Beloved Plot Summary
The book begins in 1873, in the aftermath of slavery and the Civil War. The story begins just before Paul D comes to stay with Sethe and Denver at 124. Much of the information that weaves the story together, however, is told with the memories of these three characters. This summary is in chronological order to make it easier to understand.
In 1848, Baby Suggs left Sweet Home plantation in Kentucky and was driven to Cincinnati, Ohio, after her son, Halle, purchased her freedom from Mr. Garner, the plantation owner. Sethe arrived at Sweet Home as Baby Suggs' replacement. A year after her arrival, she married Halle and bore him 3 children: two sons and a daughter, over the next few years at Sweet Home.
Mr. Garner died and his wife became ill; she asked a schoolteacher to run Sweet Home. The schoolteacher treated the slaves like animals and abused them, and they all planned to run away. Sethe sent her children to Ohio and stayed to wait for Halle, because he wasn't where they agreed to meet when they planned to run. In the days she spent waiting for Halle, the schoolteacher and his nephews took Sethe, who was six months pregnant with her fourth child, to the barn and nursed the milk from her breasts. Sethe was beaten the next day, and that night she ran away alone.
As she tries to walk to Ohio, a white girl finds Sethe and helps her to the Ohio River where Sethe has her baby, Denver. The next day, Sethe and Denver make it to Baby Suggs at 124 and are reunited with Sethe's other children. Twenty-eight days after her arrival at 124, the schoolteacher shows up to take them back to Sweet Home. Sethe, fearing her children are to be sold into slavery, snaps, killing her first daughter with a saw and injuring her sons before anyone can stop her. She goes to jail and takes Denver with her. When she gets out of jail, she prostitutes herself for a headstone for the baby's grave that reads only, "Beloved." The baby's ghost makes itself a constant presence at 124 and Sethe's sons run away, while Baby Suggs lays in bed waiting to die. No one in the community will have anything more to do with 124 or the people in it, so when Baby Suggs dies in 1865, Sethe and Denver are alone until Paul D shows up in 1873.
Paul D scares away the ghost of 124 and he, Sethe, and Denver begin a new life together, until Beloved shows up at 124. No one has any idea who she is or from where she came. Sethe and Denver take her in. Beloved becomes instantly attached to Sethe. Denver becomes intensely devoted to Beloved because she thinks she is her baby sister's ghost come to life to keep her company. Beloved breaks Paul D down, seducing him against his will. He leaves after Stamp Paid informs him of the murder of Sethe's daughter. When Paul D leaves, Sethe begins to believe that Beloved is her reincarnated daughter because of coincidental connections between Beloved and the baby ghost.
Beloved and Sethe become interested only in one another. Later, they become angry and violent with each other because Beloved thinks Sethe abandoned her; she begins to dominate Sethe with her anger. Sethe starts to waste away as Beloved's pregnant stomach grows, and Denver is forced to seek help for her mother outside of 124. Denver gets a job with the Bodwins, the white folks who rented 124 to Baby Suggs. As Denver waits on the porch for Bodwin to pick her up, a group of colored women come to 124 to rescue Sethe from Beloved, the ghost haunting 124. Beloved and Sethe step onto the porch to see what's going on, and when Sethe sees Mr. Bodwin, she tries to kill him, believing the schoolteacher has returned. Beloved runs away because she thinks Mr. Bodwin is the white man that has come back for her, and Sethe has abandoned her again. With Beloved gone, Sethe gives up on life because she has lost her child, the best part of herself, again. Paul D comes back to 124 to help Denver take care of Sethe. Time passes and Beloved is forgotten.