by Toni Morrison
Analysis: Plot Analysis
Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.
Sethe and Denver live at 124 Bluestone with a Poltergeist-y presence (whom Sethe thinks is her dead baby daughter) until Paul D, an old friend of Sethe, arrives and, very quickly, moves in. Just as quickly, the baby ghost seems to disappear. Paul D: the all-natural ghost buster! At least, that's what they think…
One day, as Sethe, Denver, and Paul D return from the carnival, they spot a young woman sitting on the tree stump outside of 124. The girl clearly needs a place to stay; plus, she'd be a swell companion for young Denver. Oh! And by the way, her name's Beloved, the same name Sethe more or less gave to her dead baby girl. What a coincidence. Let's have her live with us! Great idea, right? Well, yes, if you happen to be writing a novel in need of some serious drama.
She Did What?!
Stamp Paid tells Paul D about how Sethe killed her baby daughter way back when, which of course is a huge dealbreaker for Paul D—so he leaves. But what makes this part of the book the climax is the fight between Paul D and Sethe; especially the part when Paul D basically calls Sethe an animal. His putdown is so brutal that we dare you not to gasp while you're reading it. It's so bad that you just know it has to be the breaking point for the relationship (and the novel).
And Then There Were Three (Again)
Sethe, Denver and Beloved seem completely happy without Paul D when, in fact, Sethe and Beloved are locked in a death-spiral of obsessive love. Meanwhile, Denver's left out and starving (as are Sethe and Beloved: 124 may be full of love, but love can't feed the body). It doesn't take much to figure out that things are getting bad and fast, so Denver heads out on her own to save the family by finding herself a job.
You'd think that would which you'd think would be the resolution, but no, not in this book. Denver's job just brings her boss Mr. Bodwin to the final action scene, when Sethe goes crazy with an ice pick on Mr. Bodwin. That's when you know you're more or less close to the end of the book because what else can possibly happen except the resolution?
You didn't actually think Beloved was going to stick around for real at 124 did you? No way, not with a white man coming around the bend toward them. Beloved sees Mr. Bodwin as the second coming of Sethe-the-baby-killer so she disappears and is never seen again (at least, not by any of our main characters). Is she or isn't she a ghost? That, we never know for sure (because Morrison novels never have tidy endings). But we do find out what happens to the other characters: Paul D returns to Sethe and Denver's a working woman with hopes for college one day. And that's about as happy an ending as you're going to get from Toni Morrison.