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Lesson Plan

Narrative Structure and Perspectives in Toni Morrison's Beloved

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Narrative Structure and Perspectives in Toni Morrison's Beloved

Grades 11 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Three 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Charles Weinberg

Champaign, Illinois


National Council of Teachers of English



From Theory to Practice



This lesson invites students to investigate the values implied by narrative choices in a complex text. Students first respond to the complicated narrative structure of Toni Morrison's Beloved by visually representing the novel's non-linear organization.  The different student representations of Book 1 (ranging from the symbolic to the chronological to the abstract) then give rise to a discussion on the centering and marginalizing of details from the text—both in literal and figurative senses.  Next, students are guided through close readings of the three different accounts of the infanticide that Sethe commits, with the goal of making evident the ways in which identity and bias shape how characters, authors, and readers see and choose to represent the world. The ideas of this lesson can be adapted and applied to complex works by other authors, such as William Faulkner, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or Barbara Kingsolver.

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In "A Hot Thing: Working on Toni Morrison's Beloved," Raymond Pultinas says of reading Beloved with high school students: "It is hard work: she expects us readers to work, to collaborate with the texts, and this entails teaching students about what work is when you read-or, rather, what kinds of work are possible with a book, a book that you can still dig" (60). In With Rigor for All: Teaching the Classics to Contemporary Students, Carol Jago offers several suggestions for guiding students through texts of such difficulty.  When texts are structurally challenging, she observes that it is "unrealistic to assume that [most students] can be assigned [such works] ... and figure out the structure for themselves. ... If [teachers] don't offer up some guidance-a kind of reader's map-too many give up" (40).

Part of providing that "reader's map," Jago asserts, is to provide instruction in close reading-to "take time in class to show students how to examine a text in minute detail: word by word, sentence by sentence" (54).  This lesson, which moves from response to analysis of story structure to close reading and back again to response, heeds Jago's call for teachers to "go beyond encouraging responses from student readers to push them to understand exactly what the author has done with words and sentences, syntax, and diction that elicited such a response" (56).

Further Reading

Jago, Carol. 2000. With Rigor For All: Teaching the Classics to Contemporary Students. Portland, ME: Calendar Islands.


Pultinas, Raymond. "A Hot Thing: Working on Toni Morrison's Beloved." English Education 31.1. (October 1998): 60-64.

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