Beloved by Toni Morrison is set between 1855-1874 and revolves around a runaway slave Sethe, who when hunted down by her master, kills her infant daughter to save her from slavery. She is haunted by the ghost of her dead unnamed child for 18 years. The story is narrated through many flashbacks and interior monologues, moving back and forth in time. The novel dispenses with the unity of time; sometimes moving along in the present, and suddenly stepping into the past.
The novel is about a former slave, Sethe who lives in 124, Bluestone Road, in Cincinnati, Ohio. She lives there with her daughter, Denver. The house is haunted by the ghost of her dead infant daughter. At the very outset we are told that the house is “palsied by the baby’s fury at having its throat cut.” Sethe’s two sons, Howard and Buglar, ran away the moment the ‘troublesome ghost’ got personal. Baby Suggs, Sethe’s mother-in-law, went into a depression and died.
Sethe does not want to remember her dreadful past but one particular incident troubles her. She remembers how she agreed to have sex with a mason for ten minutes, as she didn’t have money to pay him to engrave the seven letters, “Beloved” on her baby’s headstone. She remembers how Baby Suggs told her that she had eight children, and all of them except Halle were taken away from her. Sethe was lucky that she had four children; one is living with her, one is dead, and the two boys chased off by the dead one. The memory of her two sons is fading with time. The terrible memories of Sweet Home, the plantation farm where Sethe worked as a slave, come back to her.
Suddenly, Paul D, who also worked with Sethe in Sweet Home, comes to her house after eighteen years. She invites him into her house. Paul D enquires about Baby Suggs and comes to know that she is dead. Paul D and Sethe share a painful past. At Sweet Home farm, there were six slaves, five men – Paul D, Paul F, Paul A, Halle Suggs, and Sixo; and one woman, Sethe. Sethe remembers her husband, Halle who left her in 1855 when she was pregnant. Then she had loaded her three children in a caravan of Negros which safely left them at Baby Suggs’ home in Cincinnati. Sweet Home was owned by Garner, a kind slave owner. When he died, Mrs Garner became ill and she sold that farm to her brother-in-law to pay off the debts. He was popularly known as schoolteacher and was cruel.
Paul D feels the presence of a ghost as soon as he enters the house, in the pool of red light. Sethe explains that it is her dead baby ghost. However, she doesn’t tell him how the baby died. Sethe tells Paul D that only she and Denver live here and she works as a cook at a restaurant in the town. Paul D remembers the time Sethe first came to Sweet Home. She was only thirteen years old and all the five men looked at her with lusty eyes. They waited patiently for her to choose one of them as her husband. Sethe took one year to choose Halle as her husband. The reason was that he bought his mother Baby Suggs’ freedom with the money earned by working as a slave every Sunday for five years.
Denver comes down and Sethe introduces Paul D to her. Denver says that since her grandmother’s death twelve years ago nobody has visited their house. Seeing her mother give Paul D too much attention, Denver feels jealous. At dinner, she cries that she cannot live in this haunted house. Paul D suggests they should move into another house but Sethe is adamant that she will never run from anything again. Angrily, Denver goes into the keeping room.
Sethe starts crying and Paul D sees the scars shaped like a tree on her back. He enquires about it from Sethe. She tells him that she got whipped by schoolteacher because she complained to Mrs Garner that schoolteacher and his boys took milk from her breasts. She also says that the white girl who helped Sethe deliver Denver told Sethe that the scars on her back looked like a chokecherry tree. Paul D comes near her and pulls down her top to see the scars and kisses every branch and leaf on it. Suddenly he realizes that the house has begun to shake. Sethe manages to get back into her dress. Paul D shouts and throws a table around to chase the ghost away and finally it is gone. Then Sethe and Paul D go upstairs and leave Denver alone to have her dinner.
Sethe leads Paul D upstairs to one of the two rooms where both have sex but it gets over quickly. Paul D has waited for this moment for twenty-five years. Both feel guilty and cannot talk to each other. As Sethe is lying on her back, Paul D sees the wrought-iron tree on her back; reminding him of his special tree at Sweet Home which he called Brother. Under this tree, he spent good times with Halle and the others; and often with Sixo; another slave in Sweet Home, who walked thirty-miles to see a woman.
We learn that Baby Suggs had eight children from six husbands. She lost all her children, except Halle, whom she was able to keep for twenty years. On the other hand, Sethe is lucky as she was married for six years and all her children are from one husband. Sethe and Paul D recall the time when Halle and Sethe got married. Sethe informed Mrs Garner that she and Halle wanted to get married. She wanted some ceremony or celebration for her marriage but Mrs Garner smiles at her naivete. So Sethe stitched a wedding dress for herself and Halle and Sethe spent their private time in the cornfield. All the other men at Sweet Home enjoyed the night by having a corn party.
Denver has a solitary place in the woods behind 124. Five boxwood bushes planted in a ring towards each other form a circle, almost like a room. Denver used this place as a playroom in her childhood, and then as a refuge from her brothers’ fright and now a place where she can escape her loneliness. Once, returning from her secret place, Denver saw her mother kneeling in prayer and a ghostly white dress next to her, with its sleeves around her mother’s waist. Seeing the ghost’s friendly gesture, Denver is convinced that it has some ‘plans’ for them.
Sethe ran away from Sweet Home while she was pregnant; with her swollen legs. She got help from a white girl, Amy Denver, who was going to Boston to buy velvet. Sethe could not walk so she crawled like a snake; she was also very hungry. The girl asked Sethe her name and she gave her a fake name “Lu”. Amy cushioned a place with leaves, for Sethe to put her swollen feet, and she massaged her feet. Then Sethe tells Denver about schoolteacher who always brought his two sons or nephews with him. They liked the ink made by Sethe. Both boys always questioned the slaves at Sweet Home and noted down their answers as if they were writing a book on them. But Sethe never tells Denver the whole truth; leaving out the painful part.
Meanwhile, Paul D is mending the furniture that he broke while fighting with the ghost. He is also singing the songs that he had learnt in Georgia, that remind him of his dreadful past. There he was tied with chains and his body did walk, eat, sleep, and sing but his heart was all closed up. Now by spending time with Sethe, his heart is gradually opening up. Sethe also tells Paul D that schoolteacher found her and put her into jail with Denver. She leaves out the part about killing her daughter.
On the third day, Denver asks Paul D how long he is going to stay, which hurts him very much. Sethe gets angry with Denver and asks her to stop asking such questions. Sethe feels sorry for her behavior. But she will not hear any criticism of her daughter. Paul D says that it is not good for a slave to love anything so dearly. He tells Sethe that he has come there not to force her to make choices in relationships, but to make space for himself, along with Denver. Paul D assures her of a happy future ahead with him. Paul D takes the two women to a carnival organized for Black people on Thursday. Other people in the community nod and smile at her. Denver is reluctant to join Paul D but she enjoys herself.
We are told that a fully dressed woman walks out of the water and rests under a mulberry tree for a day. The strangest part is nobody saw where she came from. The next morning, she sits down on the stump near the steps of 124. When Sethe, Paul D and Denver return from the carnival they notice a girl sitting on the stump outside their house. Suddenly, Sethe feels an uncontrollable urge to urinate, which reminds her of her water breaking in the boat when Denver was born. Meanwhile, Denver and Paul D take the girl inside the house. When asked by Paul D, she says her name is Beloved and falls asleep. This name touches Sethe, as it is etched on her daughter’s headstone. They help Beloved to the keeping room where she rests on Baby Suggs’ bed.
Beloved sleeps for four days, getting up only to have water. Denver takes care of Beloved. After recovering a little, Beloved has still not told them about herself. Everyone thinks that the fever has caused her to lose her memory. But Paul D notices something strange about Beloved. She acts sick, sounds sick but does not look sick at all; with good skin and bright eyes. She cannot walk properly but he and Denver see her picking up the rocker with one hand.
Day by day Beloved gets attached to Sethe. She is always eager to spend time with Sethe. Once Beloved asks Sethe about her diamond earrings; Sethe tells Beloved that those crystal earrings were a wedding gift from Mrs Garner. Then she recalls how she made her wedding dress by stitching together stolen pieces of fabric. Denver enquires about those earrings as she has never seen them. Sethe answers that they are gone.
Beloved asks Sethe about her mother. Sethe answers that she saw her but a few times out in the fields. Sethe says that her mother had been hanged but she does not know why. She only remembered a one-armed lady named ‘Nan’ who took care of her after her mother died. Nan and her mother had been together on the ship that brought them to America. Her mother was repeatedly raped by the crew members and she threw all the children born by those white men into the water. She only kept Sethe because her father was Black and she loved him.
Beloved has been living with them for five weeks and they do not know much except her name. Many things about Beloved bother Paul D and he decides to find out where she has come from, Beloved chokes on a raisin and vomits. Denver cleans the mess and invites Beloved to sleep in her room so that they can talk. Paul D also notices that Beloved ‘shining’ but cannot determine whom she is shining for.
Sethe rebukes Paul D for being very hard on Beloved and then Halle’s name comes up in their conversation. Paul D reveals that Halle did not abandon Sethe, as she has always believed. They had been planning to run away from Sweet Home for months but Halle never showed up to take her to the corn fields, where all the slaves had decided to meet. Paul D gives his version of events; leaving the reader to reconstruct the exact sequence of events. Their attempt to escape was aborted and Sethe, who has sent her children ahead of her, is picked up by schoolteacher. Halle was hiding behind the loft and saw what schoolteacher and his nephews did to her. That incident broke him completely and he became insane. The last time Paul D saw Halle, he was sitting by the churn and had butter all over his face. Paul D could not speak to him as he had an iron bit in his mouth, like an animal.
Paul D tells Sethe that it was not the iron bit that made him crazy but a rooster named “Mister” who was moving freely in front of him; better than the black Sweet Home men; one crazy, one sold, one missing, one burnt, and Paul having a bit in his mouth. The brutality of schoolteacher has changed Paul D so much that he has learnt to suppress his emotions. Denver asks Beloved how she got her name. Beloved replies that ‘in the dark.’ Denver excitedly asks what it was like, whether she had seen anybody, and how she got there. Beloved says that it was a dark place and lots of people were there, some dead. She waited and got on the bridge. Then Denver asks why she came back and Beloved smiles and answers that she has come there to see Sethe’s face.
Denver requests Beloved not to tell anything about herself to Sethe. Beloved gets aggressive and tells Denver not to tell her what to do. Beloved changes the topic and asks Denver to tell her the story of her birth. Denver tells Beloved how Amy, a white girl helped her mother, how she massaged her swollen feet, rubbed her back. The two women spent the whole night in a lean-to shelter where Amy took care of her and took her down to the Ohio river. Next morning, they saw a boat with one oar and lots of holes. As soon as Sethe got into the boat, her water bag burst. Amy helped Sethe deliver the baby safely inside the boat itself. She wrapped the baby in her skirt and tied it to Sethe’s chest. Then Amy said good bye to her and requested her to tell her baby that she brought her into the world. Sethe fell into a deep sleep and waited to cross the river Ohio to reach her home.
Sethe is disturbed by Paul D’s revelation about Halle and she misses Baby Suggs’ presence. So, she takes Denver and Beloved with her to the Clearing, to pay tribute to Halle. The Clearing was where Baby Suggs used to preach to Black people; a redeemer and saviour figure. Sethe remembers the day she came to 124 with a new born baby tied to her chest, wrapped in Amy’s underwear. After Amy went away, Sethe walked along the riverside and met an old black man and two boys. They were fishing in the river. The old man, Stamp Paid asked one of the boys to take off his jacket and wrapped the baby in that jacket. He ferried her across the river and after some hours, a young woman named Ella, who was an organizer with the Underground Railroad, came to help Sethe reach Baby Suggs.
When Sethe reached 124, Bluestone Road with a small baby, Baby Suggs cleaned Sethe’s wounds and bathed her. She did not allow Sethe to see her other children as taking care of Sethe was the first priority. Baby Suggs noticed something knotted up in Sethe’s petticoat. Sethe told her that they were earrings presented to her as a wedding gift. Then Sethe jingled those earrings for the pleasure of her elder daughter. Those twenty-eight days were a blessing for her; living a life free of slavery.
Sitting on Baby Suggs’ preaching rock in the Clearing, Sethe feels invisible fingers massaging her neck. But gradually, those fingers start to strangle her. Denver and Beloved are shocked to see that and come to Sethe to help her and the fingers stop. Beloved kisses the bruises that Sethe has got on her neck. But Sethe pushes Beloved away by saying “You are too old for that” and Sethe feels that Beloved’s breath is exactly like new milk. Sethe is sure that it wasn’t Baby Suggs who tried to choke her. Next day, Beloved sees Sethe and Paul D together and this agitates her. She runs into the woods and Denver follows and asks if she choked Sethe. Beloved adamantly refuses and runs to the other side of the woods.
Denver has never been to the other side of the woods. This reminds her about the day when she was seven-years-old, went to another house and peeped into Lady Jones’s house where she was teaching some Black children. Lady Jones called her inside and also started teaching her, along with the others. Denver had been going to school for a year, when her classmate, Nelson Lord asked her if it was true that her mother had killed her sister. She. stopped going to school and turned deaf. She recovered her hearing two years later, when she heard the crawling of ghost baby in their house; this was the first time the ghost baby appeared in 124.
Paul D recalls how he was sent to jail for trying to kill Brandywine; the man schoolteacher sold him to. He was with forty-six other Black prisoners in Georgia. At night, they all slept in wooden boxes, five feet deep, five feet wide and fitted into the earth. During the day, they were taken out to work, chained together. White jailors were brutal with those prisoners.
Once it rained heavily for many days; giving Paul D and his companions a chance to escape. They fled together as they were tied to a single chain. They run and run till they find a camp of Cherokee, people of an indigenous tribe, who cut their chains with their axes. After being released, Paul D goes North, under the guidance of the Cherokee. They advise him to follow the tree flowers and he reaches Delaware. There he lived with a weaver woman for eighteen months.
Beloved forces Paul D to move out of the house. It starts when Paul D, involuntarily, falls asleep on the rocking chair. It goes on that way. After that, Paul D moves to Baby Suggs’ room and sleeps on her bed and again he does not understand why. He believes that he is having ‘house-fits.’ After some days, he moves to the storeroom and eventually, to the cold house. Paul D has been forced out of 124.
One night, Beloved comes to the cold house to seduce Paul D and he succumbs. She asks him to touch her on the inside part and call out her name. As he touches her, he repeatedly says the words ‘Red heart,’ sometimes soft and sometimes so loud that it wakes Denver.
Sethe occasionally asks Beloved about her mother but Beloved only remembers a woman, from whom she was snatched away, the bridge where she was standing, and one white man. She cannot recall from where she got the new dress and shoes. Sethe is convinced that Beloved was locked up by some white men and sexually exploited.
Denver doesn’t tell Sethe about the cold house as she’s afraid that Beloved may leave her. One day, Beloved and Denver go into the cold house to get cider. But as they enter the cold house, Beloved seems to vanish. Denver starts crying as she is sure that Beloved has left her. Suddenly, Beloved appears in front of her and she smiles. Denver pleads with her to never leave her. Beloved smiles and says, “This is the place I am.”
Paul D decides to tell Sethe everything that’s been happening between him and Beloved for the last three weeks. He meets Sethe, when she is returning from work. But he cannot bring himself to say what he had planned to, and says something else; “I want you pregnant, Sethe. Would you do that for me?” Sethe laughs and asks him “Don’t you think that I’m too old to start all over again?” They both go back home, holding hands. Beloved feels resentful on seeing them together. Sethe announces that Paul D will sleep upstairs now, in her room.
When Sethe and Paul D go upstairs, Beloved asks Denver to make Paul D go away from there. Denver replies that Sethe might be angry with her if Paul D leaves. Then one of Beloved’s teeth falls out and she wonders if, like the tooth, all her body parts would drop one day. Beloved starts to cry and Denver takes her in her arms.
Twenty days after Sethe returns to 124 with her new-born baby, Stamp Paid goes there with two full buckets of blackberries. Baby Suggs organizes a feast for ninety Black people, to celebrate the arrival of Denver. But they feel jealous and angry. They think an ex-slave has no right to be always at the centre of attention; preaching, helping fugitives. They resent the fact Baby Suggs did not have to run away, her son bought her freedom, and on top of that her owner personally brought her to Cincinnati; where the Bodwins, who were very generous people and hated slavery, gave Baby Suggs a two-floor house to live in. Bodwin gave her some work, in return for rent.
Soon after the feast, four horsemen come to Bluestone Road; schoolteacher, his nephew, one slave catcher, and the sheriff, to recapture Sethe and her children. On seeing them, Sethe must have run to the shed with her four children. When the men open the door to the shed, they see her holding her dead her infant daughter, whom she has killed with a handsaw and is about to throw Denver against the wall when Stamp Paid, who happened to be there, catches her. Sethe has only managed to wound Buglar and Howard, her sons. After watching that, the sheriff suggests that schoolteacher and the other two should go back as it is no use taking Sethe back. Schoolteacher and his boys realize that mishandling and overbeating make the slaves crazy. The sheriff orders a wagon to take Sethe to the town.
Meanwhile Baby Suggs comes and takes the boys inside the house. She takes Denver from Stamp Paid and gives her to Sethe to feed her. Sethe starts nursing the baby by putting her bloody nipple into her mouth. That infuriates Baby Suggs and she shouts at Sethe and fights with her to take the baby back. Meanwhile the sheriff comes with a wagon and takes Sethe and Denver to prison.
Paul D and Stamp Paid work at the slaughterhouse where pigs are killed, cut, and skinned to export to Northerners. Stamp Paid shows Paul D an old newspaper clipping about Sethe’s killing of her baby. Paul D, sees the picture of Sethe and, not being able to read, argues that the picture is not hers. Stamp Paid narrates the whole incident to Paul D and reads out the words slowly from the newspaper article. Paul D insists that it could not be Sethe.
Paul D goes to 124 with the newspaper clipping and shows it to Sethe. She tries to explain to him, as he is the only person, she wants to explain anything to. She could not let herself or any of her children go back to Sweet Home. When she saw the schoolteacher and his boys approaching Bluestone Road, she could only think, “No. No. Nono. Nonono.” She took all her children outside that house where they could be safe. Killing her children with a handsaw was the only way to protect her children from slavery. Paul D replies, “Your love is too thick.” Paul D criticizes Sethe for her idea of safety for her children; she does not know where her two sons have gone, one daughter is dead and another cannot leave the house. He tells her what she did was wrong; “You got two feet, Sethe, not four.” Paul D leaves 124, telling Sethe to put his meal aside because he might be a little late. Sethe knows that he will never come back.
Stamp Paid has been feeling guilty since he got to know that Paul D left 124, on the day he showed him the newspaper clipping. He realizes that, maybe, Sethe’s “self-sufficiency” irked him and he was also influenced by the feelings of the entire community towards her. He feels a sense of obligation towards Baby Suggs and feels duty bound to check on her family.
Stamp Paid recalls how, let down by her community, Baby Suggs gave up preaching. He had urged her to return to the Clearing, not understanding that she was tired. All she wanted to do was to lie down and think of colour. The last time Stamp met her, Baby Suggs was delivering some shoes to a white household, at the back door. He told her not to lose her faith as it would be like conceding defeat to white people. But she replies that all she can see is “a nigger woman hauling shoes.” Now, years later, he can understand her spiritual fatigue. The red ribbon he has found in the river, with the hair and scalp still attached to it, has tired him out too.
Sethe takes the girls ice-skating, trying to show them that she is unaffected by Paul D’s departure. One night, Sethe hears Beloved humming a song that was composed by Sethe for her own children. Sethe finally understands who Beloved is; overjoyed by the miraculous return of her daughter.
When Stamp Paid goes to 124, he hears loud voices; the only word he can discern is “mine.” He tries to go in but holds back. Although he has heard frightening voices at 124, he wants to make sure that everything is fine over there. He goes again and knocks on the door. When no one answers his call, Stamp tries to look for Denver and Sethe through the window but sees the back of a girl he doesn’t recognize. He goes to meet Ella, to find out if she knows anything about the new girl. From her, Stamp learns that Paul D is now living in the basement of a church.
Sethe’s inner voice addresses Beloved. She is hopeful that her baby will understand her actions. Life at Sweet Home was becoming unbearable. When Halle didn’t show up, Sethe sent her little children ahead of herself; staying behind to wait for her husband. Sethe talks about the time she spent in jail, where Baby Suggs would bring her food and news of her boys. She tells Beloved about the white jailor who took her diamond earrings, telling her it was in case she tried to harm herself with them. She was allowed to attend her daughter’s burial, and the coloured ladies of Delaware signed a petition for her release. She was released after three months. In her mind, she goes over the difficult journey she undertook to reach her Iram Fatima daughter; “You remember that, don’t you; that I did? That when I got here, I had milk enough for all?”
This chapter, and the next three as well, use the stream of stream of consciousness technique: following the thoughts and feelings of the characters. Sethe remembers the devotion with which she looked after Mrs. Garner when she was unwell, like a daughter. She remembers how she cried when Sethe told her how she had been milked like a cow. She wonders if Mrs Garner is alive now. Her memories of schoolteacher’s nephews milking her breasts are interspersed with those of her own traumatic childhood. Her mother couldn’t care for her and a wetnurse, Nan fed her; but there was never enough milk for her. Her mother had a permanent smile on her face, made from constantly having a bit in her mouth. Sethe lives with the tortuous uncertainty of not knowing why her mother was hanged.
“Beloved, she my daughter. She mine.” Sethe knows Beloved is her own daughter, who has come back to her, like a good daughter should. She decides to show the colours and smells of the world to Beloved; the rich purple of carrots and yellow flowers. Sethe criticizes Paul D because he distracted her; otherwise she would’ve recognized her daughter the moment Beloved asked about the diamond earrings. The same earrings she played with as a baby. She would also have noticed the marks of her fingernails on Beloved’s forehead; made when she held her head up, before using the handsaw on her neck.
For the first time, Sethe confesses that when she ran to the shed with her children, she wanted to kill them all and then herself; “My plan was to take us all to the other side where my own ma’am is.” Fortunately, she was stopped after killing Beloved. Sethe also tells Beloved that she wanted to end her life when her daughter was laid to rest, but she could not do so because of the three surviving children.
This chapter follows Denver’s stream-of-consciousness; “Beloved is my sister.” Denver feels that it is her duty and responsibility to protect Beloved, in case Sethe tries to kill her again. She recalls a recurring nightmare that she had when she was a girl; where Sethe decapitated her every night and carried her head downstairs. Denver has always waited for her father to come back. She considers her father an ideal man, an “angel.” She loved listening to her grandmother, Baby Suggs talk about Halle.
Denver remembers the assurance given by Baby Suggs that the baby ghost is “greedy for love” and it would never harm her as she had drunk its blood, along with her mother’s milk. When Sethe’s sons run away, everyone thinks that it’s because they’re frightened of the ghost. However, Denver’s thoughts go back to the time her brothers expressed fear that their mother could kill them; saying she had something in her that made it alright to kill her own.
This is the most complicated and difficult of the four chapters using the stream of consciousness. “I am Beloved and she is mine.” There is an abrupt change in the narrative style; sentences are short, disjointed. As Beloved says, it is difficult to describe pictures. She remembers the face of her mother and claims that she is not disconnected from her. She does not want to lose Sethe. There are images of clouds and water in this chapter. Sometimes, she has been standing in the rain and sometimes, she curls up like a foetus. Time and again, there’s a recurring reference to “a hot thing”; may refer to the hold of a ship. It is her cherished desire to join her face with Sethe’s face. By the end of this chapter, Beloved has been restored to life, emerging from the water and sitting outside Sethe’s house. She recognizes her; “Sethe’s is the face that left me.”
Beloved reiterates her need to join Sethe. Sethe withdraws her face. Beloved is not willing to lose that face again. The disembodied voices speak to each other. These voices are the voices of Sethe, Beloved, and Denver. Sethe asks Beloved to forgive her, but Beloved is not willing to. In haunting poetic prose, Morrison weaves the thoughts of mother and daughters together. Short sentences are packed with intimacy; mother and daughter are one; they are “like laugh and laughter.” Beloved has come back from “the other side” to feel Sethe’s love; “You are mine. You are mine. You are mine.”
The chapter begins with Paul D’s thoughts. He has never met his father and he cannot recall much about his mother; Paul A and Paul F were his half-brothers. Paul D remembers when one of his brothers was sold off. At Sweet Home, he had Halle, Baby Suggs and his brothers, so he had a family of sorts.
Paul D’s thoughts go back to how they had planned to make an escape on the Underground Railroad after schoolteacher took over the farm. They planned months in advance but everything went wrong on that night. They had all planned to meet in the corn fields and move ahead from there. But only Paul D, Sixo, and The Thirty Mile Woman showed up. Someone saw Paul A going ahead but nobody knows what happened afterwards. Halle went to give a message to Sethe, who was looking after Mrs Garner but he never got to her. Sethe waited for him and sent all her three children to Cincinnati when Halle didn’t turn up. Nobody knows exactly what happened. Maybe schoolteacher got suspicious and Halle hid in the barn.
Schoolteacher reaches there with other white men and arrests Sixo and Paul D. The Thirty Mile Woman manages to run away and Sixo starts to sing; schoolteacher thinks he has gone mad. They tried to burn Sixo alive but the flames are weak. Sixo is still singing and laughing when he is shot dead. The white men and schoolteacher discuss the problems they face with “niggers.” Paul D comes to know his price for the first time, that is, 900 dollars.
Stamp Paid tries to convince Paul D to think again about his decision to leave Sethe. He narrates the story behind his name to Paul D. His name used to be Joshua. His wife had been taken away from him by their master’s son at a young age. Stamp had not touched his own wife for a year. When his wife came back, he became very angry. He felt like breaking her neck. Instead, he changed his name to tackle his anger. He defends Sethe; saying that she did what she did out of love; she wanted to “out-hurt the hurter.” Paul D discloses to Stamp that he fears Sethe and Beloved. Stamp is anxious to know about the whereabouts of Beloved. He tells Paul D that a few months ago, a white man was killed by the Black girl, whom he had kept forcefully in his house since she was a child.
Sethe and Beloved spend their time playing games. Sethe uses up all her savings to make colourful dresses for the trio, making them look like “carnival women.” She gets late for work every day and, as a result, loses her job. She becomes obsessed with pleasing Beloved. One day she notices a small scar on Beloved’s neck, the scar left by the handsaw, and the intensity of her love increases. In the beginning, Denver is concerned for Beloved, but with the passage of time she becomes more concerned for her mother. Beloved has been growing fat and expanding whereas Sethe is wasting away. Sethe tries to redeem herself in her daughter’s eyes and Beloved complains about her abandonment. Denver understands that, “Sethe was trying to make up for the handsaw: Beloved was making her pay for it.”
Eventually Denver decides to ask someone for help. Beloved is ruining her mother; they are all “locked in a love that wore everybody out,” and Denver is afraid for her mother’s life. She gathers the strength to go out of 124 and goes to Lady Jones, her former teacher. Without mentioning or describing the ghost, Denver informs Lady Jones that Sethe has been ill for a long time. She asks Lady Jones for some food, which she gets but refuses her offer of help from the church.
A couple of days later, Denver begins to find baskets of food, left outside 124. The baskets have pieces of paper on which the names of the senders are written. Denver personally goes to return the baskets and say thanks; getting acquainted with the Black community of Cincinnati.
The house has begun to resemble a lunatic asylum. Denver decides to get a job as she cannot depend on her neighbours to feed her forever and she goes to the Bodwins for help. The Bodwins, unlike other whites, have been very kind and generous to the Black community. Janey, the servant at the Bodwins’ place still works for them but Denver is employed to work the night shift, taking care of Ms Bodwin.
When Denver is leaving their house, she notices a piggy bank in the form of a Black boy with exaggerated features. She sees the words “At Yo’ Service” written on the base. Janey quickly spreads an altogether different tale; that the dead baby of Sethe has come back to punish her. The rumour grows and spreads all over the community. Ella hears that Sethe is being whipped by the ghost. She doesn’t believe in “past errors taking possession of the present.” She is instrumental in mobilizing the women to come forward and help her free 124 of the evil presence. Ella too has suffered in her own way; she recalls how she was shared by a white man and his son years ago. She gave birth to a baby and neglected it until it died, a few days later.
Edward Bodwin comes to 124 to collect Denver for her first day of work. He sees a group of Black women standing in a group outside the house and Denver sitting on the steps. They are praying and singing. Hearing the noise, Sethe and Beloved come out of the house, holding hands. Seeing Mr. Bodwin coming up the road, Sethe mistakes him for schoolteacher and attacks him with an ice pick.
Stamp Paid informs Paul D that 124 is quiet now. Mr. Bodwin wants to sell 124, but it may take some time because it is difficult to find a buyer. He is not going to press any charges against Sethe for the attempted murder, because he was engrossed in looking at Beloved and did not even realize that Sethe was rushing at him with an ice pick. Before Sethe could reach him, the women, including Denver and Ella, pushed her to the ground. Beloved disappears and is nowhere to be seen. There are rumours that a little boy saw her running through the woods, fish in her hair.
Paul D runs into Denver, who discloses that she knew that Beloved was the ghost of her dead sister, maybe “more.” She tells Paul D that her mother is not well. Walking to 124, Paul D thinks about how he has been unsuccessfully trying to run away most of his life; first from Sweet Home, then prison in Georgia. Over the years he has worked for the Northpoint Bank and Railway, then joined a coloured regiment and picked up dead bodies for the Confederates. At the end of the Civil War, he was in Alabama, from where a Union boat took him to West Virginia. Trudging to Trenton, he earned his first coin and bought some turnips; observing the confusion around him. Black people roaming around, unaware that the war had ended. Wandering around for seven years after the war ended, he comes to 124. Roaming around the country, he feels “astonished by the beauty of this land that was not his.”
He reaches 124 and comes to know from the presence of Here Boy, Sethe’s dog, that Beloved has gone. Sethe seems to have lost her mind; lying in bed, having lost all desire to live or work anymore. Sethe recalls all the people whom she loved and lost; Howard and Buglar, Baby Suggs, her mother, and Beloved. She cries, telling Paul D that Beloved was her “best thing.” Looking at Sethe, he remembers Sixo’s description of the Thirty Mile Woman; “She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man.” He is at peace with himself now.
In the first paragraph, the narrator talks of “a loneliness that roams”, unlike the loneliness within that can be rocked away. This is an oblique reference to the ghost of Beloved, looking for her mother’s love. In the second paragraph, she is the one who “erupts into separate parts,” making it easier for people to forget her. The ones who saw her on the porch were the first to forget her, like a bad dream.
Those closest to her forget her words and know that remembering is “unwise.” They forget whose face she was looking for and the “smile under her chin”; a reference to the scar on her neck. Gradually, the memories are locked in the mind. Occasionally, there are gentle indications of her presence; as in a soft touch, a rustle of a skirt or footprints at the back of 124. But it goes away. There is a refrain after each paragraph; “It was not a story to be passed on.” It could be a cautioning to the reader, that this is not a story, indicating that it’s not a piece of fiction but the painful history of a race.