Beloved by Toni Morrison

Summary of Part 1 (Epigraph & Chapter 1)

The novel opens with an introduction to a house: "124 was spiteful. Full of a baby's venom." The house belongs to Sethe, an ex-slave who had run away from the place of her enslavement, "Sweet Home," 18 years ago. The house is spiteful because it is haunted by the spirit of Sethe's one-year-old baby, who died 18 years ago (buried under a tombstone reading the single word "BELOVED"). Besides Sethe and the ghost, there is only Sethe's youngest daughter, Denver, living in 124. We learn, however, that there were two sons, Howard and Buglar, both of whom fled at from the house when they were thirteen. Sethe's mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, also lived with them until eight years ago, when she died. Sethe's husband, Halle, is presumably dead, having not been seen since Sethe left Sweet Home.

The main action of the first chapter revolves around the visit of Paul D Garner, the "last of the Sweet Home men." From him, we learn a bit of Sethe's past. The Garners, owners of Sweet Home, treated their Negroes decently, but at Mr. Garner's death, an odious man referred to as "schoolteacher" arrived. At the time of Sethe's flight from Sweet Home, she had already sent the two boys and a just-born, unnamed baby to Baby Suggs in Cincinnati. However, before she could flee, two white men cornered her and took her milk (which she was saving for Beloved). In the present time, Sethe possesses a "chokecherry tree" of scars upon her back, perhaps from that time.

Denver finds herself left out by the "twosome" of Sethe and Paul D, who share the same past. "I can't live here," she pronounces, crying. "I don't know where to go or what to do, but I can't live here. Nobody speaks to us. Nobody comes by. Boys don't like me. Girls don't either." Denver's only solace, it seems, is the company of the ghost. At the end of the chapter, however, the ghost is scared off by Paul D.

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