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Free Study Guide-Beloved by Toni Morrison-Free Online Booknotes Summary
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CHAPTER 1

Notes

Morrison begins the novel in the middle of things, without clarifying everything that is taking place. She simply reveals that there is a ghost haunting the house at 124 Bluestone Road. She tells how the ghost has the power to make mirrors shatter and leave its handprints on a cake; but she does not, at this point in the novel, explain why the ghost is haunting the house.

Morrison's technique of delaying full narrative explanations accomplishes several things. First, the delay builds suspense in the reader. More importantly, the technique plunges the reader into a world where everything is not known, where explanations do not come easily, and where the significance of present realities lies in a past that has been long since buried. In reality, the narration is intentionally structured as an imitation of the psychological mechanism of repression. When people go through trauma, they repress the details as a defense mechanism against the pain. It is obvious that Sethe has tried to repress the details of her traumatic life. Even when she talks to Paul D about her past, she does not go into a great depth of explanation; it is simply too painful at this point in time. As the novel progresses, however, more and more details of Sethe’s life will unfold.

Freud believed that everything that is repressed must eventually emerge in order for healing to occur. In the novel, the repressed traumatic experiences of the ex-slaves come out slowly as the characters tell the stories of their past over and over. In each telling, something more is revealed, with more details being added. The more they talk about their past sufferings, the more they are healed. The reader is the recipient of the stories and a witness of the healing.


In this first chapter, a large portion of the information of the entire novel is introduced. Much of it is very vague, like the information on Sethe’s husband, Halle; much of it is painful, like Sethe’s rape and beating; and much of it is too horrible for the reader to fully digest, especially the information about Beloved’s death. At this point, it is not really clear that Sethe murdered the child, but vague hints are given. As the characters come back to the events revealed in this first chapter, the reader will gain greater insight and understanding into why all the events occurred.

Three of the main characters are introduced in this first chapter. Besides Sethe, Morrison presents Paul D in this first chapter and indicates he is a troubled man. One of Paul D's problems has to do with his manhood. Lacking access to a culture that provided him with rituals of transition from boyhood to adulthood and living under a system of slavery, Paul D was deprived of properly growing into manhood. As a result, he lacks certainty and dignity. He feels that he is not truly an individual, for he still sees himself as a slave.

The third main character of the novel, Denver, is also introduced in this section. Denver is Sethe’s youngest daughter. The two of them live in the haunted house by themselves. It is clear that Denver feels very lonely. She misses her brothers who have run away and resents that Paul D has driven the ghost away, for it has been company for her. It is also clear that Denver is jealous about Paul’s presence, for he takes Sethe away from her.

It is important to note that some critics have given significance to the numbers in this first chapter of the book. 124, the street number of Sethe’s house on Bluestone, adds up to seven. The word “beloved” that is carved on the baby’s tombstone also contains seven letters. In the Bible, seven is considered to be a special number. God created the world in seven days. As a result, the seventh day became the Sabbath, and most religious celebrations, such as the feast of the Passover, lasted seven days.

Colors are also important in this first chapter. The house is on Bluestone Drive, but its colors are gray and white. Also the stairs that lead to Sethe’s bedroom are white. In contrast to the light colors, Sethe, Paul D, and Denver are all dark-skinned. Later the color red will become important as it is associated with Beloved.

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