In a novel named Beloved, our first choice for the protagonist should be… Beloved, right? Well, maybe. For now, though, let's talk about why Sethe stands out as the central figure in the novel. She's the one who names Beloved; she's the one who kills Beloved; she's the one who Beloved comes back to "have."
Most importantly, it's Sethe whom everyone tries to save at the end. It's through her story that the novel's emphasis on community, compassion, and forgiveness shine through.
Denver may not seem all that important in a book filled with bigger and badder characters, but she's pretty integral to the way the novel ends. Denver grows up thinking her mother could kill her at any minute. Plus, she's been abandoned by her brothers and taken out of society by her mother and grandmother. But despite all these problems, Denver actually loves her family quite a bit. And that's why she's so agonized when she figures out that Beloved is slowly sucking the life out of Sethe.
So Denver does the unexpected: she gathers her courage, goes into town for the first time in years, and asks for help from Lady Jones and the other townswomen. She even gets a job to support Sethe. Denver is arguably the most transformed character in the book—and all for the better.
Okay, we know that Paul D slept with Beloved (more than once). So that gives him a tally in the bad boyfriend column. But he also undergoes a major transformation throughout the book—for the better.
At the beginning, he seems like a typical guy: he beds Sethe and then, the next morning, doesn't really feel like the experience was all that. Then there's the whole Beloved affair. But that experience seems to unlock something in Paul D that makes him more willing to explore his feelings and his memories.
So sure, Paul D ends up fighting with Sethe about the past. But all that seems necessary for both of their character arcs. Without the fight, Paul D wouldn't have become a loafer around town or discovered how much he really does love Sethe. In fact, he loves her so much that he returns and promises to take care of her and build a future with her when she's at her very lowest.
He's a sweetie, we think. It just takes him a while to man up and embrace it.