Beloved

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Themes and Colors
Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Community Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Beloved, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Community Theme Icon

As the practice of slavery breaks up family units, Beloved provides numerous examples of slaves and ex-slaves creating and relying upon strong communities beyond the immediate family. Baby Suggs’ congregation that gathers in the woods illustrates this, as neighboring African-Americans come together as a community. They come together again toward the end of the novel, as different families provide food for Sethe and Denver when they are in need and a large group of women come to 124 to exorcize, in a manner of speaking, Beloved from the house.

Even in the depths of slavery, when Paul D is on the chain gang, he and the other prisoners escape by cooperating as a team. And it is only through the communal network of the Underground Railroad that Sethe and many other slaves are able to find their way to freedom and establish new lives in the north. At the same time, the novel’s most tragic act—Sethe’s killing of her baby—is partially caused by a failure of community. The community’s resentment about the joyousness and opulence of the feast that Baby Suggs puts together—which the community interprets as being prideful—leads to the community’s failure to warn Baby Suggs or Sethe of Schoolteacher’s approach, and thus Sethe is unable to hide and instead is forced to act quickly and radically.

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Community Quotes in Beloved

Below you will find the important quotes in Beloved related to the theme of Community.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

“How come everybody run off from Sweet Home can’t stop talking about it? Look like if it was so sweet you would have stayed.”
[...]
Paul D laughed. “True, true. [Denver’s] right, Sethe. It wasn’t sweet and it sure wasn’t home.” He shook his head.
“But it’s where we were,” said Sethe. “All together. Comes back whether we want it to or not.”

Related Characters: Sethe (speaker), Denver (speaker), Paul D (speaker)
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

Denver is perturbed by Paul D's arrival and his conversations with Sethe. She interrogates them about their discussion of Sweet Home, to which they respond that the place continues to exert powerful control over their lives.

This exchange establishes the fraught relationship these characters have to the plantation from which they have escaped. Although the location signifies cruel memories, it is also part of Sethe’s personal history, as well as the communal history created among all the slaves who worked there. Her simple constructions—“it’s where we were” and “all together”—make the incontestable argument that the plantation functioned much like a home does. It played the same narrative and psychological role for these characters, whether they want it to or not, and thus it returns consistently in their interactions and lives.

As an outsider, Denver is unable to make sense of this pattern. Her distanced viewpoint allows her to notice, for instance, the irony in the plantation’s name itself. She thus stands for the role of a second generation of ex-slaves, as well as for the contemporary reader, who might be confused about why the plantation serves to connect Sethe and Paul D. Morrison thus points to a disjoint between these two generational perspectives: one that feels a continued link to the plantation and one that cannot make sense of that very link.

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Part 1, Chapter 10 Quotes

They chain-danced over the fields... They sang it out and beat it up, garbling the words so they could not be understood; tricking the words so their syllables yielded up other meanings.

Related Characters: Paul D
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

Paul D remembers the time that he spent on a Georgia chain gang. He reflects specifically on the way they used music as a way to connect to each other.

This passage speaks to the way that artistic expression allowed the slaves a limited amount of agency and mobility within their lives. Though they were unable to alter their work conditions, the slaves could still control their use of language. Thus “garbling the words” becomes an expression of personal control in that they can scramble language to their whims. “Tricking the words” presents their behavior as subversive, for the chain gang members can bend the language itself to their own purposes. That manipulation functions as a small rebellion, too, against white oppressors who otherwise maintained harsh control of language. Here, the slaveowners would not have been able to make sense of their songs.

This transformation also takes place in the language of Morrison’s novel itself. For instance the term “chain-danced” is formed in a similar compound-word structure as “chain gang,” but turns a noun that underlines entrapment into an expression of liberty. And this linguistic play is characteristic of her work: Morrison often uses unexpected syntax and unconventional images to disrupt our readerly expectations. She makes use of vernacular phrases and colloquial expressions—in particular those drawn from black communities—to counter the idea that literary language need not be made of a traditional form associated with white culture. Her work is thus a novelistic form of “tricking the words” so as to innovate storytelling and provide a space for literary black emancipation.