Part Three, Chapter 26
Sethe has seemingly lost her mind, able only to care for Beloved. It is as if Denver does not exist. Sethe and Beloved play games all day long, and Sethe spends extravagant sums on expensive fabric to make colorful dresses for the three of them. She arrives late to work repeatedly and loses her job. Beloved, in turn, demands everything. When the playing began, Denver was included, but soon it became clear that the two of them were more interested in each other. At first, Denver was afraid for Beloved, but after a time she became more concerned for her mother. Beloved is growing fat while Sethe wastes away, and they are running out of food. There is also constant fighting, as Sethe tries to explain herself to Beloved, who refuses to forgive her. She describes the world of the dead as a terrifying place, and is not interested in Sethe's explanations. When Sethe tries to assert herself, Beloved flies into a rage.
In April, Denver decides that she has to go for help. Beloved is destroying her mother; they are all "locked in a love that wore everybody out," and Denver is afraid for her mother's life. She finds the courage to leave the yard of 124 for the first time since she was seven, and she makes her way to Lady Jones.
Lady Jones is a mulatto woman with yellow hair; she despises her Caucasian features and married a dark-skinned black man. Because of her light skin, she was picked to go to a school for black girls, and now she teaches the unpicked children of Cincinatti. She remembers Denver, who was one of her brightest students, and tries to help her. Without mentioning the ghost, Denver tells her old teacher that Sethe is sick, and Lady Jones feels great sympathy for their situation.
Over the next few weeks, Denver keeps finding baskets with food in them, with little scraps of paper on which the senders' names are written. Denver returns the baskets and thanks the senders, and so for the first time she gets to know the people in Cincinnati's black community. Lady Jones gives her reading lessons.
The home situation gets worse, as Beloved grows more demanding. Sethe continues to try and explain herself to Beloved, telling her about the horrors of slavery and why she did what she did. She never wanted her daughter to be whipped or have to break her back working like a beast of burden. Above all, she wanted no one to list her daughter's characteristics on the animal side of a sheet of paper. She wants Beloved's forgiveness, but Beloved will not give it. However, Denver listens to her mother's explanations. Realizing that she cannot depend on the community to feed them forever, Denver resolves to get a job. She goes to the Bodwins to ask for help.
Janey, the servant who was there at the arrival of Baby Suggs, still works for the Bodwins. Compared to other whites, the Bodwins are very generous to the black community. Denver sees about getting a night job, telling Janey that Beloved is a cousin who bothers Sethe and contributes to her illness. Before Denver leaves, she sees a piggy bank in the shape of a black boy with exaggerated features, the words "At Yo' Service" written on the base.
Janey spreads the tale that Sethe's dead baby has returned and is punishing her. The story grows as it spreads, and sympathies in the community are with Sethe. Ella, despite her past distrust of Sethe, organizes the women to go and free 124 of the ghost. When she was shared by the white father and son years ago, she gave birth to a baby and neglected it until it died. She does not want the past to interfere with living now, because living in the present, as she sees it, is difficult enough.
On the day that Edward Bodwin comes to 124 to pick up Denver for her first day of work, thirty women of Cincinatti's black community go to rid the house of Beloved. They stay out in the yard, praying and singing. Beloved goes to the porch to confront them, pregnant and naked. Sethe loses control; when Mr. Bodwin comes up the road she is convinced that schoolteacher has come to take Beloved and she runs at him with an ice pick.
This chapter sees a dramatic transformation of Denver from a timid and awkward girl to a self-reliant young woman. Her interactions with the community and her resolve to save her mother transform her. Also, for the first time, she perhaps comes to understand her mother's actions and the burden of the past: even though Beloved has no interest in Sethe's explanations, Denver listens to all of them.
Beloved's hunger for her mother is insatiable and all-consuming. While Beloved needs endless attention, Sethe is just as desperate for forgiveness. Her need for her daughter's understanding indicates her own painful burden of guilt. Although she told Paul D that her actions saved her children, she cannot feel free of what she did. Beloved has returned for revenge and out of need; she represents the horrifying legacy of slavery and the power of the past to live on and haunt the survivors. Like Sethe's feelings of guilt, she makes living in the present impossible.
The Bodwins are former abolitionists and great allies of the black community. However, the scene in the house reminds us that there are limits to the goodness whites can show blacks-blacks are certainly not treated as equals or given respect, as indicated by the piggy bank in the shape of the caricatured and servile black boy.
The black community's reaction to Beloved is possibly partly out of feelings of guilt-their failure to help Sethe many years ago helped to make the tragedy at 124. Ella, once one of Sethe's harshest critics, is revealed (only to the reader) to have committed infanticide herself.
Sethe, in Beloved's presence, is trapped totally in the past. Like a broken record, she must constantly reiterate her reasons for doing what she did; she must constantly relive the pain of slavery. The horror of reliving past events comes to a climax during the exorcism: she relives the horrible moment when schoolteacher came for her. This time, she tries to kill the oppressor rather than her child-but Mr. Bodwin is not the same man as schoolteacher, and Sethe nearly makes a terrible mistake. However, the other women stop her. By preventing Sethe from slaying Mr. Bodwin and ridding 124 of the ghost, they atone for the sins they committed against Sethe in the past.
The fact that the exorcism is a communal act makes a statement about Beloved-she (and the legacy of slavery she represents) is a force with which the entire community must contend.
Part Three, Chapter 27
Paul D returns to 124, knowing from Here Boy's presence that Beloved is truly gone. (Here Boy is the dog who was always terrified of the ghost.)
Stamp Paid has told Paul D about the strange events at 124. The voices he once heard have stopped. Mr. Bodwin has decided to sell 124, but it may take some time to find a buyer. He will not press charges against Sethe for the attempted murder, because he was so fixated on Beloved that he did not realize Sethe was trying to kill him. Before Sethe reached him, the women, including Denver and Ella, were able to tackle Sethe to the ground. Mr. Bodwin believes Sethe was trying to kill one of them. Beloved vanished. One minute she was there, naked and pregnant, and the next she was gone.
Paul D also ran into Denver as she was on her way to work at the Bodwins'. Despite their previous dislike for each other, the two had a polite conversation. Denver confided that she believed that Beloved was more than the ghost of her dead sister, but she does not say more than that. She told Paul D that she believes she has lost her mother for good, and exhorted him to treat Sethe well if he visits 124.
Paul D has been trying to make sense of the stories circulating in the community. Some say Beloved came back to make Sethe attack Mr. Bodwin, because Mr. Bodwin was the man who saved her from hanging for the murder of her child. All say that they saw the ghost and then it vanished. A boy who was in the woods behind the house that day claims he saw a naked woman running through the forest, a woman with "fish for hair."
Paul D contemplates his failed escape attempts, working as a slave in both North and South. He ran from Sweet Home, Brandywine, Georgia, Wilmington, and Northpoint, and every time he got caught. At the end of the Civil War, as he tried to make his way North, he saw that blacks were still unsafe, massacred by angry whites throughout much of the South.
His return to 124 is sad. He sees signs of Beloved everywhere: ribbons and other brightly colored cloth, bought for Beloved's pleasure; a garden planted for a child; and, hanging from a wall peg, the dress she wore when she first arrived. Sethe has nearly lost her mind, and lies in bed, unable to care for herself. She has no desire to live or work for living anymore; as Baby Suggs did, she has retired to bed and never leaves.
Paul D tells her he's moving in, and that he'll take care of her at night, when Denver is away. Sethe remembers all of the people who have been with her and then left her: her sons, Amy, her mother, and Beloved. She begins to cry, telling Paul D that Beloved was her "best thing."
Paul D wants to make a life with Sethe, deal with their past and build a future with her. He tells Sethe that she is her own best thing, and a bewildered Sethe replies, "Me? Me?"
Despite what has happened, in this chapter we see closure and hope for the future. Denver has become a strong and independent young woman, determined to continue to care for her mother. Paul D returns to Sethe, resolving to help her to confront the past and build a future together.
The nature of the ghost remains unclear, and although the dog's presence means that she is gone from the house, the little boy's story and the physical remnants of her presence indicate that no exorcism can be complete. Her dress does not vanish into thin air-it hangs from the wall peg. Years ago, when Denver first saw signs that the ghost baby "had plans," it was because of the empty phantom dress that held her mother as she prayed. We are left again with an empty dress here at the end of the novel, the dress an item as physically real as any living being. It continues to be a sign that the past does not vanish.
Sethe, as Baby Suggs was before she died, seems broken by the events of the past year. She still does not understand her own worth, independent of her role as a mother, and only can respond with bewilderment when Paul D tells her that she is her own "best thing." With Paul D, Denver, and Sethe living as a family, healing may be possible. Sethe may learn her own worth.
Part Three, Chapter 28
The narrator tells us that Beloved is slowly forgotten, first by the people of the community, and then by the people of 124. For a time, strange events continue, but memories of the ghost begin to fade. There is not even a name to attach to her: "Everyone knew what she was called but no one anywhere knew her name." They cannot remember what she said or if she said anything; they do not pass on her story. Several times, the narrator tells us that "It was not a story to pass on."
The last chapter presents a contradiction. Although Beloved's story, according to the narrator, is not a story to pass on, the novel performs exactly that action. For the characters of the novel, forgetting Beloved is a necessity. The past must be dealt with in a healthy way. Although traces of Beloved remind them of her from time to time, the dead remain dead, and the relationship between the characters and their past is allowed to become more manageable. For us, however, the story has to be passed on if we are to understand the history that is embodied in Beloved.
Beloved is referred to as the forgotten, the unnamed. The novel is dedicated to "Sixty Million, and more"-the people who died during the transatlantic crossing. By capitalizing "Sixty" and "Million," Morrison is ascribing a title, a kind of name, to the often forgotten and anonymous first victims of the slave trade. The novel reminds us of their suffering, and invites the reader to contend with the past and the legacy of slavery. The effects of slavery continue to this day, and, like the characters of the book, we must learn to understand the past if we are to deal with its effects on the present. Beloved is also our name, taken from the funeral service in which Sethe mistook the minister's words referring to the assembled mourners for the name of the dead. Beloved is a ghost of the past, but she is named for the audience at her funeral-an audience that includes, through the form of the novel, the readers of the book. Her name is ours; her legacy is one that we share and must confront.