Study Guide

Beloved

By Toni Morrison

Beloved Introduction

You might need to sit down for this one.

A mother slits her baby girl's throat because she has this deranged idea that she's saving her daughter from a fate worse than death. Sounds like one of those crazy mothers who ends up on the evening news, right? Close. It's actually a true story: back in 1856, a runaway slave named Margaret Garner killed one of her kids—a two-year-old girl—with a butcher knife, in order to keep her away from slave catchers. She would have killed her other children and herself, too, but she was caught before she could complete the deed.

And there you have the starting point for Beloved. Yep—this is one of those "based on a true story" books. But since the author is none other than the esteemed, Nobel Prize-winning Toni Morrison, you better believe that the book is way more than that story.

So here's what you absolutely need to know about Beloved. The book is about a slave woman, Sethe, who—before the book even begins—kills her baby girl in order to keep her away from slave catchers. That baby girl, called Beloved, ends up haunting the house in which Sethe and her youngest child Denver live. And by "haunt," we don't mean some limp, pale ghost hanging out in the corner who occasionally says "Boo!" This girl ain't no Casper. She throws stuff around like a second coming of Poltergeist. And then some. Like come-back-from-the-dead, possess-you-like-a-demon haunting.

But Beloved isn't really a horror story. It's more like a Great American Novel. In fact, when it was first published in 1987, it sealed Toni Morrison's reputation as one of the hottest new novelists of the decade—if not the century. The novel was so popular that it won the Pulitzer Prize in '87. We're guessing that the book also played a pretty big part in the decision to award Morrison the Nobel Prize just a few years later (1993 to be exact). As far as book awards go, that's a clean sweep.

Beloved is a story about America's relationship with slavery, but it's also a story about rebirth and redemption for those who seem irredeemable. Grand, right? Well, that's just how Toni Morrison rolls.

  

What is Beloved About and Why Should I Care?

Morrison takes the whole issue of slavery and turns it on its head. By writing Beloved about the period after slavery—when everything ought to have been hunky-dory—we're forced to think about other issues. Issues like what stories we choose to remember and (re)tell; what stories we choose to pass down and turn into our own histories; what stories we choose to define as American history.

Beloved makes you think of the forgotten stories, all those little-known pieces that make up who we are as a nation whether we know it or not.

But hey, if you're just in for a bone-chilling, spine-tingling, hair-standing-on-the-back-of-your-neck sort of read, Beloved is good for that, too. After all, how often can you spend a few hours reading about a creepy woman raised from the dead and still call yourself a literary snob?

Win win.

Beloved Resources

Websites

Beloved, the Comparative Project
Comparing the film to the book? Some smartypants at University of Michigan have compiled all you need to know about the relationship between the (not-so-good) film and the book.

A Literary Tiger Beat
Justin Bieber has his throngs of screaming fans and so does Toni Morrison. Okay, Morrison's fans probably don't scream. But they do hold symposiums and conferences in her honor. Can Bieber say that about his fans? We think not.

What's More Noble than a Nobel?
Looking for more than a bad play on words? Check out Toni Morrison's Nobel Prize acceptance speech and lecture. And while you're at it, you can take a look at her biography, too.

The Be-All-End-All of Morrison Websites
Want more info on Morrison's books than a simple Wikipedia entry? Here's your Holy Grail. We've even linked you directly to the page on Beloved because we're just that helpful.

Movie or TV Productions

Womp Womp
The movie may have been a flop in the theaters, but that doesn't mean it can't have a life as a good, Friday night rental. Plus, when are you going to see Oprah and Danny Glover bust out their acting chops together on screen? (Oh, right, in The Color Purple.)

Articles and Interviews

Who's the Boss?
You've read her fiction. Now read her prose—specifically, her review of a historian's study on black women who labored to save their families during and after slavery.

Grandpa vs. Grandma
It's pretty rare for Morrison to write about her own life. But when she does—like everything else she touches—it turns to literary gold. Read about how her grandfather and grandmother had opposing views about the future of black people, post-slavery.

University of Michigan interview
Want to know what Morrison thinks about the film and the book? Take a look at what students from the University of Michigan were able to get out of her.

Video

"Bigger than Language"
What was it like to write about a woman who killed her own baby? We can't even begin to say, but we know someone who can.

"Like a Mystery Story"
Having trouble understanding Beloved and the way it deals with the past and slavery? Let the author herself explain it to you in two minutes.

The Charlie Rose Show
Hearing Toni Morrison talk for an hour is lot like watching the waves roll in—totally captivating.

Audio

"Good Ghosts"
You know an interview is going to be good if you can get an author to start talking about her own experiences with ghosts.

Storytime!
Want to hear the author herself get all readerly on you? Random House has excerpts of Morrison reading her books—every single one of them.

1987 Don Swaim interview
Writing an essay on Beloved? This is seriously a go-to source.

Images

It's Still a Book
Now that the book is also a movie, you have your requisite made-into-a-movie book cover.

Beloved + Toni Morrison
What's better than a picture of Toni Morrison? A picture of Toni Morrison on the cover of Beloved, that's what.

The 1998 cover
One of the more classic covers for the book, this one's got a ghostly woman dressed in white—we're guessing it's Beloved herself.

Going Goth
Beloved meets Dracula?