Last Updated on April 11, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1002
A young woman dressed all in black walks out of a stream in the woods near 124. She walks towards 124 and falls asleep on the tree stump near the front steps. When Sethe, Denver, and Paul D come home from the carnival, they are puzzled by her presence. Once Sethe sees the girl, she feels her bladder fill up and she runs to the back of the house, dispelling so much water that it reminds her of when she gave birth to Denver.
Back inside 124, the three watch the young woman drink cup after cup of water. Sethe notices that the woman’s skin is smooth and unblemished like a baby’s and asks for her name. The woman replies that it is Beloved. Because Sethe and Paul D possess a silent understanding of the horrors of slavery, they do not press Beloved for further information and refrain from asking her to explain more about who she is or where she has come from.
Beloved sleeps in Baby Suggs’ old room for four days, and the other three believe that she must be ill, though Paul D has his doubts, claiming that he watched Beloved lift Baby Sugg’s rocker with one hand. Denver and Sethe ignore him, finding themselves taken with this strange woman.
For the past four weeks, Beloved has stayed at 124, becoming more and more fascinated with Sethe and her stories. Beloved follows the older woman around, constantly requesting stories about her past, the house, and the objects within it. One evening, Beloved asks Sethe about her “diamonds”—the crystal earrings Mrs. Garner gave her when she married Halle. Sethe relays the story of her and Halle’s union, and Beloved listens carefully, voraciously devouring this essential story from Sethe’s past.
Another time, after Sethe, Beloved, and Denver take refuge from the rain, Beloved asked Sethe if her mother ever fixed up her hair. Sethe replies no, describing her mother as an overworked slave who did not have the time to take care of her. She also relays how her mother had shown Sethe the circle and cross burned on her ribs, telling her that those symbols were how she could recognize her corpse. Her mother ultimately died by hanging; by the time Sethe could inspect the corpse, the mark on the flesh could no longer be discerned.
Talking about her mother upsets Sethe. She quietly remembers a woman named Nan who pulled her away from her mother’s corpse; as they spoke quietly in Sethe’s mother’s first language, Nan explains that she arrived here with Sethe’s mother on the same slave ship. Sethe’s mother had thrown all the children she bore by white men overboard but had saved Sethe, who was the daughter of a Black man for whom she was named. Meanwhile, Denver notices the effect Beloved’s questions have on Sethe and it troubles her.
During the fifth week of Beloved’s stay at 124, Paul D finds himself growing more and more suspicious of her, wary and afraid of how alluring she is to him. One evening during supper, Paul D bombards Beloved with questions about her origins, her intentions, and the clothes she was wearing when she first arrived at 124. Beloved ends up choking on a raisin. When she comes to, Denver suggests that she and her sleep in the same room together.
With the two girls off to bed, Sethe points out to Paul D that she appreciates how Beloved keeps Denver company and that she could never throw a vulnerable Black woman out on the streets. When Paul...
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D swears that he has never mistreated a woman in his life, the conversation progresses to Halle and how he mistreated Sethe by reneging on their planned escape from Sweet Home.
Pained, Paul D reveals that Halle had witnessed Sethe’s assault by schoolteacher and his nephews, and the experience drove him to insanity and rendered him incapable of escape. Knowing that Halle saw the awful things done to her but did not intervene leaves Sethe feeling hurt and betrayed, and the revelation casts an awful shadow on her memories of Halle.
When Paul D had seen the traumatized Halle, he could not call out to him because he had an iron bit in his mouth, as he was about to be sent off to a labor camp. He tells Sethe that the worst part of the experience was seeing Mister, a rooster at Sweet Home, and realizing that the animal had more pride and freedom than he did. Paul D then stops talking, as remembering became too painful, and Sethe rubs his knees to give him comfort.
As the adults talk on the porch, Beloved and Denver dance together in their now-shared bedroom. The two women fall on the bed, Denver knowingly asks Beloved what it was like in the place she came from, somehow aware that Beloved is her dead sister come back to life. Beloved reveals that she had come back to see Sethe, and Denver is hurt that she was not the reason why. When Denver asks Beloved not to tell Sethe who she is, Beloved becomes angry and tells Denver never to tell her what to do.
Unsettled, Denver agrees when Beloved commands her to tell the story of her birth. Denver recounts the tale, starting with the white woman who found Sethe half-dead from her journey. The woman, Amy Denver, had rubbed Sethe’s wounded bare feet and discovered the raw and bleeding whipping scars on the latter’s back, declaring it to be a chokecherry tree to soothe Sethe. The two then found a boat and boarded it. However, Sethe’s water broke soon after, forcing her to give birth inside the boat, with Amy’s help. Afterward, the two women part ways on the riverbank, and Amy tells Sethe to tell her baby girl that the woman who helped her enter the world was “Miss Amy Denver, of Boston.”