the protagonist of Beloved,
is a proud and independent
woman who is extremely devoted to her children. Though she barely
knew her own mother, Sethe’s motherly instincts are her most striking characteristic.
Unwilling to relinquish her children to the physical, emotional,
sexual, and spiritual trauma she endured as a slave at Sweet Home,
she attempts to murder them in an act of motherly love and protection. She
remains haunted by this and other scarring events in her past, which
she tries, in vain, to repress.
in-depth analysis of Sethe.
youngest child, Denver is the most dynamic character in the novel.
Though intelligent, introspective, and sensitive, Denver has been
stunted in her emotional growth by years of relative isolation. Beloved’s
increasing malevolence, however, forces Denver to overcome her fear
of the world beyond 124 and seek help from
the community. Her foray out into the town and her attempts to find
permanent work and possibly attend college mark the beginning of
her fight for independence and self-possession.
in-depth analysis of Denver.
identity is mysterious. The novel provides evidence that she could
be an ordinary woman traumatized by years of captivity, the ghost
of Sethe’s mother, or, most convincingly, the embodied spirit of Sethe’s
murdered daughter. On an allegorical level, Beloved represents the
inescapable, horrible past of slavery returned to haunt the present.
Her presence, which grows increasingly malevolent and parasitic
as the novel progresses, ultimately serves as a catalyst for Sethe’s,
Paul D’s, and Denver’s respective processes of emotional growth.
in-depth analysis of Beloved.
physical and emotional brutality suffered by Paul D at Sweet Home
and as part of a chain gang has caused him to bury his feelings
in the “rusted tobacco tin” of his heart. He represses his painful
memories and believes that the key to survival is not becoming too attached
to anything. At the same time, he seems to incite the opening up
of others’ hearts, and women in particular tend to confide in him.
Sethe welcomes him to 124, where he becomes
her lover and the object of Denver’s and Beloved’s jealousy. Though
his union with Sethe provides him with stability and allows him to
come to terms with his past, Paul D continues to doubt fundamental
aspects of his identity, such as the source of his manhood and his
value as a person.
Halle buys his mother, Baby Suggs, her freedom, she travels to Cincinnati,
where she becomes a source of emotional and spiritual inspiration
for the city’s black residents. She holds religious gatherings at
a place called the Clearing, where she teaches her followers to
love their voices, bodies, and minds. However, after Sethe’s act
of infanticide, Baby Suggs stops preaching and retreats to a sickbed
to die. Even so, Baby Suggs continues to be a source of inspiration
long after her death: in Part Three her memory motivates Denver
to leave 124 and find help. It is partially
out of respect for Baby Suggs that the community responds to Denver’s
requests for support.
Baby Suggs, Stamp Paid is considered by the community to be a figure
of salvation, and he is welcomed at every door in town. An agent
of the Underground Railroad, he helps Sethe to freedom and later
saves Denver’s life. A grave sacrifice he made during his enslavement
has caused him to consider his emotional and moral debts to be paid
off for the rest of his life, which is why he decided to rename
himself “Stamp Paid.” Yet by the end of the book he realizes that
he may still owe protection and care to the residents of 124.
Angered by the community’s neglect of Sethe, Denver, and Paul D,
Stamp begins to question the nature of a community’s obligations
to its members.
Mr. Garner’s death, schoolteacher takes charge of Sweet Home. Cold,
sadistic, and vehemently racist, schoolteacher replaces what he
views as Garner’s too-soft approach with an oppressive regime of
rigid rules and punishment on the plantation. Schoolteacher’s own habits
are extremely ascetic: he eats little, sleeps less, and works hard.
His most insidious form of oppression is his “scientific” scrutiny
of the slaves, which involves asking questions, taking physical
measurements, and teaching lessons to his white pupils on the slaves’
“animal characteristics.” The lower-case s
of schoolteacher’s appellation
may have an ironic meaning: although he enjoys a position of extreme
power over the slaves, they attribute no worth to him.
husband and Baby Suggs’s son, Halle is generous, kind, and sincere.
He is very much alert to the hypocrisies of the Garners’ “benevolent”
form of slaveholding. Halle eventually goes mad, presumably after
witnessing schoolteacher’s nephews’ violation
Jones, a light-skinned black woman who loathes her blond hair, is
convinced that everyone despises her for being a woman of mixed
race. Despite her feelings of alienation, she maintains a strong
sense of community obligation and teaches the underprivileged children
of Cincinnati in her home. She is skeptical of the supernatural
dimensions of Denver’s plea for assistance, but she nevertheless
helps to organize the community’s delivery of food to Sethe’s plagued
worked with Stamp Paid on the Underground Railroad. Traumatized
by the sexual brutality of a white father and son who once held
her captive, she believes, like Sethe, that the past is best left
buried. When it surfaces in the form of Beloved, Ella organizes
the women of the community to exorcise Beloved from 124.
Mr. and Mrs. Garner
- Mr. and Mrs. Garner are the comparatively benevolent
owners of Sweet Home. The events at Sweet Home reveal, however,
that the idea of benevolent slavery is a contradiction in terms.
The Garners’ paternalism and condescension are simply watered-down
versions of schoolteacher’s vicious racism.
Mr. and Miss Bodwin
- Siblings Mr. and Miss Bodwin are white abolitionists
who have played an active role in winning Sethe’s freedom. Yet there
is something disconcerting about the Bodwins’ politics. Mr. Bodwin
longs a little too eagerly for the “heady days” of abolitionism,
and Miss Bodwin demonstrates a condescending desire to “experiment”
on Denver by sending her to Oberlin College. The distasteful figurine
Denver sees in the Bodwins’ house, portraying a slave and displaying
the message “At Yo’ Service,” marks the limits and ironies of white
involvement in the struggle for racial equality. Nevertheless, the
siblings are motivated by good intentions, believing that “human
life is holy, all of it.”
nurturing and compassionate girl who works as an indentured servant,
Amy is young, flighty, talkative, and idealistic. She helps Sethe
when she is ill during her escape from Sweet Home, and when she
sees Sethe’s wounds from being whipped, Amy says that they resemble
a tree. She later delivers baby Denver, whom Sethe names after her.
Paul A, Paul F, and Sixo
- Paul A and Paul F are the brothers of Paul D. They
were slaves at Sweet Home with him, Halle, Sethe, and, earlier,
Baby Suggs. Sixo is another fellow slave. Sixo and Paul A die during
the escape from the plantation.