Study Guide

Beloved The Supernatural

By Toni Morrison

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?