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by Toni Morrison

Beloved Chapter 20 Summary

  • Here's where things start to get really interesting. We know. You're thinking, "What? Things aren't interesting enough?" Okay—maybe what we mean is confusing.
  • For starters, Sethe narrates this chapter, but it's hard to tell whom she's speaking to exactly.
  • At first, it sounds like she's in her own head when she talks about how Beloved is hers, come back from the dead to be with her.
  • She's trying to explain why she doesn't need to explain anything to Beloved about what happened in the past. But then, she's also willing to explain to Beloved if Beloved wants an explanation. When she does explain what happened to Beloved, she's sure Beloved will understand because she understands everything already. (We told you things might start to get confusing.)
  • Basically, Sethe's over the moon about Beloved coming back. She's already promising to be the best mother ever to Beloved. She even promises that no one will ever get her milk except Beloved (and her other kids).
  • This is huge for Sethe because Sethe never really got to nurse her kids (according to her); the only time anyone got her milk was when the Garner boys held her down and drank her breast milk (among other things).
  • Of course, as a reader, you might want to wonder about how much she could or couldn't nurse her kids. In fact, this whole thing about the rape and the Garner boys makes her think more about how she never got to nurse on her own mother; how she had to nurse on Nan while her own mother was in the rice fields.
  • Sethe points out that she knows what it's like to fight for milk that isn't yours—that's something she plans on telling Beloved, who she thinks will understand.
  • What's Sethe's point? It's simple really—Sethe never got to be a mother to Beloved, but what really hurts her is that she never got to be a daughter to her own mother.
  • Instead, she ended up tending Mrs. Garner as if Mrs. Garner were her mother.
  • Okay—now hang on—if you haven't noticed, when Sethe narrates, she gets jumpy. She's about to get even jumpier. Here goes…
  • Thinking about Mrs. Garner makes Sethe think about how she would have stayed on with her mother even after she died. But of course she couldn't; Nan snatched her back before she could even check for her mother's sign.
  • Sethe couldn't believe it when her mother died.
  • She also looked everywhere for "that hat."
  • Afterwards, she stuttered. That is until she saw Halle.
  • But that's all over. Sethe's focused on the present and on looking at things (something she couldn't do after killing the baby).
  • She gets why Baby Suggs wanted to look at colors at the end—it's because she never had the time to enjoy them. She also thinks red probably wouldn't have been a good color to Baby Suggs—for obvious reasons.
  • She herself remembers the last color she saw: the pinkish headstone for Beloved.
  • Now she's on the lookout, especially for spring. Sethe starts to get a little manic about all the things that come with spring, like new vegetables.
  • Then Sethe switches her audience and focuses on Beloved as "you." All of a sudden, it starts to sound like Sethe's talking to Beloved directly rather than about Beloved.
  • And she's off "memory"-ing things like:
    (1) Amy's (the white girl's) hands and the color of her eyes (gray);
    (2) Mrs. Garner's eye color (light brown while well; darker while sick);
    (3) how strong Mrs. Garner was in the fields (like a mule);
    (4) how Mrs. Garner would call her "Jenny";
    (5) why Mrs. Garner thought she'd need schoolteacher at Sweet Home and if Mrs. Garner lasted;
    (6) how her first beating (by schoolteacher) was her last;
    (7) how no one could keep her from her kids;
    (8) and that if she weren't tending to Mrs. Garner that day, she would have known what was happening to the men the day of the planned escape;
    (9) Mrs. Garner was sick and cold; she wanted blankets and the window shut while Sethe wanted the window open;
    (10) how she heard what sounded like shots;
    (11) how she took her babies to the corn without Halle to meet the woman heading up the runaway slave train;
    (12) how she wanted the woman to wait for the others but the woman wouldn't, so Sethe sent her kids along without her;
    (13) and how, when she returned to Sweet Home, she got whipped so badly on her back that she bit off a piece of her tongue; although the men did cut out a hole for her stomach so that the fetus wouldn't be injured.
  • We told you Sethe can get jumpy. And there's more.
  • Sethe goes on to recall that Denver doesn't like to hear anything about Sweet Home except for her own birth. (No wonder there.)
  • Now she's really acting like she's talking to Beloved. She reminds Beloved about that day at the grape arbor and how quickly she ran back to Beloved.
  • And here's how she would have recognized Beloved as her Beloved, if Paul D hadn't distracted Sethe:
    (1) the sun on Beloved's face the day she arrived at 124 (it looked the same as the sun on her face at the grape arbor);
    (2) her water breaking the very minute she saw Beloved sitting on the stump outside 124
    (3) all the water Beloved drank (clearly connected to the spit baby Beloved dribbled on Sethe when Sethe got to 124);
    (4) Sethe's fingernail prints on Beloved's forehead (you know, from when she was holding baby Beloved's head to her neck in the shed);
    (5) when Beloved asked Sethe about the earrings that Sethe used to entertain baby Beloved with.
  • Now Sethe's getting closer to the present. She remembers how Paul D described her love for her children as "too thick."
  • The nerve of Paul D, right? Sethe's thinking: What does he know? Who would Paul D die for? What would he give up for another? Sex for a headstone carving?
  • Sethe's not okay with what Paul D said—that there could have been "some other way."
  • She's pretty adamant about how, for her, there couldn't have been another way; that there was no way she would let her kids experience what she went through at Sweet Home.
  • That's because when she says "you mine," she also means "I'm yours"—all of which basically means she can't live without her children.
  • Here's where Sethe really starts explaining. She points out that her real plan that day at the shed was to kill all her children and herself, only they stopped her before she could carry out that plan. Of course, they couldn't stop Beloved from returning to her.
  • And that's because Beloved's a good daughter, just like how she wanted to be a good daughter to her mother.
  • This gets her started on another memory about her mother's smile. Her mother had a bit in her mouth so much that she was always smiling, only it was never her own smile.
  • Sethe wonders what her mother and the other slaves were doing when they got caught. Were they running away? But Sethe can't believe that a mother would run off and leave a daughter behind. Would her mother have done that even if she didn't nurse Sethe for very long?
  • Sethe's mind returns to her mother's bit and her mother's forced smile. That image reminds her of the "Saturday girls" she saw when she got out of jail.
  • Saturday girls were women who prostituted themselves on the weekend in the back of the slaughterhouse.
  • Sethe was very, very close to becoming one herself. Broken and broke, she left jail with no way to support herself or baby Denver.
  • But she didn't because the Bodwins got her the cooking job at Sawyer's, which gave her the freedom to smile on her own like she is now when she thinks of Beloved.
  • Sethe goes on to explain that she would have prostituted herself or even go into the grave with Beloved if it hadn't been for the other children who needed her.
  • And all those suicidal thoughts? They were due to the fact that her mind was "homeless" then and that she couldn't "lay down" in peace with her baby girl.
  • But now she can because now Beloved's come back to her.
  • Although that last sentence? It's not as simple as it seems. Why? Because Sethe ends the chapter not talking to Beloved, but talking about Beloved. Sethe goes from "you" Beloved to "she" Beloved (as in "she is mine"). Weird, right?
  • Makes you wonder: is Beloved really hers? And is Sethe fit to be a narrator?

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