Study Guide

Beloved Quotes

  • The Home

    Chapter 1

    Not only did she have to live out her years in a house palsied by the baby's fury at having its throat cut, but those ten minutes she spent pressed up against dawn-colored stone studded with star chips, her knees wide open as the grave, were longer than life, more alive, more pulsating than the baby blood that soaked her fingers like oil. (1.16)

    Sethe killed her baby on the 124 property. Aside from the whole haunting sitch, what other effect does that act have on the house?

    Within two months, in the dead of winter, leaving their grandmother, Baby Suggs; Sethe, their mother; and their little sister, Denver, all by themselves in the gray and white house on Bluestone Road. It didn't have a number then, because Cincinnati didn't stretch that far. In fact, Ohio had been calling itself a state only seventy years when first one brother and then the next stuffed quilt packing into his hat, snatched up his shoes, and crept away from the lively spite the house felt for them. (1.1)

    124 really doesn't take to men. Or maybe men just aren't strong enough to put up with the house. Why is 124 so female-oriented?

    124 was spiteful. Full of a baby's venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children. For years each put up with the spite in his own way, but by 1873 Sethe and her daughters Denver were its only victims. (1.1)

    Right off the bat, we get our first clue that this house acts more like a character than a setting. Personification, comin' at ya.

    Sethe

    "We could move," she suggested once to her mother-in-law.

    "What'd be the point?" asked Baby Suggs. "Not a house in the country ain't packed to its rafters with some dead Negro's grief." (1.17-18)

    Leave it to Baby Suggs to put everything in perspective. These words remind us that as traumatic as this particular family's history is, they're not alone.

    Chapter 11
    Paul D

    He believed he was having house-fits, the glassy anger men sometimes feel when a woman's house begins to bind them, when they want to yell and break something or at least run off. He knew all about that—felt it lots of times—in the Delaware weaver's house, for instance. But always he associated the house-fit with the woman in it. This nervousness had nothing to do with the woman […] Also in this house-fit there was no anger, no suffocation, no yearning to be elsewhere. He just could not, would not, sleep upstairs or in the rocker or, now, in Baby Suggs' bed. So, he went to the storeroom. (11.14)

    Isn't that just another way of rationalizing that a house is a woman's space and that men belong outside of the house? Hasn't Paul D ever heard of women's lib?

    Chapter 13

    A truth that waved like a scarecrow in rye: they were only Sweet Home men at Sweet Home. One step off that ground and they were trespassers among the human race. (13.1)

    The men at Sweet Home are treated like men. But what's the point when you can't carry that feeling around past the property grounds? What kind of freedom is that?

    Chapter 15
    Baby Suggs

    In Lillian Garner's house, exempted from the field work that broke her hip and the exhaustion that drugged her mind; in Lillian Garner's house where nobody knocked her down (or up), she listened to the white woman humming at her work; watched her face light up when Mr. Garner came in and thought, It's better here, but I'm not. (15.22)

    How about that repetition? Reading the words "Lillian Garner's house" multiple times pretty forcefully reminds us that Sweet Home is, well, Lillian Garner's house. Does that means it could never truly be home for Baby Suggs?

    Chapter 19
    Sethe

    When Sethe locked the door, the women inside were free at last to be what they liked, see whatever they saw and say whatever was on their minds. Almost. Mixed in with the voices surrounding the house, recognizable but undecipherable to Stamp Paid, were the thoughts of the women of 124, unspeakable thoughts, unspoken. (19.222-223)

    Even in this haven for women, you get the sense that 124 isn't all that peaceful. At the very least, the women might have some fundamental issues with each other. Morrison seems to be telling us that there's no such thing as a utopia for women.

    Chapter 26
    Mr. and Miss Bodwin

    The land, of course, eighty acres of it on both sides of Bluestone, was the central thing, but he felt something sweeter and deeper about the house which is why he rented it for a little something if he could get it, but it didn't trouble him to get no rent at all since the tenants at least kept it from the disrepair total abandonment would permit.

    There was a time when he buried things there. Precious things he wanted to protect. (26.138-139)

    Mr. Bodwin is feeling nostalgic about 124, but boy is he in for a surprise.

  • Slavery

    Chapter 1
    Mr. and Mrs. Garner

    "Y'all got boys," he told them. "Young boys, old boys, picky boys, stroppin boys. Now at Sweet Home, my niggers is men every one of em. Bought em thataway, raised em thataway. Men every one." (1.14)

    "Beg to differ, Garner. Ain't no nigger men."

    Does this make Garner any more sympathetic a character? Or is a slaveowner a slaveowner a slaveowner?

    Chapter 8
    Paul D

    "Mister, he looked so… free. Better than me. Stronger, tougher. Son a bitch couldn't even get out of the shell hisself but he was still king and I was…" Paul D stopped and squeezed his left hand with his right. He held it that way long enough for it and the world to quiet down and let him go on.

    "Mister was allowed to be and stay what he was. But I wasn't allowed to be and stay what I was. Even if you cooked him you'd be cooking a rooster named Mister. But wasn't no way I'd ever be Paul D again, living or dead. Schoolteacher changed me. I was something else and that something was less than a chicken sitting in the sun on a tub." (8.102-103)

    Mister the rooster is the man. So much so that Paul D refers to Mister's super-red coxcomb more than once as a way of highlighting how Paul D falls short because of slavery. And yes, if you're starting to read into the whole red coxcomb thing, go right on ahead.

    Chapter 10

    "Breakfast? Want some breakfast, nigger?"

    "Yes, sir."

    "Hungry, nigger?"

    "Yes, sir."

    "Here you go."

    Occasionally, a kneeling man chose gunshot in his head as the price, maybe, of taking a bit of foreskin with him to Jesus. (10.5-10)

    Why is scene so effective? How is it supposed to shake you as a reader?

    By the time they unhitched him from the wagon and he saw nothing but dogs and two shacks in the world of sizzling grass, the roiling blood was shaking him to and fro. But no one could tell. The wrists he held out for the bracelets that evening were steady as were the legs he stood on when chains were attached to the leg irons. But when they shoved him into the box and dropped the cage door down, his hands quit taking instruction. On their own, they traveled. Nothing could stop them or get their attention. They would not hold his penis to urinate or a spoon to scoop lumps of lima beans into his mouth. The miracle of their obedience came with the hammer at dawn. (10.2)

    Yes, Paul D is almost getting buried alive; his prison cell is more or less like a coffin in the ground. If this scene doesn't get you thinking about the horrors and abuse of slavery as well as life on a chain gang, we don't know will. P.S. Check out how not even the personified hands listen to Paul D.

    Chapter 13
    Paul D

    He thought what they said had merit, and what they felt was serious. Deferring to his slaves' opinions did not deprive him of authority or power. It was schoolteacher who taught them otherwise. A truth that waved like a scarecrow in rye: they were only Sweet Home men at Sweet Home. (13.1)

    Paul D reflects on how different Mr. Garner and schoolteacher were. And because we love the Wizard of Oz, we can't help but wonder: is that "scarecrow in rye" a possible reference to the Scarecrow? Remember, his insecurities were all about how intelligent—and therefore, how human—he was.

    Chapter 15
    Baby Suggs

    The Garners, it seemed to her, ran a special kind of slavery, treating them like paid labor, listening to what they said, teaching what they wanted known. And he didn't stud his boys. Never brought them to her cabin with directions to "lay down with her," like they did in Carolina, or rented their sex out on other farms. It surprised her and pleased her, but worried her too. Would he pick women for them or what did he think was going to happen when those boys ran smack into their nature? Some danger he was courting and he surely knew it. In fact, his order for them not to leave Sweet Home except in his company, was not so much because of the law, but the danger of men-bred slaves on the loose. (15.22)

    Baby Suggs doesn't hold back as she describes the Garners' form of slavery. The "danger" she's referring to? Probably the possibility (in the eyes of the Garners) that "men-bred slaves" without any women to bed might be prone to rape. Whether or not she's right, Baby Suggs leads us to think about the stereotype of black men as sexual animals, open to preying on innocent, frail white women.

    Loaves and fishes were His powers—they did not belong to an ex-slave who had probably never carried one hundred pounds to the scale, or picked okra with a baby on her back. Who had never been lashed by a ten-year-old whiteboy as God knows they had. Who had not even escaped slavery—had, in fact, been bought out of it by a doting son and driven to the Ohio River in a wagon—free papers folded between her breasts (driven by the very man who had been her master, who also paid her resettlement fee—name of Garner), and rented a house with two floors and a well from the Bodwins—the white brother and sister who gave Stamp Paid, Ella and John clothes, goods and gear for runaways because they hated slavery worse than they hated slaves. (15.12)

    Here we see the tendency to use suffering and trauma as a way of feeling superior to other people who have supposedly experienced less. You'd think everyone would bond together over their shared slave pasts, but no. It's not easy to create a sense of community on a good day; it's even more difficult when everyone has his or her own wounds—physical and psychological—to heal.

    Chapter 16
    Schoolteacher

    Schoolteacher had chastised that nephew, telling him to think—just think—what would his own horse do if you beat it beyond the point of education. Or Chipper, or Samson. Suppose you beat the hounds past that point thataway. Never again could you trust them in the woods or anywhere else. You'd be feeding them maybe, holding out a piece of rabbit in your hand, and the animal would revert—bite your hand clean off. So he punished that nephew by not letting him come on the hunt. Made him stay there, feed stock, feed himself, feed Lillian, tend crops. See how he liked it; see what happened when you overbeat creatures God had given you the responsibility of—the trouble it was, and the loss. (16.4)

    It's weird seeing things from schoolteacher's point of view, isn't it? Talk about trippy. Also, didn't schoolteacher beat Paul A? Wasn't that one of the reasons why the Sweet Home crew wanted to leave? Hmmm, someone seems a little hypocritical here.

    Right off it was clear, to schoolteacher especially, that there was nothing there to claim. The three (now four—because she'd had the one coming when she cut) pickaninnies they had hoped were alive and well enough to take back to Kentucky, take back and raise properly to do the work Sweet Home desperately needed, were not. Two were lying open-eyed in sawdust; a third pumped blood down the dress of the main one—the woman schoolteacher bragged about, the one he said made fine ink, damn good soup, pressed his collars the way he liked besides having at least ten breeding years left. But now she'd gone wild, due to the mishandling of the nephew who'd overbeat her and made her cut and run. (16.4)

    Yep. This is the scene. Or the aftermath of the scene—from schoolteacher's perspective. To clarify, the two lying in the sawdust are Howard and Buglar; the one on Sethe's dress is baby Beloved; we later find out that Sethe is also swinging Denver by the heel, trying to bash her head against a wall and not succeeding. Just for kicks, ask yourself: Why is this scene told from schoolteacher's perspective? Why not someone else, like Baby Suggs?

    Chapter 26
    Mr. and Miss Bodwin

    His father, probably, a deeply religious man who knew what God knew and told everybody what it was. Edward Bodwin thought him an odd man, in so many ways, yet he had one clear directive: human life is holy, all of it. And that his son still believed, although he had less and less reason to. Nothing since was as stimulating as the old days of letters, petitions, meetings, debates, recruitment, quarrels, rescue and downright sedition. Yet it had worked, more or less, and when it had not, he and his sister made themselves available to circumvent obstacles. (26.141)

    Here's some reasoning behind the abolitionist movement. Sounds good, right? All life is holy—cool. But then we get Mr. Bodwin's nostalgia about those "old days" when the abolitionist movement was fighting the good fight, and we have to ask, where's his joy at the success of the movement? It sounds like he was only in the movement for the thrills, not for the slaves.

  • Men and Masculinity

    Chapter 1

    And so they were: Paul D Garner, Paul F Garner, Paul A Garner, Halle Suggs and Sixo, the wild man. All in their twenties, minus women, fucking cows, dreaming of rape, thrashing on pallets, rubbing their thighs and waiting for the new girl—the one who took Baby Suggs' place after Halle bought her with five years of Sundays. (1.85)

    All the Sweet Home men have one thing that ties them together: the lack of women and sex. It's like a guy's locker room, only on a Southern plantation.

    Mr. and Mrs. Garner

    "Y'all got boys," he told them. "Young boys, old boys, picky boys, stroppin boys. Now at Sweet Home, my niggers is men every one of em. Bought em thataway, raised em thataway. Men every one."

    "Beg to differ, Garner. Ain't no nigger men."

    "Not if you scared, they ain't." Garner's smile was wide. "But if you a man yourself, you'll want your niggers to be men too."

    "I wouldn't have no nigger men round my wife."

    It was the reaction Garner loved and waited for. "Neither would I," he said. "Neither would I," and there was always a pause before the neighbor, or stranger, or peddler, or brother-in-law or whoever it was got the meaning. Then a fierce argument, sometimes a fight, and Garner came home bruised and please, having demonstrated one more time what a real Kentuckian was: one tough enough and smart enough to make and call his own niggers men. (1.80-84)

    On the one hand, Garner seems like a pretty cool guy. He's willing to go against the grain—publicly—and call "his own niggers men." On the other hand, we're a little disturbed by Garner. For starters, he still owns these men; plus, it's almost like he's bragging about his ability to manage his "niggers" like "men" in order to show how masculine and tough he is. So he's using his slaves to showcase his identity. We're definitely nowhere near equality with Garner.

    Denver

    They were a twosome, saying "Your daddy" and "Sweet Home" in a way that made it clear both belonged to them and not to her. That her own father's absence was not hers. Once the absence had belonged to Grandma Baby—a son, deeply mourned because he was the one who had bought her out of there. Then it was her mother's husband. Now it was this hazelnut stranger's absent friend. Only those who knew him ("knew him well") could claim his absence for themselves. (1.102)

    Denver feels left out of Sethe and Paul D's conversation about Halle. Sad, isn't it? Denver was fatherless and lonely before—now it's even worse. Which is why it's so promising that she and Paul D get along at the carnival a few chapters later.

    Chapter 2

    Sprawled near Brother, his flame-red tongue hidden from them, his indigo face closed, Sixo slept through dinner like a corpse. Now there was a man, and that was a tree. Himself lying in the bed and the "tree" lying next to him didn't compare. (2.5)

    If memories of a bromance are more enjoyable than cuddling with your S.O., you might have a few things to think about. What is it about Paul D's relationship with Sixo that's so meaningful?

    Halle was more like a brother than a husband. His care suggested a family relationship rather than a man's laying claim. (2.16)

    So Sethe would rather be in a Harlequin romance than in a solid relationship with a family guy. Hey, we're all for true love, but it doesn't seem like Sethe truly appreciates how rare a guy like Halle is—a guy who isn't all about "claiming."

    Baby Suggs

    But he too, as it turned out, was nothing but a man.

    "A man ain't nothing but a man," said Baby Suggs. "But a son? Well now, that's somebody." (2.8-9)

    Hmmm, this one's tricky. How can Baby Suggs be both completely disgusted by and proud of Halle? That's motherhood, we guess. He might be a great son and ensure his mother's freedom, but that doesn't mean he isn't completely forgetful of her once she's out of the picture. (How bad would Baby Suggs have felt if she found out the real reason why Halle couldn't escape Sweet Home?)

    Chapter 10

    "Breakfast? Want some breakfast, nigger?"

    "Yes, sir."

    "Hungry, nigger?"

    "Yes, sir."

    "Here you go."

    Occasionally, a kneeling man chose gunshot in his head as the price, maybe, of taking a bit of foreskin with him to Jesus. (10.5-10)

    If you don't understand this quote, you're probably too young to understand this quote. So let's keep it that way.

    A man could risk his own life, but not his brother's. (10.14)

    That's the bond of brotherhood for you. But it's also practical. If you're on a chain gang you really can't act out or everyone suffers.

    Chapter 13
    Paul D

    The last of the Sweet Home men, so named and called by one who would know, believed it…. Was that it? Is that where manhood lay? In the naming done by a whiteman who was supposed to know? Who gave them the privilege not of working but of deciding how to? No. In their relationship with Garner was true metal: they were believed and trusted, but most of all they were listened to. (13.1-2)

    Paul D's making a case for Garner as a good guy. "No," manhood isn't in Garner's "naming" of them as men; it's not that superficial. It lies in the way they were able to experience their manhood under Garner.

    Because he was a man and a man could do what he would: be still for six hours in a dry well while night dropped; fight raccoon with his hands and win; watch another man, whom he loved better than his brothers, roast without a tear just so the roasters would know what a man was like. And it was he, that man, who had walked from Georgia to Delaware, who could not go or stay put where he wanted to in 124—shame. (13.3)

    Paul D's feeling pretty bad about getting (literally) pushed around by a teenaged girl. Granted, Beloved's a lot more than a teenager, but Paul D doesn't know that. All he knows is that it isn't particularly manly to be done in by a girl when men are supposed to be defined by their physical toughness.

  • The Supernatural

    Chapter 1

    Baby Suggs died shortly after the brothers left, with no interest whatsoever in their leave-taking or hers, and right afterward Sethe and Denver decided to end the persecution by calling forth the ghost that tried them so. Perhaps a conversation, they thought, an exchange of views or something would help. So they held hands and said, "Come on. Come on. You may as well just come on."

    The sideboard took a step forward but nothing else did. (1.5-6)

    Sethe and Denver's approach to the ghost is pretty refreshing, and it kind of sets the tone for what goes on at 124. They treat the ghost like it's a totally natural, benign thing—not quite how Paul D or the boys deal with it.

    124 was spiteful. Full of a baby's venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children. For years each put up with the spite in his own way, but by 1873 Sethe and her daughter Denver were its only victims. The grandmother, Baby Suggs, was dead, and the sons, Howard and Buglar, had run away by the time they were thirteen years old—as soon as merely looking in a mirror shattered it (that was the signal for Buglar); as soon as two tiny hand prints appeared in the cake (that was it for Howard). Neither boy waited to see more; another kettleful of chickpeas smoking in a heap on the floor; soda crackers crumbled and strewn in a line next to the doorsill. (1.1)

    Two questions: (1) Why does Morrison highlight the supernatural so early on in the book? (2) Why does the house scare off the boys but not the women (and Denver)?

    Denver

    "We have a ghost in here," she said, and it worked. They were not a twosome anymore. Her mother left off swinging her feet and being girlish. Memory of Sweet Home dropped away from the eyes of the man she was being girlish for. He looked quickly up the lightning-white stairs behind her.

    "So I hear," he said. "But sad, your mama said. Not evil."

    "No sir," said Denver, "not evil. But not sad either."

    "What then?"

    "Rebuked. Lonely and rebuked." (1.103-107)

    Denver may be small and ignored, but don't count her out. She's smart enough to manipulate the ghost story for her benefit. And, by the way, we just have to add: Denver has a heckuva vocabulary—"rebuked"? Another sign that she's definitely more than what meets the eye.

    Chapter 5
    Paul D

    "Something funny 'bout that gal," Paul D said, mostly to himself.

    "Funny how?"

    "Acts sick, sounds sick, but she don't look sick. Good skin, bright eyes and strong as a bull."

    "She's not strong. She can hardly walk without holding on to something."

    "That's what I mean. Can't walk, but I seen her pick up the rocker with one hand."

    "You didn't."

    "Don't tell me. Ask Denver. She was right there with her." […]

    "Paul D says you and him saw Beloved pick up the rocking chair single-handed. That so?"

    Long, heavy lashes made Denver's eyes seem busier than they were; deceptive, even when she held a steady gaze as she did now on Paul D. "No," she said. "I didn't see no such thing."

    Paul D frowned but said nothing. If there had been an open latch between them, it would have closed. (5.58-64, 67-69)

    Tsk, tsk, deceptive Denver. But how about that last line about the "open latch"? That's Morrison's talent: she creates an image for us that shows just how Paul D and Denver are shut out from each other from this point on. Just another example of how Paul D is associated with picture-metaphors (think: tin box heart).

    A fully dressed woman walked out of the water. She barely gained the dry bank of the stream before she sat down and leaned against a mulberry tree. All day and all night she sat there, her head resting on the trunk in a position abandoned enough to crack the brim in her straw hat. (5.1)

    Um, we've clearly got trouble. This whole scene just feels unnatural and out of sorts. (Who would be dressed and in water in the first place?) The whole woman walking out of water thing makes us think of all sorts of supernatural water ladies beings: mermaids, nymphs, selkies, rusalki, you name it. You think this is intentional?

    Chapter 6
    Beloved

    The questions Beloved asked: "Where your diamonds?" "Your woman she never fix up your hair?" And most perplexing: Tell me your earrings.

    How did she know? (6.39-40)

    It seems kind of weird that Beloved knows to ask about diamonds. But just to play devil's advocate: Morrison does leave some room for error on Beloved's part—after all, Beloved mentions diamonds, but Sethe only had crystal earrings. So it's possible that Beloved isn't who you think she is (i.e., the baby ghost). Denver may be remembering things in a way that seems pretty (over)dramatic, but it kind of works. Because time and memory are so jumbled together in Sethe's and Denver's world, maybe Beloved did know all these things before Sethe told the girls about them. You've got to wonder though…

    Chapter 11
    Paul D

    She moved him.

    Not the way he had beat off the baby's ghost—all bang and shriek with windows smashed and jelly jars rolled in a heap. But she moved him nonetheless, and Paul D didn't know how to stop it because it looked like he was moving himself. Imperceptibly, downright reasonably, he was moving out of 124. (11.1-2)

    Here we get the build-up and the justification for the chapter's final betrayal: Beloved's seduction of Paul D—or Paul D's decision to sleep with Beloved, however you want to look at it). What do you think? Is Beloved really moving Paul D around? Can he really not control his body?

    Chapter 15
    Baby Suggs

    Baby closed her eyes. Perhaps they were right. Suddenly, behind the disapproving odor, way way back behind it, she smelled another thing. Dark and coming. Something she couldn't get at because the other odor hid it.

    She squeezed her eyes tight to see what it was but all she could make out was high-topped shoes she didn't like the look of. (15.15-16)

    Foreshadowing alert! This time, Baby foresees Beloved's arrival. How do we know? It's those high-topped shoes (and, by high-topped, Morrison means those Victorian, lace-up style ankle booties, not Converse) Beloved wears (5.3). Weird, considering that in those days, shoes like that meant you had some money. So where did those shoes come from?

    Chapter 26

    "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof," and nobody needed more; nobody needed a grown-up evil sitting at the table with a grudge. As long as the ghost showed out from its ghostly place—shaking stuff, crying, smashing and such—Ella respected it. But if it took flesh and came in her world, well, the shoe was on the other foot. She didn't mind a little communication between the two worlds, but this was an invasion. (26.128)

    Bible shout-out! Matthew 6:34, to be precise. Translation: you shouldn't worry about the future because the present day has enough of its own troubles. Of course, the problem with Beloved is that she's from the past.

    Chapter 28

    Down by the stream in back of 124 her footprints come and go, come and go. They are so familiar. Should a child, an adult place his feet in them, they will fit. Take them out and they disappear again as though nobody ever walked there. (28.8)

    Beloved's footprints are like those pin art toys. You know what we're talking about: the toy is made up of a bunch of pins that you can push with your hand (or in Shmoop's childhood, your face). Once you do that, it takes the form of your hand. In other words, the presence of Beloved is like pure form; she is what you (or anyone else) make of her. Her footprints (or "they") will fit whoever happens to be there. Feeling haunted?

  • Love

    Chapter 1
    Denver

    "For a baby she throws a powerful spell," said Denver.

    "No more powerful than the way I loved her," Sethe answered and there it was again. The welcoming cool of unchiseled headstones; the one she selected to lean against on tiptoe, her knees wide open as any grave. Pink as a fingernail it was, and sprinkled with glittering chips. Ten minutes, he said. You got ten minutes I'll do it for free. (1.13-14)

    Sethe is super easily sucked into the past: all the baby ghost has to do is throw something, and Sethe's thinking about the headstone she got for the baby. Clearly, Sethe's not thinking about the state of the furniture or the house. So which is more powerful: the spell or the love?

    She had not thought to ask him and it bothered her still that it might have been possible—that for twenty minutes, heard the preacher say at the funeral (and all there was to say, surely) engraved on her baby's headstone: Dearly Beloved. But what she got, settled for, was the one word that mattered. (1.15)

    It doesn't seem like the baby girl ever had a real name until Sethe had to get a headstone for her grave. What's with that? How would things be different in baby Beloved had a name? What would her name have been?

    Chapter 12
    Denver

    To go back to the original hunger was impossible. Luckily for Denver, looking was food enough to last. But to be looked at in turn was beyond appetite; it was breaking through her own skin to a place where hunger hadn't been discovered […]

    It was lovely. Not to be stared at, not seen, but being pulled into view by the interested, uncritical eyes of the other […] Denver's skin dissolved under that gaze and became soft and bright like the lisle dress that had its arm around her mother's waist. She floated near but outside her own body, feeling vague and intense at the same time. Needing nothing. Being what there was. (12.1-2)

    Denver's pretty obsessed with Beloved. It kind of reminds us of Beloved's obsession with Seth, actually. Is Denver so starved for maternal love that she tries to get it from Beloved instead? Or is it something specific about Beloved that makes her feel that way?

    Chapter 18
    Paul D

    "Your love is too thick," he said, thinking, That bitch is looking at me; she is right over my head looking down through the floor at me.

    "Too thick?" she said, thinking of the Clearing where Baby Suggs' commands knocked the pods off horse chestnuts. "Love is or it ain't. Thin love ain't love at all." (18.19-20)

    Just for clarity, Paul D is fighting with Sethe, but "that bitch" he's talking about is Beloved. Is Paul D being paranoid or is Beloved causing the fight in some way?

    Chapter 19
    Stamp Paid

    Deeper and more painful than his belated concern for Denver or Sethe, scorching his soul like a silver dollar in a fool's pocket, was the memory of Baby Suggs—the mountain to his sky. It was the memory of her and the honor that was her due that made him walk straight-necked into the yard of 124, although he heard its voices from the road. (19.4)

    Paul D and Sethe may be the main romantic interests in the book, but we think the relationship between Stamp Paid and Baby Suggs is worth some heartfelt sighs of its own. "Baby Suggs—the mountain to his sky"? How romantic and sweet is that? Is this purely good love we're seeing here?

    Chapter 22
    Beloved

    I sit the sun closes my eyes when I open them I see the face I lost Sethe's is the face that left me Sethe sees me see her and I see the smile her smiling face is the place for me it is the face I lost she is my face smiling at me doing it at last a hot thing now we can join a hot thing (22.10)

    Here's a tip to reading this passage: imagine yourself in Beloved's place, recalling what it feels like to bask in the warmth of a mother's love. Time seems to not matter because everything is in the moment (could that be why there are no periods?). Oh, and one other thing: "now we can join a hot thing" might be a reference to breastfeeding, especially since the ability to nurse one's own child is such a huge deal in Beloved.

    Chapter 23
    Denver

    You are my face; I am you. Why did you leave me who am you?
    I will never leave you again
    Don't ever leave me again
    You will never leave me again
    You went in the water
    I drank your blood
    I brought your milk
    You forgot to smile
    I loved you
    You hurt me
    You came back to me
    You left me

    I waited for you
    You are mine
    You are mine
    You are mine (23.7-9)

    Here are all three of our girls—Sethe, Denver, and Beloved—speaking all at once and in turns. It seems like, to them, loving all about possessing the other person and claiming the other person. Question: Is there a difference between a possessive love and a claiming love?

    Chapter 27
    Paul D

    Only this woman Sethe could have left him his manhood like that. He wants to put his story next to hers.

    "Sethe," he says, "me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow."

    He leans over and takes her hand. With the other he touches her face. "You your best thing, Sethe. You are." His holding fingers are holding hers.

    "Me? Me?" (27.97-100)

    Here's Paul D, taking a cue out of Sixo and Thirty-Mile Woman's guide to romance. He's applying what he's learned; instead of being all ego-driven, he's setting his ego—well, not completely aside, but next to Sethe's. Isn't that sweet? And a huge change from the guy we met at the beginning of the novel, don't you think?

    Sixo

    Suddenly he remembers Sixo trying to describe what he felt about the Thirty-Mile Woman. "She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It's good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind." (27.96)

    Leave it to Sixo to give us the most romantic vision of love possible in the book: the kind of love that returns a person back to him or herself. Isn't that sweet? Other characters think of love as possessing or claiming another person, but here's a man who spells out a whole other vision of love: one that's totally generous.

    Chapter 28
    Beloved

    Although she has claim, she is not claimed. In the place where long grass opens, the girl who waited to be loved and cry shame erupts into her separate parts, to make it easy for the chewing laughter to swallow her all away. (28.2)

    We have to admit, we feel bad for Beloved. All this sympathy and pity we feel? Morrison's setting us up for the final moment, the last line of the book: "Beloved." In other words, Morrison wants us—the readers—to remember Beloved. Someone should, right?

  • Family

    Chapter 2
    Sethe

    Halle was more like a brother than a husband. His care suggested a family relationship rather than a man's laying claim. (2.16)

    Does Sethe seem a little spoiled to you? After all, having an intact family was rare for slaves. Or is she allowed to wish for more?

    Chapter 4
    Sethe

    "I don't care what she is. Grown don't mean nothing to a mother. A child is a child. They get bigger, older, but grown? What's that supposed to mean? In my heart it don't mean a thing." (4.38)

    How's this for a rare moment? Sethe is defending Denver from Paul D's criticism. Relish it, because the rest of the book will be all about Sethe ignoring Denver for Beloved's sake.

    Paul D

    Paul D made a few acquaintances; spoke to them about what work he might find. Sethe returned the smiles she got. Denver was swaying with delight. And on the way home, although leading them now, the shadows of three people still held hands. (4.64)

    The tone of this passage may seem detached, even a little nonchalant, but don't let that fool you—it's huge. First, Sethe and Denver are finally out of the house and—we assume—mixing with the townspeople; something they haven't done in years. Second, it's like they're becoming a real family, and that makes Beloved's arrival right after this passage even more of an intrusion and a disruption.

    Chapter 6
    Sethe

    "I didn't see her but a few times out in the fields and once when she was working indigo. By the time I woke up in the morning, she was in line. If the moon was bright they worked by its light. Sunday she slept like a stick. She must of nursed me two or three weeks—that's the way the others did. Then she went back in rice and I sucked from another woman whose job it was […] One thing she did do. She picked me up and carried me behind the smokehouse. Back there she opened up her dress front and lifted her breast and pointed under it. Right on her rib was a circle and a cross burnt right in the skin. She said, 'This is your ma'am. This,' and she pointed. 'I am the only one who got this mark now. The rest dead. If something happens to me and you can't tell me by my face, you can know me by this mark.' Scared me so. All I could think of was how important this was and how I needed to have something important to say back, but I couldn't think of anything so I just said what I thought. 'Yes, Ma'am,' I said. 'But how will you know me? How will you know me? Mark me, too,' I said. 'Mark the mark on me too.'" Sethe chuckled.

    "Did she?" asked Denver.

    "She slapped my face." (6.26-28)

    For all you psychology nerds, here's a possible explanation for Sethe's form of extreme mothering: Sethe never got a chance to know or have her mother, and what she does know of her mother is a slave brand and a slap in the face. So it's no wonder she's so into nursing Denver (even when there's blood on her breast) and, before Denver, baby Beloved. Or why she so forcefully does not want to send her kids back into slavery.

    She told Sethe that her mother and Nan were together from the sea. Both were taken up many times by the crew. "She threw them all away but you. The one from the crew she threw away on the island. The others from more whites she also threw away. Without names, she threw them. You she gave the name of the black man. She put her arms around him. The others she did not put her arms around. Never. Never. Telling you. I am telling you, small girl Sethe. (6.36)

    Feel like weeping right now? We sure do. This is Old Nan, the nursing slave, telling Sethe how special Sethe was to her mother. Morrison emphasizes the power of the scene by letting Nan speak in her own style of broken English. How else does speech style affect the novel?

    Chapter 15
    Baby Suggs

    The last of her children, whom she barely glanced at when he was born because it wasn't worth the trouble to try to learn features you would never see change into adulthood anyway. Seven times she had done that: held a little foot; examined the fat fingertips with her own—fingers she never saw become the male or female hands a mother would recognize anywhere. She didn't know to this day what their permanent teeth looked like; or how they held their heads when they walked. Did Patty lose her lisp? What color did Famous' skin finally take? Was that a cleft in Johnny's chin or just a dimple that would disappear soon's his jawbone changed? Four girls, and the last time she saw them there was no hair under their arms. Does Ardelia still love the burned bottom of bread? All sever were gone or dead. What would be the point of looking too hard at the youngest one? But for some reason they let her keep him. He was with her—everywhere. (15.17)

    Remember how Sethe reflects a daughter who never knew her mother? Well Baby Suggs has a truncated recollection of her own children. If you haven't noticed by now, mothering is a huge issue in Beloved. So here's a question for you: In the absence of parenting, can you still have a family?

    Chapter 20
    Sethe

    When I put that headstone up I wanted to lay in there with you, put your head on my shoulder and keep you warm, and I would have if Buglar and Howard and Denver didn't need me, because my mind was homeless then. I couldn't lay down with you then. No matter how much I wanted to. I couldn't lay down nowhere in peace, back then. Now I can. I can sleep like the drowned, have mercy. She come back to me, my daughter, and she is mine. (20.3)

    Sethe was "homeless then." Does that mean she isn't homeless now because she has Beloved back? Just wait until she finds out what kind of home Beloved offers. Are home and family related in Beloved?

    Chapter 21
    Denver

    Beloved is my sister. I swallowed her blood right along with my mother's milk. The first thing I heard after not hearing anything was the sound of her crawling up the stairs. She was my secret company until Paul D came. He threw her out. Ever since I was little she was my company and she helped me wait for my daddy. Me and her waited for him. I love my mother but I know she killed one of her own daughters, and tender as she is with me, I'm scared of her because of it. She missed killing my brothers and they knew it. They told me die-witch! stories to show me the way to do it, if ever I needed to. (21.1)

    Halle who? Oh, right. You know, we don't get the missing-father angle often in a book that's all about missed mothering opportunities. This is just a reminder of how the father is an even more absent figure in the book.

    Chapter 23
    Beloved

    Three times I lost her: once with the flowers because of the noisy clouds of smoke; once when she went into the sea instead of smiling at me; once under the bridge when I went in to join her and she came toward me but did not smile. She whispered to me, chewed me, and swam away. Now I have found her in this house. She smiles at me and it is my own face smiling. I will not lose her again. She is mine. (23.1)

    Here's our take on this somewhat baffling passage. Beloved is thinking about how she's lost her mother three times. But wait. The three times she lists couldn't have all occurred in hers or Sethe's lifetime (if we consider these "memories" as actual events and not something dreamed up by Beloved).

    How do we know this? Well, that part about the sea is a reference to the Middle Passage, which most likely occurred at least a good 50 years before the time of Sethe and Beloved.

    So how about this? What if Beloved's mother isn't just Sethe, but other mothers "Beloved" has had? We're not talking about reincarnation here; we're thinking that Morrison wants us to think about why history seems to repeat itself over and over again.

    Chapter 24
    Paul D

    Mother. Father. Didn't remember the one. Never saw the other. He was the youngest of three half-brothers (same mother—different fathers) sold to Garner and kept there, forbidden to leave the farm, for twenty years. Once, in Maryland, he met four families of slaves who had all been together for a hundred years: great-grands, grands, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, children. Half white, part white, all black, mixed with Indian. He watched them with awe and envy, and each time he discovered large families of black people he made them identify over and over who each was, what relation, who, in fact, belonged to who.

    "That there's my auntie. This here's her boy. Yonder is my pap's cousin. My ma'am was married twice—this my half-sister and these her two children. Now my wife…" (24.2-3)

    Think of this passage—of Paul D recollecting his "family" life—in relation to Sethe's take on family. The two characters seem so different to us when it comes to the whole family thing, don't you think?

  • Memory and the Past

    Chapter 3
    Denver

    "Anything dead coming back to life hurts." (3.65)

    Leave it to Amy Denver to encapsulate Beloved in seven words. This quotation should leave you with the word foreshadowing flashing in your brain in Broadway-style lights.

    Sethe

    "I was talking about time. It's so hard for me to believe in it. Some things go. Pass on. Some things just stay. I used to think it was my rememory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it's not. Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it's gone, but the place—the picture of it—stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world. What I remember is a picture floating around out there outside my head. I mean, even if I don't think it, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there. Right in the place where it happened." (3.88)

    Here we get the first significant moment in which Sethe uses the word "rememory" to mean "memory." Why "rememory"? Well, you could think of "re" as an emphasis on a memory's replayed or reimagined nature—it's something that's being recalled again. See what we mean? We can't even explain it without using a bunch of words that use "re-" as a prefix. Oh, language. You are so sneaky.

    Chapter 7
    Sethe

    But her brain was not interested in the future. Loaded with the past and hungry for more, it left her no room to imagine, let alone plan for, the next day. (7.79)

    Typical Sethe—totally immersed in and obsessed with the past.

    Chapter 19
    Stamp Paid

    Deeper and more painful than his belated concern for Denver or Sethe, scorching his soul like a silver dollar in a fool's pocket, was the memory of Baby Suggs—the mountain to his sky. It was the memory of her and the honor that was her due that made him walk straight-necked into the yard of 124, although he heard its voices from the road. (19.4)

    Stamp's quick to correct himself when he thinks of the past and Baby Suggs. That's a lot different from Paul D and Sethe. Maybe it's Stamp's age and experience?

    Chapter 26
    Mr. and Miss Bodwin

    Perhaps it was his destination that turned his thoughts to time—the way it dripped or ran. He had not seen the house for thirty years. Not the butternut in front, the stream at the rear nor the block house in between. Not even the meadow across the road. Very few of the interior details did he remember because he was three years old when his family moved into town. But he did remember that the cooking was done behind the house, the well was forbidden to play near, and that women died there: his mother, grandmother, an aunt and an older sister before he was born. (26.138)

    Why does Mr. Bodwin remember 124 Bluestone Road with such great fondness when so many women in his family died there? What's the appeal?

    Chapter 28

    By and by all trace is gone, and what is forgotten is not only the footprints but the water too and what it is down there. The rest is weather. Not the breath of the disremembered and unaccounted for, but wind in the eaves, or spring ice thawing too quickly. Just weather. Certainly no clamor for a kiss.

    Beloved. (28.9-10)

    Wow. What an ending. All along, Beloved's existence in the book has fostered a bunch of questions: whether she's Sethe's dead baby girl; whether she's evil; whether she still lives on at the end. Morrison now takes all those "whethers" out and replaces it with "just weather"—something simple, factual, natural. Just like Beloved herself—whatever she is.

    They forgot her like a bad dream. After they made up their tales, shaped and decorated them, those that saw her that day on the porch quickly and deliberately forgot her. It took longer for those who had spoken to her, lived with her, fallen in love with her, to forget, until they realized they couldn't remember or repeat a single thing she said, and began to believe that, other than what they themselves were thinking, she hadn't said anything at all. So, in the end, they forgot her too. Remembering seemed unwise. (28.4)

    Doesn't seem fair, does it? Beloved's story isn't even in Beloved's control since "they" are the ones to make up their tales (i.e., fabricate, embellish, lie even). And once they've put Beloved through the vicious gossip mill, they just up and forget her like she never even existed. We figure remembering is unwise not just because people can't keep the story straight, but because the act of remembering seems to do so much damage as well—in this case, to Beloved.

    Everybody knew what she was called, but nobody anywhere knew her name. Disremembered and unaccounted for, she cannot be lost because no one is looking for her, and even if they were, how can they call her if they don't know her name? Although she has claim, she is not claimed. (28.2)

    Cue the tears. Also: Is a person only lost if someone else is looking to find that person? Is it possible that whether you're lost or found depends on how much other people remember (and care about) you?

    It was not a story to pass on […] It was not a story to pass on […] This is not a story to pass on. (28.3, 28.5, 28.7)

    We're pretty sure you've picked up on the change from "it was not" to "this is not." So what does "this" refer to? The very last chapter of the book (which details Beloved's "afterlife")? Or the book Beloved itself? Or something totally different? Take a look at "What's Up With the Ending?" for more on these lines.

    Sethe

    "You disremember everything? I never knew my mother neither, but I saw her a couple of times. Did you never see yours? What kind of whites was they? You don't remember none?"

    Beloved, scratching the back of her hand, would say she remembered a woman who was hers, and she remembered being snatched away from her. Other than that, the clearest memory she had, the one she repeated, was the bridge—standing on the bridge looking down. And she knew one whiteman. (12.3-4)

    Usually, Beloved is the one asking Sethe a bunch of questions. But here, it's the opposite. And what do we get? An enigma, sure, but also a possible alternative explanation of Beloved's origins. Compare this account with Stamp Paid's suggestion that Beloved is a runaway girl who was locked up in a house by a whiteman (25.87). Beloved: dead girl alive or runaway slave?

  • Community

    Chapter 9
    Sethe

    We must look a sight, she thought, and closed her eyes to see it: the three women in the middle of the Clearing, at the base of the rock where Baby Suggs, holy, and loved. One seated, yielded up her throat to the kind hands of one of the two kneeling before her. […]

    They stayed that way for a while because neither Denver nor Sethe knew how not to: how to stop and not love the look or feel of the lips that kept on kissing. Then Sethe, grabbing Beloved's hair and blinking rapidly, separated herself. She later believed that it was because the girl's breath was exactly like new milk that she said to her, stern and frowning, "You too old for that." (9.98-100)

    If you feel a little uncomfortable, you probably should. Beloved seems to be crossing all sorts of boundaries with Sethe. Not that you couldn't already tell from the rest of the book, but Beloved is clearly a taker, not a giver.

    It started that way: laughing children, dancing men, crying women and then it got mixed up. Women stopped crying and danced; men sat down and cried; children danced, women laughed, children cried until, exhausted and riven, all and each lay about the Clearing damp and gasping for breath. In the silence that followed, Baby Suggs, holy, offered up to them her great big heart. (9.10)

    Baby's form of worship is pretty corporeal (meaning it involves the body). It's quite different from your standard church fun.

    Accepting no title of honor before her name, but allowing a small caress after it, she became an unchurched preacher, one who visited pulpits and opened her great heart to those who could use it. In winter and fall she carried it to AME's and Baptists, Holinesses and Sanctifieds, the Church of the Redeemer and the Redeemed. Uncalled, unrobed, unanointed, she let her great heart beat in their presence. When warm weather came, Baby Suggs, holy, followed by every black man, woman and child who could make it through, took her great heart to the Clearing—a wide-open place cut deep in the woods nobody knew for what at the end of a path known only to deer and whoever cleared the land in the first place. In the heat of every Saturday afternoon, she sat in the clearing while the people waited among the trees. (9.4)

    Why are people so drawn to Baby Suggs' spiritual community? What makes it different from a church?

    Chapter 10

    The successful ones—the ones who had been there enough years to have maimed, mutilated, maybe even buried her—kept watch over the others who were still in her cock-teasing hug, caring and looking forward, remembering and looking back. They were the ones whose eyes said, "Help me, 's bad"; or "Look out," meaning this might be the day I bay or eat my own mess or run, and it was this last that had to be guarded against, for if one pitched and ran—all, all forty-six, would be yanked by the chain that bound them and no telling who or how many would be killed. A man could risk his own life, but not his brother's. So the eyes said, "Steady now," and "Hang by me." (10.14)

    Being on a chain gang means a community is forced upon you. After all, everything you do affects the other men you're with.

    Chapter 15

    It made them furious. They swallowed baking soda, the morning after, to calm the stomach violence caused by the bounty, the reckless generosity on display at 124. Whispered to each other in the yards about fat rats, doom and uncalled-for pride.

    The scent of their disapproval lay heavy in the air. (15.13-14)

    Why do the townspeople disapprove of Baby Suggs's party? Was Baby Suggs wrong for throwing such a big shindig?

    Chapter 26

    Some brought what they could and what they believed would work. Stuffed in apron pockets, strung around their necks, lying in the space between their breasts. Others brought Christian faith—as shield and sword. Most brought a little of both. They had no idea what they would do once they got there. They just started out, walked down Bluestone Road and came together at the agreed-upon time. The heat kept a few women who promised to go at home. Others who believed the story didn't want any part of the confrontation and wouldn't have come no matter what the weather. And there were those like Lady Jones who didn't believe the story and hated the ignorance of those who did. So thirty women made up that company and walked slowly, slowly toward 124. (26.132)

    This town may not fight for its right to party, but it definitely knows how to band together for the bad stuff. Especially when the bad is someone (or something) from outside the community.

    Beloved

    Sethe is running away from her, running, and she feels the emptiness in the hand Sethe had been holding. Now she is running into the faces of the people out there, joining them and leaving Beloved behind. Alone. Again. Then Denver, running too. Away from her to the pile of people out there. They make a hill. A hill of black people, falling. And above them all, rising from his place with a whip in his hand, the man without skin, looking. (26.146)

    Despite what it may seem, this isn't a scene out of the (slave) past; it's a sign of what's coming: an exorcism of the past, Beloved, and the memory of slavery. But because Beloved is of the past, she can only view things from that perspective.

    Sethe

    For Sethe it was as though the Clearing had stood in the doorway. For Sethe it was as though the Clearing had come to her with all its heat and simmering leaves, where the voices of women searched the right combination, the key, the code, the sound that broke the back of words. Building voice upon voice until they found it, and when they did it was a wave of sound wide enough to sound deep water and knock the pods off chestnut trees. It broke over Sethe and she trembled like the baptized in its wash. (26.144)

    Beloved isn't pushy about faith and religion, but it does give us a pretty radical way of thinking about religious community. In this novel, it's all about women coming together. Are there any religions that follow this pattern today?

    Chapter 28

    They forgot her like a bad dream. After they made up their tales, shaped and decorated them, those that saw her that day on the porch quickly and deliberately forgot her. It took longer for those who had spoken to her, lived with her, fallen in love with her, to forget, until they realized they couldn't remember or repeat a single thing she said, and began to believe that, other than what they themselves were thinking, she hadn't said anything at all. So, in the end, they forgot her too. Remembering seemed unwise. (28.4)

    It takes a village to create (or uncreate) history.