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SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)
Beloved opens with a description of the house at 124 Bluestone Road, which is supposedly haunted by the ghost of its inhabitant's deceased daughter. Sethe Suggs and Denver, her remaining daughter, live in the house and cope with the disturbances of the ghost. One day, Sethe comes home to find Paul D waiting for her. He is the last of the male slaves to survive after their escape from Sweet Home, the plantation in Kentucky where Sethe was also a slave eighteen years previously. When Paul D learns about the ghost haunting Sethe’s house, he exorcises it. Sethe is so delighted to be rid of the ghost that she invites Paul D to stay with her. Denver, however, is very unhappy, for her ghost sister had been her only friend. She also feels that Paul D is stealing her mother away from her.
Paul D and Sethe spend time talking about the past. Sethe does not know what happened to her husband, Halle, on the day all five of the adult slaves were supposed to run away from Sweet Home. Paul D tells her the last time he saw Halle he had clabber all over his face from the butter churn. He adds that Halle had lost his mind. Sethe then tells Paul D what happened to her on the day she was to run away from Sweet Home. Schoolteacher, the slaveholder, had watched while his nephews took the pregnant Sethe to the barn to abuse her and suck the milk from her breasts. When she told Mrs. Garner, the woman who owned the farm, about what had happened, Sethe was punished by Schoolteacher and his nephews. They whipped Sethe so badly that her back was permanently scarred.
Through memories and storytelling, the lives of Sethe and Paul D are unraveled. Halle, Seth’s husband, wanted to buy his mother, Baby Suggs, out of slavery. As a result, he worked extra jobs off the plantation to earn money. When Halle had saved sufficient funds to buy her freedom, Mr. Garner allowed her to leave. Sethe was brought to Sweet Home as a replacement for Baby Suggs. Although all the male slaves were attracted to her, especially Halle and Paul D, Sethe chose Halle to be her husband because of his strength and quiet ways.
When Mr. Garner, the owner of the plantation, died, Mrs. Garner asked her husband's brother-in-law, Schoolteacher, to run the place. Schoolteacher forbid Halle from working off the farm. Without the extra jobs, Halle knew that he would never be able to buy his wife and children out of slavery, as he had planned. Since he had two sons who were old enough to do work, he feared that the cruel Schoolteacher might sell them away from Sweet Home at any time. As a result, Halle decided he and his family needed to escape from the plantation. He discussed his decision with Paul D, Paul A, and Sixo, and they joined him in his planning.
Sethe delivered three babies at Sweet Home, two sons and a daughter. By the time of the escape, she was six months pregnant with a fourth child; but she still planned to run with the men, for she was determined that all of her children would not endure slavery. Unfortunately, things went terribly wrong on the day of the escape. Halle was stopped before he could get away from Sweet Home. Paul A disappeared from the plantation; later, however, he was lynched, and his body was mutilated beyond recognition. Paul D and Sixo escaped and met Sixo’s lover, Thirty-Mile Woman, at the creek, as planned; but the two men were soon caught by Schoolteacher and other men from the neighborhood. When Sixo saw a rifle being pointed at him, he ran at it and grabbed its end. As a result, Sixo was hit over the head with the rifle and tied to a tree to be burned alive. As the flames surrounded him, Sixo laughed and called out "Seven-O," the name he had given his unborn child that Thirty-Mile Woman was carrying. His captors, antagonized by his actions, shot him to death. The captured Paul D was then taken back to Sweet Home, where he was shackled. He also had a bit placed in his mouth so he could not speak.
On the day of the escape, Sethe was in pain from being brutalized by the nephews and then whipped; however, she was still determined to escape from the plantation. In preparation, she sent her daughter and two sons ahead of her to the home of Baby Suggs, her mother-in-law. Then Sethe left herself. Nobody was paying much attention to her, for they thought it would be impossible for her to leave because of her condition. It has hard for Sethe to walk, because of the horrible wounds on her back and the heaviness of her pregnancy; but she pushed herself onward towards her children. She finally collapsed near the Ohio River, which ran between Kentucky (a slave state) and Ohio (a free state). A run-away indentured servant, Amy Denver, found her, nursed her, and helped her deliver her fourth child, whom Sethe named Denver in honor of Amy. Stamp Paid, a member of the Underground Railroad, found Sethe and took her and the newborn baby across the river to freedom. Carrying the tiny infant, Sethe finally arrived at the Cincinnati home of her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, who greeted her warmly even though they had never met. Sethe was delighted to be reunited with her other three children.
Sethe lived happily in a thriving black community for eighteen days. Then Schoolteacher showed up to reclaim her and her children. When she saw the horses approaching and recognized Schoolteacher’s hat, Sethe gathered all her children and ran to the empty wood shed. She intended to kill all her children and then herself to keep them from being returned to the misery of slavery. She only had time to kill her oldest daughter before her other children were rescued by Stamp Paid. Clutching her infant daughter to her breast, Sethe was arrested and jailed; but because she was a nursing mother, she was not held for long. When she returned to 124 Bluestone, Sethe found that Baby Suggs, distraught by the happenings in the woodshed, had given up preaching and lost her will to live. She also learned that the black community totally ostracized her and her children. In fact, they will not speak to her for eighteen years.