Beloved by Toni Morrison

Primary Source Set

Beloved is a novel inspired by the true story of Margaret Garner, who escaped with her family from slavery in Kentucky to freedom in Ohio in 1856. When US Marshals apprehended the family under the Fugitive Slave Act, Margaret Garner murdered one of her children, a daughter, rather than see her enslaved again. In Morrison’s novel, Sethe, the protagonist, and her daughter Denver are haunted by the ghost of the child Sethe killed. A mysterious young woman appears and calls herself Beloved, the name on the tombstone of Sethe’s dead daughter. Sethe believes the woman is her murdered child and guilt overcomes her as Beloved takes over her life. Beloved received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988, and in 1993, Morrison received the Nobel Prize in Literature. Dedicated to the estimated "sixty million and more” people who died as a result of the Atlantic slave trade, Beloved combines magical and realistic elements to explore themes of love and justice.

Additional resources for research

  1. The Radical Vision of Toni Morrison,” The New York Times Magazine.
  2. Margaret Garner, Cincinnati History Library and Archives.
  3. A Mother’s Desperate Act: ‘Margaret Garner,’” National Public Radio.

Send feedback about this primary source set or our other educational resources to