Sethe sits by herself, thinking about how her life was like before Paul D came along.
If you're wondering, it involved a lot of whispers in the keeping room, which we're guessing means that the house was pretty quiet.
That leads her to think about how she's been alone for 9 years now without Baby Suggs and her precious guidance; about Halle and the butter and how she needs some kind of closure—the kind of closure that can only be found at the Clearing. So she decides to go there.
The Clearing's a spot that Sethe pretty much only associates with Baby Suggs, so of course, this leads her to think more about how different 124 is now, without Baby Suggs. When Baby Suggs was here, the house was hopping with all sorts of guests, pots cooking—a resting place for anyone who needed help; Baby Suggs the holy center of it all. And we mean holy: Baby Suggs was more or less a preacher, only without a church.
In fact, think of Baby Suggs as a pagan-preacher, with her place of worship and preaching at—you guessed it—the Clearing: a clear spot in the middle of the woods.
The Clearing's where Baby Suggs led all the black people in the area. She'd call them to her, tell them to do things like love the flesh of their bodies. You can probably guess that Baby Suggs wasn't your typical preacher-type: she really wasn't into all that stuff about sin and shame.
Most important, Baby Suggs taught her followers that grace could only come to them if they could imagine it for themselves. So basically, Baby Suggs was a really cool old lady to have around.
With her, all of the people in the Clearing would sing.
Thinking about it now, Sethe remembers how beautiful the music was.Things changed though. Like all people, Baby Suggs was human; she had a tough time with her broken heart, which came about around 28 days after Sethe arrived at her home.
Baby Suggs taught everyone else to imagine grace but had a tough time following her own advice. She said that white folks took everything that was ever good in the world; lay down in her bed; and never went to the Clearing again.
(Why exactly does this all happen after Sethe arrives at 124? It's not totally clear, but Sethe definitely doesn't think it's just coincidence that Baby Suggs feels heartbroken after Sethe shows up with her newborn strapped to her chest. So Sethe can't help blaming herself for Baby Suggs's breakdown.)
Okay, back to the present:Sethe gets to the clearing and starts to think about what happened right after she gave birth to Denver.
What? You thought we were going to stay in the present? Ha!
So, back to when Denver was born:Sethe's lying on the ground, weak and exhausted. She knows that she has to keep moving though, so she gets up and starts walking.
Finally she runs into an old man, Stamp Paid. He ferries her to Ohio, then tells her to wait for someone on the bank of the river.
Hours later, a woman named Ella comes by to pick up Sethe after she sees the sign that Stamp Paid left for her.
Apparently, there's a whole system for assisting fugitive slaves on the banks of the Ohio River. And it seems pretty effective. After all, Sethe's other children that she sent on before her have already been ferried safely across.
And like them, Sethe gets transported safely to Baby Suggs's house.
For 28 days, Sethe lives in heaven. Her children are all with her, and Baby Suggs takes care of her. Ahhh…
Back in the Clearing (in the present), Sethe thinks that she'd be better if she could just feel Baby Suggs's fingers on her back one more time.
All of a sudden, she does feel fingers on her back.
At first, they're stroking her neck gently… but then they start to strangle her. The moral of this story: be careful what you wish for! (Seriously though, can't you just see this as a horror flick?)But wait—why would Baby Suggs want to hurt Sethe?
Was this Baby Suggs?
Denver and Beloved rush into the clearing. Denver sees Sethe choking and cries out.
Immediately, the strangling stops.
When they get close to Sethe, Beloved begins pointing to the bruises on Sethe's neck.
Sure enough, it looks like fingers have been strangling Sethe.Beloved inches closer to Sethe and gently touches the bruises. And clearly, Beloved is the touchy-feely type because she then leans over and kisses the bruises.
Astonished, Denver looks on. She can't quite figure this out.
Sethe can't figure things out either. She's pretty sure now that Baby Suggs wasn't the one who tried to strangle her.
But then, who could it be? Spooky…
As the three walk back to the house, Sethe decides that she does indeed want Paul D in her life. Who would blame her? After all that she just went through, doing something like fixing dinner for Paul D seems so normal.
She likes the way it feels to have him there—it seems like there's suddenly a future for her.
Looking at the two girls, Sethe thinks about how much like sisters they seem.
Later that night, Beloved stands outside Sethe's door, listening to Sethe and Paul D doing what they do.She's furious and hurt.
She was so close to Sethe—and now Paul D is standing in her way. (Uh oh…)
Turning, Beloved runs out of the house and down to the stream.
Denver finds her there.
They stare at each other in the water.
Denver now knows that Beloved was the one who strangled Sethe—she was watching Beloved's face as she did it.
She accuses Beloved, but Beloved just tells her to "look out."
We're not sure, but we're guessing that that's a warning.
And judging from what Beloved's already done, it's probably a good idea to listen to her warnings!
Beloved runs away, leaving Denver alone by the Clearing.
Denver starts to think about how small her world has become.For years, all she's known or wanted to know has been in 124 and the woods around it.
She used to want to know all about the world.
In fact, she used to go to school. A black woman, Lady Jones, ran a school for the children in the area. Denver used to stand outside it, pressing her face against the glass.
Finally, Lady Jones told her to come in.
For a short while, Denver was very, very happy. She learned lots of things. She loved school.And then…a boy asked her a question that changed everything.
What question? Well, if you've learned anything about this novel, it's that it doesn't give away its answers right away!
Denver stops going to school. In fact, she stops hearing and speaking all together.
For two years, she can't hear anything. She lives in silence.
The day Denver starts to hear again is the day that the haunting starts in 124.
Soon after that, her brothers run away and Baby Suggs takes to her bed, tired by the meanness of the world.
Now Denver thinks about what happened in the Clearing today.
She knows that Beloved planned to hurt Sethe, but she feels strangely powerless.
After all, Beloved is hers. Not Sethe's.
As she walks toward the stream, Denver remembers the question the little boy asked.Wasn't her mother locked up for murder?
Suddenly, Denver sees Beloved at the edge of the stream.
She's watching two turtles mate, with their shells clashing and their floating heads stretching toward each other.
It all seems so sweet right? Only Beloved lets her dress down, her hem darkening as it hits the water… Can anyone say "foreshadowing"?