Sethe, a former slave, has been living at 124 Bluestone Road, in Cincinnati with her eighteen- year-old daughter, Denver since 1855, when she fled from a Kentucky plantation to Ohio, a free state at the tme. From the beginning, it is clear that something ghostly is happening around the house. Sethe’s two sons, Howard and Buglar, have run away from home, scared of the ghost. Sethe’s mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, died many years earlier, shortly after the two brothers left. Sethe works a cook at a restaurant near the town and earns her living. It is 1873, the year of the Emancipation Proclamation.
One day Paul D, a former slave who worked with Sethe at the Kentucky plantation, lands up at her house. Meeting after eighteen years, both of them share their past memories. She was sold to the Garners, kind owners of Sweet Home, when she was thirteen years old. There are other slaves living there – Sixo, Paul D, Paul A, Paul F, and Halle. Sethe chooses Halle to marry as she is touched by Halle’s love for his mother, Baby Suggs. He buys his mother’s freedom by working on weekends for five years. Halle and Sethe have four children; two sons and two daughters. The name of the elder daughter is never revealed.
When Mr Garner dies, Mrs Garner asks her brother-in-law to help her run the farm. He is known as schoolteacher among the Black slaves on the farm. He is very brutal and inhuman. Due to his brutality, the slaves plan to run away to the free states. Sethe and Halle also make up their mind to escape. After months of planning, she waits for Halle to take her to the meeting point but he doesn’t turn up. She sends her three children with a caravan of Negros crossing the Ohio River, to Cincinnati, where they will be safe with Baby Suggs, her mother in-law. Sethe, who is pregnant with her fourth child, stays back to wait for Halle. She doesn’t know that Paul D and Sixo were caught, and Sixo has been killed. Schoolteacher catches Sethe and her attempt to escape infuriates him. The schoolteacher’s nephews hold Sethe down and take milk from her body, meant for her infant daughter. Unknown to Sethe, Halle was hiding in the loft and saw schoolteacher’s nephews treat Sethe like a cow, milking her breasts. Sethe complains to Mrs Garner about this violent act. When schoolteacher comes to know this, he has her whipped on her back, leaving a scar shaped like a tree. After this, Sethe runs away from Sweet Home. On the way, she falls down and delivers her child with the help of a white girl named Amy Denver, who is an indentured servant running away to Boston. Sethe names her newly born daughter Denver. An old black man, Stamp Paid, comes to her help and ferries her and the new born baby across the river; where Ella takes over, helping Sethe reach Baby Suggs’ house safely. Baby Suggs takes care of her and she spends the next twenty-eight days, happily, with her four children.
Schoolteacher hunts down Sethe and her children and comes to 124 to take them back to Sweet Home. Sethe runs to the woodshed behind the house with her children and tries to kill them but has killed only her elder daughter, when she is stopped by Stamp Paid, who happened to be there. Realizing that Sethe has lost her mental balance and won’t be much use in the farm, schoolteacher goes away. Sethe and her infant daughter, Denver are sent to jail and later she is released in a few months due to the Bodwins’ efforts. After that Sethe arranges, somehow, for the dead baby’s headstone to be carved with the words ‘Beloved.’ Sethe comes back to 124 to live with her family. Baby Suggs goes into a depression and stops preaching. The whole Black community avoids Sethe’s family and they are forced to live in isolation.
Paul D tells Sethe that he was sold off to Brandywine, another slave owner. Fed up with the torture, Paul D tried to kill him and was sent to jail in Georgia. But luckily, due to a rainstorm, he and the other black prisoners managed to escape. After wandering around for eighteen years, he has landed up at Sethe’s house. Paul D starts living with Sethe at 124. Denver does not like sharing her mother’s love with Paul D. One day when Sethe, Paul D, and Denver are returning from a carnival, they see a strange young woman outside their house. She calls herself Beloved. Thinking that she is a runaway slave and needs shelter, Sethe allows her to stay in her house although Paul D cautions her. There are clear hints that Beloved is Sethe’s daughter, come back from the dead.
Paul D tells Sethe that Halle did not abandon her, as she always thought; he went insane. Paul D last saw him sitting by a churn, with butter slathered all over his face. At that time Paul D was forced to wear an iron bit in his mouth and couldn’t talk to Halle. Sethe is convinced that Halle must be dead as no man could survive, broken like he was.
Beloved’s behaviour is strange; she clamours for Sethe’s attention, like a baby. Many unusual things start to happen. She talks as if she knows about Sethe’s past. Paul D starts feeling very uncomfortable in sharing a bed with Sethe. He tries to sleep in other rooms in the house but is not able to find solace. Finally, he shifts to the woodshed. On the other hand, Denver finds a companion in Beloved.
One night, when Paul D is sleeping in the woodshed, Beloved persuades him to have sex with her. This goes on for some time and Paul D wants to confess everything to Sethe. But he is unable to do that; rather he shares his desire to extend his family with her. Paul D comes to know about Sethe’s infanticide through Stamp Paid. Paul D confronts Sethe and accuses her of behaving like an animal. He leaves 124. In the absence of Paul D, Sethe and Beloved come closer to each other. Assured that Beloved is her daughter, come back from the dead, Sethe fulfils all her demands and tries to make her understand why she killed her. Beloved controls Sethe’s life in her own way. Sethe leaves her job and there is no food left. Seeing all this Denver, for the first time, leaves 124 to seek help from Lady Jones, her former teacher to save her mother. She also gets a job at the Bodwins’ home. The community of Black women come together to help Sethe exorcise the ghost of Beloved. They all come to Sethe’s house and at the same time Mr Bodwin also comes there to collect Denver. Sethe attacks Mr Bodwin with an ice pick, mistakenly thinking he is schoolteacher who has come once again to take Sethe and her daughter to the plantation. But Sethe is stopped by Ella and Denver. Beloved disappears.
Paul D finally returns to Sethe who is still mourning over Beloved’s disappearance and has confined herself to Baby Suggs’ bed. Paul D makes her realise that there is a life ahead of her and assures her, “me and you, we got more yesterdays than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow.” Paul D holds her hand and comforts her, “You are your best thing, Sethe. You are.”