Pages 148–165: Summary and Analysis
Aunt Phyllis: the midwife from Minnowville who Mr. Garner sent for each time Sethe gave birth
Schoolteacher, one of his nephews (the other having been kept home as punishment for stealing Sethe’s milk), and a slave catcher had arrived with the sheriff to capture Sethe and her children. Sethe recognized schoolteacher’s hat and had gathered her children in the shed where she beat the boys on the head with a shovel in an attempt to kill them, slit Beloved’s throat, and tried to bash Denver’s brains out against a wall. Stamp Paid caught Denver and saved her life. Baby Suggs saw that the boys were still breathing and tended to them. Sethe would not loosen her hold on the dead Beloved; therefore, Baby Suggs told her it was time to nurse Denver but they had to trade children in order for Sethe to do so. Sethe and her daughter, nursing from a nipple still covered with Beloved’s blood, were taken to prison after the sheriff had sent off schoolteacher, his nephew, and the slave catcher.
Stamp Paid brings a newspaper article to Paul D. It has a picture of a woman who looks remarkably like Sethe, but Paul D keeps insisting the mouth is not right. Stamp Paid tells Paul D about the picnic-barbecue, then reads the article to him since Paul D cannot read. Paul D goes home to Sethe to ask her about the veracity of the newspaper article. Instead of answering him, she spins in a circle and tells rambling stories. Finally, she explains that she had to make her children safe from slavery and their deaths were the only way she could achieve their safety. Paul D argues with her as to whether or not her plan succeeded and leaves.
While Paul D understands how being free gives you permission to love in a big way rather than the fearful, minimal way slaves have been taught to love, he cannot accept that this love—grown to its fullest in freedom—gives the right to kill, even if you think it’s keeping the object of your love safe. He suggests to Sethe that this was the action of an animal, not a human, and it didn’t work: Beloved is dead, both Buglar and Howard ran away, and Denver is seemingly a dim-witted, dependent child. Sethe, for her part, cannot agree with him; she’d lived in slavery and felt that was worse than death for her children. She had killed out of love, not rage or punishment.