Beloved Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Analyze Denver’s transformation throughout the narrative.

    At the beginning of Beloved, Denver is a shy and lonely recluse afraid to leave 124’s property. After Baby Suggs dies and her brothers run away, all she has for company is her mother, Sethe, and the ghost that haunts 124. So when Paul D and later Beloved come to live at 124, the changed household dynamic turns Denver’s world upside-down. Not only must she learn how to interact and live with other people, but she must also manage her jealousy and feelings of abandonment. Incredibly, the problems created by Paul D’s departure and Beloved’s arrival serve as a catalyst for Denver’s transformation. Beloved’s greediness and hold over Sethe makes it necessary for Denver to leave 124 in search of help and work. As she reenters the world, Denver grows into a confident and independent young woman who doesn’t allow slavery’s legacy to hold her back. Of all the characters in Beloved, her transformation is the most complete.

  2. 2

    Compare and contrast Mr. Garner and the schoolteacher. Was Mr. Garner really the lesser of two evils? Why or why not?

    At first blush, Mr. Garner and the schoolmaster seem very different. Infamous in the Sweet Home community for treating his slaves like men, Mr. Garner is the archetype of the “benevolent slave master.” According to history books, masters like Mr. Garner, though rare, did exist, and they treated their slaves more like human beings doing paid labor. This treatment contrasts sharply with the schoolteacher’s treatment of the Sweet Home slaves. Not only does the schoolteacher treat Sethe and the others in a cruel manner typical of most slave masters, but he also views them as science experiments. This added level of scrutiny and dehumanization leaves its own type of scar on Sethe and Sweet Home’s Black men. Still, although the men were radically different in their approaches to slavery, can it really be said that one was better than the other? As Mr. Garner’s brother points out, kind or not, Mr. Garner still kept Sethe, the Pauls, Sixo, and Halle as slaves. Perversely, in Mr. Garner’s eyes, his benevolent treatment of his slaves justified his participation in slavery. Furthermore, even Paul D wonders if Mr. Garner’s false empowerment of his male slaves did more harm than good. So, although Mr. Garner physically treated his slaves better than the schoolteacher did, we cannot definitively say that he was the lesser of two evils.

  3. 3

    Explain why the women of Cincinnati's Black community come to Sethe’s rescue.

    After Sethe tries (and partially accomplishes) the act of killing her children, Cincinnati’s Black community ostracizes her. For the women in particular, Sethe’s actions are incomprehensible. Therefore, it’s shocking that these same women give Denver food for her and Sethe and come to Sethe’s rescue when they hear of Beloved’s malevolence. The driving force behind the women’s decision to bury the hatchet is Ella, Stamp Paid and Baby Suggs’ old friend. Though Ella was personally offended by Sethe’s decision 18 years ago, even more offensive is the idea of “past errors taking possession of the present.” Yes, it was wrong of Sethe to kill her child, but Ella believes it’s equally wrong for that child to seek revenge. To all the women, the idea of a child killing their mother is abhorrent, as is the idea of sin coming to life. For all these reasons, the Black women of Cincinnati put their dislike aside and come to Sethe’s aid.

  4. 4

    Explain the thematic significance of mothers and daughters in the novel.

    The relationship between mothers and daughters is one of Beloved’s core ideas. Sethe’s lack of relationship with her own mother inspires her to be the best possible mother to her own children. This devotion to her children causes Sethe to view them as “her best thing” or her best quality, and, as a result, she makes numerous sacrifices for them. Once everyone else leaves, Denver and Sethe become each other's sole companion. Sethe, plagued by guilt and sorrow, withdraws from Denver, while Denver loves her mother but is simultaneously afraid of her. When Beloved arrives later on, we see yet another type of mother-daughter relationship: one grown out of bitter love, vengeance, and guilt. A mother’s dedication to providing for her children is driven to an extreme when Beloved begins to literally leech the life out of Sethe. By the time Beloved is banished, the traditional mother-daughter relationship has been reversed. Denver becomes the primary breadwinner for the household and is in charge of feeding and taking care of Sethe. In a type of poetic justice, Sethe is getting from her daughter the “mothering” she missed her entire life.

  5. 5

    What is Beloved’s legacy, both at the end of the novel and beyond the scope of the novel?

    At the end of the novel, the narrator tells us that Beloved is largely forgotten by everyone who knew and saw her. And yet, Beloved, along with all the feelings and trauma she personifies, continues to live on in the Black Americans impacted by slavery and its legacy. Morrison suggests this when she dedicates Beloved to the 60 million slaves from the Transatlantic slave trade and their descendants.