Part One, Chapter 9
Sethe feels the need to go to the clearing where Baby Suggs used to preach. Baby Suggs did not give sermons, but instead instructed the crowds of black folks to laugh, dance, and love their bodies, in particular their hearts and mouths. Sethe wants to go there now to pay tribute to Halle, and she feels the need to commune with Baby Sugg's spirit. But she remembers, too, that Baby Suggs died in grief, embittered against whites and without hope for the future, all because of what happened to Sethe.
After Amy left and Sethe was on her own, she walked until she found a black man with two boys. The man was Stamp Paid, who gave her some eel and a coat in which to carry her baby. He left her at a relay station, where a woman named Ella came to pick her up, having been left "the sign" by Stamp Paid. Ella brought her to Baby Suggs, whom Sethe had never met before. Finally, she had made it, although she had to wait until the next morning to see her children so as to avoid frightening them with her haggard appearance. Baby Suggs bathed Sethe and soaked her feet, and Sethe began her life as a free woman. Her third child, a girl, whom she had not seen since she sent her ahead with the Railroad, had started to crawl. Sethe was so happy that for a while the realization that she was free seemed more like a dream, unable to hit her with full force.
In the clearing with Beloved and Denver, Sethe tries to feel Baby Sugg's presence. She feels Baby Sugg's fingers caressing her neck, they way they once did in life, but then the fingers begin to choke her. Beloved and Denver rescue her, and Denver tells her that Baby Suggs would never hurt her. Beloved massages Sethe's neck and kisses her, too passionately, her breath smelling like milk. Sethe tells her she's too old for that. Still, the visit to the clearing makes Sethe feel better, and she also decides that she wants Paul D in her life. She goes back to cook up dinner for all, remember the first day she arrived at 124, when she had milk enough for all.
Beloved hates Paul D, because he takes too much of Sethe's attention. She listens to the to of them for a while and then leaves to go outside. Denver confronts her about the clearing, telling her that she knows Beloved was choking Sethe, even if she did "rescue" Sethe afterward. Beloved warns Denver not to cross her and runs away.
Denver remembers when she used to go to school. When she was seven, she walked away from home and found the house of Lady Jones, a mulatto woman who taught black children reading, writing, and math. The year of school (in which she was avoided by her classmates without realizing it) ended when Nelson Lord asked Denver "the question." When Denver asked her mother "the question," she became deaf, not even hearing her mother's answer or anything else for two years. She regained her hearing when she heard the baby ghost crawling up the stairs.
Baby Suggs instructed the blacks to love their bodies, especially their mouths and hearts. They had to love their mouths to battle the speechlessness imposed on them under slavery, and their hearts they had to love in order to preserve their human feelings-her old philosophy stood in sharp contrast to Paul D's need to keep his heart locked away. But what happened to Sethe broke Baby Suggs, convincing her that there was "no bad luck in this world but whitefolks," and making her feel that her preaching had all been lies.
Sethe was elated at finally achieving freedom, unable even to conceive of the change in her life. Her elation set the stage for the desperate action she took later when schoolteacher found her.
Beloved's actions in the clearing reveal her malevolent streak, and her reaction to Denver's accusations hint at how dangerous she might be. In the clearing, however, Sethe is able to make peace with Halle's memory, and subsequently can resolve that she wants to try and make a new life with Paul D and the two girls. She believes she can take care of all of them, just like when she first arrived in Ohio, when "she had milk enough for all." She understands herself as a provider.
Denver's childhood deafness shows some of the danger of the past, from which Sethe has always tried to protect her daughter. The question of what happened to her mother made it impossible for Denver to hear anything, representing the power of the past to impair life in the present. But Denver's hearing also returned because of the sound of the ghost baby, possibly indicating that the answer to the pain of the past may lie in confronting it rather than avoiding it.
Part One, Chapter 10
After failing to escape from Sweet Home, Paul D was sold to a new master, whom he tried to kill. He was sent to Georgia. At a prison for blacks, he was kept in a small box in the ground at night and let out during the day to work in a chain gang. At night, he trembled uncontrollably. After months, a powerful rainstorm gave the men a chance to escape. Still chained, they ran until they found a Cherokee encampment. The Cherokee broke their chains.
Paul D, instructed to follow the blossoms (which would keep him going North) found his way to Delaware, where he stayed with a weaver woman for eighteen months. All of these experiences he put away in the "tobacco tin" lodged in his chest, and "nothing in this world could pry it open."
More of Paul D's painful past is revealed, making clear why his strategy for survival has been to strangle his own feelings. The level of brutality in Georgia far exceeded anything he had experienced at Sweet Home, and showed him how little his life was valued. The relatively gentle treatment he received under Mr. Garner, however, is no argument that there is an enlightened form of slavery. Whatever privileges he enjoyed under Garner were fragile, not his own to keep and protect. After Garner's death, there was nothing Paul D could do to save himself.
The image of the tobacco tin in his chest reveals how tightly he holds back all of his memories. Although we are told that "nothing in this world" can open it, Beloved is not of this world.
Part One, Chapter 11
Beloved moves Paul D. Inexplicably, he begins to feel uncomfortable sleeping with Sethe. He begins to sleep in the rocker, then in Baby Sugg's old room, then in the store room, then in the cold house. The moving, he knows, has nothing to do with Sethe, but is involuntary, yet he can do nothing to prevent it.
Beloved comes to him in the cold house and tells him to touch her "inside part" and call her by her name. Paul D tries to resist, but he cannot. She insists, and he does as she asks, horrified by his own actions. As he touches her, he repeats the words "red heart" again and again, like a mantra.
Beloved shows her intent to be rid of Paul D, first by moving him, and then by using sex to try to conquer him. Paul D cannot resist her, and the reader sees an indication of Beloved's power. He has survived slavery and a Southern prison for blacks, but he cannot resist the ghost.
The encounter pries open the "tobacco tin" in his chest, and his repetition of "red heart" indicates that he still has what he had tried to leave behind, the repetition giving the words a pattern like a heartbeat. Beloved forces him to feel what he does not want to feel. Perhaps because she is an embodiment of the past, the encounter with her tears down Paul D's defenses. Certainly, the sex is horrific and desperate and not entirely under his control, but Paul D's vulnerability and defeat by the ghost reminds him of his own human feelings.
Part One, Chapter 12
Denver remembers the "original hunger," before Beloved came. But even now, she cannot consistently win Beloved's approval or her smiles. She is desperate for Beloved to love her, and she fears that Beloved might leave again.
Sethe comes to believe that Beloved was locked up by a white man-all Beloved can remember is standing up on a bridge looking down and one white man. We later realize that the one white man is schoolteacher, but Sethe believes that Beloved was locked up and used for a white master's pleasure. Sethe remembers Ella, the woman who took her on the last leg of the Underground Railroad. Ella was locked up by a father and his son for a year, and Sethe thinks something like that may have happened to Beloved.
Denver follows Beloved out to the cold house, where Beloved vanishes into thin air. Denver begins to cry, worse than when Paul D first came: "Then it was for herself. Now she is crying because she has no self." But Beloved reappears, and asks mysteriously if Denver can see "her face." Denver cannot, and asks whose face it is, to which Beloved replies, "Me. It's me."
Denver conflates her own identity with the identity of Beloved, just as Beloved conflates her own identity with Sethe's. She cries and feels that "she has no self," showing how absolutely dependent she has become on Beloved's presence and approval.
Beloved, in turn, sees herself as one with Sethe. When she sees "her face," she means the face of her mother-which, in her mind, is equivalent to herself. Like infants in the theories of some psychologists and psychoanalysts, she sees her mother's identity and her own as one.
This relinquishment of selfhood is not healthy-and is a transformation and continuation, of sorts, of the lack of selfhood blacks had while still slaves. Although the Civil War has been fought and the slaves emancipated, Denver and Beloved are not yet ready to own themselves. They instead find the Self lodged in the identity of another.