Characters and Analysis

Sethe

The main character in the novel. Sethe is a fiercely independent woman and devoted mother. Having endured the violence and dehumanizing horrors of slavery, she becomes resolved to murder her own children rather than allow them to return to the plantation at Sweet Home.

This haunts her for the rest of her life. The novel deliberately plays with this idea of haunting as ghosts become potentially quite real.

Denver

The youngest child of Sethe, Denver emerges as one of the most dynamic characters in the book. She is intelligent, sensitive, and quiet. Growing up in isolation has left her emotionally stunted. As the presence of Beloved in the house at 124 becomes unbearable, she is forced to seek life outside and pursue education and find some measure of independence. She is something of a redemption character—the one presumed to rise above the horrors which preceded her.

Paul D

The nightmares, abuse, and violence he suffered as a slave at Sweet Home and on a chain gang has cause Paul D to repress his feelings and emotions. He has buried them, thus he cannot become attached to anyone or anything.

However, he does inspire others to open up and express their feelings. Sethe confides in him. He eventually becomes Sethe’s love until the arrival of Beloved. Even in the comfort of his relationship with Sethe, Paul D is riddled with self-doubt and doubt in others.

Beloved

Her identity remains a mystery and the novel does suggest that she may be an actual ghost of the child whom Sethe murdered. There is also evidence that Beloved is an ordinary woman who had been traumatized by years of captivity and abuse. She represents the nightmares of the legacy of slavery and the ways that this legacy vexes the present. She grows increasingly menacing and serves as the spark which causes Sethe, Paul D, and Denver to move on from the isolation in which they live.

Baby Suggs

Baby Suggs serves as a point of strength and stability within the black community in Cincinnati. She is a de facto minister and source of wisdom. It is her house as 124 that Sethe comes to live with her children.

It is also here that the murder takes place. The infanticide is a turning point for Baby Suggs and she retreats into solitude and takes to her bed to die. However, her presence lives on as a source of inspiration. It is out deference to Baby Suggs that the community rallies behind Denver.

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