Study Guide

Denver in Beloved

By Toni Morrison


If you think Beloved has the right to some serious griping, wait until you read about Denver. Sure, Denver's ahead of Beloved on a couple of counts: Sethe never killed Denver and no one questions that Denver's still an actual living human being. But, you know what? Living at 124 with Sethe, and then with Paul D, and then with Beloved—it hasn't been easy on Denver either.

The Other Daughter

Denver's a lot like the lonely kid who gets bullied on the school bus. Oh, except that Denver doesn't go to school. She doesn't even leave the house, really. Unfortunately, people tend to avoid you if your mom killed a baby.

It's hard not to feel some sympathy for Denver. Even though she's Sethe's remaining child, you don't get the sense that there's been much joy in her life or that Sethe thinks much about her. Denver seems to just be… in the way.

When we first meet Denver, she's already being ignored by Sethe in favor of Paul D:

All that leaving: first her brothers, then her grandmother […] None of that had mattered as long as her mother did not look away as she was doing now, making Denver long, downright long, for a sign of spite from the baby ghost. (1.12)

You know you must have serious mommy issues if you're craving the company of a baby poltergeist.

The Wary Daughter

But Denver's relationship with Sethe isn't just about feeling lonely and forgotten. This girl has to have some concerns, right? After all, Sethe did try to kill her once, too. Plus, Denver's childhood was full of her older brothers' "die-witch! stories" about Sethe (1.19; 21.205).

So yeah, that kind of stuff tends to make you wary of your mom. Denver is kind of in a weird space vis-à-vis her mother: she needs her attention and love, but she also wants to guard against her; she understands that Sethe's love is the kind that can kill. Literally.

And Denver doesn't just want to protect herself from Sethe. She also makes it clear that she's going to be the one to protect Beloved too. In her head, she's Beloved's rock:

"It's all on me, now, but [Beloved] can count on me […] .Don't love [Sethe] too much. Don't. Maybe it's still in [Sethe] the thing that makes it all right to kill her children. I have to tell [Beloved]. I have to protect her" (21.206).

That's one determined young lady.

The Survivor

If you want to place your bets on a character in Beloved, Denver's your girl. Despite her family's troubles, she's a scrappy survivor who's strategic about getting what she wants.

Examples? Sure. First, she lies about seeing Beloved pick up a rocking chair with one hand in order to keep Beloved at 124 (5.56). She also keeps secret the fact that she's waiting for her father to come save her. Instead, she "spen[ds] all of [her] outside self loving Ma'am so she wouldn't kill [her]" (21.207). Yep, she pretends to love Sethe in order to stay alive.

And finally, when she discovers that Beloved and Sethe are truly in the co-dependent relationship from Hell, she braves the outside world—a place she hasn't gone to in years—in order to find a job and support her mother and Beloved.

The final takeaway? Don't underestimate Denver. This girl is fierce.