Toni Morrison

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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.


Through the memories and experiences of a wide variety of characters, Beloved presents unflinchingly the unthinkable cruelty of slavery. In particular, the novel explores how slavery dehumanizes slaves, treating them alternately as property and as animals. To a slave-owner like Schoolteacher, African-American slaves are less than human: he thinks of them only in terms of how much money they are worth, and talks of “mating” them as if they are animals. Paul D’s

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At its core, Beloved is a novel about a mother and her children, centered around the relationship between Sethe and the unnamed daughter she kills, as well as the strange re-birth of that daughter in the form of Beloved. When Sethe miraculously escapes Sweet Home, it is only because of the determination she has to reach her children, nurse her baby, and deliver Denver safely. Similarly, Halle works extra time in order to buy…

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Storytelling, Memory, and the Past

The past does not simply go away in Beloved, but continues to exert influence in the present in a number of ways. The most obvious example of this is the ghost of Sethe’s dead daughter. Though literally buried, the baby continues to be present in 124 as a kind of ghost or poltergeist. But beyond this instance of the supernatural, Sethe teaches Denver that “Some things just stay,” and that nothing ever really dies…

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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…

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Beloved is split into three major sections, and each of these sections begins not with any description of a character, but with a short sentence describing Sethe’s house: “124 was spiteful.” Then, “124 was loud.” And finally, “124 was quiet.” As 124 is haunted, it seems to have a mind of its own and is almost a character of the novel in its own right. The house is extremely important to Baby Suggs and Sethe…

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