Teaching Guide: Exploring Beloved

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, Beloved by Toni Morrison, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Watch Juliette Cherbuliez’s video about Medea. Explain the story of Medea in your own words and hypothesize why it continues to fascinate. Now evaluate how the images called “The Jealousy of Medea” and “Medea musing on the murder of her children” portray Medea. Describe how Beloved updates the Medea myth, using examples from Part One of the novel.
  2. Consider the illustration of Margaret Garner as the “Modern Medea.” Compare its representation of Garner to Morrison’s depiction of Sethe in Beloved. How are Garner and Sethe similar? In what ways are they different?
  3. Using the Fugitive Slave Act, the excerpt from Martha Browne Griffin’s autobiography, and the illustrations showing the slave ship, the mother separated from her children, and the shackles, discuss why death may seem better than a life enslaved.
  4. Identify something you learned from the map of the Underground Railroad. Explain how the illustration captioned “the road to liberty” portrays the Underground Railroad. How does the illustration compare to Sethe’s experience escaping from slavery in Beloved and/or recent representations of African Americans escaping from slavery, such as the film 12 Years a Slave?

Classroom activities

Sethe is acquitted in Beloved, but was she right to choose death for her children over life in slavery? After students read the novel and review how the primary sources in this set depict enslaved life, ask students to put Sethe on trial to determine whether she is guilty or innocent of the murder of her daughter. Assign students to two teams, prosecution and defense. Each team will argue for Sethe’s guilt or innocence, drawing on evidence from the novel and the primary sources above and evaluating the consequences of the choices available to her.

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