|[ Section 1 ]
[The Story][ The Structure]
[The Themes][ Timetable]
|[ Section 2
Imagery and significant themes
BELOVED - TONI MORRISON
Begins in 1873, in Cincinnati, Ohio, in a house on Bluestone Road, number 124. In the house live a former slave woman called Sethe (pronounced Seth-thuh) and her daughter, Denver, who is seventeen. The house, rented from an abolitionist brother and sister called the Bodwins, is the former home of Sethe's mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, who died eight years before the story begins. The story is both a narrative of "present" events and a series of lengthy flashbacks, during which the histories of the various characters are revealed. At the opening of the story, 124 is "spiteful" and "full of a baby's venom" because it is haunted by the spirit of Sethe's other daughter whose given name is never revealed, but who is known by the word on her headstone "Beloved". Sethe got the carving done by allowing the stonemason to have sex with her. "Ten minutes for seven letters. With another ten could she have gotten" Dearly" too?" Beloved died violently, murdered by her mother, and has already driven away the two sons, Howard and Buglar before the story opens.
The events which surround the revelations start with the arrival at 124 of "the last of the Sweet Home men", Paul D Garner, a slave who worked with Sethe on the farm in Kentucky from which Sethe escaped in 1855. He has searched her out after eighteen years and the attraction they feel for one another sets off the emotional turmoil which results in the remembrance and acknowledgement of the horrors of the past. Paul D drives out the ghost, "beating it out" of the house and his presence causes Sethe to begin to feel again and Denver to feel jealous. Their delicate unity precipitates a resurrection of Beloved as an eighteen year old woman, who walks out of the river to claim her mother and sister, get rid of Paul D and have revenge for her death.
Beloved, at first unrecognised by both Sethe and Denver, establishes herself in 124 as a permanent guest and moves Paul D out. She makes him seduce her and becomes pregnant with his child, then makes him leave when he finds out what Sethe did to her children. Left alone in the house together, the three women recognise one another and begin a deadly struggle for survival. Denver is the one who breaks out of the circle to go for help to the other black people of the town. Thirty three women eventually band together to drive Beloved back to where she came from. They "holler" and sing, making a sound which is "a wave of sound wide enough to sound deep water and knock the pods off chestnut trees" and Beloved is driven off, back to where she existed "before", into a kind of limbo.
The other , deeper element of the novel is the recollection by various characters of the events which brought them to 124 Bluestone Road in the summer of 1873. Sethe uses the word "rememory" to describe the events of her past life and her story is the central strand to which the stories of other people are connected. She is a runaway slave, and the horror of her escape and the consequences of it; her 28 days of freedom in Baby Suggs's house and her attempted recapture have caused her to bury the memories of what happened deep within her subconscious. She is scarred both mentally and physically, carrying on her back a "chokecherry tree", which is a welter of scar tissue from a savage beating given to her when she was pregnant with Denver, just before she escaped. Her mental scars are far deeper and just as permanent from a life of slavery and degradation which cause her to try to murder all her four children rather than have them taken away from her by the slave catchers and her former master, "schoolteacher". She has spent eighteen years living as best she can with the buried knowledge of the past until Paul D awakes her emotions sufficiently for her to see that it is possible for her to make a new life. Beloved's hold on her, however and the "thick" love which Sethe feels for her murdered baby stand in the way of redemption. As Sethe begins to "put down" the burden of her past, Beloved feels more and more threatened and recreates a physical body to come back to claim her mother's soul.
The other people around Sethe; her daughter Denver, born on the runaway journey; Paul D Garner, former slave and friend of Sethe's husband Halle; Halle's freed mother, Baby Suggs; Stamp Paid, who runs the escape routes into Ohio across the river and various other characters also have stories to tell. They are revealed as the main narrative progresses, often in fragments and episodes, as the haunting begins and continues and as emotions are freed. All the stories are desperate accounts of the horrors of slavery, except for the oasis of comparative freedom which existed on the farm called Sweet Home in Kentucky, where Sethe and the others worked. When the death of the owner, Garner occurs, his sister's husband who is known as "schoolteacher" comes to help the sick Mrs Garner to run Sweet Home. He is a monster who brings with him the reality of the brutality of the slave system and precipitates the attempts to escape. Paul D is recaptured and sold on, ending up on a chain gang in Georgia for attempting to kill his new owner, Mr Brandywine. He escapes and spends eighteen years on the road, surviving the Civil war and ending up back in Ohio looking for Sethe. His story, told in sections, is a tale of extreme suffering which has not succeeded in brutalising him, but in locking up his emotions in a "tobacco tin" where his heart should be. He rediscovers his heart through coming into contact with Sethe and Denver and through the physical contact with Sethe and Beloved, both of whom become Paul's lovers. His honesty and the strength of his spirit are sufficient to exorcise the house, and eventually to begin the healing process for Sethe and for himself once Beloved is banished by Ella and the howling women.
Denver's story is bound inextricably with both her mother's sufferings and those of her sister, Beloved. She is born during Sethe's escape and she is saved from death in the shed by the old man Stamp Paid, who snatches her out of Sethe's hands as she is about to be dashed against the wall. After the murder, Denver "took her mother's milk right along with the blood of her sister" and the bond between her and Beloved is strong. Lonely and isolated, Denver grows up in a world of suspicion, fear and ostracism. When her sister returns to the house as a physical being, Beloved is protected at first by Denver who fears that Sethe will kill again, but that role is reversed as it becomes clear that it is Sethe who needs to be protected from the wrath and vengeance of the murdered girl. Denver grows up during the days in 124 when the three are locked in the battle for one another's souls. The loss of Beloved is painful for both Denver and her mother, but the consequence is acceptance by the community and the chance at last for a normal family life with Paul D. It is Denver who becomes the bridge between the community and her mother.
The stories of Baby Suggs and her son Halle, Sethe's husband (although they do not have a real marriage, merely a decision to live as man and wife with the knowledge and consent of their owner Mr Garner on Sweet Home) also form part of the narrative. Halle buys his mother's freedom on credit before Sethe arrives on Sweet Home and Mr Garner lets Halle work off the price by hiring himself out at weekends. Mr Garner takes Baby Suggs to Cincinnati to live in the house owned by the Bodwins, who are friends of his. They are abolitionists and detest all slavery, even the "enlightened" kind Garner practises. It is the Bodwins who intervene when Sethe kills her child, and manage to get her a jail sentence instead of being hanged. Baby Suggs lives in 124 Bluestone Road waiting for the day that her son will be able to come and live with her. It is to Baby Suggs that Halle and Sethe plan to run when they decide to escape after Garner dies and schoolteacher and the pupils (nephews) take over Sweet Home. All the hands decide to escape but their plans go wrong. Paul D and Sixo are captured; Sixo is burned and shot and Paul D put in a collar. Halle never makes it off the farm, though , he disappears from sight during the afternoon when he tries to warn Sethe to get ready. He has to witness the rape and abuse of Sethe by the nephews in the barn as he hides over her head waiting for the right time to leave for Ohio. What he sees - the nephews taking the milk from Sethe's breasts before they rape her, breaks him completely. Paul D sees him sitting beside the butter churn smearing the contents over his head and face after Sethe runs. She never knows for sure why he does not run with her and only finds out what has happened as Paul D begins to tell her the missing bits of the story eighteen years later.
Baby Suggs is an important figure in the Black community in Cincinnati, being something of a wise woman and an unchurched preacher. She has a gift for communicating with people and they admire, respect and love her. She holds meetings in a woodland clearing at the back of her house in Bluestone Road which are Christian, but in a very primeval African way. The Black people come and stand in the trees and she sits in the middle on a rock. She commands the children to laugh, the men to dance and the women to cry. She preaches to them, not sin and redemption, but that "the only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine. That if they could not see it they would not have it." She tells them to love themselves; their bodies. their hearts, because "this is the prize". What Baby Suggs does is the healing process which knits up the ruined lives and self esteem of a beaten race. She maintains a "great heart" until the day that evil comes into her own yard in the form of "four horsemen" (c.f. the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in Revelation) and she has to see the horror in the shed and the death of her grandchild and the imprisonment of her daughter in law for murder. What breaks her and causes her to give up her fight and contemplate colour until she decides to die is the knowledge that even in her freedom she is still a slave to the whims of the whitefolks, who can ride into her yard without warning and do exactly as they like. It is just one abomination too many for her.
THE STRUCTURE OF THE NOVEL
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(I will use page references from the Picador paperback version.)
The 1873 narrative falls into three parts - Part 1 is Paul D's arrival and the despatch of Beloved in her baby ghost form from 124; her reappearance as an entity with a physical eighteen year old body; the beginning of Sethe's liberation from the past through Paul D's love and Beloved's retaliation against them. Paul D is "run off" from 124 after Beloved has made him impregnate her and after he hears Sethe's account of what she did to her children in the shed. It is the longest of the three episodes and climaxes with the revelation of Beloved's death and Paul D's decision to leave Sethe because she has "two legs, not four."
Part 2 is a short section where the three women fight for possession of one another's soul and sanity in 12; Paul D is given shelter by the black community and more of the past is revealed. This is the section which contains the "roaring" spirit voices and the "unspeakable thoughts" of the women in 124 (pp 200-217) in a kind of astral battle which everyone outside can hear.
Part 3 is the deterioration of Sethe and final defeat of the thing which is Beloved by Ella and the 33 black women who gather outside and howl her off the premises. Denver makes the bridge from 124 to the outside world and re-establishes human contact which had been lost since the afternoon of the murder, realising that the thing which looks like her grown up sister is trying to kill her mother. As Beloved grows bigger with her pregnancy, Sethe gets smaller and more emaciated, as if Beloved is feeding off her mother. When the women come Sethe and Beloved go outside onto the porch. Mr Bodwin is coming to take Denver to his home to start a job there and Sethe sees him in his buggy. She experiences the same feeling of blind panic that drove her to try to kill all her children once before but this time prompted by the thing that looks like her dead daughter, she runs to kill the white man with the ice pick she has in her hand. Ella knocks her unconscious before she can do any harm and the women hold her down. The Beloved thing disappears - some say explodes - and Sethe collapses after the incident and takes to her bed like Baby Suggs, waiting to die. Paul D comes back and "puts his story next to hers", bringing her the promise of "some kind of tomorrow". The novel ends with a sinister and also sad "rememory" of Beloved existing unclaimed and forgotten in a limbo which no one will dare investigate because "they know things will never be the same if they do".
The duration of the 1873 narrative is about twelve months, beginning in August and ending at about the same time the following year. The events which are recounted and remembered by the characters, though, happen over the previous eighteen years. Sethe and Paul D are in their mid thirties when he comes to her in Cincinnati and they were in their late teens at Sweet Home. The stories are not revealed in a connected narrative, but in a series of "asides", either recounted by people or revealed by the author to illustrate or underscore part of the 1873 narrative. In this way the book is very like a stream of consciousness; structured like real thought patterns and recounted the way we do tell our stories to one another, as they occur to us and not always in a logical or clear order of events. The book is a series of stories within a central story and there are, also various narrative styles of telling. Some are terse and fast paced, like Paul D's account of the Georgia chain gang on pp 100-113 and Denver's account of her birth on the road on pp 77- 85 while some build up a gradual tension through a slow-paced series of digressions (Baby Suggs's recollections of her freedom pp 135 - 147) followed by a fast and confused series of word pictures and images of horror (the arrival of the schoolteacher and Beloved's murder pp 148 - 153) At times, also, there are strange flights of fancy which are the disconnected thoughts of the three women, Beloved in particular and snatches of dialogue (the thought voices on pp 200 - 217) Song plays an important part, also, and it should be noted that the style of music which came to be known as "Blues" has its roots in Black American life. (the prisoners' songs on the chain gang on p108)
Dialogue fits the characters, too - the whitefolks speak differently to the Negroes and Amy Denver has a "powhitetrash" voice ( pp 80 - 81 and note the incongruity of the poetry in the song she sings. It is very definitely 19th century English Romantic style.) Most of the time the narrative falls into the rhythmic patterns of Black speech using specific Black vocabulary. (Baby Suggs' speech in the Clearing pp 88-89) At times a distinctly African voice is heard, especially the character Nan on p62 and again when the Beloved thing speaks on pp 210-113.
Morrison uses language inventively throughout the novel, most significantly in her mixing of images. Horror and beauty are constantly juxtaposed (read the account of Paul D listening to the doves as the man next to him in the line is forced to fellate the guard p 107-108) Every episode in the novel has some element of grace or beauty somewhere in it ( the tenderness of Paul D's examination of Sethe's back just before the house begins to pitch pp 17 -19) or a flash of colour (the red ribbon attached to the curl of black hair which Stamp Paid finds in the boat; the orange squares on the patchwork blanket; Amy Denver's carmine velvet) or some description of movement ( Beloved dancing the two step as Paul D tells Sethe about his humiliation at Sweet Home - p74; Sethe circling as she tells Paul D about the murder of her baby daughter pp 159 -165; the skating party "nobody saw them falling" on pp 174 - 175) There is also a strongly erotic sexuality in the imagery which is very dense; intensely sensual and often sustained and recurrent - the circle of iron; the hill of bodies; the smile; the heart; the colour red; trees, water, leaves, skin, teeth; chewing and swallowing.
SOME OF THE THEMES
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NB It is impossible to list every variation so this will attempt only to give general guidelines as to the main themes of the novel
[Return to Themes]
The love which drives Sethe to kill her children sooner than have them recaptured and sent away from her is described as "thick" by Paul D. It is a thick love, like the blood which Sethe spills in the shed on the day the patrollers come to take her back to Sweet Home. Sethe acts , as Paul D suggests later as though she was the animal that schoolteacher was listing in his notebook - as though she had four legs, not two, like a human being. The question which this book poses is whether or not Paul D was right. Sethe endured unmentionable torments at the hands of schoolteacher and his nephews and later on the road to Cincinnati she was very near death. She was beaten, raped and delivered a baby in an abandoned boat on the banks of the Ohio river. She should have died, but survived because she was determined to get her milk to her babies (Beloved was only nine months old when Sethe ran) If she acted like an animal it was because she was unfortunate enough to live in a world where her people were regarded as little more than animals and treated in many ways much worse than farm stock. Slaves were sold, traded, hired out, not allowed to own anything; move around without their owners permission; used as studs and mares (Schoolteacher refers to Sethe's pregnancy as "foaling") and exterminated like vermin if they were rebellious (Sixo is burned and shot because he laughs and curses the white men in his native language when they capture him - Sethe's mother is hanged because she runs). It is love that enables her to survive the journey to Baby Suggs and the horrible things done to her by the men with "mossy teeth" who took her milk; love which sustains her for 28 days of freedom in Bluestone Road and fear of losing that love which drives her to try to put her children out of reach of the destructive power of the white man. Paul D's criticism and the horror and revulsion of the people of Cincinnati are for a woman who is not what they think. None of Baby Suggs's friends know anything about Sweet Home and what happened to Sethe and the others there and Paul D has no children of his own, so he cannot possibly appreciate the kind of compulsion which made Sethe revert to savagery to save her "best things" from being dirtied. Her own pride prevents her from explaining her actions to anyone afterwards and she spends eighteen years in a self imposed exile being haunted for what she did out of love. Her behaviour is irrational and extreme, but it must not be forgotten either that she was probably suffering from postnatal depression at the time of the murder. This, in addition to everything else she had undergone was certainly enough to tip her over the edge of rational thought and behaviour when she was put under pressure. Like Baby Suggs and Ella; Sethe faces a "worst thing" when the schoolteacher comes into her yard and acts accordingly. Everyone else in the neighbourhood thinks that her actions on that day were understandable, but "prideful" and misdirected". It is a community which exists on a mutual basis of help and understanding. People in trouble turn to one another when they are in difficulty. Sethe does not even acknowledge the people who watch her being taken off by the sheriff and keeps her distance when she is released from prison. When Baby Suggs dies she will not even eat with the mourners at the funeral, keeping herself and Denver apart and refusing to speak to anyone. The turning away from her begins through the natural shock which follows any violent act, but intensifies over eighteen years into a complete and mutual ostracism. If Sethe had reached out to the community, like Baby Suggs would have done; or let them reach out to her, then her isolation would not have been so complete, but it takes a special kind of love from a man like Paul D to unlock the chains round Sethe's heart and a year of atonement in 124 with the physical presence of her dead daughter, to bring Sethe back into the love of her community.
The love which saves Sethe is the love of a good man, Paul D, "the last of the Sweet Home men". He is the kind of man who can make women tell him the innermost secrets of their hearts and he has an inner strength which inspires trust and confidence. As the story unfolds, we find that he has loved and admired Sethe since she first came to Sweet Home as a young girl of fourteen. Her choice of Halle as a husband was painful to all the men of Sweet Home, but it was respected, because they were "men". Paul D has loved her for many years, but would never have taken advantage of her while Halle was alive. After the events of 1855 he spends eighteen years "on the road" - on a chain gang from which he escapes; travelling to the North, following the blossoms; living briefly with a woman in Delaware and fighting for both sides in the Civil War. All the time he is heading towards Cincinnati to the place where he hopes Sethe will still live. He knows nothing about the events of 124 Bluestone; nor does he find anything out until Stamp Paid shows him the newspaper account of the murder. Paul D's reaction is horror and disgust, when Sethe confirms the story which at first he refused to believe. He does not cease to love her, but cannot take in or accept the enormity of her crime. Sethe has always "scared" him, but finding out what she did is terrifying Although he leaves 124 it is not with a good-bye and we know that the situation has been engineered by the Beloved creature, who has systematically undermined him and compromised him until he is "moved". He loses a battle, not a war, because the interlude when he is banished from 124 allows time for reflection and for the community to accept him. As Denver builds the bridge out from Bluestone Road for her mother; Paul D builds bridges in the community. When the time is right, Paul D is ready to come back to the house to comfort and sustain the grieving Sethe and prepare the future - "some kind of tomorrow" for the survivors. The love which Paul D is able and willing to give to Sethe and Denver is possible because he has achieved the kind of spiritual strength which Baby Suggs preaches in the Clearing. Throughout his life, he has maintained a dignity and inner core of spiritual strength. He has integrity and honesty; he is gentle and strong; just and merciful. He survives degrading treatment and cruel punishment because he is exactly what Garner labelled all his slaves - a man. It is interesting to note that the masculine strength which Paul D has is also present in Sethe, who is described as "iron-eyed"; and the gentle tenderness which Sethe has exists also in Paul D, who loves trees and beauty and can make women "cry and tell him things they only told each other". Each has complementary character traits and it is not surprising that they come together eventually.
Baby Suggs inspires a different kind of love in the people around her. She is accorded a title "holy" which is tagged onto her name as a tribute and she has a "great heart" which she uses to serve her people. She is devoted to her remaining son Halle (her other seven children are gone) and he to her and this devotion leads to her downfall when she accepts responsibility for his fugitive wife and children. It is never made clear whether or not Baby Suggs liked or admired Sethe, although she did her duty and took the children and Sethe into her house and looked after them after the escape, but it is certain that she loved her son enough to want to do what she could for his family. There is a suggestion that she commits the sin of pride when she throws the enormous party for the fugitives which alienates the neighbours and prevents them from warning her of schoolteacher's approach. The litany of "I beg your pardon" which she seems to be whispering to the boys Howard and Buglar as she sees to them after the incident in the shed, is in fact addressed to God, whose pardon she is begging for getting "above herself" and giving the party which in some way she seems to think has drawn attention to her and her family and brought the unspeakable white men into her own yard. She certainly pays the price for her daughter in law's actions in the years after the murder, giving up her preaching and becoming a shadow of her former self - declining into a listless invalid. The realisation that even official freedom is worthless together with the ostracism which she suffers alongside Sethe is enough to kill her. People don't come to 124 any more as much because of the baby's ghost as because they don't want to have anything to do with Sethe, but it is Baby Suggs who suffers most.
Beloved, of course, is the central focus of the various kinds of love which the novel explores and also the source of the emotion which moves the characters around her to recall their past experiences. The "thick" love which Sethe feels for the murdered baby has become a noose, like the circle of iron which is a recurrent image, choking Sethe's spirit and preventing her from laying down the past. It is as though Sethe is bound to her dead daughter by an umbilical cord through which passes a deadly mixture of love and hate; feeding both the mother and the baby with a sweet poison. The Beloved thing which walks out of the river both hates and loves the mother she comes to possess. No one else will be allowed to usurp the position which she holds and the threat of Paul D is sufficient to create the literal flesh and blood of the entity. Sethe is as closely bound to Beloved, although it takes a while for her to break the influence of Paul D and recognise the young woman for what she is. When the three women are locked into 124 Bluestone Sethe spends the first winter months playing with her daughter. All the family's money goes on trinkets and treats and Sethe even gives Beloved the food off her plate. When the creature turns vicious Sethe crumples under her disapproval, turning into a shadow of her former self as she tries to make Beloved forgive her for doing what she believed was the right thing to do. At no time does Sethe even try to escape, for she believes that she has to atone for her sin. Right to the very end, when Beloved is driven off by Ella and the other women, Sethe is subservient and adoring and she takes to her bed like Baby Suggs when she finally realises that the girl, her "best thing" has left her again. Of course Sethe's love is also mixed up with the guilt she feels for what she did to Beloved and tried and failed to do to the other children.
Denver begins by loving her dead sister's baby ghost, which only she can hear when she is little herself. Her world is limited to the house and the people she knows are all scarred and damaged. Her brothers are terrified of Sethe, telling the little girl "die witch" stories and swearing that Sethe will cut Denver's head off, too; Baby Suggs is withdrawn and cut off from the community, although with her, Denver is not afraid. When she dies, and the brothers leave there is no one left except the mother she mistrusts and the ghost. Denver mistakenly believes that Sethe still means harm to the baby and has cast her mother quite wrongly in the role of villain. When Paul D comes, she has to begin to see that under the iron eyes and the expressionless face of the woman who "never looked away", there is another, softer person. She does not like what she sees and feels vulnerable and hostile to both the adults. Beloved's return as a beautiful sister is a miracle to Denver, who becomes Beloved's willing slave, conspiring to protect her from the anger and harm she is sure Sethe will do if she finds out Beloved's true identity. Denver's love for her sister is intense and fierce, kept like a secret at first as she watches the process of Paul D being "moved" by the entity, and then being revealed when he is gone and the three of them are locked in 124. Mixed with this love is jealousy of Paul D and resentment of her mother - a potent cocktail of emotions which Sethe also feels. There is no room for Denver, though when Sethe realises who Beloved is. Neither the mother nor the ghost have eyes or time for anyone else when the end game begins. Beloved uses Denver to unlock the past, feeding on the girl's stories until she can feed on her mother's at first hand. When the winter comes Denver is left out of the games and the play, and then begins to see the truth; that Sethe not Beloved is the one who needs protection. Torn by divided loyalty, she has to choose between the dead sister and the mother and as much for her own survival as Sethe's she decides to go out into the world and get help. her growing up begins in the April of 1874 when she goes to Lady Jones to ask for food. It is the decision to stay with the living which enables Denver to discover genuine love for the woman she has feared all her life and acceptance of her mother and Paul D as a couple. Like so many other characters she has to lose or let go a love which is destructive to find peace and a new chance for a life of her own.
[Return to Themes]
The novel is structured on the juxtaposition of contrasting emotions. Sethe loves her children so much that she will kill them rather than let them be taken by the white men she hates; Paul D rejoices in the sights and sounds of the Georgia morning, while being sickened by the sights and sounds of the white guards; Sixo celebrates the escape of his Thirty Mile Woman, carrying his child, Seven-O, while he curses the white men who are burning him alive. For every image of beauty there is a contrasting image of horror. To say that the novel deals with hatred is to understate the enormity of the issue of slavery and its effects on human beings.
At first there is no evidence of hatred on Sweet Home,, except perhaps in the character of Sixo who is the most assertive of the six slaves on the farm. He has a wildness which causes him to behave in an unreliable way, dancing in the woods at night to "keep his bloodlines open" and making long secret journeys on foot to see his Thirty Mile Woman. Of the Sweet Home men it is Sixo who seems most mistrustful of Mr Garner, despite his liberal ways. With the arrival of schoolteacher, though, the situation changes very quickly, first with the selling of Paul F and then gradually as the regime becomes more brutal and the men are treated like the rest of the black slaves in the South. Beatings and brutality drive them to desperate measures and the attempted escape. Again it is Sixo who articulates the hatred which the rest of the slaves who escape with him feel; cursing the schoolteacher and the rest of the white men in an unmistakable African chant as he curses schoolteacher and the white men who capture the runaways.
Sethe's hatred for whites is probably already present when she comes to Sweet Home, having seen her mother hanged, and it grows as she gathers evidence of the real opinion of men like schoolteacher about herself and her people. She overhears the "lesson" on the veranda of Sweet Home as schoolteacher tells the nephews to "put her human characteristics down one side of the paper and her animal ones down the other". It intensifies as she sees Mrs Garner unable or unwilling to protect her and solidifies into implacable hatred when the men take her milk in the barn and then beat her when she appeals for help. by the time she meets Amy Denver on the road she is well able to tell whether a white person is vicious by looking at the mouth as she later tells Denver. The unimaginable suffering of her runaway journey only underlines what she already feels about the white race - the Garners and Amy Denver are exceptions to a universal rule that a white man is bad news for a black skin. The events in the shed at Bluestone Road twenty eight days later are the final confirmation that they are indeed, as Ella says, "the worst yet".
Stamp Paid describes the struggle between white and black as one of savages in a jungle (pp 198 -199) The whites believe that under every black skin is a jungle, but in fact "the screaming baboon lived under their own white skin; the red gums were their own" There is no relief in the battle between black and white, the hatred exists on a primeval level and no legislation can lessen it. Stamp Paid's own wife was, for a time the mistress of their white master and he has spent the rest of his life trying to help his fellow blacks to escape across the Ohio and find some measure of dignity in a free life, but he knows; like Ella, like Baby Suggs and like Paul D that there is no chance of real freedom in the white man's world.
In fact the hatred which is felt by the black slaves for their white masters is equally returned by the masters to the slaves. It exists on such a fundamental level that most of the time it is not even articulated in this novel. The events which take place are in themselves so horrifying that there is no need to labour the point of the victims' emotions. We know very well that the trembling which afflicts Paul D on the chain gang is caused not only by fear and disgust, but by hatred of what is happening to him and of the white men who are responsible. When Stamp Paid finds the ribbon in his boat, we know that the attached curl of hair and scalp sicken him and exactly who he blames. The laconic way that Ella refers to years of sexual bondage as "the worst yet" tells us clearly how she feels about the men who fathered the child she would not nurse. When Schoolteacher sees the carnage in the shed he is irritated because it represents lost property and capital. He spits and beats his hat against his thigh, comparing Sethe in his mind to a horse or a dog spoiled by over beating. The fact that he is looking at human beings like himself does not even enter into his mind, he just hates the inconvenience of a wasted journey. His real opinion of Sethe and the others is clearly shown in what Sethe hears him say on the veranda - to him and thousands like him, they are animals, and dangerous to boot. Enlightened liberals like the Bodwins and the Garners could and did try to bridge the gulf between the races, but three hundred years of mistreatment and inhumanity is not erased easily. When Sethe sees the man in the buggy standing with raised whip eighteen years after Sweet Home and nearly ten years after the war which abolished slavery, she does not hesitate, but runs to kill him, for he represents all that she regards as evil.
[Return to Themes]
There is a constant tension throughout the novel; a strand of real fear which runs underneath every part of the narrative. All the characters are pursued and tormented by their real or imagined fears and the events which are revealed as the story unfolds cause a genuine feeling of fear in the reader. From the beginning of the novel when Howard and Buglar run away from the hand prints in the cake and the shattered mirror, to the final images of the shifting face in the photograph and the footprints which come and go in the mud beside the river, the tension is sustained and fear is a constant undercurrent in the flow of the narrative,
Like the hatred which is implicit rather than explicit in the book, we can see that the same holds true for fear. On Sweet Home the slaves know that they are existing in an oasis; a small protected patch of land on which they are accorded some human dignity and treated with respect and acceptance by Mr and Mrs Garner, but the fact that they are not allowed off the farm alone is a silent testament to the reality of their position in the South and although they do not feel fear in the way that we see later with Paul D and Sixo, they are aware that their position is unusual. Sethe has to take something growing into Mrs Garner's kitchen every day "just to be able to work in it" so that she can work and "take the ugly out of it" Baby Suggs recalls that all of her children except Halle have been taken from her and that everyone she knows is "rented out, loaned out, bought up, brought back, stored up, mortgaged, won, stolen or seized." Sethe's marriage for "six whole years" to the same man is not a cause of anything but worry that it will not last forever. Paul D is afraid to love anything bigger than a little sapling on the chain gang and both he and Sethe are afraid of even letting themselves dwell on any memory of the past as it was once on Sweet Home because the pain of remembering what they lost there is too great.
As the men approach 124 Bluestone Road on the day of the murder, Baby Suggs is plagued with an uneasy fear that her pride has set loose something that will bring disaster, and of course she is right to feel what she does. The little humming birds who beat their wigs and stick their beaks through Sethe's head cloth as she sees schoolteacher's hat coming along the top of the fence in Bluestone Road are a powerful image of the terror which makes her "collect every bit of life she had made" and try to put them "through the veil, out, away, over there where no one could hurt them."
Beloved's appearance as a physical
being is starkly terrifying "A fully dressed woman walked out of the water." (p
50) Denver's question is not "Who?" but "What is that?" and Sethe's
waters break as they did when her baby was born on the banks of the Ohio. Beloved has a
rasping voice and breathes like a bellows, but "amid all that she was smiling".
Her forehead has the marks of her mother's fingernails, made as she was trying to keep the
dead baby's head on its shoulders, and she has no marks on her body at all. Denver sees
the tip of "something" under her chin which is the scar her mother made with the
hand saw in the shed, but the most sinister thing about her is that "deep down in
those big black eyes there was no expression at all." As the battle locks between
Beloved and Sethe, the fear becomes more intense as Beloved snarls and threatens her
mother with violence, demanding the very soul of Sethe as payment for leaving her. Images
she recalls from the limbo "over there" of being buried beneath dead men and
having the ghosts of men without skin stick their fingers in her, add to the horror which
is introduced in the section of spirit voices on pp 200-217. These images; of slave ships,
auctions, plantations and fragments of the Sweet Home story are intensely disturbing. The
final banishment of Beloved from 124 is the climax of what has been a recurrent motif of
tense African magic, with the sound which could "knock the pods off chestnut
trees". (Read the fragment on p31 where Sethe recalls how her mother and the other
slaves in Louisiana would "dance the antelope" and become "something
other" which is "unchained" and "whose feet knew her pulse better than
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August 1873 Paul D arrives at Bluestone Road. Baby Suggs already dead for 8 years. Denver is 17, Sethe 38. Howard & Buglar (both in early 20's) gone. Paul D exorcises the baby's ghost; moves in with Sethe and three days later Beloved acquires her physical body and is taken into 124 after the carnival outing.
September 1873 Beloved establishes herself in 124 and Sethe tells her about her past . Denver notices how "greedy she was to hear Sethe talk". Paul D notices that Beloved is "shining" and decides to investigate her. Denver realises who Beloved really is and gets her to share her bedroom. Paul D tells Sethe that Halle went mad and is probably dead.
October 1873 Sethe goes to the Clearing to try to talk to Baby Suggs and is "strangled" by Beloved. She makes a commitment to have Paul D in her life and returns to tell him so, Beloved decides to move him out of 124.
November 1873 Beloved moves Paul D first out of Sethe's bedroom into the kitchen; then into Baby Suggs' old bedroom, then into the storeroom and finally out into the cold house in the yard. he still makes love to Sethe, but no longer sleeps with her in her bed. In late autumn, Beloved seduces Paul D in the cold house. ( p117)
December 1873 Paul D decides to confess to Sethe as he is unable now to even walk up the stairs in her house; instead he asks Sethe to have his child (Beloved is probably "pregnant" by this time) and Sethe takes him into her bed. Beloved loses her tooth (falls to pieces without Sethe's complete attention) and the snow comes. The murder is recounted (pp 136 - 153) Stamp Paid shows Paul D the newspaper clipping (p155) Sethe confesses and Paul D leaves her.
December/Jan Stamp Paid tries to get into 124 and fails. The haunting begins. The three women lock themselves in and play. Paul D takes to drink; the "spirit voices shriek around 124 (pp 200-217) and Stamp Paid tries to tell Paul D what really happened in the shed and Paul confesses his fear of Beloved.
Jan/March1874 The women in 124 stay indoors playing their games. Beloved and Sethe besotted by one another. All the food is eaten, all the money spent on dresses and treats for Beloved. When Spring comes, a garden is planted in the back yard. Denver begins to realise that it is Sethe who is in danger, not her sister. Beloved begins to turn nasty and mean and arguments begin. Beloved grows bigger with her "pregnancy" recreating the events of 1855, or reproducing herself. Denver begins to see that her mother is in danger of dying and decides to go outside for help. Both the mortal women are starving to death so Denver goes to Lady Jones for food.
April/May 1874 Beginning with Lady Jones, the townspeople send food to 124 for Denver and Sethe. The people help because of the memory of Baby Suggs and because of Paul D and because Lady remembers the little girl who has been locked up in 124 for such a long time without anyone to play with and feels sorry for her.
June 1874 Denver tells the Bodwin's servant, Janey, the truth about 124. Sethe and Beloved have formed a "doomsday truce" and Denver realises that "there will never be an end to that"; that neither of the two can stop the struggle; that "Sethe didn't really want forgiveness given; she wanted it refused. And Beloved helped her out." Janey guesses what Beloved really is and tells the rest of the townspeople. It is Ella who decides that the thing must end, because "What's fair ain't necessarily right."
July 1874 Denver gets ready to go to work at the Bodwins. Ella and the women come to 124 to get "down to business". (p257) At 3pm on a wet, hot Friday, they gather outside the yard and "holler" Denver is waiting for Mr Bodwin and Sethe is inside breaking up ice for Beloved to suck. Both she and Beloved come out onto the veranda as the women begin to sing and Bodwin drives his buggy into the yard as they begin. (p261) Sethe runs to kill Bodwin whom she thinks is schoolteacher come back and "joins" the women, leaving Beloved alone. The spell breaks and Beloved disappears. Some think she explodes and others that she returns, naked to the river she walked out of a year before.
August 1874 Paul D comes back to 124 to make peace with Denver rescue Sethe from her decline; and "put his story next to hers. Beloved is gone and the story is told.
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Imagery and significant themes
Opening is enigmatic and terse - troubled house and agitated people. No clue as to who they are. Opens with a death ( Baby S. ) and two runaways from a "spiteful" house. Narrative veers between past and present, references to "it", "she" and "baby's venom". Reader left confused as to what is happening and why. Creates sense of foreboding and disquiet in reader.
p 5 First reference to ghost "for a baby she throw a powerful spell" and its "fury at having its throat cut". First reference to Negroes and slavery, too with Baby S's ref. to her children. This pattern of recollection and allusion is constant, as the stories of the various characters are gradually told, or remembered.
p 6 Ref. to Sethe's rape and beating
Sweet Home (chamomile sap)
Arrival of Paul D "last of the Sweet Home men" 18 yrs after he last saw Sethe
p8 Ref. to Halle and the churn/Sethe's escape
Paul D's first encounter with the ghost, pool of red pulsating light, c.f. "red heart" later on.
p9 Ref to "six" who had "belonged" to the farm, the arrival of "schoolteacher" and Sethe's "punched out" black eyes (like a Greek Tragic mask)
p 10 Ref to Sethe's arrival on Sweet Home (13 yrs old) and the lust of the "men". Unusual that Garner insisted on treating his slaves as "men" and allowed them unheard of privileges. Cause of much resentment from other slave owners.
p 11 Ref to Halle allowed to buy freedom for his mother baby Suggs (again v. unusual as he was allowed to hire himself out to other plantations on weekends to pay the manumission fee back to Garner)
p12 Ref to ostracism of Denver & Sethe by townspeople & Sethe's "iron will". Note recurrence imagery of iron (chains, bits, collars)
p13 Beloved referred to as "lonely and rebuked"
p14 Denver's collapse "I can't no more" caused by appearance of Paul D who has the ability to make people unburden themselves.
p15/16 The "tree" on Sethe's back (again a recurrent motif - trees are alternately beautiful, loved things like Brother and the aspen in Alfred, Ga., or hateful signs of brutality, like the hanging tree and the scars on her back.) Sethe's first account of her journey to Paul
p17 The first caress and Paul D's personality described starts the roller coaster of Beloved's return.
p18 Beloved's ghost driven (beaten) out by Paul D. Sethe and Paul D go to bed together and Denver feels threatened. (note that what Paul D does is give the naughty "child" (ghost) a good hiding - nobody seems to have chastised her before)
p20/27 Memories from Paul and Sethe after lovemaking about Sweet Home
Paul - the tree called Brother - Sixo & the 30 mile woman
Sethe- the kitchen at Sweet Home with "growing things" in it, her decision to "marry" Halle, Baby Suggs's children & Sethe's "luck" at being married to the same man for six years and having her children with her.
Paul - Sixo's rendezvous with the 30 mile woman - his courage and humour
Sethe - her wedding "dress" and the "wedding" in the corn
Paul - his memories of watching the corn rustle as Halle made Sethe his "wife"
All part of the process of recollection which his arrival has started - nice memories - the bad ones come later when Beloved "comes back" p28 Denver's memories of cologne smells and the vision of the dress kneeling beside her mother (p29) a premonition of the later episode when they are in the house in the snow and Denver is "split off" from her mother and sister.
p29/35 Denver's recollection of her own birth. This story is her treasure. Gives her a sense of worth and importance (later on Beloved takes the story from Denver as she begins to scour the other two of themselves) Inside Denver's story is the story of Sethe's own mother (p31) Note the strong imagery of "shifting shapes", "dancing the antelope" and "cold jaws grinding", all of which recur as the story unfolds.
p32 Image of Sethe as a snake (c.f. the Fall and Eve) Note also the tone of the conversation between Amy Denver and Sethe. The poor white trash Amy is always addressed as "Miss" and although she helps Sethe, she does not show any warmth or compassion for her. A graphic and horrific episode.
p36 More information about schoolteacher and the "boys". Garner's brother in law and his "sons or nephews, I don't know" (Sethe)
Sixo "tore up" by his "questions". So is Sethe, later on.
p39 The colours in the quilt, and the barren house. Muted and mourning. Sethe has deliberately blocked out colour from her life, she refuses to "see" it until Paul D comes back and she begins to dare to think about pleasant things again. Note how pink & red seem to be dangerous colours to her. (significant later on that Amy D is looking for "carmine" velvet - juxtaposing luxury and horror - the birth blood and the beating)
p41 Paul's head which has been "closed" now "opened like a greasy lock" on his arrival in Ohio. First evidence of his own terrible past, explained later. Sethe's presence opens him, as his does her.
p45/46 Paul D's desire to protect Sethe is important. Note the three shadows as they go to the carnival. Image here of harmony and unity, but ephemeral, because of course, Beloved will be waiting for them when they come home and the three shadows will be the three women united .Also note the "spectacle of whitefolks making a spectacle of themselves" at the carnival, and the happiness which the three experience. The first of two "oases" of peace (second one is the brief time when the three women play in the winter snow, before Beloved begins to destroy her mother) Note, too the image of "rotten roses" - beautiful, but repugnant.
P50 Beloved's appearance from the water like a birth - Sethe's reaction to seeing her also birth-like, when her waters "break". Beloved is a baby in a woman's body - cannot hold her head up, has a "rough" voice and no lines at all on her "new" hands and feet. Also craves sugar and stories, later on, and is incontinent. Denver knows who she is, and protects her. Note how the relationships shift as Beloved gains strength.
p57 Sethe "licked, tasted, eaten" by Beloved's eyes and their shadows "clashed and crossed
like swords" The desire for stories is the means by which Beloved begins to tease out the truth from her mother. Starts with mild recollections "tell me your diamonds" and later moves inexorably into atonement and punishment. Sethe masochistic - doesn't want to tell, but likes it when she starts.
p61 Sethe's mother's "mark" (brand) significant - Beloved is "marked" with Sethe's fingernails on her forehead and the scar of the saw on her neck (the iron, later on in the clearing incident, transferred to Sethe's neck) Sethe also "marked" by the whip. Nan's story to "small girl Sethe" about her birth (special) forms part of Beloved's "race memory" later on p210, (the slave ship and the man with teeth)
p65 Beloved's "shining" first indication of her move against Paul D. She attacks his most vulnerable area - his sexuality. His suspicions of her and lack of action explained by reference to the Klan. She reads his thoughts (the choking) and knows him to be the most dangerous threat, accurately, as it turns out.
p68 Sethe & Paul D argue over Beloved and cruel memories revive - Halle's fate explained, "what he saw in the barn broke him like a twig". (NB schoolteacher watched the rape and wrote it up in his book)
p70 Sethe's punishment is that her mind doesn't break, unlike her husband, she does not enjoy the luxury of being able to lose her senses - they come back to her like a glutton enjoys food. (NB recurrent imagery of food throughout the book.)
p72 The fate of the Sweet Home men - one crazy (Halle), one sold (Paul F), one missing (Paul A, probably hanged), one burnt (Sixo) and Paul D "licking iron" (fitted with the gag, or bit and sold off to a new master) Paul D tells Sethe of his shame that the rooster, Mister, whom Paul D took from the shell, was freer than Paul D. First time the image of the locked, rusted, tobacco tin is used, where Paul D's heart used to be, and which has "rusted shut" in his chest. Note gentleness of the relationship here, with Sethe ministering to Paul D like making bread dough and "beating back the past".
p76 "She Sethe) is the one...I need". Beloved uses Denver at first to absorb the story of Sethe's escape, using her sister to get to her mother. Denver's birth story, recounted on pp 78-85 seems to strengthen Beloved, as she takes away her sister's identity by taking the story out of her head, so to speak.
p79 Note how Amy Denver has been mistreated like Sethe by her master Mr Buddy. Note the language of the song she sings to Sethe, which is pure English, and sounds almost 18th century in its style.
p83 Denver born "in" the river Ohio, in a sinking rowing boat (cf. Beloved's reappearance out of the river behind 124.) Note the striking imagery of the bluefern spores again juxtaposing beauty and suffering.
p86 Sethe's reflections on Baby Suggs talent for comfort and healing as she goes to commune with her dead mother in law in the clearing in the woods. Baby Suggs has several honorary titles amongst the Negroes, like "holy" and "loved". She is described as an "unchurched" preacher and the description of her meetings in the clearing are a blend of primitive paganism and raw Christianity. Note the credo that the individual needs to love himself. Neither Sethe , nor Denver have been able to do this until the arrival of Paul D makes it seem possible.
p95-99 Sethe attempts to find peace in the clearing but finds only more remorse at the fate of Baby Suggs and her decline and death. What she thinks is a spirit visitation of comfort from her mother in law's fingers on her neck, becomes, in fact an attempt to strangle her by the revenant who is her "daughter". Note the sensuality of the kisses Beloved gives her mother, too.
p101 Paul D is the barrier between Beloved & Sethe and Denver is used to reinforce it, manipulated by Beloved, who plays on her sister's need for affection and acceptance. The self-imposed deafness which Denver suffered after the revelation of her mother's past at the house of Lady Jones is referred to here. Denver's ostracism as much self-imposed as Sethe's.
p105 Turtles mating in the water, symbolise Sethe and Paul and also Beloved and Paul.
p106 Beginning of narrative interlude about Paul D in Alfred, Georgia, on the chain gang. Prelude to the "unlocking" of the "tobacco tin" which comes with his coupling with beloved and his cry of "red heart" at the moment of orgasm. Note juxtaposition of horror/beauty throughout (p107, (doves) p108, (feldspar) p112 (barnacles & beautiful skin) p113 (blossom). Note also the powerful evocation of the "blues" music which the convicts use to beat away the despair and kill the bosses. The style of this section is uncluttered and very tense, especially the graphic episode of the escape.
p114 The seduction - Beloved "moves" Paul, literally out of the house, into the cold house and there she makes him "touch" her "on the inside part" and "call me by my name". Note the instruction "you have to touch me, have to call me". In ghostly terms, Paul has to invite the ghost in to himself. In doing so he loses his authority over Sethe and also becomes prey to his own "red heart".
p118 Denver acknowledges Beloved's identity and supplies facts & information in return for "looks" which make her feel wanted and loved. Beloved, here, as a mother substitute.
p122 The disappearance in the cold house terrifies Denver. Strong sense of loss here . Does Beloved "see" herself dead on p124?
p125 Important definition of Garner's type of slavery on Sweet Home, "They were only Sweet Home men on Sweet Home" Paul D's loss of self confidence very poignant. His decision to ask Sethe for help illustrates the bond between them. Significant that he turns his plea into one for a baby (cf Beloved's apparent pregnancy, later). Note that outside Bluestone road, Beloved has little influence. Sethe & Paul D are "normal" together when he walks her home from work in the snow. Both adults have the power to break out of the past, but need first to exorcise their own demons.
p133 When Sethe invites Paul D to bed, Beloved literally falls apart (loses a tooth) and the narrative moves towards its final revelations.
p135 A lengthy interlude about Baby Suggs before the murder in the shed. Strong suggestion of retribution and idea of pride going before a fall. Baby's party begins as innocent celebration of Sethe's arrival, set in motion by Stamp Paid's gift of blackberries, and turns into an ugly condemnation of her arrogance by her neighbours. Strong idea that Negroes had no rights even to celebrate their own happiness. Baby has a premonition of disaster in the yard (p138) Personal recollections of baby about her children "gone or dead", her happiness on Sweet Home where "nobody knocked her down" (cf "nobody saw them falling", later), her absence of "self" (p140) and the way she discovers her own hands and heart when she is free all create a sense of dread as we wait for the revelation of exactly what dreadful thing made her take to her bed and started up the haunting of Bluestone Road.
p144/5 Details about the Bodwins (brother & sister) - abolitionists. "We don't hold with slavery, even Garner's kind." Again this section is a kind of quiet interlude, before the horror of the incident in the barn at 124 is finally told. Baby Suggs, too, had some small measure of happiness and hope, but it was shattered when "they" came into her yard.
p148 The murder in the barn. The four horsemen (cf the Apocalypse in Revelation) arrive unannounced. Note the callous way in which their behaviour is described - all intended to maximise profit and minimise damage to the merchandise. The whole incident described from the white man's point of view - detached and cynical tone to the writing. Black people described as "creatures" , "niggers" and "coons". The actual murder is almost passed over in 8 lines (p149) and the emphasis is clearly on the anger and frustration of the white men who see their investment gone to waste.
Poignancy of Negro reaction on p151, as Baby Suggs tries to prise Beloved out of Sethe's arms, followed by violence of their fight over Denver (p152) and the arrest and reaction of the townspeople. Note Baby Suggs's apology to God for her pride. Was any of this her fault?
p154 Stamp Paid shows Paul D the newspaper account of the murder, note the imagery of slaughter (they are working in a pig slaughterhouse at the time). Note also the preoccupation with guilt and the vivid imagery of a bird of prey when he describes the way Sethe "flew" (p157)
p159 Sethe confesses to Paul D Note how she spins round as she tells the story, cf. the circle imagery recurrent throughout the story so far. The fact that she can tell this at all is because of the "ever ready love" in Paul D's eyes (p161) She speaks in a circle to get to the "simple" truth. Imagery of birds again, this time humming birds (beautiful) sticking their beaks in her head (horror). Sethe's idea of safety is alien to Paul D "You got two legs (human) Sethe, not four" (animal)). cf. here the imagery of bestiality which schoolteacher has of all Negroes. Sethe almost betraying the race in Paul D's opinion. Again, trees and forest images to illustrate the barrier between Paul D and Sethe, but juxtaposed with the tenderness and consideration between them. He will not say the word good-bye to her and she says "so long" when he leaves (this time of his own accord)
The first section of the novel ends here with Beloved triumphant in having made the characters either tell or "rememory" their stories. She is now "free" to accelerate the haunting. To reveal herself to Sethe and begin the process of retribution.
p169 The "stepped-up" haunting of 124 Bluestone. Note the same start as Part One, but " loud" now, rather than "spiteful". Stamp Paid central male character in this episode, wishing to atone for his discourtesy to Baby Suggs and her family, and his part in the "Misery" as he calls the incident. Details about the extent of the ostracism of Sethe and her children at the funeral of baby Suggs "buried amid a regular dance of pride, fear, condemnation and spite". Stamp Paid is the only male to "hear" the voices which rage round 124 in the stepped up haunting (they appear on pp 200-217)
p170 Stamp feels remorse about Baby Suggs (the mountain to his sky) and "relies on the power of Jesus Christ to deal with things older but not stronger than He was" Idea here of Satanic presence in 124, and also of the redemptive power of Christian prayer. Beloved is driven away by a combination of prayer and paganism, in the end.
Sethe's decision to "lay it all down" signals her own self imposed imprisonment in 124 and a withdrawal from the world outside. Like Paul D, she gradually "moves" into the house and becomes absorbed with the girls. The skating episode is an oasis of calm (nobody saw them...) before Beloved starts to devour her mother's spirit and will to live.
p175 The "click" when Sethe finally realises who Beloved is as she hums the lullaby. Note the casket of jewels imagery here, like enchantment and fairy tales.
p176 Stamp's 2nd attempt to enter the house and the recollection of baby Suggs's decline because "they" came in the yard. "The whitefolks had tired her out at last"
p180 Stamp, too is about to give up when he finds the black curl in his boat. It is his epiphany, realising the extent of the cruelty of whitefolks "What (not who) are these people?" and the fact that the voices outside 124 are the "people of the broken necks" ( Negroes killed by white intolerance) (p181)
p182 Inside the house Sethe decides "the world is in this room" and that Beloved "isn't even mad with me" and Sethe "doesn't have to explain". Ironically this is all she does to Beloved from now on - explain and try to justify her actions to her dead daughter. Reflections again about her jail sentence and the way she paid for the headstone p183)
p184 Stamp visits Ella & John. His own recollections of his past (narrative style here) and the explanation of his name. Born Joshua, renamed when he "gave" his wife to his master's son and afterward kept paying his debt off to others who suffered. His reward - freedom to enter any home and be accepted into the community.
p185/8 Conversation about Sethe between Stamp and Ella shows depth of revulsion felt for Sethe, also matter of fact acceptance of spirit activity and "people who die bad don't stay in the ground". It is, of course, Ella who spearheads the women who "holler" Beloved out of Bluestone later.
p188 Sethe's hardening resolve to blot out the past and a recollection of Sixo's theft of a shoat (pig) (p190). Sethe would rather pilfer from her white employer, Sawyer, than stand in line at the back of the store to be served with the rest of the Negroes. Note the irony of Sethe's mind, "busy with the things she could (now) forget".
p191 Revelation of Sethe's disgust at the overheard lesson of schoolteacher about her "animal & human characteristics" on the veranda at Sweet Home. Again the horror is in the midst of beauty - this time the beauty of the summer day. The planning of the escape, and Halle's concern about the safety of his family "we should have begun to plan, but we didn't". "Getting away was a money thing to us." "Running was nowhere on our minds." (197)
The escape plan after Mr Garner's death, Paul F's sale and the arrival of schoolteacher, and his brutal ways is the topic on Sethe's mind as she returns to 124, "telling" Beloved, in her mind, how it happened.
Sixo suggests the escape after Paul A is beaten (p197) but all the plans go wrong.
p198 The jungle imagery very strong, juxtaposition of ideas, here - it is the whites who are the savages, the "screaming baboon" lives under "their own white skin." and "you could hear its mumbling in places like 124."
p200 In the next 17 pages are the "unspeakable thoughts, unspoken", of Sethe, Denver and Beloved.
First (200-204) Sethe "talk-thinking" about her dead daughter. Note the patois language style here and her preoccupation with making up for the past - doing all the things now with her returned daughter, that she couldn't do after the Misery. Note the colour imagery, everything except red and pink, because "me and Beloved outdone ourselves with it" (the blood and the headstone) Note also the snippets of horror from the beating, the rape (p 203) and the degradation of the women who "work" the slaughterhouse yard as prostitutes to feed their children. Note also the strong sense of feminism here and the rejection of Paul D as someone who cannot understand the need of a mother to get her milk to her children. (false supposition on Sethe's part, but understandable in the circumstances.)
Second (205-209) Denver about her sister; her loneliness and her longing for her daddy. Dread of Sethe mixed with deep love for her . Her fear (like Baby S.) of the nameless "it" that comes from outside and her decision to be a "watchman over the yard". In many ways, Denver is the successor to Baby Suggs, with her devotion to her father and to the custody of 124. Here also are memories of Sethe's prison sentence and Denver's fear and resentment of Paul D, who, ironically has many of the qualities of Halle the "angel man", on p208. Denver's desire to learn is obviously an inheritance from her father. Here also are recollections of Baby Suggs and her instructions to "listen to my (Denver's) body and love it". Note, too how Baby Suggs passed on to Denver the family memories of Halle, "all my daddy's things" and how Baby Suggs knew that the baby ghost was "after ma'am and her too, for not doing anything to stop it "(the murder).
Third (210-213) is the revenant, Beloved's , fragmented, obscure series of images from Sethe's past, her own short life, Sethe's own mother, the whole slave race, and a premonition of the future - her own exorcism with a "hill of people" and a man without skin, looking at her." Horrible, graphic images which shock and disturb in their very obscurity. This is a "voice from hell" as well as a stream of consciousness resurrection memory and a vision of the future.
p214 A new "human" voice from Beloved, talking about her mother and wanting "the join" - note the apt imagery here, considering the manner of her death. The section breaks into a dialogue between the three women, the fist between Beloved and Sethe, expressing love and devotion; the second between Denver and Beloved warning and promising and the remainder a series of three-cornered conversations which affirm and claim the relationships.
p218 Paul D lonely and abandoned, musing on his past, on the break up of his "cradle", Sweet Home, and on the loss of his manhood, his self-respect and his identity. Note the speculation that they had never really been "men" at all, merely cocooned in a false security on Sweet Home. This is a section of intense poignancy. The tobacco tin, opened, reveals the "what if" thoughts and brings home to him his grief at the loss of the chance he had of a life with Sethe.
p222 The escape recalled. Planned by Sixo, but ruined by circumstance. All the "Buts" - Sethe's pregnancy, visiting neighbours, Sethe's children banned from the farmhouse, Halle prevented from working outside. When the chance comes nothing goes to plan. Halle is "lost" "Nobody knows what happened", Paul A "never shows up" , Paul D, Sixo and the Thirty Mile Woman are captured by Schoolteacher, pupils and four other white men.
p225 Sixo's defiance and singing result in him being brained and then burned alive because "this one will never be suitable". Paul D is shackled and returned to the farm where a "three spoke collar" is put on him. He learns his price - 900 dollars. The tone of this section very bitter, full of hatred for the white men.
p230 Stamp and Paul "rememory" Stamp's story about his wife, Vashti. There is an implicit understanding between the two men about the way that love can bring a man "as low as I ever got". Paul confesses his fear of Sethe (p234), his fear of himself and his fear of "that girl in her house". Note here the straightforward dialogue between the two men and the sense of comradeship between them. Note also how the acceptance of Paul D is total, even though he is a stranger to the town.
The end of this section completes the recollections of the events which led up to the murder. Section three deals with the exorcism of Beloved by Ella and the women in a macabre replay of the day of the "Misery".
p239 Again the opening is the same, this time 124 is "quiet" as the mother and daughters play out the final act of the story. Denver is now "cut out of the games" and Beloved and her mother are locked into a deadly struggle. Sethe spends all her time, energy and effort on justifying her actions and Beloved has become a monster. As Baby Suggs described her, she is a "greedy" ghost, taking all the food and reducing her mother and Denver to skeleton thinness. It is difficult for Denver to tell "who was who" as Beloved and Sethe look, act and dress alike, playing like children and fighting like cats.(p241)
Denver realises that Beloved "was not like them", was "wild game" and that she must break her self imposed exile and go outside the yard (p243) Note how it is Baby Suggs's voice which "tells" her to "Go on" out the yard.
Note in this section how easily the townspeople accept Denver back and how the different perspective is seen, in Lady Jones's assessment of Baby Suggs as the "ignorant grandmother". Note also the moment that Denver grows up (p248) when she faces Lady Jones and asks for work for he "ma'am who doesn't feel good".
p249 The turning point is through memories of Baby Suggs and the days that 124 was a happy house "Maybe they were sorry for the years of their own disdain"
p250 As Denver prospers outside, Sethe and Beloved deteriorate in 124. in a "doomsday truce designed by the devil" At this point, "Beloved is the mother, Sethe the teething child".
p251 Denver's understanding, finally of the conflict between Sethe and Beloved (whole side of Sethe's "justification" for the handsaw)
p252 "Sethe didn't want forgiveness given; she wanted it refused and Beloved helped her out." This is the crux of the story, really.
p253 Denver (third generation,) approaches the Bodwins for work.
p254 Janey (Bodwins' servant) recognises what Beloved is "I guess there's a God after all"
p255 Vividly sickening incident as Denver notices the Negro money box in the Bodwins hallway. Even in a liberal household, there is still sickening insensitivity.
p256 Ella pronounces on Sethe and Beloved "What's fair ain't necessarily right". Sethe's actions not justified, but Denver has created a situation where people have to re-think their original opinions "The daughter, however, appeared to have some sense after all."
p257 Notice the link between the ghost resented for coming into the world and the whitefolks coming into the yard. Neither is acceptable, both must be dealt with. Ella decides to "get down to business" with the other women. Note, too, the way that Christian ritual and paganism are mixed up "Some brought what they could...others brought Christian faith. Most brought a little of both"
The exorcism (257 - 262) is a macabre replay of the original visitation, but with Mr Bodwin in the role of schoolteacher. Note the strong imagery of decay and stench on the hot day and the recollections of the party. Note the horror of Ella's memory of the "hairy white thing" which she "would not nurse" which sets off the "holler" which is taken up by the others.
Again, an interlude as Bodwin is described (p260), then the replay of the noise of the clearing (p261) and finally Sethe's humming birds (p262) which trigger her attack on the "good" white man, Mr Bodwin. The final image here is of the "hill of black people" and "the man without skin, looking. He is looking at her."
p263 Paul D returns and there is a replay of baby Suggs's deathbed, this time with Sethe. Note the prosaic way the two men, Paul and Stamp Paid laugh about Sethe's attack on Bodwin. Note, too the adult relationship which is forged between Paul D and Denver, and Denver's future prospects at Oberlin (p266). This time the "experiment" will be positive.
Paul D has reached a peaceful place in his own mind and the house is "quiet" (p270).
p272 Again there is a tender description of Paul D's effect on people and a stunning description from Sixo of his woman "She is a friend of my mind. She gather me...
The reconciliation is tentative, but hopeful as Paul gives Sethe back herself. "You your best thing, Sethe. You are.".
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Copyrightę 2000 Val Pope