Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements / paper topics for “Beloved” by Toni Morrison that can be used as essay starters. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in “Beloved” by Toni Morrison and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements from “Beloved” by Toni Morrison offer a short summary of different elements that could be important in an essay but you are free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “Beloved” by Toni Morrison at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.
Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #1: Storytelling and Silence in “Beloved” by Toni Morrison
Sharing stories and keeping silences are not simply narrative strategies employed by Toni Morrison in “Beloved”; they are survival techniques the characters use to cope with their harsh realities. Yet in “Beloved” Toni Morrison offers contradictory evidence about the value of stories and silence, and presents an ending to the novel which raises questions about the dynamic tensions between the two. In the last two pages of “Beloved”, the narrator asserts twice, alluding to the symbolic importance of Beloved and her story that, “It was not a story to pass on," and then, “This is not a story to pass on" (274-275). Morrison, however, does pass on a story. Determine what the narrator might mean by these final proclamations at the end of the novel, and build an argument around the questions: What does it mean to tell one’s story? Can stories save? Do they offer any kind of redemption? For more on the symbolic importance of Beloved and the storytelling, this article on symbols, stories and the character of Beloved will offer an excellent starting point.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The “Best Thing"
When the embodied ghost of Beloved takes up residence with Sethe, Paul D., and Denver at 124 Bluestone, Sethe is comforted and happier than she has ever been. Yet when Beloved later disappears, Sethe is disconsolate and says “She was my best thing." (272) Paul D. thinks carefully about Sethe and the character Beloved and then responds, “You your best thing, Sethe." (273) Consider what the “best thing" might represent, and decide whether you agree with Paul D.: Is Sethe her own best thing? Be sure to defend your position with textual support.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Complexity of Paul D. in “Beloved” by Toni Morrison
Paul D. is, perhaps, the most significant male character in Beloved, and he is also one of the most complex. Evidencing the capacity for profound thought, he struggles through his own hardships and eventually “put[s] his story next to hers [Sethe’s]." (273) Consider the function(s) Paul D. plays in the novel. Identify and explain his role, and how his complexity as a character is conveyed by Morrison and why it is significant. It is important to recognize that while a character analysis of Beloved is incredibly valuable, other characters with less interesting (or ethereal) stories have great depth. Although there are several opportunities to perform a rich character analysis with so many characters to choose from, Paul D. would make an interesting and unexpected topic in “Beloved”
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: The Use of Flashbacks as a Narrative Technique in “Beloved” by Toni Morrison
The plot of Beloved unfolds through the author’s use of a complex weaving together of multiple flashbacks. Write an argumentative essay in which you defend or refute Morrison’s use of this narrative technique, citing textual evidence for your claim. Be sure to consider how the flashbacks function, but also what they may represent on a symbolic level and what they reveal about narrator reliability.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #5: The Issue of Sethe’s “Rough Choice” in “Beloved” by Toni Morrison
When Sethe is faced with the trauma of having to return to slavery at Sweet Home, she attempts to kill her children. She succeeds in killing one by cutting the infant’s throat with a hacksaw. This “rough choice" is the axis around which the novel revolves. Write a persuasive essay in which you convince the reader that Sethe’s choice was right or wrong. Guard against moralizing and editorializing, and substantiate your position with evidence drawn from the text.
For themes and possible thesis statements that intersect with ideas from the same author, check the PaperStarter entries for other works by Toni Morrison, including “The Bluest Eye” and “Sula”
This list of important quotations will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text they are referring to.
“Suspended between the nastiness of life and the meanness of the dead, she couldn’t get interested in leaving life or living it, let alone the fright of two creeping-off boys. Her past had been like her present—intolerable—and since she knew death was anything but forgetfulness, she used the little energy left her for pondering color." (3-4)
“For they understood the source of the outrage as well as they knew the source of light." (4)
“‘We have a ghost in here,’ she said…. ‘So I hear,’ he said. ‘But sad, your mama said. Not evil.’ ‘No sir…not evil. But not sad either.’ ‘What then?’ ‘Rebuked. Lonely and rebuked….’ ‘I don’t know about lonely….Mad, maybe, but I don’t see how it could be lonely spending every minute with us like it does.’" (13)
“‘I got a tree on my back and a haint in my house, and nothing in between but the daughter I am holding in my arms. No more running—from nothing. I will never run from another thing on this earth. I took one journey and I paid for the ticket, but let me tell you something, Paul D. Garner: It cost too much! Do you hear me? It cost too much." (15)
“What she called the nastiness of life was the shock she received upon learning that nobody stopped playing checkers just because the pieces included her children." (23)
“Anything dead coming back to life hurts." (35)
“I was talking about time. It’s so hard for me to believe in it. Some things go. Pass on. Some things just stay. I used to think it was my rememory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do…." (35-36).
“For a used-to-be-slave woman to love anything that much was dangerous, especially if it was her children she had settled on to love. The best thing, he knew, was to love just a little bit; everything, just a little bit, so when they broke its back or shoved it in a croaker sack, well, maybe you’d have a little love left over for the next one." (45)
“Listen up. Let me tell you something. A man ain’t a goddamn ax. Chopping, hacking, busting every goddamn minute of the day. Things get to him. Things he can’t chop down because they’re inside." (69)
“Daily life took as much as she had. The future was sunset; the past something to leave behind. And if it didn’t stay behind, well, you might have to stomp it out. Slave life; freed life—every day was a test and a trial. Nothing could be counted on in a world where even when you were a solution you were a problem." (256)
Reference: Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Plume, 1987.