Wait—what happens to Sethe and the gang?! Yep, Morrison's going to make you work for that ending.
Meanwhile, there's Paul D, who, by the way, is re-introduced to us, not by name, but by the lyrics of one of his songs. The one about chamomile sap and his hat. Are these details actually all that important? You bet they are. After all, he's singing about a hat—need we say more?
Paul D is approaching 124 from the back.
He sees Here Boy the dog asleep by the pump in the yard—that's how he can tell that Beloved's gone now.
There are rumors that Beloved exploded or that she's in hiding, but Paul D knows better, although he does half expect to see Beloved again, to hear her telling him to touch her, when he arrives at 124.
Before he actually gets to the main house though, he makes a pit stop in the cold room, his old sleeping pad. It's empty and benign-looking, although it does remind him of sex with Beloved, which—if we believe his description—was pretty bad.
As he leaves the cold room, he looks toward the main house and notices how normal and quiet the house is.
It's just like how Stamp Paid said it would be. (Hint: Paul D's about to have a brief flashback.)Stamp has told Paul D that the Bodwins plan to sell 124 as soon as they can. (Probably a good idea.) Mr. Bodwin doesn't actually want to sell (what?!), but says he won't stop his sister, who thinks the place is trouble (smart woman).
According to Stamp, Mr. Bodwin was staring at Beloved so hard on the day when Sethe tried to kill him that he didn't even notice Sethe coming at him with an ice pick. We guess a naked, pregnant Beloved might make anyone stare.
As a result, Mr. Bodwin isn't pressing charges against Sethe. How could he anyway? He still doesn't even know the whole story. He thinks Sethe was fighting with the other black women.
Janey could tell Mr. Bodwin the real story—that Ella clipped Sethe before Sethe could get to Mr. Bodwin—but she doesn't want to.
She is relieved though that Mr. Bodwin isn't dead; she and Denver both need their jobs.Stamp also reveals that the women can't make up their minds about what or who Beloved was. What they do agree on was that Beloved looked huge and Sethe looked tiny next to her—a detail that surprises Stamp because when he saw Beloved, she was skinny.
Anyway, Paul D still has a hard time believing Stamp's account of how things went down for Mr. Bodwin, and we don't blame him.
How could Mr. Bodwin not see Sethe? She had an ice pick for crying out loud.
And, in fact, even Stamp admits that Mr. Bodwin might just be in denial or pretending that he doesn't know what happened.
Apparently, that's just like something Mr. Bodwin would do. To Stamp, Mr. Bodwin's kind of a hero and a rock for the black community because he's never turned down anyone who has asked for help.
The two men move on to talk about Sethe, whom they think of as flat-out crazy. Somehow that topic—Sethe as crazy woman—gets them to start making jokes. And, believe it or not, this whole part of the conversation really is pretty funny. We suggest you read it just for some comic relief.
Of course, since this is a Toni Morrison novel, the joking has to end at some point, and so it does, when Paul D starts to crack a joke about Denver.
That's when Stamp stops Paul D and defends Denver.
Denver, after all, has become Stamp's "heart." He's proud of her because, for starters, she was the first one to wrestle Sethe down when Sethe went after Mr. Bodwin. According to him, Denver's turned out fine.
Paul D finds this out for himself when he runs into Denver the next day. She looks healthy, skinny, friendly—a lot like Halle, with a hint of Sethe around her mouth.
He finds out from Denver that she's working at the Bodwins' and is on her way to try for a second job at the shirt factory.
She's, for the most part, happy. The Bodwins are good to her. Miss Bodwin is even trying to educate her enough so that she can get into Oberlin College.
Paul D withholds his negative opinion about white schoolteachers and asks after Sethe instead, only to find out that Denver feels she's lost Sethe.
Paul D also asks Denver about Beloved—whether Denver really thought Beloved was her sister. Denver responds: "At times. At times—more."
But then Denver turns the conversation around to Paul D and how he had sex with Beloved. That pretty much kills the conversation.
Paul D gets that Denver doesn't have a high opinion of what he did with Beloved. Even though he wants to keep talking to her about what happened, Denver pretty much shuts him up with an angry look on her face and leaves.
That means we're still left hanging, like Paul D, about what happened with Beloved.
There are a lot of stories out there that Paul D has heard. For example, Beloved was the baby ghost who sent Sethe to kill Mr. Bodwin.
Everyone does agree on one point, though—that Beloved was there one second and gone the next, when the women looked up from Sethe on the ground.
There is a boy who says he saw a naked woman with fish for hair running through the woods.
But these are, ultimately, all rumors.
Paul D decides that he doesn't care so much how "It" (a.k.a. Beloved) left or why. He needs to figure out for himself why he left Sethe.
He's confused on this point. You see, he can't figure out who he is exactly since he keeps seeing himself from other people's perspectives, like Mr. Garner and Sixo.
Their eyes give him totally opposite views of himself.
Additionally, there was that time when he worked both sides of the Civil War. He had run away from Northpoint Bank and Railway to fight on the Union side, with the 44th Colored Regiment in Tennessee.
But that didn't work out because he ended up at another colored regiment in New Jersey, with a white commander who couldn't decide whether or not to arm the black men. Finally, it was decided not to arm the black men and make them do menial labor instead. The regiment fell apart and most of the black men ended up abandoned.
Then he ended up getting caught by Northpoint again and sent to do slave labor, until the company sold him to the Rebellers, who had him taking care of the Confederate dead.
He thinks to himself that he's tried to escape five times in his life but he's never been totally successful. This gets him to feel melancholic about all those failed escapes—how each time he escaped, he'd feel all this wonder about the land he was on and that he didn't belong to.
Paul D then thinks back to the time after the War, when he technically became a free man. You would think everything should have been hunky-dory for him, but it wasn't.
At that time, he was in Alabama slaving for the Confederacy. When that was over, he and a couple of other black Union soldiers walked from Selma to Mobile. Along the way, there were all these black bodies littered on the ground.
They also noticed how black people were now working for the Union, constructing roads that, previously, they had torn up for the Confederates.
Paul D also remembers how one of his traveling companions, originally a black Union private, complained about being paid less than white soldiers. Paul D couldn't believe that black men could be paid to fight.
He and his companions eventually parted ways, and Paul D made his way to New Jersey alone, where he got his first real taste of how good freedom could be.
It was in New Jersey that he earned his first coin, by helping a white man unload a cab. It was also where he made his first purchase, a bunch of turnips; the experience made him glow.
For seven years, he wandered like this until he got to Ohio and 124 Bluestone.
And now we're back to Paul D—no longer in an extended flashback—standing in front of 124 and thinking about going in.
The house is really quiet and full of absence—totally different from how Paul D first knew it, and yet, just as hard to move through. Despite the difference, the house still feels weird somehow. Like there's an outside force both embracing and accusing him at the same time. (Makes you think, doesn't it? Is Beloved really gone?)
Paul D finally finds Sethe after wandering through the house.
Clearly she's not all gone, though, because she responds to Paul D's questions quickly and sanely.
She tells Paul D that she's tired. Too tired to get up off the bed.
It's then that Paul D realizes the problem: Sethe's becoming like how Baby Suggs was right before Baby died.
Only Paul D isn't going to let that happen.
He's about to yell at her when he remembers Denver telling him to watch how he speaks to Sethe.
So he takes it down a notch and acts like the supportive boyfriend who wants back in.He promises to take care of her at night while Denver takes care of her during the day. Then he heats up some water and starts to rub her feet, just like Amy once did so long ago.
All that attention works: Sethe cries and tells Paul D that Beloved left her.
In other words, the old Sethe's coming back.
Paul D thinks back to what Sixo used to say about the Thirty-Mile Woman: how she was a friend of his mind and how she gathered his pieces. Translation? The Thirty-Mile Woman really really understood Sixo.
Anyway, what Sixo said makes Paul D recall all the ways in which Sethe did the same for him, especially the times when she would ignore the collar marks around his neck.
His conclusion? Sethe has always let him keep his pride and manhood intact (the two are, apparently, the same thing for Paul D).
So Paul D decides that the two of them should stay together. They have a history together. And now they need to create a future, too.