Study Guide

Beloved

Beloved Summary

Sethe, a former slave, lives in Cincinnati with her daughter, Denver, and her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs. She's been ostracized from her community because, about 15 years before our story begins, she did the unthinkable: she killed one of her own children. There was a good reason for it, of course—if child-killing can ever be justified. See, Sethe was trying to keep her children from slave catchers.

Time passes. Baby Suggs dies. That leaves Denver all alone (she's got two brothers, Howard and Bugler, but they ran off years ago). Oh: there is one creature still around the house. It's a ghost. That's right, folks—124 Bluestone is haunted. Furniture gets thrown around the house; people get moved. Sethe doesn't seem to mind too much though. She's got a good job as a cook, and she's got her daughter. Things are about as good (or as bad) as they're ever going to be.

That's when Paul D Garner shows up. Paul D lived with Sethe at Sweet Home, the plantation where they both were enslaved. He remembers just about everything in Sethe's past—her husband Halle, their former masters, all the bad stuff that went on at the plantation. When Paul D comes around, Sethe feels like she can finally open up. As you might expect, Paul D and Sethe end up in bed together. It's not just a fling either; they become a couple.

Denver's not that wild about the new man in their life. That's why, when a strange woman shows up on the doorstep of 124 Bluestone Road, Denver's excited. The woman says that her name is Beloved, which is totally freaky since "Beloved" is what Sethe had carved on the tombstone of her dead baby. That's not the only coincidence either. Beloved seems to know things about Sethe that no one should know. Sethe lets Beloved stay because she thinks Denver needs a friend; plus, Sethe can't shake the idea that this Beloved might actually be her little Beloved, back from the dead and grown. Denver wants Beloved to stay because she's always wanted an older sister. Paul D's the only one who's not so sure about Beloved, but it's not like he can do anything about it; he doesn't own the house.

Once Beloved is part of the household, things start to change. Denver will do anything to please her. Beloved, however, only wants what Sethe has. You can guess what happens next right? Cue: "Bizarre Love Triangle." Beloved ends up seducing Paul D. We told you she was trouble.

But that's not what splits up Paul D and Sethe. Stamp Paid, an old friend of the family, tells Paul D about how Sethe killed her daughter and went to jail. Paul D can't believe it. When he confronts Sethe, they get in a huge fight. Paul D leaves. Sethe couldn't care less—all she cares about is Beloved.

Here's when things get even uglier. Now that Paul D is out of the picture, Beloved's got the girls all to herself. Sethe and Denver give her everything they have—but Beloved wants more. Pretty soon Denver realizes that Beloved only wants Sethe. Sethe, in turn, gets fired from her job and, thus, spends all of her time with Beloved. Pretty soon there's no food in the house.

Denver suddenly realizes that they're all going to die unless she steps up and does something. She hasn't left 124 Bluestone in years—not since when she used to go to school—but she finally screws up the courage to leave the house and ask for help.

Surprisingly, all of the townspeople who once scorned Sethe and Denver now pour out their help. They give Denver food and hook her up with a new job. She's able to buy food for her mother and Beloved, who is now pregnant (we told you things get uglier!). When the neighbors ask about Sethe, Denver gets evasive, but eventually the neighbors figure out that Beloved is "haunting" Sethe. So they decide to do something about it.

The women of the town perform an exorcism. While that's going on, the white man who happens to be Denver's employer drives by the house to pick up Denver. Sethe snaps: she sees the slave catchers coming to take her children again and runs at the man with an ice pick.

That's where things get blurry. No one can say exactly what happens, but Sethe is safe, the white man is safe—and Beloved is gone.

Eventually Paul D returns to 124 and makes up with Sethe. Denver's happy in her new life out in the community. And Beloved? That's still a mystery.

  • Chapter 1

    • 124 is haunted. And this isn't just your regular everyday haunting. This is a mean, vengeful baby-haunting. Are you scared yet? You should be.
    • 124, by the way, is a house at the edge of Cincinnati. Sethe lives in it with her daughter, Denver.
    • It used to be the home of her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, but Baby Suggs passed away several years ago.
    • We find out right away that Sethe had two sons as well—Howard and Buglar. They weren't big fans of the creepy things that keep happening in the house, so they ran away a long time ago. Now Sethe and Denver are all alone (except, of course, for the little ghost baby).
    • Our narrator flashes back in time to take us to Baby Suggs's deathbed.
    • We'd like to interrupt this program for a brief technical note: Morrison's made skipping around in time into an art form. Believe us, we're just getting started. There are dozens (if not hundreds) of flashbacks and flashforwards in this novel. It's like Back to the Future to the 10th degree. Wonder why? Check out our analysis in "Writing Style" for more thoughts on the subject. For now, though, buckle up—it's going to be a pretty wild ride.
    • Right before she dies, Baby Suggs develops a passion for colors. She asks Sethe for pink—or purple—or whatever color she's craving at the moment, and Sethe finds things that fit the bill.All right, back to the present: Sethe and Denver are struggling with the sideboard. That's a sort of table/cupboard in the kitchen.
    • It should be against the wall, but the baby ghost is having some fun with Sethe.
    • Right now, the sideboard's in the middle of the room.
    • As Denver pushes against the heavy piece of furniture, she tells Sethe that the baby must have an awful lot of hate in her.
    • Sethe replies that the baby has as much hate as Sethe has love for the baby.
    • Thinking about her love for the baby makes Sethe think of what she had to do to get a tombstone for her baby—have sex with the engraver to get "Beloved" carved into the stone.
    • A pretty awful memory, huh? As Sethe thinks about it, she wonders if she could have gotten more engraved on the stone (like "Dearly Beloved") if she'd only stayed with the man longer.
    • In case you're wondering, this isn't exactly a fairy tale, folks. Things are pretty bleak.
    • Okay, back to the present: Sethe starts thinking about the nature of memory. It seems like memories just pop up, even when she doesn't want to remember. For example, the plantation on which she was a slave, Sweet Home, constantly comes into her mind.
    • Sethe walks back to her house, thinking about Sweet Home. It was a beautiful place—unless, of course, you think about all the violence the slaves suffered there.
    • Strangely enough, when Sethe gets back to 124, one of the Sweet Home men is sitting on her porch.
    • Paul D hasn't seen Sethe in 18 years. That's a long time.
    • As soon as Sethe sees Paul D, she remembers how empathetic he's always been. He seems to feel exactly what she (or anyone else around him) is feeling.
    • Paul D asks Sethe about Halle, her husband. She hasn't seen him in 18 years either. Even Baby Suggs, his mother, was pretty sure that he's dead.
    • Paul thinks that he knows things he could tell Sethe about Halle, but he decides to save her from knowing.
    • As it turns out, when Sethe ran away from Sweet Home, she was pregnant. Running away from slavery wasn't exactly an easy thing to do. We're guessing things get a bit harder when you're nine months pregnant.
    • Sethe asks Paul D to stay the night, but she warns him that they have "company" in the house.
    • Talk about an understatement.
    • Paul D gives Sethe a once-over. She seems about the same… except that there's something different about her.
    • It's her eyes, Paul D decides. They're dark. Too dark. You can't even see the irises anymore.
    • Instead of commenting on it, Paul D tells her about Sweet Home.
    • There used to be 6 slaves on Sweet Home: 5 men and Sethe. The Garners, the owners of the plantation were "good" masters.
    • Wait. Hold it. Good slave owners?
    • Well, "good" is a pretty relative term here. After all, as both Paul D and Sethe remember, the schoolteacher was far, far worse than the Garners.He was so bad that he destroyed three of the Sweet Home men.
    • Oh and by the way, he was also the reason why Sethe's eyes became so dark.
    • What did he do, exactly? Well, we'll get to that in a bit. We promise. Morrison's playing with a lot of foreshadowing right now—she hints at important things, but doesn't quite tell us what they mean. Frustrated? See our analysis of her storytelling chops in "Narrative Point of View" for some clarity.
    • But let's get back to Paul D. Paul D remembers when Sethe and Halle got married.
    • Flashback to Sweet Home: All the men on Sweet Home want Sethe, but she chooses Halle.Even the fact that Sethe could choose her lover was a pretty big deal at the time. The Garners could have forced her to sleep with anyone they wanted, but they didn't.That's because Mr. Garner was convinced that he raised "men" at Sweet Home, not "nigger boys." How enlightened.
    • There were five men at Sweet Home: Paul D, Paul F, Paul A, Halle Suggs, and Sixo. Now back to the present: Sethe introduces Paul D to Denver.
    • Denver's not so sold on the idea of a new man in the house. All of a sudden, she feels left out.
    • Sethe and the new man share a past that doesn't include her. Now she has no one.
    • Denver informs Paul D that her baby sister died in the house and is now the house ghost.
    • Sethe gets mad at Denver. Who wouldn't right?
    • Talk about ruining Sethe's game. Paul D stays calm, though. He asks Sethe why they haven't just moved. After all, that seems like the logical thing to do, right?
    • Wrong. Sethe refuses to run from anything else in life. Ever again.
    • As she talks, she mentions a "tree" on her back.Confused, Paul D asks her what she means.
    • Sethe explains that the white girl who helped her run away called the marks on her back a tree.
    • Angry, she tells Paul D that schoolteacher and his two boys beat her with a cowhide and took her milk.
    • Prepare for some steaminess (there'll be plenty more later on too): without saying anything, Paul D stands up behind her and gently pulls down the top of her dress to see the tree.
    • Devastated by what he sees, he slowly kisses the deep ridges on her back.
    • All of a sudden, things start shaking and moving in the kitchen.
    • 124's ghost is back in action.
    • Paul D won't stand for this sort of haunting though.
    • He screams at the ghost, telling it to go away.
    • Strangely enough, it does.
    • Denver sits alone on the front porch.
    • She feels even more alone now that the ghost is gone.
  • Chapter 2

    • Sethe and Paul D head upstairs.
    • You can probably figure out why.
    • Once there, they have sex before they can even get their clothes off.
    • No surprise there. Sex is never as good as you imagine it's going to be. At least, that's what Sethe thinks once they're lying next to each other on her bed.
    • Paul D thinks that Sethe suddenly seems grotesque. Her back isn't like a tree at all. Trees are alive, inviting and good. This isn't.
    • Paul D used to have a tree he called Brother at Sweet Home. He'd eat under it every day. Lots of times, he'd eat there with Sixo.
    • Paul D remembers how Sixo used to cook potatoes for them at Sweet Home. They never turned out well.
    • Funny what Paul D ends up thinking about right after having sex.
    • In fact, prepare yourself for some stream-of-consciousness with this whole Sixo memory. It goes like this: Sixo always had plans. They tended to work out just about as well as his potato-cooking did.
    • For example, Sixo was in love with a woman who lived 15 miles away.
    • On the weekend, he'd walk to her house. He'd get there on Sunday, which left him just enough time to turn around and walk back. How romantic huh?
    • The men at Sweet Home would cover for Sixo, let him sleep through his duties after those weekend walk-a-thon "dates."
    • What does this all have to do with Sethe and her "tree"? Oh right: Paul D compares Sixo and Brother the tree to Sethe and her tree. Sethe, of course, doesn't come out too well in Paul D's mind.
    • Okay, now it's Sethe's turn to grouch about Paul D. Sethe thinks that Paul D is just like all other men.
    • In other words, he's not worth much. 
    • At least, that's what Baby Suggs used to say about men.
    • What else does Baby Suggs' think? Let's get in her head a little: Men aren't worth much. Sons, however—they're something special. Or at least they should be until they turn right back into being a man.
    • That's what she thinks of Halle, even though Baby Suggs lost just about everyone in her life except for Halle.
    • Now don't get Baby Suggs wrong. Halle is a special son. He scrounged and saved for years in order to buy Baby Suggs's freedom from the Garners. It's just Baby Suggs can't help thinking that freedom isn't worth all that much at her old age.
    • But let's cut back to Sethe: In comparison to Baby Suggs, Sethe had it pretty good for a while.
    • She got to live with Halle for six years.
    • She remembers when she told Mrs. Garner that she and Halle wanted to get married.
    • She also recalls why she chose Halle—because he worked extra on other farms to pay for his mother's freedom. We're guessing she liked that whole momma's boy thing Halle had. Anyway, Mrs. Garner gives Sethe her blessing and tells her that she can be with Halle. Then Sethe asks if there would be a wedding.
    • Laughing at her naiveté, Mrs. Garner doesn't really answer. See, slaves didn't get married.
    • At least, not in a church. So instead of all that church business, Halle takes Sethe into a cornfield for privacy.
    • Ironically, everyone can see the cornstalks moving. How's that for privacy?
    • Being the swell guy he is, Mr. Garner doesn't get mad about all the crushed corn Halle and Sethe make. He just lets his slaves eat it.
    • Now that she remembers the corn, Sethe thinks of how the men all wanted it cooked differently.
    • She also can't help thinking how loose the cornsilk was, how sweet the juice from the corn tasted, how freely it flowed… And we're thinking that's a seriously luscious analogy in the making, but you can read more about that our "Symbols" section.
  • Chapter 3

    • Before we hear more about Paul D and Sethe, Denver takes us back to the time before Paul D arrives at 124 and after her brothers have left the house.
    • She wants to point out that she has secrets and that they're sweet.
    • They probably seem sweet because one of her secrets is the fact that she stole cologne from her mother—a gift her mother received from a charitable "whitewoman" for Christmas during "one of the War years." (We're thinking Denver means the Civil War.) Denver got a bottle of perfume too, but she used hers up faster than Sethe.
    • Denver's other secret is her playhouse—an opening inside five boxwood bushes where she goes to imagine things.
    • Her secret place is good because, everywhere else, her loneliness almost kills her.
    • One autumn day, Denver crawls out of her secret place and notices the snow, which reminds her of what her mother told her about Denver's birth (it was snowing the same way that day, too).
    • Denver's birth has something to do with a "whitegirl" straddling her in a canoe—the "whitegirl" after whom she's named. More on that later.
    • First, Denver heads back to the house and, as she gets closer, she seems something pretty strange.
    • Her mother is kneeling with her back to the window.That's normal enough, but what's strange is that there's a white dress kneeling next to her.
    • A white dress. But nobody in it. (Insert spooky music here.)
    • Denver's not too spooked though. She's sure that it's the dress of the white girl who helped deliver her.
    • As she walks, Denver remembers the story.
    • Sethe's told Denver how she was sure that Denver was going to die in Sethe, and how Sethe was going to die along with her.
    • Flashback to the time when Sethe was running away: she's on the wrong side of the Ohio River.
    • The bloody side.
    • See, the Ohio River was the dividing line between the slave and free states.
    • Sethe's lying on the Kentucky side, too tired to move.
    • All of a sudden, a ragged white girl appears.Her name is Amy. She's heading to Boston to buy velvet. She'd seen it in a magazine, and now she wants some because, supposedly, Boston's got the best velvet. (Who knew? We thought it was just lobsters and academics.)
    • If you can't tell already, Amy's a bit off, but she's nice and soothing, especially to the little fetus inside of Sethe that Sethe's been calling a kicking, bucking antelope.
    • Plus, she offers to help Sethe, whose legs are completely swollen from being pregnant and on the run.
    • Amy makes Sethe crawl to a hut that she sees nearby, picks up Sethe's feet and begins to massage them.
    • It hurts like hell, but Amy reminds Sethe that all the pain is a sign that she's alive.
    • Okay, back to the present: when Denver gets to the house, she tells Sethe about the white dress. (By the way, if you haven't noticed, that whole story of how Denver came into the world and got named after the white girl—it's not making much sense since the white girl was named Amy. Strange right?)
    • She also asks Sethe what she was praying about.Sethe says she wasn't praying—just talking.
    • Confused, Denver asks why.
    • Sethe tells Denver that she was thinking about time. It seems to Sethe that time passes, but some things just never go away.
    • Denver asks Sethe to tell her everything about her birth.Sethe reminds Denver that she's heard everything before. Everything except schoolteacher, that is.
    • Schoolteacher (that's what they called him) came to Sweet Home after Mr. Garner died, because Mrs. Garner didn't think it was a good idea to be a single white woman living on a plantation surrounded by black slaves.
    • Schoolteacher asked all of the Sweet Home men all sorts of questions and wrote the answers down in a little notebook that he later turned into a book.
    • Suddenly, Sethe stops talking.
    • Something about the memory has shaken her up.
    • So Denver jumps in and says she thinks that the baby has "plans" for them.
    • Plans? That sounds menacing…
    • Whatever the plans were, though, Paul D has messed them up.
    • All of a sudden, he brings life into the house: he sings loud songs and even gets Sethe to think about the present, not the past.
    • Sethe starts to see color again. Before Paul D, all the color Sethe can remember seeing is the pink of her dead baby girl's grave and the bloody red of the dead baby.
    • Paul D has terrible memories, too. Memories like being locked in a box that resembles a coffin.
    • Somehow though, now that he's with Sethe, things seem to be getting better.
    • Paul D gets a job working on the river.
    • As he tells Sethe, he's pretty sure that things are good here. Except perhaps for Denver. He can tell that she's not happy.
    • In fact, she seems to be waiting for something.
    • Sethe brushes Paul D off. As far as she's concerned, Denver is a charmed child.
    • After all, Denver brought the white girl to Sethe so that the white girl could save them.
    • In fact, Denver was so lucky that even when schoolteacher found them in the hut—Wait, Paul D says. He can't believe schoolteacher found Sethe and Sethe tells him that, yep, schoolteacher found them and even sent Sethe to jail since Sethe refused to return to Sweet Home.
    • Paul D never does get to hear the rest of Sethe's story about Denver (seems to be a pattern here) since he's too disturbed about his memories of being in jail.
    • He decides to go do something else like get some nails, so Sethe tells him to go to town.
    • For now, things seem to be shaping up at 124. Sethe's starting to get comfortable with Paul D.
    • She's even thinking about a future with the guy.
    • But it's only Chapter Three. Things won't be comfortable for long…
  • Chapter 4

    • So everything's happy at 124, right?
    • Well, not exactly.
    • As Denver sees it, things are even more rotten than they were when the house was haunted.
    • "Hate" might be a strong word for what Denver feels about Paul D… but then again, it might be pretty accurate. She's nasty to Paul D whenever she gets the chance.
    • Sethe gets mad at her about it, but Paul D tells Sethe to let Denver alone. He's convinced that she'll come around and start liking him eventually.
    • He does get frustrated with Denver though (who would blame him?) and tells Sethe about it.
    • Immediately, Sethe gets furious. She can say things about Denver, but no one else can.
    • Paul D can't believe how much Sethe loves Denver. And the first thing he thinks about is how dangerous it is for a "used-to-be-slave" to love anything.
    • After all, wasn't slavery all about teaching you not to love or trust anything?
    • Anyhow, Paul D's got a plan to help Denver start to like him.
    • The carnival is in town and doesn't everybody love the carnival?
    • Sethe's not so sure since she doesn't go to town very much (remember that whole pariah thing). But finally she agrees.
    • Everyone in town stares at Sethe, but Paul D's friendliness is contagious.
    • They all end up having a great time, including Denver, who buys lots and lots of candy.
    • Soon, even Denver's smiling.
    • As they walk home, it looks like their shadows are holding hands.
  • Chapter 5

    • "A fully dressed woman walked out of the water."
    • That's a direct quote from the book, folks. It was so good that we just had to toss it in. In fact, this whole chapter is pretty amazing. We highly recommend it. Plus, it's pretty creepy. And who doesn't like a good bit of creepiness in their life?
    • Anyhow, back to the story: a woman walks out of the water. She makes her way to 124 and sits on the steps. No one sees her come.
    • As the sun sets, Paul D, Sethe and Denver return from carnival.
    • They see a black dress and two unlaced shoes on the step. Their dog, Here Boy, is nowhere in sight. (Here's a tip: whenever the dog's run away, chances are that something strange is going on. Just think of Scooby Doo.)
    • All of a sudden, Sethe has to go to the bathroom. She can't even make it to the outhouse. She just squats on the ground around the corner of the house, hoping that Paul D won't follow her.
    • Meanwhile, the woman on the steps drinks glass after glass of water.Coincidence? We think not.
    • Everyone stares at the woman. She's got perfect skin, except for three little scratches on her forehead. She seems pretty sleepy and hungry.
    • When Sethe asks the woman what her name is, she replies, "Beloved."
    • Pay attention, folks. This is important.The woman can't seem to remember having a last name.
    • Paul D's a bit puzzled. Maybe even a bit suspicious.
    • Sethe, however, hears her name and immediately warms to her.
    • She gets Beloved something to eat.
    • Beloved falls asleep.
    • In fact, she sleeps for four days.
    • Paul D thinks that she might have cholera.Denver watches over her fiercely. Whenever Sethe asks about Beloved, Denver says that she's looking after her.
    • Denver's like the best babysitter ever (even though Beloved is old enough to be her own woman).
    • Denver realizes things about Beloved that only a mother would know. She notices that Beloved has eyes that are deep, deep black—almost expressionless even. She also learns that Beloved loves sweets and will eat any form of sugar that she can get her hands on.
    • Under all this care, Beloved gets better quickly, but she doesn't seem inclined to leave. And who would blame her? She's got free food, free shelter, and a doting Sethe and Denver.Plus, Sethe's pretty convinced that Denver's lonely and needs Beloved, so Sethe doesn't even think of pushing Beloved out.
    • Paul D, on the other hand, thinks that there's something funny going on. He tells Sethe about the time he saw Beloved lift the rocking chair with one hand even though Beloved goes around looking weak all the time. Denver saw it, too.
    • Sethe can't believe what Paul D says so she asks Denver to come in and act as a corroborating witness. But you get the sense that Denver knows what's up. She lies and says she didn't see Beloved do anything of the sort.
    • Frustrated, Paul D decides to say nothing more about Beloved. But whatever trust that existed between Paul D and Denver is definitely gone now.
  • Chapter 6

    • Beloved can't take her eyes off of Sethe.
    • She follows Sethe everywhere. And Sethe loves it.
    • Soon Sethe discovers that stories feed Beloved just as much as sugar does.One day, Beloved asks Sethe about her diamonds.
    • Surprised, Sethe asks what she means. She's never had diamonds. She did have some crystals once, though.
    • Smiling, Beloved asks to hear about those "diamonds."
    • So Sethe begins a story about her marriage; how when she and Halle got "married," Mrs. Garner gave her some crystal earrings. It went like this.
    • Sethe knew all about weddings. She remembered all of the fuss and the minister and the cake that white women had at their weddings.
    • At the very least, Sethe wanted a wedding dress. She saved all the bits of cloth that she could find and stitched them together to make a new dress.
    • When Mrs. Garner saw the dress, she called Sethe into her room and gave her the earrings.
    • Entranced, Denver asks what happened to the earrings.
    • Sethe tells the girls that the earrings are long gone. Suddenly, she's done talking.
    • Instead, she turns back to working on Denver's hair, which she's drying with a towel.
    • Beloved asks Sethe if her mother ever did her hair.
    • Sethe can't remember her mother. In fact, she only remembers talking to her once, when her mother took her aside and showed her a mark branded into her breast.
    • Her mother told Sethe that the mark was how Sethe could tell her mother apart from the other slaves.
    • Of course, being a small girl who doesn't know much, Sethe panics and wonders aloud how her mother will know her and how she wants a mark too. That upsets her mother enough so that she slaps Sethe. We're guessing the brand on Sethe isn't a good thing to have; Sethe figures this out when she's older and gets branded herself.
    • Eventually, Sethe's mother is hanged. Not a pretty history, huh?
    • As Sethe tells the girls this, something shameful suddenly comes into her mind.
    • Abruptly, she gets up. She remembers Nan, the woman who cared for her, telling her that Sethe's mother threw all her other children away—all the children she had when she was raped by white men during the passage or on the island where she was from.
    • Sethe was the only child her mother kept, the only one she named, because Sethe came from a black man.
    • In fact, Sethe's named after her father, the only man her mother ever put her arms around.
    • Denver watches her mother thinking. All of a sudden, she realizes that Beloved somehow knows too much.
    • After all, how did she know to ask about the "diamonds," Sethe's mother, and those earrings?
    • Hmm... strange.
  • Chapter 7

    • Paul D thinks that Beloved is shining. Shining?
    • What does that even mean?!
    • Well, Paul D can't really describe it. But he's seen it before. In lots of women.
    • In fact, she's so attractive that he starts having sex with Sethe in the mornings, just so that he has a clear head when he gets downstairs.
    • It's not that he likes Beloved. He doesn't. It's just that she's… shining.
    • One day, Paul D starts pressing Beloved for answers like: Where did she come from? How did she get to 124?
    • Beloved turns slowly to him. She says she came a long, long way. And nobody helped her.
    • Paul D can't figure it out. If she came such a long way, why are her shoes brand new?
    • Sethe warns Paul D to leave Beloved alone.
    • She gets so angry that she tells him what she thinks of men…they're all intending to leave.
    • Paul D disagrees. He's never done anything to hurt a woman. Neither did Halle.
    • Outraged, Sethe informs Paul D that Halle had indeed disappointed her. He left her. He never followed her when she ran away.
    • Paul D pauses.
    • Then he tells Sethe that Halle was in the barn when schoolteacher's two boys took her milk.
    • Halle saw them do it.
    • Sethe can't seem to take this information in. It's just too much to think that Halle could have seen one of the most horrible moments of her life.
    • Paul D says that whatever Halle saw, it broke him.He went crazy.
    • When Paul D last saw him, he was sitting by a butter churn with butter all over his face.
    • Sethe turns on Paul D. If he knew this, why didn't he say anything to Halle?Paul D tells Sethe he couldn't—he had a bit in his mouth. You know, like the kind used on horses?
    • Sethe turns away from Paul D, numb.
    • Her brain's moving fast, out of her control; it won't refuse anything that comes into it like, for example, the memory of being raped by the two white boys and how schoolteacher observed the whole thing, all the while taking notes about the incident in his little book. From there, it doesn't take much for her to add the image of what Paul D just told her about Halle and the butter all over his face. Or other things about the past: her brain just won't stop.
    • Paul D comes up to her and tells her that he didn't mean to tell her about Halle.
    • Sethe can tell that Paul D has more to say, especially about his own experience with the bit, but she doesn't really want to hear about it. Why should she? Her brain can already picture the bit in Paul D's mouth, especially since it wasn't uncommon for the bit to be put in everyone's mouth.But she looks at him and asks him about it anyway.
    • Wearing a bit usually breaks a person completely. Paul D doesn't seem broken.
    • Smiling a bit, Paul D tells her that it wasn't the bit that was the worst part. It was seeing the roosters.The roosters were free, especially one called "Mister."
    • And whatever schoolteacher had done, he'd turned Paul D into something less than what Mister the rooster was allowed to be.
    • Pausing, Paul D realizes that he can't tell Sethe anymore. It's too much for both of them.
    • He sighs and locks the rest up inside him.
    • As he thinks, his memories are in a tin box where his heart used to be.
  • Chapter 8

    • Denver sits on the bed, watching Beloved dance.
    • Have you ever had a big sister? Or maybe just someone you worshipped?Well, for Denver, that's Beloved.
    • She'll do just about anything to keep Beloved happy. Anything.
    • But wait: there's something she's just got to know. How did Beloved come to call herself Beloved?
    • Beloved has a pretty strange answer: she says that Beloved was her name in the dark.
    • Somehow, Denver seems to know that Beloved's more than just a stranger who showed up at the door.
    • She asks Beloved why Beloved came back.
    • Beloved says that she needed to see Sethe's face.Weird, right? But Denver doesn't seem to think anything's weird. She just wants to make sure that Beloved will stay forever and ever.
    • She tries to tell Beloved this, but Beloved gets really angry.
    • She informs Denver, she's here for Sethe. That's it.
    • Panicked at the thought of losing Beloved's attention, Denver begins to tell her about how Amy helped Sethe when Denver was born.Even as she tells it, though, she feels like she owes Beloved something. After all, this is Denver's story.
    • What about Beloved?
    • Between the two of them, Beloved and Denver try to recreate the story that Sethe's told Denver so many times.
    • Flashback. Well, sort of. It's Sethe's memory, but this is Denver's version of it. You could think of this as one of those dream sequences in TV shows that show what could have happened. After all, that's almost like the real thing… right?
    • Anyhow, we're back with Sethe and the white girl Amy. Amy's rubbing Sethe's feet.
    • Sethe is still not sure that she can move any further. She tells Amy about her back.Curious, Amy turns Sethe over to look at her back and gasps. Sethe's back is a mass of bloody welts and deep cuts.
    • Amy has another way of looking at it though. She says that Sethe's back looks like a tree—a chokecherry tree.
    • Now, Amy starts telling Sethe about her own life. The short version is this: it's not so good.
    • The slightly longer version? Amy's mom was given to their master Mr. Buddy, who wasn't all that nice.
    • In fact, he whipped Amy for falling asleep in the sun on the back of a wagon. Amy also heard rumors that Mr. Buddy was her father, but she didn't believe it.
    • What Amy does figure out is that Boston's where it's at—it's where her mother was before she was given to Mr. Buddy and it's where all that velvet is. So that's why she's run away.
    • Amy then sings Sethe a song that her mama once taught her.
    • Amy's pretty sure that Sethe is going to die overnight, but she makes Sethe a bet anyway. If Sethe makes it through the night, she'll live.Okay, that's not a real bet. We get that. But pretty much anything's better than letting Sethe think that she's about to die any second, right?
    • Amy and Sethe start traveling, moving slowly because Sethe's in so much pain.
    • By afternoon, they find a river. More important: they find a boat.And just in the nick of time too because Sethe starts going into labor as soon as they get on the boat.
    • Amy's a little irritated, of course. Clearly, this isn't the best time to have a baby.
    • The baby gets born anyhow.
    • The two women pull ashore with the brand new baby, and Amy gets ready to leave—it's dangerous for the two of them to be seen together.
    • As she takes off, she tells Sethe to tell the baby about her. Her name, she says, is Amy Denver. Miss Amy Denver of Boston. (Aha! Finally, an explanation for Denver's name!)
    • By the end of Denver's and Beloved's version of the story, Sethe falls asleep, mumbling that Denver is a pretty name.
  • Chapter 9

    • 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"?
  • Chapter 10

    • Paul D seems like a pretty calm man, but he's got a history of his own.
    • Warning: this is pretty graphic. And awful. We just wanted to give you a heads up.
    • Paul D's trembling. He's been trembling since he left the sightline of Mister, the rooster (remember him?). That means Paul D is out of the stocks.
    • In fact, it means more. Paul D's left Sweet Home; schoolteacher has tied him to a buckboard and sold him to Brandywine, a master way worse than schoolteacher if you can imagine it.
    • And if you can't, you will soon enough. In fact, Brandywine's so bad that Paul D tries to kill him.
    • He fails. And then he's sent to jail, but not just any jail.
    • This jail is more like a coffin, an open trench just large enough for his body and crawling with all sorts of critters. There are 45 more like the one he's in.That's where Brandywine locks all the black men at night.
    • In the morning, all 46 prisoners are chained together.
    • The guards, three white men, prod them with their rifle butts.
    • On Paul D's first day, the guard stands in front of the man next to Paul D and asks him if he'd like breakfast.The guard forces the guy to give him a blowjob.This seems to happen regularly, and if the prisoners ever do anything to get back at the guards (like take a bit of foreskin), they're shot in the head.
    • Anyway, Paul D vomits when he sees the blowjob.
    • The chain gang follows the lead of Hi Man, who's at the front of the line. He starts each day with a "Hiiii" and ends each day with a "Hoooo": hence, his name. Paul D thinks the guards listen to Hi Man's signals because Hi Man alone knows what his brothers can and can't do.
    • The chain not only keeps the men together physically; it creates a brotherhood too. It kind of has to considering even one pull on the chain ends up affecting every guy.
    • Other things that keep them bonded? Hi Man and singing. Lots of singing, and not about anything nice either: their songs are about their life, i.e., a whole lot of misery. They get away with their lyrics by tricking out their words, making them hide their true meaning.
    • After 86 days, Paul D realizes that Life itself is dead. It's never coming back.
    • Then it starts to rain. They can't work, so the guards just leave them in the boxes, day and night.As the water rises around them, the 46 prisoners realize that the guards have left them in there to die.
    • They decide to make a break for it together.
    •  If one of them goes down, they'll all die. After all, they're still connected by the chain.
    • Fortunately, they make it out of the prison and make their way across Georgia.
    • The group finally arrives at a Cherokee settlement. It's one of the last places where Cherokees still live; they've stayed because they're dying of smallpox. It just gets better and better, huh?
    • Paul D stays with them even after the other men have left.
    • Finally, they point him North and tell him to follow the blossoming of tree flowers.
    • He does.Paul D ends up in Delaware, where a weaver woman takes him in and to bed.
    • It takes Paul D a long time (and a long journey) to put Sweet Home and all his memories out of his mind.
    • He locks those memories into his tin-box heart. By the time he gets to 124, nothing can open the box.
    • Or so he thinks.
  • Chapter 11

    • Paul D starts to move out of the house.
    • It's strange. Paul D can't explain it, but suddenly he can't go upstairs to sleep.
    • Sethe finds him asleep in the rocking chair.
    • The same thing happens the next night. And the next.
    • And then he realizes that he needs to sleep in Baby Suggs's bed, out by the porch.
    • And then he realizes that he needs to sleep in the storeroom. He can't figure out why. It's not like he's itching to leave Sethe like he wanted to leave the weaver woman. In fact, he loves Sethe more with each day.
    • And then he realizes that he needs to sleep in the cold room, which isn't even part of the main house at all.
    • He doesn't want to be in the cold room—he's just being prevented from going into 124.
    • And he can't say anything to Sethe about it at all.
    • Paul D has a feeling that Beloved has something to do with his strange new sleeping habits, but he can't say anything against her. Sethe's fierce when it comes to the girls.
    • One night, Paul D's lying in the cold room. Beloved comes in.
    • He doesn't want her there, but for some reason he can't make her go away.
    • It's funny—he doesn't think that he can hear her breathing.
    • Beloved stands over him and says that she wants him to "touch her inside part."
    • Paul D tells her to go away, that she should be good to Sethe who's good to her, but she doesn't listen.
    • Over and over again, she tells him that he has to touch her. And call her by her name.
    • Paul D thinks he's safe as long as he's focused on a can of lard and keeps refusing her.
    • Finally, she says if he calls her by her name, she'll go away.But guess what? He calls her "Beloved," and she doesn't leave. Instead, she moves closer. You can see where this is going right?
    • He doesn't even feel it when the rusty lid to his tin-can heart gives way.
    • Before he knows it, he's having sex with her. Only, instead of calling her name, he's saying "Red heart" over and over, louder and louder, until even Denver can hear it.
    • Uh-oh. We're thinking things have changed for good this time…
  • Chapter 12

    • So we may have mentioned before that Denver's pretty obsessed with Beloved. Quite frankly, her obsession goes way beyond the way you knew all about Justin Bieber or that last crush you had.
    • But even though Denver spends all her time thinking about Beloved, it's not all that often that Beloved thinks about Denver.That's why it's so amazing to Denver when she catches Beloved looking at her. She feels beside herself, like she's floating and needing nothing.
    • It's Beloved who needs something from Denver. Denver just can't figure out what it is.
    • Perhaps that's because she doesn't actually know that much about Beloved.
    • After all, Beloved doesn't really have any answers to the questions Sethe asks her about where she came from. Except that she remembers being ripped from her mother's arms; looking down from a bridge—oh and a white man.
    • Sethe thinks that Beloved must have had something horrible happen to her, like the white man locked her up and had his way with her or something. That's probably why she can't talk about it—it's just too bad to remember.Plus, that would explain why Beloved acts so strangely around Paul D, whom Sethe thinks Beloved hates.But that's just what Sethe thinks.
    • Denver isn't sure that Sethe is right, but she doesn't say anything.
    • In fact, she makes a point of not asking Beloved questions. She's way more into the present anyway.
    • Instead, Denver tells Beloved stories about the work that they're doing and her memories of everyone like her brothers, Baby Suggs, and the people who come by to help them.
    • Escapist? Okay, maybe just a little. But cut her some slack: Denver's found a friend for the first time ever.
    • In fact, Denver starts making up chores for them. Who's ever heard of a kid doing more chores? Weird right? But it just proves how much Denver wants to be around Beloved. She's willing to do all sorts of extra work around the house, just as long as they get to do it together.
    • One cold afternoon, Beloved says she's thirsty. So Denver thinks of getting some cider.But the cider jug's in the cold room and it's heavy. Denver's going to need Beloved's help, so they go to the cold room together.
    • Cue some creepy music: it's dark in the cold room. Denver tries, but she can't see Beloved. Or hear her.Denver feels ice-cold.
    • Something's not right.
    • She starts to panic that Beloved has left her like the way her brothers and Baby Suggs have left her.
    • Then, all of a sudden, Beloved's just… there.
    • Denver doesn't even try to explain Beloved's appearance. She's just happy that she's not going to be alone.
    • Beloved says that she wants to stay here. She doesn't like "that place."Denver doesn't ask what "that place" is. She doesn't want to know.
    •  Instead, Denver secretly pinches Beloved's skirt and holds on to her.
    • Suddenly, Beloved points to a thin beam of sunlight coming through the chinks in the wooden wall.
    • Denver doesn't see anything, but Beloved sees a face.
    • Whose face? Denver wants to know. We do, too.
    • Beloved says, "It's me." And then smiles. (How's that hair on the back of your neck? Standing up yet?)
  • Chapter 13

    • Paul D's trying to think through something that's been bothering him for a long time: was he only a man at Sweet Home because Mr. Garner said that he was?
    • No, that isn't it. He and the other Sweet Home men were men because of the relationship between Mr. Garner and them.
    • Mr. Garner listened to his slaves and even allowed them to disagree with him. They could do things without his permission because Mr. Garner trusted their judgment.
    • Once schoolteacher came, however, all that changed.
    • Paul D realizes what a slave really is: an animal. The men on Sweet Home were only men at Sweet Home. As soon as they stepped off the plantation, they became something else in the eyes of the rest of the world.
    • He used to think that his strength came from knowing that schoolteacher was wrong.
    • But if schoolteacher really was wrong, then why can't Paul D say no to Beloved? You see, here's his logic: a real man would have the willpower to do what he wants, to do what's right.
    • He can't even keep from getting moved out of 124 or, for that matter, from getting moved from position to position by Beloved. And he doesn't even like Beloved!
    • Ashamed, Paul D decides that schoolteacher must have been right after all.
    • Paul D realizes that he has to do something. His body isn't his own anymore, but at least he can still talk.
    • He waits for Sethe outside her work, planning what he's going to say to her.
    • He's going to tell her the truth about the past three weeks—including the fact that he's been sleeping with Beloved.
    • When Sethe comes out, though, she looks so happy to see him that he loses his guts.
    • Instead, he tells her that he wants her to get pregnant. What a way to follow through, huh?
    • Sethe laughs. She's too old to have another baby, she says, but she's secretly happy that Paul D would ask.
    • Paul D and Sethe walk back to 124 together, flirting like young kids.
    • About half a mile from 124, they see a figure coming up the road. We bet you know who it is.
    • Yep—it's Beloved. Who else can ruin the mood like she does?
    • She's just standing there without a coat, even though it's been snowing for hours.
    • And how's this for added drama? She's holding out a shawl, but it isn't for herself—it's for Sethe.And of course, she never even looks at Paul D. She's just staring at Sethe.
    • Sethe does what any mother would do: she takes that shawl and wraps Beloved in it instead. Paul D? Who?
    • Paul D's seething: clearly, he's the third wheel here.
    • But Sethe manages to solve Paul D's problems, after all. He doesn't even have to say anything to her about it.
    • That night, she tells him to come up and sleep with her where he belongs.
    • Now it's Beloved's turn to seethe: Paul D can feel it across the kitchen table from where Beloved is sitting, but he concentrates on Sethe's smile.
    • A bit later, Sethe lies awake thinking about Paul D and building a case against having more children. She's had kids already and being a mother is really hard. (Go ahead—just ask your mom!)
    • It's also all that she wants: to have all her children back with her. And what with Beloved showing up that first day and Sethe's water breaking at the sight of her, Sethe feels totally justified about thinking that's all she should want. Especially since it's been her dream for years.
    • While she's thinking all of this, her hand is on top of Paul D's sleeping, breathing chest...
  • Chapter 14

    • The same night, after Paul D and Sethe have gone upstairs, Denver sits down in the kitchen with Beloved.
    • She tells Beloved that Sethe likes having Paul D around, that Sethe might get mad if Paul D gets driven away.Beloved's upset, so she reaches into the back of her mouth and pulls out a tooth.
    • Wait what?! We know—it's weird. But hold on, this is important: we're now actually in Beloved's head—a first!
    • But wow, what a sad place it is. To Beloved, her tooth coming out is like a sign that, pretty soon, her whole body will just start to come apart in pieces if she's left all alone, without Denver and Sethe.
    • If her body doesn't explode, maybe she'll just get swallowed. At least, those are her two dreams (as in nightmares).Denver figures out that Beloved has probably taken out one of her wisdom teeth, and like the concerned sister she is, asks Beloved if it hurt.
    • Beloved says that it did.
    • But if so, why isn't she crying?, Denver asks.
    • Denver's right of course. So Beloved cries.
    • She sits down in the kitchen with Denver's arm around her shoulder, hoping that Denver's embrace will be enough to keep her from falling apart.
    • Clearly, Paul D and Sethe have no clue what's going on downstairs with the girls. Or for that matter, the fact that—now—the snow is really piling on and burying everything deeper.
  • Chapter 15

    • Back to the past.
    • Baby Suggs is waiting for Halle and Sethe to arrive.
    • After all, Sethe's children have already made it to Baby Suggs's house.And when Sethe arrives, even though she's all cut up and beaten, Baby Suggs starts to celebrate.
    • She forgets all that she's ever learned about not trusting in good things.
    • Stamp Paid seems to have forgotten about all the bad things that are out there in the world, too.
    • When he comes by to see how Sethe's little baby is doing, he decides to gather some blackberries from the riverbank.
    • If you've ever picked blackberries, you know that this is nowhere near as easy as it sounds.
    • For one thing, blackberries grow on vines. With thorns. Lots and lots of thorns. Then there are all the bugs flying around, ready to sting you. On top of it all, these blackberries grow six miles away from Baby Suggs's house.
    • Stamp Paid, however, doesn't care. He comes back with two whole buckets full of blackberries.
    • And the first thing he does is feed a three-week-old Denver a blackberry. What's he thinking?
    • Doesn't he know that babies that small can't eat stuff like blackberries yet?
    • But that's what starts it all off: everyone starts to feed Denver and themselves blackberries. They realize that the berries are as good as anything that they've ever tasted.
    • Then things really get going: they decide to throw an impromptu party. And everyone in town is invited.
    • This party? It's the stuff of legends. There's sooooooo much food. In fact, food just seems to multiply all on its own. And it's all really, really tasty.In fact, the food is so good and there's so much of it that, once the party is over, the people from town start to get angry.
    • Wait a second—why would you ever get upset about good food?
    • Well, the folks at Baby Suggs's house start thinking that maybe Baby Suggs has it too good.
    • After all, the rest of them have a hard life. Why should she get to celebrate? And where in the world does she get all that good fortune from anyway?
    • Baby Suggs can tell that there's something wrong. She smells it in the air the next day while she's out gardening. It's the scent of disapproval coming—not from white folks this time—but from black folks; they think she's been too excessive.
    • And she can tell that there's something even worse coming after.
    • She's not sure what it is. All that bad smell from the party is blocking her senses. She only knows that it has something to do with a pair of high-topped shoes. And she doesn't like the look of them.
    • As Baby Suggs tries to figure out the future, she starts thinking about the past.She's lost seven children. What were they like? Could they have loved her?
    • Actually, Baby Suggs thinks that she could have had it a lot worse.After she hurt her hip, she and Halle were sold to the Garners.
    • Mrs. Garner called her Jenny. Baby Suggs couldn't figure out why, but at least the Garners didn't hit her. They didn't even want her to work in the fields. Plus, they eventually let her son buy her freedom.
    • Baby Suggs remembers what it was like when Mr. Garner delivered her to the free states.
    • At first, she thought freedom was pointless: after all, she was old and lame. But then she starts to feel that freedom in her body. She can't get over the fact that her body belongs to her.Or that her son, who'd bought her this freedom, didn't know what it felt like.
    • Mr. Garner tells her that he's taking her to the Bodwins, a brother and sister who have been helping freed slaves for a long time.
    • As they drive, Baby Suggs asks him something that's been bothering her: why does he call her Jenny?
    • Mr. Garner tells her that that was the name on her sale papers.She tells him that that's not her name. Her husband's name was Suggs, so she supposes that that should be her name, too.
    • Mr. Garner asks her what her first name is.
    • She tells him that it's Baby. After all, that's the only thing that her husband ever called her.
    • Mr. Garner laughs. Baby obviously isn't a real name.Baby Suggs disagrees.
    • It might not be much, but her name is all she has left of her husband. She plans to keep it. How else will her husband know her if, in case, he tries to find her one day?
    • Mr. Garner delivers her to Janey, the Bodwins' housekeeper, who gets Baby to start thinking about her own family. You see, Janey's family is all together, living out on Bluestone. Baby's family, on the other hand, is scattered. Baby immediately starts to think of which kids she might have a chance of tracking down now that she's free.
    • Janey also gets Baby thinking about work because she realizes that ex-slaves out here can actually earn money. Real money!
    • When the Bodwins ask her what she can do for a living, she's thinking of working at that slaughterhouse Janey's mentioned.
    • But the Bodwins toss that idea out right away because of Baby's age.
    • Instead, the Bodwins and Mr. Garner figure out that if Baby does their laundry, some seamstress work, canning and shoe-making (yep, she's a cobbler—Mr. Garner has proof of that on his feet), Baby can live at the Bodwins' old house: 124 Bluestone Road.
    • It's not the same as earning money, Baby thinks, but hey—at least she has a place to live.
    • As Janey drives Baby Suggs to her new house, Baby asks about the churches in the area.
    • She hasn't been to one for ten years. In fact, she doesn't think she even needs church all that much since she's been able to find God all on her own. But she does need the preacher since he can read and write.
    • It's time for her to track down her kids and you need letter-writing for that.
    • Two years of church-going and letter-writing don't turn anything up though… well, except for news about Halle and his budding new family……
    • Okay, back to the present.Baby's got Sethe and her children now; plus, Halle might come any day. And she got so caught up in her excitement that she had to go throw this party that ended up making everyone in town mad.
    • Now all's she got is this bad, bad feeling about the future… and the image of those shoes.
  • Chapter 16

    • Here's our helpful Shmoop hint of the day: READ THIS CHAPTER. We're not kidding; you'll thank yourself for doing it.
    • If you want the quick and dirty version, though, here goes….
    • F.Y.I.: this chapter is narrated from the perspective of the four white men who show up at 124.
    • You can also call them the four horsemen (hint: this isn't going to be a happy chapter).
    • It's really, really quiet at 124. It's so quiet that they think they're too late.They do see a crazy-looking old man and an old woman out in the garden. The two of them are staring at the shed behind the house.
    • What's (or who's) in the shed? Naturally, schoolteacher heads over to the shed with his nephew, a slave-catcher, and the sheriff.
    • Inside: two boys, covered in blood, and a black woman holding a bloody child to her chest. Oh and a baby, hanging by her heel from the woman's hand.
    • With one hand, the mother holds the child's head onto its body.
    • With the other, she throws the infant against the wall of the shed. Only she doesn't connect, so she tries again.
    • Luckily, the crazy-looking old man comes up just in time to grab the infant.
    • This is one screwy scene: the four men see that right away. They've also figured out that there's nothing here to claim.
    • The slave that schoolteacher had bragged about—the one that did such a good job on the farm—has gone totally wild.
    • Just to make things clear: Sethe's killed her daughter. Not Denver (she's still just the baby): the other one who's only a crawling toddler.
    • Now let's see it from schoolteacher's point-of-view: he's pissed. This is all the fault of his nephew, who overbeat the mother-slave. If only the boy had listened to him… no good ever comes from abusing a slave that much. You just can't predict what they would do next; they're like horses or dogs even. Beat them that badly and, next thing you know, they're biting your hand off. He taught his nephew that lesson by sending him out into the fields and doing slave work.
    • Anyway, now he's just lost five slaves. The boys look like they're fading fast; the little girl is a goner. He could try to claim the baby, but then who'd take care of it? The mother—anyone can tell by her eyes that she's gone insane.
    • Meanwhile, schoolteacher's nephew, the one who beat Sethe and had sucked the milk from her breast while his brother held her down at Sweet Home, looks at Sethe in amazement.
    • He can't understand why she killed her own kid. Just because she got a beating?It doesn't make sense. After all, he's gotten a ton of beatings and he's white! He'd never do what she just did! (We're guessing he's not too bright.)
    • The sheriff tells schoolteacher, the nephew, and the slave-catcher to leave. Their task is obviously over. Now it's his turn to do his job.He tells Sethe to come with him, but she's not budging.
    • At least not until Baby Suggs enters the picture.
    • Stamp Paid tries to get Sethe to give up her dead child for the baby that's still in his arms. But no going—Sethe's hanging on to her.Meanwhile, Baby Suggs has already figured out that the boys are still alive. She tends to their wounds before she tries to deal with Sethe.
    • Once she's finished with the boys, Baby Suggs tells Sethe to give up her dead child. Baby's holding the infant—the one that's still alive. And that infant needs to nurse.
    • But even though both Baby and Stamp Paid try to get Sethe to give up her dead baby, they can't get her to put it down. Sethe reaches for her infant, but she won't give up her dead baby.
    • Baby Suggs tells Sethe that she can only have one kid at a time. So Sethe finally gives up her dead baby girl for the living one.
    • Baby Suggs takes the dead one back into the house, into the keeping room.
    • When she returns, what does she see? Sethe about to nurse baby Denver with blood still all over her body! Need we say this? Wait—we don't have to—Baby Suggs says it for us: Clean yourself up.
    • Sethe's not so keen about being clean, but Baby Suggs is pretty determined and we definitely don't blame her. They end up fighting over the child until Baby Suggs slips in a puddle of blood.
    • Finally, Sethe grabs the infant and starts to nurse her with a breast still bloody from her other baby's blood.
    • That's how the sheriff finds her and it's also how she leaves the house with the sheriff.
    • With this kind of action going on, you better expect a whole bunch of lookie-loos. And there they are, just watching Sethe leave the house, living infant in her arms.
    • They would feel sorry for Sethe, but there's something about her that just makes them stop. Maybe she's walking too straight, too proud. Whatever it is, they don't know how to react. So they don't. If they did know what to do, they'd have started singing to show that they were with her, holding her, supporting her.
    • Once she leaves in the cart, they do start to hum. No words. Just humming.
    • Baby Suggs is about to race after the cart, screaming for it to stop, but she can't. Right before she leaves the yard, a small white boy comes up with a pair of shoes. Yep—there are those shoes again.
    • His mother wants them fixed right away. And you know you can't say "no" to a white customer.
    • By the time the boy leaves, the cart (and Sethe) have rolled out of sight.
  • Chapter 17

    • Here's the thing: Paul D's sure that that isn't Sethe's mouth.
    • He's staring at a picture of Sethe in a news clipping, but it just doesn't look right to him.
    • It's hog season in Cincinnati, so every black man can have a job if he wants one, tending to the pigs heading for the slaughterhouse. It's also the last week of work, which brings us to Stamp Paid and why he has decided to choose this time to show Paul D the news article.
    • Even though Paul D doesn't read the article, he does know, though, that any time a black person's picture is in the paper, there has to be something bad going on. And not just the regular sort of bad, either. Runaway slaves, rapes, hangings—they don't make the news. Not when it's related to black people.
    • The only time that blacks are in the news is when something really bad happens, something that makes white people excited. Or nervous.
    • That's why he doesn't believe that the picture in the news clipping is really Sethe—because that wouldn't be the Sethe that he knows.
    • Stamp Paid looks at Paul D and realizes that he's going to have to tell him about that day; how it started with him picking blackberries on such snake-infested ground that even the birds didn't want the berries; but how he picked those berries anyway just for Baby Suggs and her grandkids and Sethe. And the party too—how there was so much food so that everyone came. And how he came by the next day to chop wood since there wasn't any kindling left from all the cooking the day before.
    • He's also about to tell Paul D of how, that morning, Baby Suggs was restless; how she kept looking up the river so much that even he looked up the river—so much so that both of them missed the four horsemen coming down the road toward the house. He's pretty sure that this is an important detail: the fact that they missed the four horsemen in part because the whole town had been at their party and so hadn't been around to pick up clues about the four horsemen when they stopped in town.
    • He's also pretty certain that those people left in town who didn't warn them—they were born of some kind of meanness that made them ignore the four white men asking about Sethe and her kids.
    • But Paul D still can't believe it's Sethe; he keeps saying so.
    • So Stamp Paid figures there's no way Paul D can hack the details of how Sethe gathered up her children before the men got to the house, flew to the shed, and prepared to kill her children. Paul D just wouldn't believe it.
    • Instead, Stamp Paid begins to read Paul D the article—something Paul D can't do himself since he can't read.
    • When Stamp Paid's done reading, Paul D says again that the woman in the picture just doesn't have Sethe's mouth. Paul D doesn't believe the article. He can't.
    • Looking at Paul D, Stamp Paid starts to wonder if maybe his own memory is lying.
    • After all, the man has so much conviction—so much confidence in Sethe.
    • Maybe the past didn't happen after all. But of course, everyone knows that isn't true.
  • Chapter 18

    • Sethe's walking around the room in circles and telling Paul D about the past. About how her first daughter was crawling by the time she arrived at Baby Suggs's house and how, back then, babies didn't develop as quickly as they do now because they didn't eat anything but milk.
    • Paul D's watching all this circling while Sethe yammers on; the parts of Sethe's body never seem to stop moving.
    • But Sethe doesn't seem to notice; instead, she just talks on about how, back then, she didn't have any women around her except for Mrs. Garner at Sweet Home (and how useful could she be? She never had kids). There was that woman Aunt Phyllis, who helped deliver all her babies (except for Denver of course), but the Garners only called her when they needed her. So she and Halle—they had to figure out how to be parents themselves. Suffice it to say, they could have done better if they had some real guidance.
    • But, in any case, Sethe's babies grew up all right.
    • Paul D's still listening to her story, if you can call it a story—her words are circling just as much as her body and they never seem to arrive at a point. He's also watching and waiting for a smile, one that will match his, one that will show that she's in on the joke, too, and that it's not her in the article—a case of mistaken identity maybe.
    • Only that smile never comes from Sethe; instead, she charges on and gets to her defense.
    • You see, things at Sweet Home were what they were once schoolteacher got there, so she had to get out. And when she finally did decide to leave, she hatched a plan and executed it perfectly—what a feeling, right? Sethe got to feel what it was like to use her head, be that strong, independent, black woman who could save all of her children and herself.
    • Plus, she finally felt free enough to love her children as if she could actually keep them.
    • Paul D gets it—he really does. Because in Alfred, Georgia, that ability to love big was a freedom he couldn't feel otherwise it would have killed him. The only way anyone could love that big would be to get someplace safe, where you didn't need to ask permission to desire.
    • Now Sethe's onto another circle: she starts to tell Paul D about how she'd wanted to make clothes for her baby girl. She'd even taken a little piece of calico cloth from Mrs. Garner in order to do so. But she lost that fabric, so when she got to Baby Suggs's house, the first thing she did was stitch together a dress for her first daughter.
    • Okay, now no one knows what she's babbling about. Even Sethe sees that she's really not getting to the point and that all her circling isn't going to help her explain anything. That's because the truth is so simple: she saw schoolteacher's hat coming into the yard; heard and felt hummingbird wings on her head (hey, the truth may be simple, but no one said it wasn't weird); and just knew that she had to get them safe.
    • She stopped schoolteacher. She took her babies and made them safe.
    • Paul D is horrified.
    • He finally realizes what Stamp Paid was trying to tell him. It wasn't just that Sethe killed her baby—it was that she didn't know the difference between safety and killing her daughter with a handsaw.
    • (By the way: that's how the baby dies. Sethe slashes her throat, almost saws her head off, and lets the baby's blood pump out. We just thought you should know.)
    • In fact, Paul D's figured out that that's what 124 is missing: safety. He thought he had run the ghost baby off when he moved to 124, but now he knows that the ghost baby avoided Sethe for the same reason any sane person would: Sethe may seem like any other woman, but she also thinks safety is a handsaw. Definitely not safe. Definitely very scary.
    • Instead of saying all of that out loud though (hey, who knows what could happen if he did), he tells Sethe that her love's "too thick."
    • While he's saying that, he can almost feel her looking at him, through the floorboards, from above. Who do you think he means?
    • Beloved, of course.
    • Paul D tells Sethe that it didn't work. How can she say that her children are safe? After all, one's dead. The boys ran away. And Denver… that's one crazy child.
    • Sethe disagrees. She couldn't let her children go back with schoolteacher. And after all, it isn't her job to know what's worse—life with schoolteacher or death by her own hand; it's her job to keep them away from what she already knows is terrible and she's done that.
    • You know how arguments go. Now Paul D can't help getting on his moral high horse. He comes out and says what we all can't help thinking—Sethe's wrong; there could have been another way.
    • But who are we to judge? Well, Paul D doesn't really think that. He goes ahead and judges, saying the one thing that he really really just shouldn't say, even to a mother who killed one child and tried to kill three others. He tells Sethe that she has two feet, not four.
    • Go ahead and gasp (we did) because, as far as zingers go, that one definitely hit its mark. (If it isn't clear already, he basically implies that she acted like an animal when she killed her child.)
    • We're guessing there's no going back on this one. And just to make that crystal clear on so many levels, a huge metaphorical forest springs up between the two of them, creating this huge distance.
    • What else can Paul D do except get up and slowly leave?
    • Of course, he tries to make it seem like he's just going out for a bit, not leaving for good. (Again, who could blame him? The woman did take a handsaw to her kid.)
    • But Sethe knows the truth. After all that she's been through and all that they've just said to each other? He thinks a simple "goodbye" will break her? Right, whatever.
    • In return, she mutters a soft "so long," muffled by the trees of that metaphorical forest.
  • Chapter 19

    • So this is the start of the second section of the novel. But we're actually still right where we started: at 124.
    • This time though, we're in Stamp Paid's head, and it's definitely worried.
    • First of all, he can hear loud sounds coming from 124. He's down the road, walking toward the house.
    • Why is he at 124 at all, though? Well, ever since Paul D left, Stamp's been feeling like a sneak. And no wonder really: he's been a sneak all his life, basically doing the opposite of what he appears to be doing (like hiding and transporting slaves or making private news public).
    • He also feels responsible for Sethe and the girls: hence, all that worry.
    • He thinks about whether or not he did the right thing, telling Paul D about Sethe's past.
    • After all, when Paul D was around, things seemed better at 124. Calmer.
    • The haunting stopped, for one thing. And that's no small thing.
    • And now he's gone because of what Stamp Paid told him.
    • More troubling, however, is Stamp Paid's memory of Baby Suggs.
    • The two of them had shared a lot over the years.
    • In fact, the last time he'd been to 124 was to carry her body out of the house and take it the Clearing. Only he wasn't allowed to bury her there due to the laws of white people; so, he ended up burying her next to the dead baby girl (not something Baby Suggs would necessarily appreciate, but moving on...).
    • Because Sethe and the townspeople had never reconciled, Baby Suggs' funeral was a mess of spite and hostility.
    • Everything, in fact, that Baby Suggs stood against.
    • As Stamp Paid thinks about Sethe and her pride, he begins to wonder if his own pride (or his need to see Sethe brought to rights) made him tell Paul D about her past.
    • If so, then he's hurt Sethe and Denver for no reason.
    • Anyway, back to 124: Stamp Paid can't quite tell, but he thinks that he hears the word "mine."
    • Everything else is a jumble of words that drops to a whisper once he arrives at the doorstep.
    • He raises his hand to knock.
    • For Stamp Paid, this is a huge thing.
    • And a very uncharacteristic one.
    • See, Stamp Paid spends his life helping other people.
    • All he asks in return is the right to enter your house as if he's family.
    • In other words, he doesn't knock. Ever.
    • And standing outside 124, trying to walk in, Stamp Paid has a bit of a crisis.
    • Six times he's tried to knock at that door this week.
    • He can't enter 124 without knocking. And he can't bring himself to knock on the door of Baby Suggs's house.
    • Finally he admits defeat. Turning, he walks quietly off the porch.
    • Okay, get ready, folks: the rest of the chapter moves pretty fast. And it covers lots of ground.
    • As Stamp stands outside the door of 124, Sethe's on the inside looking for ice skates and trying to follow Baby Suggs's advice: "to lay it all down, sword and shield."
    • What does that mean? We're guessing it has to do with letting the past rest.
    • Like letting go of the fact that she once had 28 days of happiness 18 years ago, when she first arrived at Baby Suggs house and wasn't yet a social outcast.
    • Or how she had a few months of love with Paul D.
    • Maybe that's just how life works; you get a short bit of bliss and then a really long period of misery. Maybe it's cyclical for her; every 20 years or so she can look forward to some joy and then it ends.
    • Anyhow, now Sethe's scrubbing the floor with Denver trailing behind.
    • But she leaves it all behind when Beloved appears with the very skates Sethe was looking for. (Coincidence? We think not.)
    • So Sethe takes Denver and Beloved skating on the ice behind her house.
    • They share the one pair of skates and a half (that makes 3 skates by the way—symbolism alert!) and fall a lot, but they clearly love it. And the best part? No one sees them fall.
    • For Sethe, falling down on all fours gets her to laugh and cry at the same time. Denver and Beloved understand: they show their sympathy through a touch.
    • Walking home, these three are clearly a unit: if they fall, they fall together with arms around each other's waists.
    • Once home, Sethe heats up some hot sweet milk. They all wrap themselves with quilts and sit in front of the cooking stove. It's like a nice, homey campfire. How peaceful.
    • Until of course Sethe hears the click. And not the click is such a bad thing; it just signals something falling into place.
      The click comes before Beloved starts to hum.
    • Sethe remember that moment: she sees Beloved's profile and gets it—Beloved's her daughter.
    • That's how Beloved knows about the song she's humming. Sethe made that song up for her children and no one else knows it.
    • Funnily enough, Sethe's not at all shocked. Or even surprised. And we're guessing you're probably not all that surprised either.
    • See, the thing about miracles is that you tend to know about them all along.
    • Sethe's calm now: she takes care of the girls and then goes upstairs to her room like a bride.
    • Outside? It's peaceful too: a snowy winter night.
    • Now we're back with Stamp Paid.He's back outside the house at 124.
    • In his fingers, he's holding a ribbon that was once on a dead girl's scalp.
    • He's tired. Really, really tired. A tired that goes all the way down into the marrow of his bones.
    • As Stamp Paid stands there, he realizes that Baby Suggs must have been this tired when she stopped coming to the Clearing.
    • For years, he's had it all wrong. He thought that she was ashamed of all the violence that occurred in her house. And that she had given up on God and the Word.
    • She did try to convince him otherwise. For her, it had to do with the fact that they came into her yard. And by "they," she means the white men.
    • Stamp didn't get it then. He remembers how Baby Suggs told him that she was just going to lie in her bed and think about color, especially blue and maybe yellow.
    • He thought she was crazy. And okay, we admit, it does sound a bit crazy.
    • But now that he thinks about it, Stamp Paid's pretty amazed that Baby Suggs managed to live for 8 years with this kind of tiredness—the kind that comes with the white men who were able to enter Baby Suggs' yard without her permission.
    • And what about himself? It's 1874 and slavery ended almost ten years ago, but white people are still loose. They're lynching, raping, burning, whipping blacks. It's all over the news and in legal documents.
    • But that's not what tires him out to the marrow. It's the ribbon in his hands.
    • He remembers finding the ribbon floating in the stream. It had a little bit of human scalp still attached to it.
    • Appalled at the memory, Stamp Paid tries to figure out what kind of people could commit such atrocities.
    • Now he knows that he needs to talk to Sethe about what he told Paul D. He's going to try and make it through the voices coming from 124 in order to knock on that door.
    • And this time, he thinks he knows whose voices they belong to—all the black people who have been lynched, murdered, raped, and broken by slavery.
    • Cue Sethe. (We told you that this was a monster chapter!)
    • It's morning and Sethe's perfectly happy. The girls are right where she left them, in front of the stove—her two daughters together. What else does she need?
    • She goes out to collect some wood for the fire and doesn't even notice the man's frozen footprints—that's how happy she is.
    • She's so happy that she even smiles at the shed—that place where she killed Beloved years ago. She's thinking, wow—Beloved isn't even mad at her!
    • (Something tells us this isn't exactly good luck, but moving on…)
    • She thinks back to that day when Paul D, Denver, and she were walking down the lane holding hands. The shadows they cast weren't of them three—it was of "us three": Denver, Sethe and Beloved.
    • They're the family unit of 3 doing everything together. Plus, Sethe's thinking that if Beloved can come back from the dead, then her boys can certainly return to her from wherever they are.
    • Who cares if she's late to work? If she's late to work for the first time in 16 years, then so be it. Look at what she has!
    • Sethe's absolutely convinced now that Paul D was wrong: there's nothing for her out there in the world. Everything she needs is right inside this house, with her two girls. (We're thinking Sethe hasn't heard about co-dependency…)
    • After breakfast, Sethe leaves for work, still not noticing the footprints or, for that matter, hearing the voices surrounding 124 like a noose. Not too observant, that Sethe.
    • But that's only because she's in her own head, so much so that she becomes our first-person narrator briefly.
    • Sethe's thinking she doesn't have to remember any of the bad stuff now that she has Beloved back.
    • Not how Baby Suggs's heart collapses or how Howard and Buglar could never let go of each other's hands, especially at night.
    • Or all those visits Baby Suggs made to see her and Denver in jail. Baby Suggs did want to take Denver out of that jail, but Sethe wouldn't let her go.
    • Baby Suggs was the one to give her all the news, like how schoolteacher left after filing a claim and how she would be let out of jail for the dead baby's burial (although not her funeral service).
    • She's remembering now about what she had to do to get "Beloved" etched onto a headstone for her baby and how it really should have been "Dearly Beloved," from Reverend Pike's sermon.
    • Only she's also forgetting—like the fact that she pretty much ruined Baby Suggs's life.
    • The only thing Sethe feels like she needs to know now is this: how bad is Beloved's scar?
    • That Sethe's a mind trip. Luckily, we get to go back to Stamp Paid, who's at 124 again and finally gets up the guts to knock.
    • Only no one answers. He looks through the window, sees their backs—those of Denver and Beloved (only he doesn't recognize Beloved)—and gets pretty furious that they aren't answering the door.
    • What black household would ever dare close its door to him?, Stamp's wondering.
    • But Stamp starts to cool down as he walks away. He also starts to get curious: who's that girl with Denver?
    • Since Stamp knows pretty much everyone, it's definitely strange that he doesn't know this black girl. But if he doesn't know her, then he knows who might: John and Ella, who have helped him transport Sethe and numerous other fugitive slaves to safety over the years.
    • While he's going to their place, he's wondering that maybe he misnamed himself because maybe he still has a debt to pay.
    • Yep—you're about to get an explanation of how Stamp got his name. Don't you wish the rest of the book could be this clear?
      Stamp was originally named Joshua, but he gave up that name when he "gave" his wife to his master's son.
    • At least he didn't kill anyone, including himself (his wife asked him to stay alive).
    • And with a sacrifice that big, he feels like he's paid all his debts.
    • Now he extends this debtlessness to other runaway and former slaves by helping them out. He figures that they've paid life all it could ask of them. Now life owes them.
    • For starters, he heads over to Ella's house to ask her if she knows anything about the new woman at 124.
    • She doesn't, but she does tell him that Paul D is now sleeping in the basement of the church.
    • Stamp Paid wants to know why no black people in the town took in Paul D? What happened to (Ella's) common Christian charity?
    • Ella says that Paul D stayed with Sethe. Maybe that explains why folks aren't so eager to help him.
    • But in Stamp's mind, that's just no excuse, so he tells Ella what we already know: Paul D left because of what Stamp told him about Sethe's baby.
    • Now all of a sudden Ella changes her mind about Paul D, but she's lost Stamp's respect because, frankly, Ella should be ashamed of herself. And so should all the other black people in town.
    • Ella does remind Stamp, however, that he came about the new girl and that, what with how strange 124 is, the new girl might not be a "who" but a "what." In other words, Ella's saying the new girl could be an unholy spirit.
    • Being the Christian warrior that he is, Stamp knows she's right, so they make up as friends and he goes to find Paul D.
      And there he is—on the steps of the church, looking exhausted.
    • Cutting back to Sethe: her boss Sawyer is yelling at her for being late.
    • But white people have put Sethe been through so much that she's not letting her boss or any white person get to her anymore. She used to be trusting, but no more.
    • Then she gets into a small spat with Sawyer about being late and making pies that are too sweet.
    • That blows over quickly (Sawyer's not a bad guy) and now Sethe's thinking about food: what will she take home? Sausages? Those are gone and so are her pies, but there's some stew.
    • She could eat her meal at the restaurant (it's included in her wages), but she never hangs around at work to eat.
    • She does, however, take stuff like the butter, a little salt, maybe some kerosene, from work.
    • Okay, yes, she steals from work, but she's got a good excuse: she doesn't like the shame of white people passing and looking at her at the local store while she's waiting in line outside with all the other black folk.
    • She's not proud of stealing, though—nor does she agree with Sixo's philosophy.
    • Flashback alert! Sethe's recalling an incident between schoolteacher and Sixo. Schoolteacher's accusing Sixo for stealing shoat (FYI: a piglet) but Sixo disagrees; he thinks that he's not stealing because he's actually increasing schoolteacher's earning.
    • Here's his logic: if he eats well, he'll be able to work harder and longer because he'll have the energy to do so, thereby increasing the wealth of Sweet Home. Labor rights, you know?
    • Schoolteacher thinks his argument's clever but beats him anyway. After all, Sixo's trying to redefine things and that's not ok since he's the defined, not the definer (that's a white person's role).
    • Sethe sees things a little differently; she traces all the stealing they do at Sweet Home back to the fact that, once schoolteacher arrived and took away their ability to hunt with guns, they had no more meat to eat. So you see, they had to steal in order to round out their diet.
    • Again, Sethe's not proud of all this stealing (she's got morals, you know), but it's still better than having white people stare at her while she's standing in line.
    • Sethe's back in the present again and thinking about going home: she just can't wait!
    • Sawyer warns her about being late again, but Sethe doesn't really take him seriously. She's not just thinking of home either; Sawyer used to be really kind to her and the rest of the help but ever since his son died in the Civil War, she thinks he blames it on her and her dark face.
    • While she's hurrying home, her mind wanders to all the stuff she was supposed to forget.
    • And now we're right back into Sethe's head and narration. Only this time, it's like she's talking directly to Beloved.
    • She starts off by saying that, lucky her, she doesn't have to "rememory" anything because Beloved knows everything already.
    • But of course we don't—good thing Sethe can't help but run through the memories in her head again. (If you haven't discovered this yet, Sethe's not too good at this whole forgetting thing.)
    • And what a memory: first, Sethe's thinking about how schoolteacher wrapped measuring string all around her, but how she and the others (except Sixo) didn't take the measuring seriously. She thinks schoolteacher's a fool with all his questions. (Little does she know…)
    • After he's done, she and her boys head out to garden a little.
    • Sethe recalls seeing Howard and Buglar running and laughing up and down the small hills when they head back to the house. That's a good image for Sethe because the other image she usually sees is the one where they're walking down the railroad tracks away from her.
    • Anyway, everything seems all sweet, nice and pretty. Howard and Buglar return to the quarters, while Sethe takes baby Beloved to the grape arbor that with the bad grapes (they're small and sour).
    • It's cool and shady—a nice place for Sethe to get some work done and hang out with her baby girl as long as she can get a piece of muslin to cover her baby with.
    • So she heads to the back of the house to get that muslin.
    • That's when she hears schoolteacher giving lessons to the Garner boys. The lesson is weird though: she basically hears schoolteacher directing one of the boys to divide her—Sethe—into human and animal characteristics.
    • This totally freaks her out: she runs away and it feels like her scalp is all prickly.
    • But she doesn't actually know what "characteristics" mean so she asks Mrs. Garner once she gets into the house.
    • Mrs. Garner's sick, so she doesn't answer Sethe's question immediately. Sethe has to return some soup, fetch some water first. But eventually, Mrs. Garner does tell her the meaning of the word—that "it's a thing natural to a thing."
    • Mrs. Garner's not exactly a Webster's dictionary, but Sethe more or less gets it.
    • Later that night, she's disturbed enough about schoolteacher to ask Halle what he thinks of schoolteacher. Is he like Mr. Garner?
      To Halle, the two men are the same: both white.
    • Even though Mr. Garner let him buy out Baby Suggs, Halle points out to Sethe that Mr. Garner more or less profited off Halle: first, by making him work to free his mother; second, by getting him, Sethe, and their kids in return for his mother.
    • Plus, he still owes the Garners even though Mr. Garner's dead. $123.70 to be exact.
    • Now schoolteacher isn't letting Halle work off of the plantation to pay his debt. He's forcing Halle to work at Sweet Home extra and isn't paying him for the work.
    • So how is he going to buy his own freedom? Or Sethe's? With his boys?
    • They're good questions. And Sethe doesn't have any answers.
    • When schoolteacher beats Paul A, the men on Sweet Home decide to run away.
    • Sixo has a plan. There's a whole train of runaway slaves they can join (i.e. the Underground Railroad) to escape.
    • Sethe overhears their conversation and asks what a "train" is, but the men just shut up.
    • Sethe remembers that it was a good plan—the only problem was that when the time came to run, the situation had changed.
    • By that time, Sethe was pregnant with Denver. Plus, as Paul D later told her, Sixo was burned; Paul D was in the stocks; and Halle had butter all over his face.
    • So Sethe sent her children ahead without her.
    • She also remembers that, when she finally did escape, she ran past bodies hanging in the trees, one of which had a shirt that looked like Paul A's—only the body didn't have any feet or a head.
    • The only thing that kept Sethe going was fact that only she had milk for her baby.
    • And once she got to 124, she had milk enough for all.
    • That's a pretty gruesome memory, so once Sethe sees smoke coming out of the chimney at 124, we get why she's so obsessed with Beloved.
    • Beloved's returned, and now Sethe thinks that Beloved never needed the headstone; her heart never stopped in Sethe's hands.
    • She gets to the house and locks the door tightly behind her.
    • The chapter doesn't end there though.
    • A third-person narrator who seems to know all about Stamp Paid and more explains that the noises Stamp heard at 124 aren't exactly the mumblings of the angry blacks who died.
    • It's true that no blacks really had a "livable life"—from Baby Suggs to even the educated black people. In fact, the educated ones not only had to use their heads to survive, they also had the weight of the black race on their shoulders. One would need two heads to handle all that pressure.
    • What was really awful though is that white people thought black people had a jungle inside that could hurt white people.
    • Stamp didn't think they were necessarily wrong either, but black people spent their lives trying to convince white people how they weren't like that—how human they were.
    • And all that spent energy just produced a more twisted jungle, one that would end up changing the white people who created it in the first place.
    • As a result of this "jungle" white people imagined, white people became more violent than they ever intended. That's because this "jungle"—it actually lived in white people.
    • Anyway, the point is this: this white people's "jungle" lived and made noises in places like 124. That's the racket Stamp hears when he visits 124.
    • By the way, Stamp never does enter 124 to see after Sethe. He gave up that time when the girls didn't open the door for him.
    • So now Sethe and the girls are free, free at last.
    • Or so they think…only part of that noise at 124? It comes from the unspoken, unspeakable thoughts of 124's women… and we're guessing nothing good is going to come from that.
  • Chapter 20

    • Here's where things start to get really interesting. We know. You're thinking, "What? Things aren't interesting enough?" Okay—maybe what we mean is confusing.
    • For starters, Sethe narrates this chapter, but it's hard to tell whom she's speaking to exactly.
    • At first, it sounds like she's in her own head when she talks about how Beloved is hers, come back from the dead to be with her.
    • She's trying to explain why she doesn't need to explain anything to Beloved about what happened in the past. But then, she's also willing to explain to Beloved if Beloved wants an explanation. When she does explain what happened to Beloved, she's sure Beloved will understand because she understands everything already. (We told you things might start to get confusing.)
    • Basically, Sethe's over the moon about Beloved coming back. She's already promising to be the best mother ever to Beloved. She even promises that no one will ever get her milk except Beloved (and her other kids).
    • This is huge for Sethe because Sethe never really got to nurse her kids (according to her); the only time anyone got her milk was when the Garner boys held her down and drank her breast milk (among other things).
    • Of course, as a reader, you might want to wonder about how much she could or couldn't nurse her kids. In fact, this whole thing about the rape and the Garner boys makes her think more about how she never got to nurse on her own mother; how she had to nurse on Nan while her own mother was in the rice fields.
    • Sethe points out that she knows what it's like to fight for milk that isn't yours—that's something she plans on telling Beloved, who she thinks will understand.
    • What's Sethe's point? It's simple really—Sethe never got to be a mother to Beloved, but what really hurts her is that she never got to be a daughter to her own mother.
    • Instead, she ended up tending Mrs. Garner as if Mrs. Garner were her mother.
    • Okay—now hang on—if you haven't noticed, when Sethe narrates, she gets jumpy. She's about to get even jumpier. Here goes…
    • Thinking about Mrs. Garner makes Sethe think about how she would have stayed on with her mother even after she died. But of course she couldn't; Nan snatched her back before she could even check for her mother's sign.
    • Sethe couldn't believe it when her mother died.
    • She also looked everywhere for "that hat."
    • Afterwards, she stuttered. That is until she saw Halle.
    • But that's all over. Sethe's focused on the present and on looking at things (something she couldn't do after killing the baby).
    • She gets why Baby Suggs wanted to look at colors at the end—it's because she never had the time to enjoy them. She also thinks red probably wouldn't have been a good color to Baby Suggs—for obvious reasons.
    • She herself remembers the last color she saw: the pinkish headstone for Beloved.
    • Now she's on the lookout, especially for spring. Sethe starts to get a little manic about all the things that come with spring, like new vegetables.
    • Then Sethe switches her audience and focuses on Beloved as "you." All of a sudden, it starts to sound like Sethe's talking to Beloved directly rather than about Beloved.
    • And she's off "memory"-ing things like:
      (1) Amy's (the white girl's) hands and the color of her eyes (gray);
      (2) Mrs. Garner's eye color (light brown while well; darker while sick);
      (3) how strong Mrs. Garner was in the fields (like a mule);
      (4) how Mrs. Garner would call her "Jenny";
      (5) why Mrs. Garner thought she'd need schoolteacher at Sweet Home and if Mrs. Garner lasted;
      (6) how her first beating (by schoolteacher) was her last;
      (7) how no one could keep her from her kids;
      (8) and that if she weren't tending to Mrs. Garner that day, she would have known what was happening to the men the day of the planned escape;
      (9) Mrs. Garner was sick and cold; she wanted blankets and the window shut while Sethe wanted the window open;
      (10) how she heard what sounded like shots;
      (11) how she took her babies to the corn without Halle to meet the woman heading up the runaway slave train;
      (12) how she wanted the woman to wait for the others but the woman wouldn't, so Sethe sent her kids along without her;
      (13) and how, when she returned to Sweet Home, she got whipped so badly on her back that she bit off a piece of her tongue; although the men did cut out a hole for her stomach so that the fetus wouldn't be injured.
    • We told you Sethe can get jumpy. And there's more.
    • Sethe goes on to recall that Denver doesn't like to hear anything about Sweet Home except for her own birth. (No wonder there.)
    • Now she's really acting like she's talking to Beloved. She reminds Beloved about that day at the grape arbor and how quickly she ran back to Beloved.
    • And here's how she would have recognized Beloved as her Beloved, if Paul D hadn't distracted Sethe:
      (1) the sun on Beloved's face the day she arrived at 124 (it looked the same as the sun on her face at the grape arbor);
      (2) her water breaking the very minute she saw Beloved sitting on the stump outside 124
      (3) all the water Beloved drank (clearly connected to the spit baby Beloved dribbled on Sethe when Sethe got to 124);
      (4) Sethe's fingernail prints on Beloved's forehead (you know, from when she was holding baby Beloved's head to her neck in the shed);
      (5) when Beloved asked Sethe about the earrings that Sethe used to entertain baby Beloved with.
    • Now Sethe's getting closer to the present. She remembers how Paul D described her love for her children as "too thick."
    • The nerve of Paul D, right? Sethe's thinking: What does he know? Who would Paul D die for? What would he give up for another? Sex for a headstone carving?
    • Sethe's not okay with what Paul D said—that there could have been "some other way."
    • She's pretty adamant about how, for her, there couldn't have been another way; that there was no way she would let her kids experience what she went through at Sweet Home.
    • That's because when she says "you mine," she also means "I'm yours"—all of which basically means she can't live without her children.
    • Here's where Sethe really starts explaining. She points out that her real plan that day at the shed was to kill all her children and herself, only they stopped her before she could carry out that plan. Of course, they couldn't stop Beloved from returning to her.
    • And that's because Beloved's a good daughter, just like how she wanted to be a good daughter to her mother.
    • This gets her started on another memory about her mother's smile. Her mother had a bit in her mouth so much that she was always smiling, only it was never her own smile.
    • Sethe wonders what her mother and the other slaves were doing when they got caught. Were they running away? But Sethe can't believe that a mother would run off and leave a daughter behind. Would her mother have done that even if she didn't nurse Sethe for very long?
    • Sethe's mind returns to her mother's bit and her mother's forced smile. That image reminds her of the "Saturday girls" she saw when she got out of jail.
    • Saturday girls were women who prostituted themselves on the weekend in the back of the slaughterhouse.
    • Sethe was very, very close to becoming one herself. Broken and broke, she left jail with no way to support herself or baby Denver.
    • But she didn't because the Bodwins got her the cooking job at Sawyer's, which gave her the freedom to smile on her own like she is now when she thinks of Beloved.
    • Sethe goes on to explain that she would have prostituted herself or even go into the grave with Beloved if it hadn't been for the other children who needed her.
    • And all those suicidal thoughts? They were due to the fact that her mind was "homeless" then and that she couldn't "lay down" in peace with her baby girl.
    • But now she can because now Beloved's come back to her.
    • Although that last sentence? It's not as simple as it seems. Why? Because Sethe ends the chapter not talking to Beloved, but talking about Beloved. Sethe goes from "you" Beloved to "she" Beloved (as in "she is mine"). Weird, right?
    • Makes you wonder: is Beloved really hers? And is Sethe fit to be a narrator?
  • Chapter 21

    • Okay, we learned what was on Sethe's mind.
    • Now it's Denver's turn to tell the story.
    • Like Sethe, the first thing Denver thinks is that Beloved is hers. That's because she swallowed Beloved's blood along with her mother's milk. (Does that seem a little bit creepy to you? It does to us, too.)
    • She and Beloved have been a team ever since she was small, the both of them waiting for Halle—that is, all the way up until Paul D came and threw Beloved out.
    • Why was her father so important to Denver? We find out that Denver's scared of her mother since her mother killed one of her daughters and just missed killing her brothers. (Sounds like a good enough reason to us.)
    • Her brothers told her "die-witch! stories" so that she could protect herself from Sethe.
    • By the way, about her brothers—they told her that they were going to join the War. Denver figures it's because they'd rather be around "killing men" than "killing women."
    • Anyway, all of this is why Denver needs to own Beloved. She has to protect Beloved from Sethe in case Sethe ever thinks of killing her children again.
    • Denver's worried that whatever terrible thing that made Sethe kill once doesn't come from within 124. It comes from outside—out in the world.
    • That's why Sethe killed Beloved, after all. Something harmful came into their yard.
    • Which is why Denver hasn't left the house for years. She has to watch over the house and yard so that her mother won't have to kill Denver, too.
    • And how's this for vigilance? Denver's only gone out three times: once, by herself, to Miss Lady Jones' house and two other times with her mother (when Baby Suggs died and with Paul D to go the carnival). When she came back the second time, Beloved was there at 124.
    • Clearly, Beloved was ready to be protected by someone like Denver.
    • And Denver's serious about her job. She thinks again about how Sethe could harm Beloved. You see, Denver's witnessed her mother go to her dark place; she knows her mother has it in her still.
    • Denver also has a memory of touching. It's not all that clear who exactly is being touched; only that Sethe is definitely a part of the touching and it's not a good kind of touching.
    • Denver did try to clarify her memory by asking Nelson Lord (a friend?), but she recalls that she couldn't hear anymore what was said to her in reply. That's how she got to be so good at reading faces and minds—so that she wouldn't need to hear.
    • Actually, that's also why Denver and Beloved get along so well in Denver's mind—they don't need to talk when they play together.
    • At first, Denver did think that Beloved might have come back to hurt Sethe—to kill her in return—but then she realized that Beloved loves Sethe.
    • And that's what has her worried. She doesn't want Beloved to love Sethe too much.
    • You just can't love someone who might kill you at any moment. Logical, right?
    • And just so she's clear, Denver points out that Sethe did cut Denver's head off—every night.
    • Howard and Buglar told her that would happen and it did.
    • For Denver, the head-cutting came from the way Sethe looked at Denver, like Denver was a stranger to be pitied.
    • Then Sethe would take her head and braid her hair. Okay, we hear you—this is definitely weird because Denver's head, we're pretty sure, is still attached to her neck. But can you imagine a child's fear of having Sethe, the baby-throat-cutter, come to do her hair every night? Let's just say Sethe wouldn't be doing our hair.
    • The only place Denver has ever felt safe from Sethe is in Baby Suggs's room, which is a storeroom Baby Suggs built (she was a huge renovator, too; she changed the house completely by moving the kitchen indoors). That's where she would go to escape, where she didn't care about not hearing everybody.
    • In fact, not hearing things meant that she could dream about her father and wait for him to come.
    • If you can't tell by now, Denver really wants her father; she's thinking he can help her watch out for Sethe (or Ma'am, as Denver calls her) and watch over the yard.
    • Denver learned all about her father (who ends up being a lot like an angel—just too good for this world) from Baby Suggs. Things like: Halle could get happy over soft fried eggs; plus, he was smart since he knew basic math (he volunteered to learn from Mr. Garner) and believed education was necessary for slaves.
    • Just so you know, Denver can't think of her father without thinking of her grandmother, too, which is why Denver ends up recalling not just all the good stuff Halle did, but how Baby Suggs tried her best not to make her kids go crazy. According to Baby Suggs, kids go nuts when they see their mothers get knocked down by white men.
    • Since Baby Suggs never got knocked down in front of Halle, Denver believes Halle hasn't gone crazy and will show up one day, especially since Paul D was able to make it out.
    • Denver's hoping that it can just be Halle, Beloved, and herself one day; Sethe can go off with Paul D, especially now that Paul D's been in Sethe's bed. Denver's kind of a moralist.
    • But Baby Suggs has told her not to be judgmental about having sex with a lot of different men. Both black people and white people used to judge Baby Suggs for having a bunch of kids by 8 different men, but she believed that women should listen to and love their bodies (that's what she advised Denver to do).
    • Baby Suggs also told Denver that Denver was a charmed baby since Denver kept getting saved all the time.
    • Plus, Denver drank her sister's blood along with Sethe's milk. To Baby Suggs, that meant the ghost would never hurt Denver.
    • The ghost was coming for Sethe and possibly even Baby Suggs because they never stopped what happened in the shed. Denver only had to be careful because Baby Suggs thought the ghost was greedy for love, which was natural given the circumstances.
    • And of course Denver does love Beloved. She is, after all, Denver's.
  • Chapter 22

    • Now it's Beloved's turn to "talk." Why are we putting quote marks around talk? Because Beloved's idea of speech is really, really strange. She doesn't use real sentences and her thoughts are totally disjointed. There are gaps—literally—everywhere.
    • Making sense of Beloved's chapter can be a little like dealing with Swiss cheese, but it's also totally worth it because Beloved's speech is a lot like poetry or music—truly beautiful and haunting. Don't take our word for it though—read the chapter for yourself.
    • Beloved is stating the fact that she is Beloved—a bold statement considering Beloved's supposed to be dead.Beloved also points out that "she is mine," but it's not clear exactly who "she" is.
    • We do know that "she" is stripping leaves from flowers and putting those flowers in a basket, but not for herself.
    • Beloved would help her but the clouds are in the way.Beloved, by the way, isn't separate from "her." "She" and Beloved own the same face, and Beloved wants to be where "her" face is while looking at it, too. A little trippy considering we're pretty certain they're not playing Twister.
    • Beloved ends the first paragraph with this one mysterious phrase: "a hot thing." Hint: this phrase is really important because it's going to be repeated throughout the rest of this chapter and the next, so keep your eyes peeled for it.
    • Okay, moving on. Beloved thinks that everything is now. There isn't any past or present. It's all happening to her now. And what's happening to her is a whole lot of crouching and watching, all of which—we're guessing—isn't too comfortable for her (can you imagine the back pain and muscle cramping? Lucky she's a ghost).
    • Anyway, there's a dead man on her face and this guy's face is definitely not hers. Good thing too—he can't be that attractive if he's dead and face-planted on her.
    • But where is Beloved? She doesn't say, but wherever she is, it can't smell nice since the people around her "nasty themselves"—that's another way of saying they're urinating and defecating on themselves.
    • She herself isn't eating (for good reason, in our opinion).Oh and it gets grosser: the "men without skins" (interpret this how you want, but we're guessing these are white men) give Beloved and the people around her their "morning water" to drink—in other words, their urine. We know. Try not to gag.
    • Beloved must be kept somewhere with wooden slats or cracks because her only exposure to sunlight are the rays that filter through the slats.
    • Clearly, this place isn't a five-star hotel. Plus, it has rats and it's cramped. No one has any space to move.
    • The people can't even cry because they don't have enough water to drink. That also means that they can't sweat or urinate.
    • Suffice it to say, this place is pure hell.
    • Everyone wants to "leave their bodies behind," i.e., die. Hey, we would, too. Beloved, however, points out that "it is hard to make yourself die forever," that you always end up returning after a short while. That's ghost philosophy 101 for you.
    • Meanwhile, someone (or even some animal?) has teeth that Beloved thinks are "pretty white points." We're not so sure that anything with pointy teeth can be all that pretty—after all, aren't they a trademark of vampires?—but to each her own. We are sure, though, that Beloved's really into them because that dead man on her face? He gets pulled away, and, right afterward, Beloved admits that she misses his "pretty white points." (Yikes…)
    • At the same time, Beloved feels someone trembling, someone who's trying to leave his body. His trembling is like a small bird trembling, but because there isn't any room to tremble fully, he can't die (according to Beloved). We admit that that's some weird logic, but what else can you expect from Beloved?
    • By the way, everyone is now standing. Beloved, in her ever-descriptive language, says that her legs are like her dead man's eyes. We think it's safe to assume that that means Beloved can't stand too well.Beloved can't fall either; there's no room for it.
    • Now here is where things really start to get strange (relatively speaking of course). We know it's loud because those "men without skin" are making a racket.
    • Beloved also wants us to know that she isn't dead.On top of that, the bread is "sea-colored" (or moldy) so that can't be good to eat.
    • Beloved doesn't eat it though because she's too hungry.
    • By this time, they all must be out in the open somewhere because the sun makes Beloved's eyes close.
    • Near her is a pile of bodies "able to die." But Beloved can't find her dead man in that pile.That might be because there seem to be quite a few of these dead bodies; the men without skin actually need poles to push through the pile.
    • However, Beloved does spot the woman with the face she wants, the face Beloved thinks is hers.
    • The men end up pushing that woman and the rest of the dead bodies into the sea (which is, again, the same icky color as the bread).
    • Beloved's eyes are sharp enough to notice that the woman doesn't have anything in her ears. She also imagines what she would do if she had the pointy teeth of the dead man: she would bite through the "circle" or shackle around the woman's neck since she knows the woman doesn't like it.
    • Since the pile of dead bodies is in the sea, there's now room for Beloved to crouch and to watch others crouching like her. This position seems to signify the present tense because Beloved says that this crouching is "now always now inside."
    • By the way, that space between "now" and "inside" is straight from Beloved and typical of this chapter's text. So we're thinking that space, in general, is something you should really be aware of.
    • Oh—and that woman with Beloved's face? She's been dumped into the sea too.And just so you know, Beloved has been repeating that phrase—"a hot thing"—all throughout this part. Why? We can't say for sure, but we do think it's interesting that "a hot thing" seems to describe what Beloved feels when she sees all of the stuff going on around her.
    • Now for a brief interruption from your friendly Shmoop guide: we know you just want the plot summary here, but it might actually help for you to know a little about the Middle Passage since there's a pretty good chance this is what Beloved's talking about.
    • The Middle Passage was the journey that slaves were forced to make from Africa to the Americas. As you might expect, many of these people died on these slave ships due to truly horrible conditions like the kind Beloved's been describing.
    • Okay—back to your regular programming.
    • Beloved's really starting to repeat herself now. She's back to the beginning, remembering that "her" in the first paragraph—the one with the face with whom she's obsessed; the one she couldn't help because the clouds were in the way.
    • The woman she's talking about has a "shining in her ears." Earrings, maybe? Yep—Beloved's talking about earrings because she goes on to state that, among other things, the woman with the face wants her earrings.
    • There's another beginning, too. In this beginning, women and men are separated from each other, but the storms that rock them end up mixing the men and women together anyway.
    •  It's at this point that Beloved finds herself on the back of the man.
    • What man? It's not entirely clear, but his shoulders are wide and Beloved is small.
    • Beloved loves this man because he has a song. She remembers his soft singing, which reminds her of the place where the woman stripped leaves from flowers and put them in the round basket. Unfortunately, this man Beloved's describing is also dead.
    • The woman, on the other hand, is crouching near "us" (Beloved and the rest of the slaves?).
    • Beloved doesn't see her until the man with the song dies on Beloved's face.
    • Okay so now we know, right?
    • The man with the song is the same man who has the pretty little teeth; the same guy whose dead face is planted on Beloved's face.
    • Everything gets just a bit clearer (and a bit freakier). Beloved tells us she can't lose "her" again. She also lets us know that the man who died on her face was actually in the way: he blocked her view of the woman just like the clouds did.
    • Beloved believes that the woman is going to smile at her.
    • The woman's "sharp earrings" are gone now, and Beloved's back recalling the pile of dead bodies and how they're being dumped into the sea.
    • The men without skin push her dead man through, into the sea, but the woman doesn't get pushed; she just seems to fall in.
    • Beloved must be torn up about all of this, especially the woman's body going into the sea, because Beloved's still hung up on her deadened hope that the woman was going to smile at her (note the shift to past tense here, too).
    • After all of this, it's like a variation on a theme: Beloved replays for us the image of death surrounding her. The fact that she and some of the others are crouching. The fact that the dead bodies aren't crouching and, instead, are floating on the sea. How the woman (now with a "dark face") doesn't have her sharp earrings or round basket when she goes into the sea. And lastly, how she goes into the sea with Beloved's face.
    • But things don't end here. In fact, Beloved keeps telling her story and it's like she's adding layers to an onion rather than taking the layers away.
    • She adds details like the fact that she's standing in the falling rain and how, while the others are taken, she isn't.
    • She also watches "him" eat and returns to crouching.
    • And now for something really ominous (if dead floating bodies aren't enough for you): Beloved says she's "going to be in pieces" and that "he hurts where I sleep." What does she mean exactly?
    • The next line suggests something pretty creepy: the man "puts his finger there."
    • Then, Beloved drops her food and she breaks into pieces. Is it rape? Molestation? Or is it something altogether different? Interpret away. We should add, though, that Beloved goes back to the woman and states that she took Beloved's face away. That probably confuses things just enough to unsettle you (and us!).
    • Anyway, Beloved now thinks that no one wants her. It's like she's going through an identity crisis because no one is saying her name.
    • Beloved starts to wait: she waits under the bridge for "her," only this water is different than the sea because there aren't any dead bodies floating in it.
    • Only thing is, Beloved's still stuck on the face of the woman who is going to smile at her.
    • Beloved also hears chewing and swallowing and laughter (sounds like a party to us). It's the laughter Beloved really focuses on—the woman's laugh and the fact that Beloved is the "laugher." (That's not a typo by the way.)
    • But what about that face? Does she ever smile at Beloved like Beloved wants her to? Since this really isn't a Disney story, you can probably expect that things don't end too well. Not only is there no smile, Beloved's language gets more agitated. Her "sentences" are shorter; the spaces between them more frequent and regular.
    • More to the point, Beloved becomes even more obsessed with the face that she has to have. Beloved's in the water with the woman and her face, and Beloved is looking for the "join" with the woman.
    • In other words, Beloved really really wants to connect with this woman.
    • But the woman is chewing and swallowing even as she's reaching for Beloved.
    • And all of a sudden, Beloved is gone.
    • It's Beloved who's swimming away and who's alone.
    • Beloved does come out of the water and ends up at a house, but enough beating around the bush.
    • It's pretty clear by now that she's at 124, and the face she so wants is Sethe's face.
    • Of course, now that Beloved has rematerialized and has returned to Sethe, Sethe's face is smiling. Now they can join. But we can't help shaking our heads a little.
    • Beloved sure had to go through a lot just for a smile…
  • Chapter 23

    • So just when you thought things were as strange as they could get, it turns out that they can get even stranger.
    • We're back in Beloved's mind for Beloved's story, Round 2.
    • Remember how the last chapter was all fragmented and spacey (both literally and figuratively)? How it was really hard to get a straight story out of Beloved? Think of this chapter as that last chapter, only all filled out.
    • All of a sudden, Beloved's giving us a linear story. Of course, that doesn't mean the story isn't totally weird because it is.
    • Beloved starts this chapter the same way as the last one: "I am Beloved and she is mine."But now she's giving us whole sentences; she's actually explaining herself. This is her story:
    • Sethe's the one who was picking flowers. She's left them on the quilt where she and Beloved sleep. Sethe's about to smile at Beloved but the men without skin come and take them into the sunlight with the dead. The dead get shoved into the sea but not Sethe.
    • Sethe goes into the sea all on her own and leaves Beloved behind without a face.
    • So it's Sethe's face that Beloved finds and loses under the bridge. When Beloved goes into the water under the bridge, she sees Sethe's face rising up and realizes it's her face, too.
    • Beloved wants to join Sethe, but Sethe breaks into pieces and goes into the light, meaning Beloved's lost her again. But Beloved ends up finding the house (124) because she hears Sethe's whispers, so that means she does find Sethe.
    • And guess what? Yep—Sethe's finally smiling.
    • Now Beloved wants some answers: why did Sethe go in the water where they crouched and why did she do that when she was about to smile at Beloved? Translation: why did Sethe go way over into the deep end and kill baby Beloved?
    • Beloved wanted to join Sethe in the sea but wasn't able to move then; she also wanted to help out with the flower-picking but the clouds of gunsmoke (aha!) blinded Beloved so she lost Sethe.
    • On Beloved's count, she's lost Sethe three times: (1) when the gunsmoke blinded her during flower-picking, (2) when Sethe went into the sea, and( 3) when she went into the water to join Sethe but Sethe didn't smile (instead, Sethe whispered, chewed, and swam away).
    • But now that Beloved's at the house, it's all smiles: Sethe's smiling, Beloved's smiling.
    • Beloved's determined now not to lose Sethe again. That's because Sethe is Beloved's. (By the way, can you hear the Psycho soundtrack playing in your head right about now?)
    • What comes after Beloved's remarkably clear (if not strange) narrative is basically a dialogue. The dialogue doesn't show who's speaking, but if you've been paying attention, it's not too hard to figure out who's who. The dialogue is, at first, between Beloved and Sethe.Sethe's asking Beloved a bunch of questions like, is Beloved really back from the dead and does Beloved forgive her. You know, questions you'd expect to ask your resurrected dead baby girl whom you killed.
    • Beloved mostly answers Sethe's questions in the affirmative except for that one question about whether or not Beloved forgives her.
    • Beloved answers that question with another question: "Where are the men without skin?" Fair enough, we figure. After all, we're not so sure Sethe would really like a straight-up answer to her question.
    • And those four white men "without skin" are arguably responsible for Beloved's death.
    • Beloved definitely seems scared of the men because Sethe needs to reassure her that the men are gone.
    • Then the two of them start to talk about all the things Beloved mentions before: how the clouds got in the way of the flower-picking; how Beloved would have bit off the iron circle for Sethe. Beloved even extends an offer to make a round basket for Sethe. Clearly, Beloved has a lot of time on her hands.
    • Anyway, Sethe can't get over the fact that Beloved's back while Beloved asks for a smile.That sounds normal enough although we'd like to point out that the way Beloved asks for the smile is definitely important. She says, "Will we smile at me?"
    • Of course, Sethe's already smiling, but that's not the point of the conversation really because, in the end, it's really about the face. Beloved loves Sethe's face and wants it for her own.
    • The dialogue that follows is between Denver and Beloved; although "dialogue" might not be the right word. Both girls end up retelling their stories, but Beloved practically ignores what Denver says since she's so obsessed with Sethe. That is, until they both start to talk about Sethe. Their conversation goes like this:
    • Denver's all "we" this, "you" that to Beloved. She describes how they played by the creek together; how Beloved came to her when Denver needed her; how she's going to protect Beloved from Sethe; and, finally, how their father is coming for them.
    • Beloved, on the other hand, is all "I" this, "her"/ "she" that. She's remembering the water, the clouds, Sethe's face, her need for Sethe's smile, how Sethe hurt her, how she loves Sethe too much.
    •  And then, to really end the conversation, Beloved says her signature phrase—"a hot thing"—after Denver says Halle will be coming for them.
    • What follow the dialogues are, more or less, a chorus and a trio: Sethe, Beloved, and Denver are all speaking together, but they also take turns.
    • They all have their distinct phrases by now. For instance, Denver's the one who drank blood; Beloved's the one obsessed with Sethe's smile; and Sethe's the one who is fixated on Beloved's return.
    • But they all share a common chorus and that's "You are mine." Obviously, a possessive bunch, but we knew that already right?
    • Anyway, by the time they're done, it's hard to tell whose voice is speaking.
  • Chapter 24

    • So you can breathe a sigh of relief because we're leaving the strange voices behind for a second and returning to Paul D. Remember him?
    • Paul D's sitting in the church, staring at his hands. The church isn't much; it's small, cold, and used to be a dry goods store. If you want to feel sorry for Paul D, it's the perfect setting to make you feel that way.
    • His tobacco tin (hm… reminds us of his tin-box heart) has spilled wide open and everything inside is floating freely out.Now he can't stop remembering the past and he's going way back…
    • To his childhood: Paul D never knew his mother or his father. Having never had a typical family, Paul D always grew up fascinated by large slave families who were still together: he saw a family like that once in Maryland.
    • When he was little, Mr. Garner bought him and his two half-brothers (that'd be Paul A and Paul F, in case you're wondering).
    • For twenty years he lived at Sweet Home, where he had his brothers and his friends, Halle and Sixo, Baby Suggs, and the Garners.
    • The Garners treated them all well.
    • And then…Mr. Garner died. And Mrs. Garner got sick. And then schoolteacher came. You know how that story goes.
    • Paul D remembers that Sixo thought Mr. and Mrs. Garner died from other causes (a gunshot in the ear for the Mr.; bad medicine from the doctor for the Mrs.).
    • Apparently, the other slaves laughed at Sixo, but we're guessing they really shouldn't have because Sixo seemed to know a lot. He was the only one who wasn't sorry when Mr. Garner died.
    • And it was Sixo, after all, who explained to Paul D why schoolteacher came to the plantation.
    • Mrs. Garner couldn't be the only white person on the plantation. That's why she invited schoolteacher to come.
    • Paul D ponders this fact of slavery: everything depended on Mr. Garner. If Mr. Garner died, then everyone on the plantation would fall apart. Of course, that's exactly what happens.
    • For the longest time, Paul D thought that schoolteacher had it all wrong and Mr. Garner had it right. It wasn't right to abuse the slaves the way that schoolteacher did; they were men, right?
    • Now, though, he's not sure if there was much of a difference between schoolteacher and Mr. Garner. Was he only a man because Mr. Garner had said that he was?And if that was the case, wasn't he only a man because of Mr. Garner's will—not his own?
    • Paul D realizes that he and his half-brothers had been ignorant at Sweet Home, unlike Sixo, Halle, Sethe, and Baby Suggs.
    • The Pauls didn't think there was anything all that bad about Sweet Home or even slavery because all they had known were the Garners and their gentle ways.
    • So it took them a whole night to decide whether they should escape, again, unlike the others who knew differently.And then there was his tree—a really young aspen (not even a sapling, more like a shoot).
    • Paul D recalls how he loved that tree, but not because it represented life—in fact, just the opposite.
    • (By the way, if you haven't figured it out yet, this happens a lot in the novel: things are the opposite of what you expect. The lesson? Expect the unexpected.)
    • When he was in Alfred, Georgia, the tree reminded him of "murdered life" because it had branches that you could use to whip a horse (or a man).
    • Things changed though when the Cherokee told him to run toward the blossoming trees; he just wanted to keep moving after that. Until he finds Sethe, that is.But then "she" moves him around the house like a rag doll. By "she," we're pretty sure he means Beloved. Who else has the power to uproot everyone and everything?
    • Which brings us and him back to the present… Paul D sitting in front of the church thinking all these deep, sad thoughts that don't do anything for him.
    • What happened to the Plan?, he wonders. How could it all have gone wrong? You know which plan he means—the escape from Sweet Home.
    • Paul D can't help replaying everything in his mind.It starts with Sixo and how he hears about the group of runaway slaves from his girlfriend, the Thirty-Mile Woman.
    •  A woman was going to wait a night and half a day for them in a field of corn; her sign would be a rattle and she would take them to the caravan of other runaways.Everyone including Sixo's girlfriend was going to go, except the two Pauls who couldn't decide whether to take the risk. Sound familiar? Yeah, you've heard it all before.
    • But hold on—Paul D supplies us with some new details like how the two Pauls debated whether or not to go get Paul F, who had a different master. Paul F lived with his owner at a place called the "trace."
    • When the Pauls decide that they're in, Sixo starts planning everything out for them. They're going to leave after spring, once the corn grows tall and can provide cover. They're also leaving at night.
    • They prepare all the items they need for the trip: food, knives, blankets, a rope, a pot. No shoes, though. They observe schoolteacher and the Garners in order to figure out the white people's habits and schedule.
    • In the end, they decide that Sixo and the Pauls will leave after supper and wait for Sixo's girlfriend in the creek. Halle, Sethe, and their kids will get there before dawn (just in case Mrs. Garner needs Sethe at night).
    • "But." That one word is all you need to know about the plan. Not that we don't already know the outcome.
    • Because Sethe is pregnant, because neighbors keep popping up whenever they feel like it, because Sethe's kids aren't allowed in the kitchen anymore, because Sixo ends up locked in the stock, because Halle is forced to work at Sweet Home rather than get hired out—all of these things make them change the plan little by little.
    • They still think it's a good plan, but we know better.
    • The day they hear the sign (it ends up being a song), Halle ends up disappearing. Except for the butter churn, Halle isn't seen again.
    • Paul D isn't sure what happened to Halle. He comes up with a few possible scenarios, but the point is, no one knows why Halle didn't show.
    • Then Paul A doesn't show either.
    • What happens is that schoolteacher has figured out the plan. Paul D and Sixo are caught and tied up.Paul D remembers how they set fire to Sixo: they tie him up but have a hard time making a fire big enough to burn Sixo, so Sixo starts laughing. He only stops to yell out "Seven-o! Seven-o!"
    • They finally shoot him to shut him up.
    • As for Paul D, the white men get together and discuss his dollar value.
    • Paul D remembers this next part so well that he's recalling schoolteacher's exact words and tone.
    • Schoolteacher is complaining about how Mr. Garner spoiled his slaves by letting the slaves have all the "freedoms" they got. Now he's worried that the plantation is going to get worse because two of the slaves (he uses the N-word) are dead and he can't find Halle. He thinks he can get $900 for Paul D and keep Sethe as well as the rest of her family. Doing so might help turn the plantation around.
    • The men even discuss the possibility of having schoolteacher marry someone, although schoolteacher is focused on Sweet Home.
    • Then they take Paul D back to Sweet Home, where they put a three-spoke collar around his neck and shackle his ankles so that he can't lie down.
    • Sethe finds him this way. She's gotten her children out and has she come back for Halle, who she can't find.
    • Paul D tells her what he knows: Sixo was killed and he doesn't know anything about Paul A and Halle.
    • When he looks into Sethe's eyes, he notices that there are no whites—her eyes are completely black. Paul D thinks that the boys must have taken Sethe into the barn soon after.
    • When she told Mrs. Garner about the rape, the boys took the cowhide and whipped her.
    • Thinking back, Paul D isn't surprised that schoolteacher hunted Sethe down in Cincinnati.
    • Since Sethe could reproduce without cost, she could generate more income for schoolteacher. Sick, isn't it?
    • Anyway, this gets Paul D to think about how much each one of them would have been worth.
    • More or less than his $900 body?
    • Then he ponders Sixo's last words: "Seven-O! Seven-O!" Why "Seven-O"? Because his girlfriend the Thirty-Mile Woman, pregnant with Sixo's child, had ended up getting away.
    • Sixo's laughter hangs on his mind because it was so full of glee it seemed to put out the fire underneath Sixo.
    • And if you think about it, it is almost like Sixo manages to outsmart the men since they don't know about his girlfriend or her pregnancy.
    • After all that, Paul D recalls Halle with the butter churn and the rooster who smiled at him as if to say there was worse to come… like Alfred, Georgia.
  • Chapter 25

    • Paul D's still sitting in the church and thinking when Stamp Paid finds him.
    • Stamp apologizes for the fact that no one in the community has taken Paul D in.
    • He says that all Paul D has to do is ask—any one of the families around will gladly take him in now.
    • Paul D says that he's actually chosen to live in the church even though the preacher offered him a spare bed. He says he needs some time alone.
    • There's a small interruption: a man on a horse comes up and asks where Judy from the slaughterhouse is.
    • For some reason, Stamp (who knows everyone and everything) says he doesn't know a Judy and leads that guy astray. We're not sure why, but maybe Stamp doesn't like the guy and is protecting Judy.
    • Or maybe he just doesn't like Judy (she's probably a prostitute at the slaughterhouse). After all, Paul D asks to stay at Judy's house and instead of telling Paul D where she is, he distracts Paul D by telling him how he changed his name from Joshua to Stamp Paid.
    • Stamp explains that he used to be married to a beautiful woman named Vashti.
    • One day the master's son decides that he wants to have Stamp Paid's wife.
    • Stamp tells Paul D that he should have killed the man, but his wife had asked him not to.
    • For nearly a year, the master's son sleeps with his wife.
    • For revenge, Stamp Paid tells the master's son's wife about what was happening. He realizes, though, that she already knows. And she isn't going to do anything to stop it.
    • Then one day, his wife tells him she's back.
    • Stamp tells Paul D that he broke her neck and that was as low as he ever got. But then, right afterwards, he tells Paul D that he didn't snap her neck; he changed his name instead. The way Stamp tells the story, though, we're not so sure that he didn't break his wife's neck.
    • The second thing Stamp tells Paul D is that he was in the yard when Sethe killed her daughter.
    • Paul D doesn't know what to think.
    • Stamp Paid tries to explain that Sethe did what she did out of love. She just wanted to "outhurt the hurter."
    • But Paul D is still scared. He's scared of Sethe, of himself, and, finally, of Beloved. (Smart guy.)
    • The mention of Beloved gets them onto the topic of who Beloved is.
    • Okay, not that everything in the novel isn't significant, but this piece of information is really important: Stamp mentions that a white man had a girl locked up in a house at Deer Creek. The white man was found dead in the summer and the girl was gone.
    • So here's our question to you: Is Beloved really Beloved? Or is she the runaway girl? Or could it be both? Could the girl be possessed by Beloved the ghost? Just some stuff for you to chew on…
    • Stamp Paid asks if it was Beloved that ran Paul D out of 124.
    • Shuddering, Paul D realizes that he can't answer Stamp's question.
    • Instead, he asks Stamp, "How much is a nigger supposed to take?"
    • To which Stamp replies, "All he can."
    • The chapter ends with Paul D crying out "Why?" five times. (Hint: that number is pretty significant. Think about it.)
  • Chapter 26

    • Part 3 begins, and we're back at 124 again.
    • Now, though, the house is quiet. Too quiet.See, hunger can make you quiet, especially if you're saving up all your strength for a battle. And that's what Beloved and Sethe are doing.
    • There's no more food in the house. Sethe's wasting away. She's lost her job at Sawyer's because Beloved's been consuming all her time and energy.
    • Beloved, on the other hand, is getting fatter and bigger and shinier by the day, although she still keeps asking for sweets and she seems really weak.It's been this way for a while now.
    • For the first month, Denver thinks everything is great. They play games, ice-skate in the moonlight. Sethe makes them dresses trimmed with such colorful ribbons that they look fit for a carnival. But then Denver realizes that Sethe and Beloved aren't including her in their games, so Denver drops into the background and decides just to watch over Beloved.
    • At first, Denver thinks Sethe might be the dangerous element. You know, because of Sethe's history with Beloved.
    • But Denver discovers that Beloved's the problem. Nothing Sethe does for Beloved is enough; Beloved just demands more.
    • Slowly, things change; the atmosphere in the house is no longer loving. Beloved gets angry whenever Sethe doesn't give her enough of what she wants. And since Beloved is basically a bottomless pit of need and desire, Sethe's pretty much screwed.
    • Sethe tries to get Beloved to ease up on her demands by pulling the whole "I suffered so much as a mother for all of you" shtick, but no go—Beloved doesn't feel guilty.
    • In fact, Sethe's attempt at guilt trips just prompts Beloved to ask that million dollar question that Sethe probably really doesn't want to hear: how could Sethe leave Beloved behind?It's like a reverse guilt trip.
    • Sethe cries, tries to explain why she did what she did back then, but Beloved's totally one-ups Sethe when it comes to tragedy.
    • Beloved tells Sethe that Beloved was the one who had dead men on top of her; who starved from having nothing to eat. Oh and here's a kicker that we're just going to quote outright: "Ghosts without skin [we're guessing white men again] stuck their fingers in her and said beloved in the dark and bitch in the light." Yeah. Try beating that for trauma-drama.
    • Plus, she was killed by her mother. How does a mother respond to all of that? Sethe commits to Beloved even more, says she would have taken Beloved's place if she could (a whole lot of good that does now). She also lists all the ways in which she was a devoted, attentive mother back at Sweet Home.
    • But Beloved doesn't buy any of it. She accuses Sethe of never coming to her, never speaking to her, never smiling, and—worst of all—never saying goodbye or looking at her once she leaves Beloved.
    • And what happens when Sethe—on occasion—tries to assert her maternal will?
    • Beloved throws tantrums that we're betting even Supernanny wouldn't be able to manage. Basically, Beloved is like the toddler from hell, and, instead of checking the behavior like a mother should, Sethe just feeds that bad behavior by bending to Beloved's will.
    • Since Beloved takes everything from Sethe, Sethe is left literally scraping the bottom—of bowls, stoves, jam jars.
    • Denver tries to help Sethe where she can.
    • Eventually, Beloved drains Sethe and the household so much that the three become physically exhausted and listless. Denver sees that they're wasting away, locked together in a destructive love. You know those relationships that your mother tells you to stay away from? This is one of them, except Denver can't tell her mother that.
    • What does jolt Denver into action is when she sees Sethe spit something up that isn't food. Sethe's clearly sick, which makes Denver understand that it isn't Beloved who needs protection, but Sethe.
    • So Denver decides to leave 124, go into the community (which—let's face it—is just like going into the world for her), and ask for help.But she's petrified and frozen on the steps of 124.
    • Okay, leaving your house may not seem like a big deal, but, for Denver, it is. She hasn't left 124 by herself in a long, long time.
    • Plus, she doesn't know who to go to for help. She only has two real options: Stamp Paid and Lady Jones, her teacher. She more or less settles on Lady Jones.
    • So Denver's on the steps, ready to go. It's a gorgeous spring day. But she can't move.
    • Denver thinks back to a conversation between Baby Suggs and Sethe about white people. Sethe ends up defending (some) white people; she says that not all of them are bad and some of them have helped her and Baby Suggs out.
    • But Baby Suggs isn't so forgiving. In fact, she describes white people almost like animals: they "prowl at will" and behave in an inhuman way.
    • So you can understand why Denver might not want to leave 124. It may be crazy in the house but at least there isn't the threat of those scary white people, who might be anywhere out there.
    • And then it's like Denver hears Baby Suggs speak to her. Okay, given that Beloved might be a ghost, it's more like this: Baby Suggs actually does speak to her. Her advice to Denver? Sure, there's no defense against white people and the rest of the world. But you "[k]now it, and go on out the yard. Go on."
    • So Denver does. She walks, at first with trepidation and then with gradual ease, down the roads that lead to Lady Jones' house. She discovers that those things that looked so big to her when she was much younger, like a boulder or a dog, now seem small.
    • When Denver gets there, Lady Jones is pretty surprised to see her, but she recognizes Denver right away.It's also the first time that we get to "see" Denver. We find out, for instance, that she has the look of a child about her even though she must be 18 or 19 years old.
    • Through Lady Jones's perspective, we learn, moreover, that Denver was a smart kid who learned quickly even though other people (not Lady Jones, of course) thought Denver was "simple."
    • What about Lady Jones, though? Who is she? For starters, she's mixed: part black, part white. She has gray eyes and yellow hair.
    • It's her hair that's a sore spot for Lady Jones. Ever since her childhood, she's heard all the racial slurs a mixed kid can hear. As a result, Lady Jones has grown into hating her hair.She's also convinced that the world hates her, including her "rainbow-colored children," born of her union with the "blackest man she could find."
    • Among the other things that happened to her because of her race: she got picked to teach at a school for black children in Pennsylvania and, in turn, has devoted her life to teaching the "unpicked" kids in Cincinnati—kids like Denver.
    • But back to Denver: Denver's come to Lady Jones looking for work because she needs to find a way to feed her mother and her sister.
    •  Lady Jones immediately feels sorry for Denver and murmurs "oh, baby." The moment Denver hears that word and experiences Lady Jones' kindness is the moment she gets introduced to not just the world, but adulthood in general. Lady Jones opens the way for Denver to experience a community again.
    • Even though Lady Jones doesn't believe that anyone should hire a person to do housework, she makes it clear to Denver that Denver doesn't have to worry about food. Her church and the community can give Denver's family food.Is it pride or something else?
    • In any case, Denver refuses Lady Jones's charity and leaves.
    • However, only a couple of days later, Denver finds a sack of white beans on the tree stump in the yard of 124. That starts things off.
    • Women in the community start to leave food at 124. They never come in, but they leave little notes saying who left the food.
    • Although Denver's shy, she does know her manners and so she starts to visit the women in order to show her thanks. And slowly, Denver becomes a part of the community.
    • Moreover, Denver's continuing her education with Lady Jones. She learns to read the Bible and even memorizes 52 pages, one page for each week of the year.
    • Meanwhile, Sethe and Beloved aren't doing well. Sure, they take the food, but otherwise, they're pretty much in their own world. Denver's ignored, which, if you think about it, probably isn't the worst thing in the world for Denver.
    • The relationship between Sethe and Beloved has deteriorated so much that their roles have completely reversed: Sethe's like a baby and Beloved's like the mother. Sethe gives everything up to Beloved while Beloved just roams around eating and sleeping.
    • By the way, Beloved's huge now—like watermelon-in-the-stomach huge… catch the hint?
    • Denver tries to take care of Sethe and Beloved (does she have the choice not to?) as usual, but there's not much else she can do outside of feed them. To her, the dynamic between Sethe and Beloved is pretty clear: Sethe feels bad about the handsaw and so she's trying to make it up to Beloved. And Beloved has no qualms about making Sethe pay for the past.
    • Denver's pretty disgusted by the whole deal, but she gets why Sethe lets Beloved get away with everything: she's like how Denver used to be—scared that Beloved might leave.
    • And not just leave—Beloved might leave before Sethe gets her to understand what slavery under white people was like; how it could make you so "dirty" that you forgot who you were.
    • Sethe's best part is her children. They're clean and pure and there's no way Sethe will ever let any of them get dirtied by the stain of slavery.
    • Of course, this all goes over Beloved's head. Or rather, she doesn't care. She only cares about the fact that Sethe was the cause of all her trauma.
    • While Sethe and Beloved are embroiled in their obsession for each other, Denver—her father's daughter—becomes super-practical.
    • The girl understands that she needs to find work; charity's great and all but it can't go on forever. Plus, it's not like she can do anything about her mother and Beloved; they're beyond help and, by the way, still totally ignorant of all that Denver and the community have done for them.
    • Denver gets it now: it's time for self-preservation. Nelson Lord reminds her of this when, in passing, he happens to say to her, "Take care of yourself, Denver."
    • Ever the smart one, Denver figures that the Bodwins had at one time helped Baby Suggs and Sethe, so why not continue the tradition and help out Denver?
    • That's how Denver ends up at the Bodwins', discussing job opportunities with the Bodwins' black maid Janey Wagon. Janey's more than that though; she's the gatekeeper for the Bodwins (who are old now).
    • She determines who gains access to the Bodwins.Maybe it's because Denver recognizes that Janey's not going to help her until Denver tells her whole story to Janey.
    • Denver finds herself spilling her guts to Janey, which basically means that—of course—Janey's going to help her out. Janey remembers and respects Baby Suggs. She also seems to know something's up with Denver's "cousin" (a.k.a. Beloved) because she asks if Beloved's hands have lines (which Beloved doesn't… creepy).
    • So she offers Denver a job as a night nurse/maid for the Bodwins. Janey can't do that job anymore and needs someone to cover her. If you haven't guessed, Janey clearly holds quite a bit of power in the Bodwins' household; she's kind of like a cross between a head of Human Resources and an executive assistant.
    • Everything seems great as Denver leaves the Bodwin house, except that she sees something pretty strange. Actually, it's not strange as much as it's a little disturbing considering the Bodwins are supposed to be the good type of white people: Denver notices a small figurine of a black boy on a shelf. The black boy has his mouth wide open, full of money; he also happens to be kneeling. Painted across the bottom of the figurine's pedestal is the phrase "At Yo Service."
    • Perhaps not the most racially-sensitive piece of interior decoration.
    • Once Denver's gone, you can bet that her story spreads like wildfire.
    • Janey doesn't even bother keeping her mouth shut, but she isn't just feeding the rumor mill. She's concerned, just like many of the women in the community become concerned once they hear the full story of Denver's plight.
    • Ella (you remember her—Stamp got mad at her for not taking in Paul D), especially, thinks something needs to be done about Beloved and Sethe. She convinces a bunch of women that a rescue is in order.
    • Why is Ella more concerned than most of the others? We get the sense that she's a version of your modern-day community activist. She's practical and into community-building. She also has a pretty bad history herself, with a childhood in which she was "shared" by both the father of the house and his son.
    • Ella was never a fan of Sethe, who turned away from the community after she got out of jail. But Ella recognizes sense when she sees it, and she sees it in Denver.
    • Plus, she thinks the past should stay in the past and the dead shouldn't be in the world of the living. In practical terms, that means Beloved's whole ghostly possession act has got to go.
    • On the day Denver's supposed to start her job, Ella and about 30 other women show up at 124.
    • The women are a pan-religious bunch; they bring crosses, chicken necks… hey, whatever works, right?
    • Denver doesn't see them at first because she's looking the other way for Mr. Bodwin, who's supposed to pick her up. She's also shaken up because she's just had a sad dream about a pair of shoes, running. (You might want to ask yourself what the deal is with shoes. Or you can just check out our section on "Symbols.")
    • Denver finally sees them grouped outside the house. She waves. Some of them wave back.
    • Then the women start to pray. And sing—a song without words.
    • Meanwhile, Mr. Bodwin's literally taking a trip down memory lane as he's driving toward 124.
    • He's thinking about how fond he is of 124, so much so that he doesn't mind not charging much rent (or any) on it since it at least hasn't been abandoned. It's the place where he's buried his childhood treasures, like a box of tin soldiers and a watch chain with no watch. His buried childhood treasure makes him think of his father, who we get the feeling was a tough love kind of dad. But his father also believed and taught Mr. Bodwin this core principle: all human life is holy.
    • Mr. Bodwin has definitely lived that principle. He was, after all, a part of the Society—an abolitionist group—and helped slaves as much as he could. For instance, he and his sister were the ones who got Sethe out of jail.
    • But that's all in the past. Now Mr. Bodwin just wants the simple things in life, like knowing where his childhood treasures are; going home; eating supper; sleeping.Okay, why is all this stuff about Mr. Bodwin important? Where's the good stuff?
    • We promise: this is where the action starts.
    • Mr. Bodwin is arriving at 124 just as the women are picking up their singing.
    •  By this time, Sethe and Beloved have noticed the women enough to go outside on the porch. Sethe has an ice pick in her pocket because she had been breaking up ice in the yard earlier. Beloved's feverish and ragged, but, standing on the porch, she looks like a hot, pregnant Medusa to the women in the yard.
    • Then Sethe sees Mr. Bodwin's black hat. Can you guess where this is going? Yep. Sethe freaks out.
    • The white man is coming into her yard; the white man is coming for "her best thing."
    • She hears hummingbird wings. She becomes one with the ice pick and goes all Basic Instinct on Mr. Bodwin (poor guy—he really wasn't expecting this). Hey, we can look at it this way: at least she doesn't go for Beloved a second time.
    • Beloved, on the other hand, feels loss. She's been left alone on the porch and all she can think is that Sethe's leaving her again.
    • That is until Beloved sees the man without skin (or, in this case, Mr. Bodwin) looking at her…
    • Read on to the next chapter to see what happens (hey, even a Nobel-prize-winning author needs an occasional cliffhanger).
  • Chapter 27

    • Paul D's back!
    • 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.
  • Chapter 28

    • Ah…you thought the book ended with that romantic ending to Sethe and Paul D, huh? But that would just be too easy, wouldn't it?
    • So we have another, final chapter, if you can consider it a chapter (it's only a page and a half). It's definitely not typical—what is in this novel?—since it has no real plot.
    • But it is clearly about Beloved (and all that/whom she represents).
    • Think of it as "Beloved: Where is she now?"And where exactly is she?
    • It's hard to say since she has become the stuff of a bad dream everyone has tried to forget. In fact, the way the narrator writes about her, she's almost more like a sad, generic ghost story. She's so forgotten that she doesn't even have a name.
    • Plus, the narrator keeps telling us that this is not a story to pass on.
    • However, there is the sense that she's still around. Maybe it's in a rustle or a brush along a cheek or a moved picture frame. At the back of 124, in the woods, near the stream, there are also footprints that appear to fit everyone's feet and that disappear once a person leaves.
    • But eventually, not just the footprints, but even the water, too—even that disappears from people's minds.
    • The only thing left is the weather, as in the change of seasons.
    • Oh, and one final word: "Beloved."