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Teaching Guide

Teaching Beloved

Beware of ghosts.

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Slavery. Violence. Sexual assault. What exactly is there to be loved in Beloved besides a creepy ghost girl?

There's a lot, but it's buried deep within the uncomfortable themes of this dark book. You'll have to help students shine a light on it, and we can get you started.

In this guide you will find

  • quizzes to be sure students can identify some of the novel's many symbols. 
  • connections to history and other great works of literature.
  • assignments helping students analyze the ambiguous ending…and more.

Just as you wouldn't go into the woods after dark without a flashlight, don't go into Beloved without Shmoop.

What's Inside Shmoop's Literature Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring literature to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop’s teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

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Instructions for You

Objective: Memory and the past are important to Morrison, and they're also important to her characters. In the world of Beloved, memories are passed down through storytelling; there's no internet to house the daily thoughts and goings-on of everyone via their Facebook statuses, so storytelling is how people know the past.

The tricky thing is, memory isn't perfect, and the way one person remembers an event will be slightly (or sometimes wildly) different from how anyone else remembers it. So how do we ever really know the truth? Well, Beloved encourages us to maintain a collective memory, to hear all kinds of stories from all kinds of people in order to "know" what really happened. After all, just imagine what we would know about slavery if only the slave masters' stories were told? Yeah, not accurate.

In this lesson, students will explore how memory works in storytelling by putting it into practice. How? By telling stories, of course. Only instead of telling their own stories, they get to retell the stories found in Beloved. They'll get the experience of how one person's memory differs from another, and you'll get to check their knowledge of the novel at the same time. Work smart, not harder!

Then, students will use their experience to write a reflective essay on the novel's obsession with memory and storytelling and why a collective memory is so important.

Estimated time: 1 class period

Materials Needed:

  • Copies of Beloved

Step 1: First, you'll need a "caller," someone who calls out characters and scenes from the novel. We suggest yourself since it's your classroom and you ought to flex your powers as the classroom monarch occasionally, but, hey, if you feel like sharing the throne, then by all means, choose a student to act as your substitute.

The students will try to re-tell the stories of the different characters and scenes the "caller" calls out. But here's the catch: each student gets to say only one sentence of the "story." After one student is done, the next student follows with another sentence, and so on until the story is finished (the "caller" decides when that is).

For this exercise, any character will do, although we definitely suggest some of the minor characters, like Lady Jones or Sixo. Their stories are just as important to the book but less well-known and, thus, ripe for all sorts of creative retellings.

As for scenes, there's the pivotal one of the day Sethe kills her child. But if you want some less popular parts, try Amy Denver and Sethe's meeting (which is really Denver's reimagining anyway) or Paul D's journey with the Civil War soldiers.

Step 2: After a few retellings, discuss how and why the class's retelling differs from the way the story is told in the book. (The two will differ—trust us!)

  • How did each person's memory affect the way the story was told?
  • What would happen if only one person retold the story, rather than all of us together? What might be lost?
  • What are some examples of stories in the novel that have more than one retelling or that are remembered differently by different characters?
  • Why would hearing multiple stories about an event or period of history be important? What is lost if we don't have a collective memory of the event?
  • How does storytelling relate to history and what we know of the past?
  • Why is just one person's version of the events insufficient? What do you think causes each person's version to be a little different? Think beyond just an imperfect memory here; sometimes the hard facts might be identical, but the two stories might be different. Why?
  • How can Beloved be read as an argument for a collective historical memory?

Step 3: At the end of the exercise, have the students reflect on their experience in a short response. This response should address the discussion questions from above as students use their experience as a springboard for a deeper analysis of what the novel has to say about storytelling, collective memory, and history.

If you have time, students can begin this step in class, but they will most likely need to finish it for homework. Oh, and you may want to point them to Shmoop's thoughts on the theme of memory and the past.

Instructions for Your Students

What's up with this huge obsession with memory and the past in Beloved, you ask? (Okay, pretend you're asking.) Imagine a world with no computer files, no internet to house the daily thoughts and goings-on of everyone via their Facebook statuses, heck, most of the time not even pencil and paper to write stuff down the old fashioned way. How would you record important events? How would anyone else ever know what happened to you? That's the world that slaves faced, and the only way to preserve their memories was to tell and retell their stories orally.

The tricky thing is, memory isn't perfect, and the way one person remembers an event will be slightly (or sometimes wildly) different from how anyone else remembers it. So how do we ever really know the truth? Well, Beloved encourages us to maintain a collective memory, to hear all kinds of stories from all kinds of people in order to "know" what really happened. After all, just imagine what we would know about slavery if only the slave masters' stories were told? Yeah, not accurate.

But we're not here lecture to you about memory in Beloved. Yawn, right? Instead, you get to put your memory and storytelling skills to work! Only instead of telling your own stories, you'll test your memory by retelling the stories found in Beloved. Then, you will use your experience to write a reflective essay on the novel's obsession with memory and storytelling and why a collective memory is so important.

Step 1: This exercise only works with the whole class, so here's your chance to be social.

Someone will call out a scene or character from the novel. That's the cue to start telling the story of that scene or character from your memory.

Well, not just yours, the whole class's memory of the novel. See, each person only gets to say one sentence; then the next person follows with another sentence, and so on until the "caller" decides the story has reached its end. So if you can't remember the whole thing perfectly, that's okay; your classmates will have your back and hopefully together, we'll get a pretty good retelling.

Step 2: If it wasn't clear before, it should be by now: nobody's memory is perfect (unless one of you has a photographic memory we don't know about, in which case there is no excuse for you not to have straight A's). Now that we've tried a few stories, let's talk about how our retelling differed from the book:

  • How did each person's memory affect the way the story was told?
  • What would happen if only one person retold the story, rather than all of us together? What might be lost?
  • What are some examples of stories in the novel that have more than one retelling or that are remembered differently by different characters?
  • Why would hearing multiple stories about an event or period of history be important? What is lost if we don't have a collective memory of the event?
  • How does storytelling relate to history and what we know of the past?
  • Why is just one person's version of the events insufficient? What do you think causes each person's version to be a little different? Think beyond just an imperfect memory here; sometimes the hard facts might be identical, but the two stories might be different. Why?
  • How can Beloved be read as an argument for a collective historical memory?

Step 3: Reflection time! Think about what happened during the exercise: How did the stories change with each person's memory of the book? How can you apply what you experienced or witnessed to the way memories work in the book? For homework, you'll write a short response that addresses the discussion questions from above as you use your experience as a springboard for a deeper analysis of what the novel has to say about storytelling, collective memory, and history.

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Common Core Standards  

The following standards are covered in this course:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.10

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING BELOVED?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary    Themes    Quotes    Characters    Analysis    Questions    Best of the Web    Write Essay    
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