Opening Lines: Beloved by Toni Morrison

This is the blog where we dissect the opening sentences of popular works of fiction. Few people outside of the writing community know how much blood, sweat, and tears go into crafting the perfect Opening Line; and for that reason, I want to bring attention to the incredible work that a writer puts into these first few words. Today we will examine Toni Morrison’s Beloved.


First, let’s look at the blurb:

Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved” is a towering achievement.

Now let’s examine the Opening Line:

“124 was spiteful.”

Short, sweet, and an excellent opener.

Even still, there’s much to examine and even more to ask.


We don’t know by the context if this is a living being. (Spoiler Alert: 124 is a building, a home, actually.) If we know nothing about the story and all we have to go by is this first line, we know this number is referring to something that can be spiteful. We can assume it’s a person, but we really don’t know at this point.  Since we do not know if this is referring to a person from the blurb, let’s examine it from a point of view if it were a person.

Who is 124? Why are they simply a number? There are many times, especially in bad businesses, when you might hear someone say, they treat you like you’re just a number. Is this one of those times? We know that prisoners are typically referred to as numbers in our penal system. Is 124 a prisoner?

“…was spiteful.”

Why was 124 spiteful? Obviously, by the mashup of the no-named, numbered person/thing and the act of them/it being spiteful, we are left wondering what’s happening.

This is like dynamite. They say it comes in small packages, but it’s powerful.

If you want to learn more about who or what 124 is, click on the Barnes & Noble link.

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