Toni Morrison

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Beloved Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Toni Morrison's Beloved. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison was an African American writer and professor. Growing up in Ohio, she developed a love for literature and storytelling. She studied English at Howard University and Cornell University, before teaching English at various universities and working as an editor. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. She continued to write and gradually garnered national attention before publishing Beloved in 1987. Beloved was hugely successful, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and is regularly included in the discussion of the best novel written after World War II. In 1993, Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her writings often focus on the experiences of black women in the United States. From 1989 until 2006, Morrison held the Robert F. Goheen Chair in the Humanities at Princeton University. She died in 2019, at the age of 88, of complications from pneumonia.
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Historical Context of Beloved

Beloved is related to events surrounding the Civil War, especially the Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed southern slave owners to travel north and reclaim any slaves that had escaped from their ownership. Moreover, the entire novel is inspired by the true story of Margaret Garner, a slave who escaped with her family across the Ohio River in 1856. Slave catchers found her and she killed her two-year-old daughter, rather than seeing her daughter become a slave. Garner was then taken back into slavery.

Other Books Related to Beloved

While it does not engage with any other literary works directly, Beloved may be understood in relation to other famous American narratives of slavery, such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Beloved is unique among such works in that it was written so recently and explores not only the horrors of slavery, but also its painful and enduring legacy.
Key Facts about Beloved
  • Full Title: Beloved
  • When Written: Early 1980s
  • Where Written: Albany, NY
  • When Published: 1987
  • Literary Period: Postmodernism
  • Genre: Historical novel
  • Setting: The outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio in the years just before (1855) and directly following (1873) the Civil War; flashbacks to the Sweet Home plantation in Kentucky
  • Climax: The revelation of Sethe’s attempt to kill her children (and successful murder of her baby) to keep them out of slavery; the women of the neighborhood surrounding 124 and sing outside the house, driving Beloved away.
  • Antagonist: There is no clear antagonist, but at various moments the novel’s characters struggle against slavery and racism, Schoolteacher, Beloved, and the past.
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient, with first-person passages from various points of view

Extra Credit for Beloved

The Good Book. Beloved is full of allusions to the Bible. From the four horsemen who come to take Sethe back to slavery (reminiscent of the four horsemen of the apocalypse), to Baby Suggs’ miraculous feast (which recalls Jesus’ miracle of feeding thousands with five loaves of bread and two fish), many episodes in the novel gain significance and seriousness through allusions to Biblical stories.

Memorial. Toni Morrison once remarked that there was no memorial, such as simply a bench by a road, to honor the memory of all of those brought to the United States as slaves. For her, Beloved functioned as this kind of commemoration. In response, the Toni Morrison Society has installed benches in sites around the U.S. (and the world) as just such memorials.