsetting Beloved. Sethe’s kindness reminds Paul D of the woman he stayed with in Delaware, who gave... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 14
Home Theme Icon
...night, after Paul D and Sethe leave the dinner table and go upstairs, Denver and Beloved talk. Denver says that Sethe likes having Paul D at the house, but Beloved tells... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 19
Motherhood Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
...on without Paul D, who she feels has abandoned her like all the other townspeople. Beloved finds a pair of ice skates and asks what they are. Sethe decides to take... (full context)
Community Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
...on the day of the carnival were not Paul D, Denver, and her, but rather Beloved, Denver, and her. She thinks that Paul D tried to convince her to be concerned... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Sethe thinks that Beloved knows and understands everything about her past. She remembers burying her child, specifically how she... (full context)
Community Theme Icon
...works up the nerve to knock on Sethe’s door, but no one answers. He sees Beloved through a window. He tells Ella that there is a strange woman at 124 and... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 20
Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
This chapter follows Sethe’s stream of consciousness, which repeats the name “Beloved” and insists that “she is mine.” Sethe’s internal monologue of thoughts continually claims that killing... (full context)
Motherhood Theme Icon
...other side where my own ma’am is.” Sethe ends the chapter by saying again that Beloved is her daughter and has come back to her. (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 21
Home Theme Icon
Denver’s monologue follows Sethe’s. She asserts that Beloved is her sister and that they have a special bond: she swallowed Beloved’s own blood... (full context)
Home Theme Icon
...coming. She idealized Halle as “an angel man.” Denver’s monologue ends like Sethe’s, insisting that Beloved is hers. (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 22
Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
This chapter follows Beloved’s thoughts. She insists that Sethe is hers. She says “it is always now” and her... (full context)
Motherhood Theme Icon
Beloved recalls coming out of water and finding a house, then seeing Sethe’s face and recognizing... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 23
Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Beloved’s stream of consciousness continues. She speaks of a woman she was separated from in Africa... (full context)
Motherhood Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
Beloved’s thoughts are followed by a dialogue of thoughts between Beloved, Sethe, and Denver. Beloved says... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 25
Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
...of love and “she was trying to out-hurt the hurter.” He asks Paul D about Beloved and Paul D says that no one knows where she came from. Before Stamp Paid... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 26
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Beloved begins to dominate in her relationship with Sethe, not obeying her and throwing angry fits... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Community Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
...them. Denver begins going to Lady Jones’ house more often, as life at 124 deteriorates. Beloved seems to be going crazy and Sethe has regressed and is childlike and weak. Denver... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Community Theme Icon
Denver goes to the Bodwins to look for work. She tells their maid Janey about Beloved and how Sethe seems to have lost her mind. Janey tells her to come back... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
...at the Clearing. She goes out to the porch to watch them sing, along with Beloved. The singing women see Beloved as a “devil-child.” Beloved has assumed the appearance of a... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 27
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
...Paid discuss the day when the singing women came to the house and drove away Beloved, who fled from the women and disappeared. According to Stamp Paid, 124 seems no longer... (full context)
Motherhood Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Paul D asks Denver if Beloved was her sister. Denver says that she thinks so, but that Beloved was also more.... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Paul D goes to 124. He senses that Beloved is truly gone. He enters the house looking for Sethe and finally finds her humming... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 28
Slavery Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
The novel describes a loneliness at 124 now that Beloved is gone and has “erupt[ed] into her separate parts.” The town gradually forgets about her... (full context)