Sethe is the protagonist of the novel. She escaped slavery from a plantation called Sweet Home. She lives in the house named 124 (a house on 124 Bluestone Rd., but referred to only as "124") which is believed to be haunted because she killed her infant child there. Her two sons have fled because of the haunting, and she resides in the house with her daughter Denver. She is motherly and will do anything to protect her children from suffering the same abuses she experienced when she was enslaved. She is greatly influenced by her repression of the trauma she endured,; she lives with "a tree on her back", scars from being whipped. Her character is resilient, yet defined by her traumatic past. She was 19 years old when Denver was born, making her birth year to be 1836.
The opaque understanding of Beloved is central to the novel. She is a young woman who mysteriously appears from a body of water near Sethe's house, and is discovered soaking wet on the doorstep by Sethe, Paul D, and Denver, on their return from visiting the fair; they take her in. She is widely believed to be the murdered baby who haunted 124, as the haunting ends when she arrives, and in many ways she behaves like a child. As also mentioned, a young woman enslaved by a White man nearby had escaped, and Beloved recounts stories of past slaves, including Sethe's mother. Morrison stated that the character Beloved is the daughter Sethe killed. The murdered baby was unnamed, so her name is derived from the engraving on Sethe's murdered baby's tombstone, which simply read "Beloved" because Sethe could not afford to engrave the word "Dearly" or anything else. Beloved becomes a catalyst to bring repressed trauma of the family to the surface, but also creates madness in the house and slowly depletes Sethe.
Paul D retains his slave name; most of the enslaved men at Sweet Home were named Paul. He also retains many painful memories from enslavement and being forced to live in a chain gang; he had been moving around continuously before arriving at 124. He has a "tobacco tin" for a heart, in which he contains his painful memories, until Beloved opens it. Years after their time together at Sweet Home, Paul D and Sethe reunite and begin a romantic relationship. He acts fatherly towards Denver and is the first to be suspicious of Beloved. Despite their long past, he fails to understand Sethe fully because of her motherhood and because of the many years that had passed since.
Denver is Sethe's only child who remains at House 124. Isolated from her community after Beloved's killing, Denver forms a close bond with her mother. Upon Beloved's arrival, Denver watches as her sister's ghost begins to exhibit demonic activity. Although introduced as a childish character, Denver develops into a protective woman throughout the novel. In the final chapters, Denver fights not only for her personal independence, but also for her mother's wellbeing, breaking the cycle of isolation at House 124. She is 18 years old at the beginning of the novel.
Baby Suggs is Sethe's mother-in-law. Her son Halle worked to buy her freedom, after which she travels to Cincinnati and establishes herself as a respected leader in the community, preaching for the Black people to love themselves because other people will not. This respect turns sour after she turns some food into a feast, earning their envy, as well as Sethe's act of infanticide. Baby Suggs retires to her bed, where she thinks about pretty colors for the rest of her life. She dies at 70 in the beginning of the book, 8 years before the main events.
Halle is the son of Baby Suggs, the husband of Sethe and father of her children. Sethe and he were married in Sweet Home, yet they got separated during her escape. He is only mentioned in flashbacks. Paul D was the last to see Halle, churning butter at Sweet Home. He is presumed to have gone mad after seeing residents of Sweet Home violating Sethe. He is hardworking and good, qualities that Paul D sees in Denver at the end of the book, but ones that Baby Suggs fears make him a target.
Schoolteacher is the primary discipliner, violent, abusive, and cruel to the people he enslaved at Sweet Home, whom he views as animals. He comes for Sethe following her escape, but she kills her daughter and is arrested, instead.
Amy Denver is a young white girl who finds Sethe desperately trying to make her way to safety after her escape from Sweet Home, trying to get to Boston herself. Sethe is extremely pregnant at the time, and her feet are bleeding badly from the travel. Amy helps nurture her and deliver Sethe's daughter on a small boat, and Sethe names the child Denver after her.