Part One: Chapter 1
Sethe and her daughter, Denver, live in a house haunted by the ghost of Sethe’s firstborn daughter. Sethe’s mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, lived with them until her death. Paul D, who was Sethe’s fellow slave at Sweet Home, arrives at the house. When Paul D kisses Sethe’s scars, the house shakes as the ghost lashes out. Paul D chases it away and angers Denver.
Part One: Chapters 2 & 3
After escaping Sweet Home, Sethe gave birth to Denver with the help of a white girl. Denver thinks she sees a baby ghost kneeling next to a praying Sethe. Sethe tells Paul D that after her escape, schoolteacher came to take her and her children back to Sweet Home, which ended with Sethe in jail with Denver. Paul D decides to stay with Sethe.
Part One: Chapters 4–6
Paul D takes Denver and Sethe to a carnival. As they return home, they find a woman who calls herself Beloved, and she sleeps for days straight. Beloved attaches to Sethe, and one day while watching Sethe arrange Denver’s hair, Beloved asks about Sethe’s mother, and Sethe explains how her mother was hanged.
Part One: Chapters 7 & 8
Sethe and Paul D talk about why Halle, the father of Sethe’s children, didn’t meet Sethe during the escape as planned. Paul D explains that Halle was shattered after seeing the way schoolteacher and his nephews abused Sethe. Beloved and Denver dance together, and Denver asks Beloved never to mention to Sethe who she really is.
Part One: Chapters 9–11
Sethe takes Beloved and Denver to the Clearing, a communal space for healing in the Black community. Sethe calls for the soothing touch of the deceased Baby Suggs, until suddenly she realizes that she is being strangled. When Beloved caresses the bruises on Sethe’s neck, Sethe pushes Beloved away. The narrative switches to the story of Paul D’s prior imprisonment when he developed a trembling that only subsided while working in the chain gang. In the present, Beloved comes to Paul D and has sex with him after he at first resists.
Part One: Chapters 12–14
Denver’s attachment to Beloved intensifies. Paul D begins to liken Beloved’s manipulation of him to schoolteacher’s abuse and decides to tell Sethe, but he surprises himself and Sethe by asking her to have a baby with him. Beloved begs Denver to drive Paul D away.
Part One: Chapters 15–18
At Sweet Home, Baby Suggs allowed Halle to buy her freedom. When she arrived in Ohio, she was unable to learn anything about the whereabouts of her lost children. One day schoolteacher and other men arrived at the house to find Sethe holding her bleeding daughter, whose throat she had cut to save her from being enslaved. Stamp Paid grabbed Denver before Sethe could harm her.
Part Two: Chapter 19
After telling Paul D about Sethe’s crime, Stamp Paid feels guilty when he hears that Paul D has left the house. Sethe takes Beloved and Denver ice-skating, where she hears Beloved humming a song Sethe made up to sing to her children, allowing Sethe to finally recognize Beloved as her resurrected daughter.
Part Two: Chapters 20–23
Sethe speaks in a stream-of-consciousness monologue wherein she expresses her desire to help Beloved understand why she killed her. Denver’s monologue follows, in which she says she must protect Beloved from Sethe. In Beloved’s fragmented monologue, she speaks of a time when she was crouched among dead bodies, and she describes thirst, hunger, death, and sickness. Finally, the three women’s voices come together, each expressing their hopes, fears, and love for one another.
Part Two: Chapters 24 & 25
Paul D reflects on his past and blames his despair on his previous belief that he could build a life with Sethe. He wonders whether his life since his aborted escape from slavery was worth it. Stamp Paid visits Paul D and tells him that he was present when Sethe tried to kill her children, defending Sethe’s actions as necessary under the condition of slavery in which they lived.
Part Three: Chapter 26
As Beloved’s hold on Sethe grows, Denver decides to find help and secures a job with the Bodwins. Ella rallies a group of Black women to exorcise Beloved from the house. They see Sethe standing next to a beautiful pregnant woman when they arrive, and after Sethe rushes toward Bodwin with an icepick, the women prevent Sethe from killing him.
Part Three: Chapters 27 & 28
Beloved disappears in the chaos that follows Sethe’s attempted attack. Denver continues to work for Miss Bodwin, who gives her academic training in the hopes of sending Denver to college. Paul D finds Sethe and tries to encourage her to keep hope. The family and community tries to forget Beloved as if she were a bad dream.