Sethe, a former slave, lives in Cincinnati with her daughter, Denver, and her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs. She's been ostracized from her community because, about 15 years before our story begins, she did the unthinkable: she killed one of her own children. There was a good reason for it, of course—if child-killing can ever be justified. See, Sethe was trying to keep her children from slave catchers.
Time passes. Baby Suggs dies. That leaves Denver all alone (she's got two brothers, Howard and Bugler, but they ran off years ago). Oh: there is one creature still around the house. It's a ghost. That's right, folks—124 Bluestone is haunted. Furniture gets thrown around the house; people get moved. Sethe doesn't seem to mind too much though. She's got a good job as a cook, and she's got her daughter. Things are about as good (or as bad) as they're ever going to be.
That's when Paul D Garner shows up. Paul D lived with Sethe at Sweet Home, the plantation where they both were enslaved. He remembers just about everything in Sethe's past—her husband Halle, their former masters, all the bad stuff that went on at the plantation. When Paul D comes around, Sethe feels like she can finally open up. As you might expect, Paul D and Sethe end up in bed together. It's not just a fling either; they become a couple.
Denver's not that wild about the new man in their life. That's why, when a strange woman shows up on the doorstep of 124 Bluestone Road, Denver's excited. The woman says that her name is Beloved, which is totally freaky since "Beloved" is what Sethe had carved on the tombstone of her dead baby. That's not the only coincidence either. Beloved seems to know things about Sethe that no one should know. Sethe lets Beloved stay because she thinks Denver needs a friend; plus, Sethe can't shake the idea that this Beloved might actually be her little Beloved, back from the dead and grown. Denver wants Beloved to stay because she's always wanted an older sister. Paul D's the only one who's not so sure about Beloved, but it's not like he can do anything about it; he doesn't own the house.
Once Beloved is part of the household, things start to change. Denver will do anything to please her. Beloved, however, only wants what Sethe has. You can guess what happens next right? Cue: "Bizarre Love Triangle." Beloved ends up seducing Paul D. We told you she was trouble.
But that's not what splits up Paul D and Sethe. Stamp Paid, an old friend of the family, tells Paul D about how Sethe killed her daughter and went to jail. Paul D can't believe it. When he confronts Sethe, they get in a huge fight. Paul D leaves. Sethe couldn't care less—all she cares about is Beloved.
Here's when things get even uglier. Now that Paul D is out of the picture, Beloved's got the girls all to herself. Sethe and Denver give her everything they have—but Beloved wants more. Pretty soon Denver realizes that Beloved only wants Sethe. Sethe, in turn, gets fired from her job and, thus, spends all of her time with Beloved. Pretty soon there's no food in the house.
Denver suddenly realizes that they're all going to die unless she steps up and does something. She hasn't left 124 Bluestone in years—not since when she used to go to school—but she finally screws up the courage to leave the house and ask for help.
Surprisingly, all of the townspeople who once scorned Sethe and Denver now pour out their help. They give Denver food and hook her up with a new job. She's able to buy food for her mother and Beloved, who is now pregnant (we told you things get uglier!). When the neighbors ask about Sethe, Denver gets evasive, but eventually the neighbors figure out that Beloved is "haunting" Sethe. So they decide to do something about it.
The women of the town perform an exorcism. While that's going on, the white man who happens to be Denver's employer drives by the house to pick up Denver. Sethe snaps: she sees the slave catchers coming to take her children again and runs at the man with an ice pick.
That's where things get blurry. No one can say exactly what happens, but Sethe is safe, the white man is safe—and Beloved is gone.
Eventually Paul D returns to 124 and makes up with Sethe. Denver's happy in her new life out in the community. And Beloved? That's still a mystery.