Halloween is only one day per year, but luckily, you can shock and delight your students anytime by teaching Toni Morrison's novel Beloved. This Pulitzer-winning book offers a unique combination of ghost story and historical fiction, so history buffs and fans of the supernatural alike will have no trouble engaging with this text. The story occurs in Ohio after the Civil War and is actually based on a true story of a runaway slave from the 1850s who killed her two-year-old daughter to save her from slave catchers. Explain to students the complex struggles of African Americans during this time in which slavery had been abolished, but tensions and violence were still rampant. You can provide background information about mid-1800s gender roles, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, and the major differences between slave states (like Kentucky) and free states (like Ohio) even after the abolition of slavery.

In a sense, the house at 124 Bluestone Road, where the story takes place, might be the most prominent character in Beloved (except perhaps for Beloved herself). Morrison personifies the house by calling it "loud," "quiet," and "spiteful." The house is haunted both literally and figuratively. There is a ghost at 124 Bluestone Road, but Sethe's inability to buy the house represents the ghost of slavery. Discuss with your students what this circumstance represents—the American dream, technically now legally attainable, is still far from a reality. It also begs the question "What defines 'a home'?" which provides an approachable, relatable topic of conversation for even reluctant or struggling readers.

Morrison switches narrators frequently, employing third-person omniscient, third-person limited, and first person narration. The novel also features retellings of previous events. With so many interesting forms of storytelling, students will certainly be engrossed, but could just as easily get lost. You may want to include point-of-view touchpoints throughout the unit to ensure everyone understands who is speaking and at what point in time, for particularly confusing chapters.

For more information about this beloved classic, read on!

Summary of Beloved

Key Facts

  • Length: 352 pages
  • Publication Date: 1987
  • Lexile Measure: 870
  • Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (1988); Anisfield-Wolf Book Award (1988); American Book Award (1988)

Based on the true story of a runaway slave from the mid-1800s, Beloved follows the story of Sethe, a former slave shunned by her community for killing her daughter to save her from slave catchers. Sethe lives with her other daughter, Denver, and her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, at 124 Bluestone Road, where strange, unexplained things occur. Toward the beginning of the novel, Baby Suggs dies. Sethe then becomes romantically involved with a man named Paul D, whom she knew from the plantation where they were enslaved. Soon after, a mysterious woman arrives at 124 Bluestone who claims her name is Beloved—the word inscribed on Sethe's daughter's tombstone. Sethe comes to believe that Beloved is her deceased child, reincarnated and grown up, and her life is completely consumed by the stranger's presence. Beloved even seduces Paul D, but eventually drives him away. Believing her mother is in danger, Denver reaches out to members of the community. A few villagers arrive to help, and Sethe, driven mad by Beloved's demands, attacks them. Beloved disappears, leaving her true identity a mystery. Denver becomes an accepted member of the community, and Paul D returns to be with Sethe.

Content Warning: This novel contains incidents of violence and mild sexual content.

What Your Students Will Love About Beloved

  • Toni Morrison's riveting storytelling
  • The intriguing character Beloved

Potential Students Struggles With Beloved

  • Keeping up with time jumps and changes in point of view
  • Deceptively simple writing that is actually rich with metaphorical significance

Learning Objectives for Beloved

  • Study the time period in which the novel takes place, particularly the social climate
  • Review different points of view and take note of the many times Morrison switches perspectives; contemplate how these shifts affect the reader.
  • Trace themes involving home, memories, family, and gender.
  • Analyze the symbolic significance and personified qualities of 124 Bluestone Road.
  • Identify characteristics of Beloved that categorize it as a work of both gothic fiction and historical fiction.
  • Discuss Morrison's intent in including the epigraph.

Literary Elements in Beloved

  • Epigraph
  • Gothic fiction
  • Historical fiction
  • Imagery
  • Metaphor
  • Personification
  • Point of view
  • Simile
  • Symbolism
  • Theme

Major Themes in Beloved

Home & Community — In Beloved, Morrison stresses how human solidarity and belonging is crucial to survival.

Memories & the Past — The appearance of Beloved holds symbolic meaning, demonstrating that it is impossible to disregard a traumatic past.

Related Works:

Slavery — Throughout the novel, there are incidents that shed light on the way in which being a slave demolishes one's identity.

Related Works:

Other Resources for Beloved