Beloved Literary Elements


American Literature

Setting and Context

The novel’s setting and context flits back and forth between Ohio in 1873 after the Civil War, and Sweet Home, a planation in the antebellum South before the end of slavery. “Reconstruction,” the violent and tense years immediately following the Civil War, is another word that describes the book’s context.

Narrator and Point of View

The novel is told from the point of view of a third-person omniscient narrator. Interestingly, though the narrator mostly focuses on the thoughts of Beloved’s Black characters, occasionally it will shift focus to the thoughts of the novel’s white characters.

Tone and Mood

The narrator’s tone remains neutral throughout the novel, allowing the novel’s events and characters to speak for themselves. For example, in the opening sentence, the narrator tells us matter-of-factly that 124 is “spiteful” but doesn’t comment on whether this spite is justified or unwarranted. Because of the neutral, even-handed tone, Beloved’s mood is largely dictated by the events that occur. For example, on the day that Paul D takes Sethe and Denver to the fair, the novel’s mood is at its lightest. For once, Sethe believes that she can have a happy life. The mood grows grave and depressing, however, when Paul D confronts Sethe about her murder of Beloved.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonists and antagonists exist at a micro and macro level in Beloved. At the micro level, Sethe, Denver, and Paul D are all protagonists, struggling against their own personal demons as well as against the schoolteacher and Beloved. However, at the macro level, the novel’s protagonists could be construed as the “60 million and more” slaves to whom Morrison dedicated Beloved, fighting against the ultimate antagonist of slavery.

Major Conflict

The novel’s major conflict, given a corporeal form in Beloved, is whether Sethe will ever escape slavery’s legacy and throw off its pernicious hold on her.


The novel’s climax is when the women of Sethe’s community, after ostracizing her for 18 years, come and rescue her from Beloved.


“There was no blood. Mr. Garner came home bent over his mare's neck, sweating and blue-white. Not a drop of blood. Sixo grunted, the only one of them not sorry to see him go. Later, however, he was mighty sorry; they all were” (pg. 381).

This quote foreshadows the schoolteacher's arrival at Sweet Home. When Mr. Garner dies, Sixo is not sad to see him go, but this is before he meets the schoolteacher, who is infinitely worse. The words “later, however, he was mighty sorry” foreshadow that something or someone is coming will make Mr. Garner appear to be the lesser evil.


“'Sethe,' he says, 'me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow'” (pg. 475).

It’s an example of understatement when Paul D describes his and Sethe’s painful, traumatic, and eventual pasts as simply “more yesterday.” The phrase does little to encapsulate the suffering and horrors they’ve both endured.


“When the four horsemen came—schoolteacher, one nephew, one slave catcher, and a sheriff—the house on Bluestone Road was so quiet they thought they were too late.”

This quote is an allusion to the Bible and the four horsemen of the apocalypse who are harbingers of the Last Judgment of mankind. They symbolize the end of days, which makes this an apt way of marking the appearance of the schoolteacher, symbolizing the end of Sethe’s 28 days of peace.


See the separate section of this ClassicNote titled “Imagery.”


“The box had done what Sweet Home had not, what working like an ass and living like a dog had not: drove him crazy so he would not lose his mind.”
This quote contains the paradoxical idea that Paul D could be kept sane by being driven crazy.


A parallel is drawn between Denver and Beloved. Both are Sethe’s daughters, but one of them lived after the fateful day in the shed, and one of them did not. Through them, we see the different impacts Sethe’s love had on her children.

Metonymy and Synecdoche



Personification is the representation of an abstract quality in human form. Beloved is the personification of Sethe’s guilt from killing her child and Sethe’s pain, anger, and suffering from slavery.