Toni Morrison's Beloved is a story of a former slave woman and the daughter that comes back to haunt her after eighteen years. It is the meaning of time and memory and how remembering either destroys or saves a future. In order to live in the present and make plans for the future, one must come to terms with the past.
The novel opens with Sethe and her daughter Denver living as outcasts in a house outside of Cincinnati given to her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs. Sethe's mother-in-law has been dead for eight years, and her two sons have run away; they are afraid of their mother and a ghost that shakes the house. The ghost is the spirit of the baby daughter that Sethe murders eighteen years prior in order to save her from slavery. The attempt is also made on the other children without success. To this house arrives Paul D, a former slave who has been wandering for years from the plantation Sweet Home, which Sethe escapes years before. Soon, there is another arrival, a mysterious woman from nowhere whom Sethe's daughter, Denver, at once accepts as her sister, grown up and back from the dead. This is Beloved, who takes the name from the word that is on the gravestone of Sethe's dead child. .
When Sethe escapes the plantation years before, Ella, the former slave woman who has led Sethe and the just-born Denver from the Ohio River, is the person that guides them to the community of former slaves. When Sethe does not need anyone after Beloved's death, Ella ostracizes Sethe and her family from the community for eighteen years. Her arrogance causes the black community of Cincinnati to shun her.
The characters in this story still feel the scars of slavery many years after their escapes as if it is yesterday. They are numb, almost incapable of emotion because of the deep suffering and terror that slavery has brought to their lives. The ghost of this dead child haunting Sethe and her daughter causes them to live in fear.