Study Guide

Beloved Chapter 16

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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.

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