The tone of Beloved is elegiac, which means mournful or sad. The title of the novel itself suggests its elegiac tone. As the reader learns early on, “beloved” is a shortened version of “dearly beloved.” The phrase “dearly beloved” conventionally opens a funeral, and it’s also the phrase partially carved on Sethe’s daughter’s tombstone. In addition to the title, the dedication also clues us into the novel’s elegiac tone. Dedicated simply to “Sixty Million and more,” Beloved mourns the massive number of people of African descent who suffered and died as a result of American slavery. Although the novel’s overall tone is elegiac, it is also characterized by care and understanding. For instance, the narrator does not regard the characters with judgment, but rather frames their thoughts and actions in a way that enables the reader to understand their perspectives. The narrator does this even when presenting opposing points of view, as in the following example:
Stamp Paid abandoned his efforts to see about Sethe, after the pain of knocking and not gaining entrance, and when he did, 124 was left to its own devices. When Sethe locked the door, the women inside were free at last to be what they liked, see whatever they saw and say whatever was on their minds.
The narrator illustrates Stamp Paid’s frustration with Sethe at being locked out of the house. Yet the narrator also shows that, from Sethe’s perspective, locking the door gives rise to a previously unknown sense of liberty. The tone here is balanced and shows understanding for both Stamp Paid’s and Sethe’s perspectives.