Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

The Supernatural

Morrison enhances the world of Beloved by investing it with a supernatural dimension. While it is possible to interpret the book’s paranormal phenomena within a realist framework, many events in the novel—most notably, the presence of a ghost—push the limits of ordinary understanding. Moreover, the characters in Beloved do not hesitate to believe in the supernatural status of these events. For them, poltergeists, premonitions, and hallucinations are ways of understanding the significance of the world around them. Such occurrences stand in marked contrast to schoolteacher’s perverse hyper-“scientific” and empirical studies.

Read more about how ghosts and the supernatural interact with reality in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.

Allusions to Christianity

Beloved’s epigraph, taken from Romans 9:25, bespeaks the presence that Christian ideas will have in the novel. The “four horsemen” who come for Sethe reference the description of the Apocalypse found in the Book of Revelation. Beloved is reborn into Sethe’s world drenched in a sort of baptismal water. As an infant, Denver drinks her sister’s blood along with her mother’s breast milk, which can be interpreted as an act of Communion that links Denver and Beloved and that highlights the sacrificial aspect of the baby’s death. Sethe’s act so horrifies schoolteacher that he leaves without taking her other children, allowing them to live in freedom. The baby’s sacrificial death, like that of Christ, brings salvation. The book’s larger discussions of sin, sacrifice, redemption, forgiveness, love, and resurrection similarly resound with biblical references.


Associated with life and the nurturing of children, milk is a substance that makes many meaningful appearances in Beloved, but often in a way that degrades and twists its wholesome, maternal connotation. Most notably, after the birth of her daughter, Sethe is raped by schoolteacher’s nephews, and her breast milk, meant for her newborn baby, is stolen. Halle, broken by witnessing his wife’s rape and the overwhelming inhumanity of slavery, smears butter across his face. The enslaved people in Beloved are deprived of every form of human care, and they yearn for the love and nurturing that they were denied. Yet even as they attempt to restore the sanctity of motherhood and childhood in their new community, the former slaves of Cincinnati are still haunted by centuries of children being separated from their families, new mothers forced to be wet nurses for white babies, and the impregnation of Black women by their white enslavers. This trauma manifests in-scene when, after Sethe murders Beloved, she nurses her surviving daughter. Denver drinks Sethe’s breast milk and the blood of her sister at the same time, consuming both her mother’s love and the violent consequences of slavery that still persist within their community.