Beloved By Toni Morrison: Book Summary
A Baby's Fury
The Crawling Already Baby's fury was what everyone remembered most about 124, a home that had once been a post along the Underground Railroad, that and the deaths that had taken place shortly after Sethe had arrived in Toni Morrison's arguably most memorable and chilling historical and ghost story novel, Beloved.
I first read the book in high school, then again multiple times since taking the opportunity for the first time to write about it. In the backdrop of the last days of slavery, flashing back to a life at Sweet Home plantation where Sethe's journey began as a young woman purchased. While treated as amicably as possible under the circumstances by the Garner's who don't treat her badly and even allow her to marry a man of her own choosing rather than breeding their slaves, and don't sell the children that Sethe and her husband have, but it doesn't make life easy either.
When Mr Garner dies and School Teacher is brought in to be the new master, violence erupts on the plantation and those that have the ability to begin to run. With no choice, and her husband missing, Sethe sends her children ahead, heavily pregnant again, she is planning to run when she can.
After being beaten Sethe takes to running and not looking back, having her baby along the way with the help of a white woman that was on her way to Boston, and has such an impact that she is the namesake for the newborn.
Met along the way by the volunteers to on the Underground Railroad, Sethe is reunited with her children and her mother in law who has previously had her freedom purchased by her son. Eight children, and her mother in law says that her son was the only one that she was allowed to keep, so it seemed right that he was the one to grant her freedom with working overtime.
In current day, Sethe and Denver are the only ones left in 124, the house once used as an Outpost that is now their home. Back when the house had more occupants, Sethe's sons' claimed to hear the Crawling Already Baby move up and down the staircases, to knock things over, and throw the dog against the wall.
Denver is terrified of their home, but more so of her mother after the death of her grandmother, and her brother's ran off after the notorious day when people arrived to take Sethe into custody.
Denver is terrified of the stories of her mother that she had grown up around, and the haunted house that had become her home. After the incident that kept all other colored people far away from their family, Denver feels that her desperation for a savior has called the woman from the water and onto their doorstep.
Paul D And 124
Paul D remembers his time as Sweet Home as much as Sethe. One of four men also called Paul on the plantation, Paul D also fled around the time of Sethe but instead was caught and became part of a chain gang.
With eighteen years between the time he last set eyes on Sethe, a woman he once knew in another life as a wife and mother, now an assumed widow with only one child that hadn't died or been run off, Sethe was not what he remembered and they harbor a short romance.
Denver tells Paul D of the haunting of their home, but he doesn't believe in the ghost nonsense, even when the power becomes stronger wrecking the house more and running off the dog.
Then for a short period of time, only twenty-eight days of real happiness, the first she has ever felt in her life, Sethe and Paul D are happy until they return from a carnival and see a mysterious young woman dressed in rich woman's clothing dripping wet on the porch of 124 as if she has walked out of the water.
The woman doesn't share anything about her background except that her name is Beloved. Chill runs up their spines as Sethe thinks back to the only word she could afford to put on her daughter's headstone.
Everything about Beloved is strange, and she instantly has a hatred for anyone that gets between her and Sethe. Within weeks of publicly hating him then trying to seduce him, Paul D is suddenly sleeping in the shed, and then runs off to live in a church where he thinks he will be safe from the ghost of 124.
When the truth catches up to Paul D about the backstory of Sethe and 124, he is chilled to the bone.
Reunited with her mother in law and children for a short period of time, word has spread of Sethe's location and men have come to take her back to Sweet Home, only she vows they won't take her or her children alive and she takes a hacksaw to the unnamed Crawling Already Baby, after maiming her two sons who manage to survive. Just as she was about to kill her newborn, Denver, men pull the baby from her arms. Sethe is jailed with baby Denver, and after her sentence, Sethe gets a pink headstone made, just reading the only word she could afford: Beloved.
Hearing what has become of Sethe, Paul D is too spooked to ever return.
Could the young woman posing as Sethe's daughter at the age she should have been had she survived really be the same as the ghost of the baby that rattled 124?
Beloved Is My Daughter And She Is Mine
Everything about Beloved is symbolic, including the address of the home foreshadowing the death of the third born child.
Sethe believes her obsessive guilt that over the death of her daughter that had driven away her sons' and caused her surviving child to mistrust her, might have been enough to conger up Beloved from the grave.
Everything about her fits.
The face that is familiar.
The song that Sethe made up for her children that Beloved suddenly knows.
The fact that Beloved asks her about the earrings that she had gotten from Mrs Garner as a wedding gift back at Sweet Home.
While Beloved says strange things that begin to spook and bewitch the household, her powerful spell is also a jealous one and there can be only one daughter in the life of Sethe.
Instead of taking her rage out on the house as in her baby form, Beloved begins to abuse Sethe, and it takes a toll on both herself and Denver.
Believing the ghost came back to have its revenge, Sethe gives in to its rage and lets it consume her, believing her crime needs to be punished at the hands of Beloved who both loves Sethe so much that can't ever risk losing her again but hates her for the loss of her life.
Sethe feels she should be punished for her crime and that she owes it to Beloved to be the victim of her abuse. As the fury in 124 is now delivered by a woman's hand rather than a baby's rage that rattled the house, Sethe is often sickened and bruised. Frightened by what has become of her home, Denver makes a run for it, following in the footsteps of her brothers' after Sethe had tried to end their lives.
Beloved Is My Sister And She Is Mine
Denver feels the most guilt about the return of Beloved.
At first she feels that she called out to her sister, and that she returned from the grave with the intention of saving the remaining child in 124. Denver thinks that Beloved saved her on that fateful day, being the one to take the killing blow, rather than Denver herself.
Denver believes that Beloved has come back for her, to be her protector and instantly knows that her sister is back from the grave the moment they see the soaking young woman on the tree stump outside 124.
But Denver soon learns that Beloved has no intentions of coming back for her sister and that the ghost's concern was only to come back to the mother who's face she kept seeing from Hell and that her motivation to be born again was to see that face again.
While Denver loves Beloved, she realizes that Beloved doesn't love her, and Denver can no longer sit with the secret.
Once Sethe begins to be choked by Beloved, and bruises begin to appear on Sethe's body after Paul D has left the household for good, Denver goes begging for work in town knowing it is no longer safe to come back to 124 now that Beloved has taken hold.
I Am Beloved And She Is Mine
From a fiery Hell, Beloved never lost sight of Sethe's face. Confused at how little she understood from her death before she knew speech, Beloved has gone from the manifestation of an toddler to a young woman in her return from the grave.
It is never said what exactly called her back, Denver's longing for a friend, or Sethe's guilt over the death of her daughter at her hands; but Beloved refuses to loosen her grip now that she has a hold on Sethe again, even if it means to kill her.
There can only be one daughter and Sethe is sentenced to be her mother.
The violence chases off Denver and 124 remains with Sethe and a ghost pitting battle against each other.
Like other works of Toni Morrison, a Nobel Prize winning author for her display of fiction about the struggles of African Americans during various time periods in American History, Beloved is written in the Morrrison's signature prose.
Changing view points between characters, you never really know the true motivations of Beloved, those that called her back to life, or the ghost herself other than to find Sethe again and see her face.
This beautifully chilling ghost story is the type of book that you hope will go on forever as its poetic flow fully engages the reader. I was blessed to have this book assigned to me by a teacher, as I have read it about four times now since I was a teenager.