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Beloved: Theme Analysis

Theme Analysis

Family Love

Slavery interfered with the ability to form families. When Sethe married Halle, there was no real ceremony, yet she wanted to do something special to mark their union as a family. This is why she made a special dress. Baby Suggs did not have the right to have a family, instead having eight children by different fathers. She wonders what her mother was like. "Could she have been a loving mother? A faithful wife?" (147) Baby Suggs will never know the answers because slavery works against the forming of families. Yet, the urge to nurture and be a family is strong.

When Sethe tries so hard to get to her nursing daughter, it is because she wants to be a nurturing mother. The schoolteacher's nephews take that right away from her when they steal her milk. Yet, Sethe is proud that, when she got to 124, she was able to nurse both of her daughters, hence able to behave like a mother to them. Just 28 days later, it is clear that slavery is still interfering in the family bonds when Sethe feels she has to kill her children to keep them safe.

There are numerous other instances of slavery interfering in families. Baby Suggs's husband escaped, so they are apart. Paul D's brother was sold away from Sweet Home. Stamp Paid had to allow his master to use his wife sexually for a year. When there are families, it is dangerous to love too much because slavery may steal away family. Sethe loves her children too much, and they all suffer for it.

In the end, however, Denver breaks away from the suffocation of that overbearing love and goes out to find work. Denver does this because she loves her mother, which indicates that there is a more sane family relationship forming. There is hope that the wounds slavery inflicted on the African-American family structure are being healed when Denver asserts such a healthy family love.

Sexuality and Power

Sexuality recurs as a theme throughout this book. Sexual relations can signal love, yet they are most often related to power. When Paul D first arrives, he and Sethe start their relationship by having intercourse, and that sexuality is loving. When Sethe and Halle have their first time together in the corn, they are also beginning a relationship. However, most of the time, for slaves and ex-slaves, sexuality is tarnished by power.

Beloved is angered when she sees Sethe and Paul D being intimate and uses her own sexuality to come between them. She moves Paul out of Sethe's room and then comes to him and seduces him. Paul is humiliated, both because he is convinced he does not want to have relations with her and because he is "being moved, placed where she wanted him, and there was nothing he was able to do about it" (132). Beloved's sexuality is a powerful force that comes between Sethe and Paul D.

Of course, in most instances in this text, it is white men's sexuality that is asserted over black women. Sethe's mother was raped by many white men, Stamp's wife was forced to be a mistress to her master, and another woman describes being used by a father and a son. Because these men have absolute power over these women, they are able to use them in whatever ways they wish.


Community is very powerful for these former slaves. They have been victimized throughout their lives, and they have only one another to rely upon. When they come together in the Clearing for religious services, no one leads. They are a community that laughs, dances, and sings together. However, when Baby Suggs throws a dinner that is too big and too showy, it harms the community because they feel she is making herself better than they are.

Sethe holds herself and Denver apart from the community. She does not feel welcome because of her crime. They are lonely because "It had been a long time since anybody (good-willed whitewoman, preacher, speaker or newspaperman) sat at their table, their sympathetic voices called liar by the revulsion in their eyes. For twelve years, long before Grandma Baby died, there had been no visitors of any sort and certainly no friends" (12). Because of this isolation, they are vulnerable to Beloved and they have no one to protect them.

The community is also culpable, not only because they failed to warn Sethe about the sheriff coming. They also have turned their backs on this family. Moreover, when Paul D leaves Sethe, the community does not embrace him because they think he condones what Sethe did. Stamp Paid is angry, asking "Since when a blackman come to town have to sleep in a cellar like a dog?" (195). In this community, people are supposed to stand by one another. When they do not, they have no support.

It is only at the end that the community becomes a part of Sethe's life again, and that is when Beloved is driven away. Only the community as a whole could banish the guilt and crimes of the past.


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