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Beloved

sethe baby slaves poltergeist

a novel by Toni Morrison, published in 1987 and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. The novel is loosely based on a true story and begins in 1873 Ohio where Sethe, an escaped slave, is living an isolated existence at 124 Bluestone Road with her daughter Denver and a poltergeist; her two sons, Howard and Buglar, had fled when they were only thirteen years old, and their grandmother Baby Suggs had died soon afterwards. The narrative moves from present to past with the painful ‘rememories’ of the characters: their horrific experiences as slaves at Sweet Home where Sethe had ‘married’ Halle Suggs; Halle's inexplicable disappearance; Sethe's dramatic escape during which she gave birth to her fourth child; her reunion with Baby Suggs at Bluestone Road; and Sethe's attempt to murder her children when threatened with recapture after only twenty-eight days of freedom. Three children were saved but ‘crawling baby’ (‘Beloved’) died after Sethe had cut her throat. This act brought an end to the ‘twenty-eight days of having women friends, a mother-in-law, and all her children together’. For years they have tolerated the poltergeist in a state of numbed despair but ‘124 was spiteful. Full of a baby's venom’. With the arrival of Paul D, one of the former Sweet Home slaves, their loneliness is interrupted. He becomes Sethe's lover and banishes the poltergeist, but after a day at the carnival they return to find a young girl waiting by the gate; she is none other than the physical manifestation of Beloved. Denver at first enjoys her companionship but Beloved's increasing demands for her mother's affection create tensions, especially between Sethe and Paul D who has also succumbed to Beloved's sexual desires. He leaves and the situation deteriorates. The neighbourhood is alerted by rumours of impending danger at 124 and a group of black women gather round the house in a ritual that exorcises the ghost. In prose of great lyricism Morrison skilfully uses supernatural elements to explore the lost history of African-American slaves and the impact on them of the barbaric practices of the institutionalized slave system. Morrison gives her protagonists a fairly happy ending, celebrating resilience and survival; but the effects of systematic cruelty and destruction upon an entire community are left unresolved.

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