Sethe is the protagonist of the novel. She is a freed slave 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. 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 had as a slave. Sethe 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.
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. It is widely believed that she is the murdered baby who haunted 124, as the haunting ends when she arrives, and in many ways she behaves like a child. The murdered baby was unnamed, 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. All the male slaves at Sweet Home were named Paul, yet he also retains many painful memories of his time as a slave and being forced to live in a chain gang. It is said that his heart is kept in a "tobacco tin", as he continuously represses his painful memories. Many years after their time together at Sweet Home, Paul D and Sethe reunite and begin a romantic relationship.
Denver is the only child of Sethe who is truly present in the novel. She is isolated by other young girls in the community because they fear the haunting of her house. Over the course of the novel Denver fights for her personal independence.
Baby Suggs is the elderly mother of Halle. Halle works to buy her freedom, after which she travels to Cincinnati and establishes herself as a respected leader in the community. She lived in 124 where the majority of the novel takes place in the present time. After Sethe's act of infanticide Baby Suggs retires to her death bed where she develops an obsession with colors and Sethe inherits the house after her death.
Halle is the son of Baby Suggs, the husband of Sethe and father of her children. He and Sethe were married in Sweet Home, yet they got separated during her escape. He is not in the present of the novel, but is mentioned in flashbacks. Paul D was the last to see Halle, churning butter at Sweet Home. It is presumed he went mad after seeing residents of Sweet Home violating Sethe and raping her of her breast milk.
Schoolteacher is the primary discipliner of the slaves in Sweet Home. He is the most violent and abusive to the slaves at Sweet Home and eventually comes after Sethe following her escape but is unsuccessful in his attempt to recapture her and her children.
Amy Denver is a compassionate, young white girl who finds Sethe desperately trying to make her way to safety after her escape from Sweet Home. Sethe is extremely pregnant at the time, and her feet are bleeding badly from the travel. Amy saves Sethe's life nurturing her back to health. Later, Amy delivers Sethe's daughter on a small boat, and Sethe names the child Denver after her.