Part Two, Chapter 19
To Stamp Paid, 124 is "loud." He can hear the voices as he approaches the house, like a chorus of the dead. He wants to see Sethe and make sure everything is all right. Ever since he learned that Paul D left 124 on the same day that Stamp showed him the newspaper clipping, he has felt guilty. He worries that he did not take the feelings of Sethe or the well-being of Denver into consideration, and that perhaps he was infected by the feelings of the community toward Sethe. The last time he visited 124 was when he brought Baby Suggs's body out for burial. Sethe did not sing with the others at the funeral, and back at the yard of 124 afterward, the other mourners did not touch the food Sethe prepared. Sethe, in turn, did not touch any of theirs, and she forbade Denver to touch any of it as well.
At the door, Stamp Paid cannot enter the house. At the homes of blacks whom he has helped, he always enters without knocking, but today for some reason at 124 he feels the need to knock-and is not able to do it. He goes to 124 day after day, never working up the courage to knock on the door.
Sethe, to show the girls that Paul D's flight is not going to break her, takes the girls ice-skating. The three have a wonderful time, laughing and falling on the ice, not a soul to see them. At the end of the day, Beloved hums a bit of a song that Sethe made up to sing to her children. Sethe finally realizes who Beloved is. She goes to bed to consider the significance of what has happened.
Stamp Paid, still trying to make himself go to 124 and knock on the door, remembers how Baby Suggs was broken after what happened to Sethe. She never preached anymore, embittered and retiring to bed to think about colors. Stamp realizes now what Baby Suggs felt; he, too, has begun to feel tired "in his marrow." One day, while in the river, he found a bit of ribbon attached to a black girl's hair, the hair still attached to a piece of scalp. That small discovery was what made him feel fatigue, after a lifetime of tirelessly helping blacks.
Sethe, coming downstairs the morning after her discovery, is overjoyed. She makes breakfast, deciding it's all right to be late for work. The whole world, she feels, is in her home.
As Sethe walks to work, she thinks about all of the things that have taken place, rejoicing at her daughter's miraculous return, but also remembering her time in jail and the way that her own sons had become frightened of her. She remembers the way that Baby Suggs was broken and life became lonely after Sethe got out of prison, but now she feels like she can live with her daughters in the "timeless present."
Meanwhile, Stamp Paid finally knocks on the door. No one answers, and Stamp looks through the window to see Denver and Beloved. Not recognizing Beloved, he is uneasy. The supernatural voices around the house are still loud. He goes to see Ella, who speaks with disapproval about Sethe. She voices doubt that Sethe was even Halle's wife, and suggests that the white girl who supposedly helped Sethe to make it to the North must have been a ghost. Stamp is angry to learn the Paul D is sleeping in the church basement, and that no one in the black community has offered him a place to stay. No black man should have to ask for help, according to Stamp. He sets Ella straight, telling her that Paul D knew Sethe and Halle years ago. Ella suggests that the girl he saw through the window is the ghost of the dead baby.
At work at the restaurant, Sethe pilfers supplies rather than wait in line at the general store, where all of the black customers are served last. Her stealing still makes her feel guilty, and it reminds her of Sixo, who stole a baby pig and ate it. He attempted to justify it to schoolteacher, who beat him anyway "to show him that definitions belonged to the definers-not the defined."
Sethe also remembers the difficulty of caring for her children while working; no other women were around, and she had to find a way to do all of her chores and take care of her babies. Her internal voice addresses Beloved, trying to explain everything to her, although she believes her baby will understand why she did what she did. She remembers schoolteacher and his strange questions, his scientific measuring of the slaves body parts. She wants to tell Beloved something she has never told anyone: one day, while Sethe was working in the yard, she overheard him telling his nephews to list Sethe's human characteristics in one column and her animal characteristics in another. Sethe was horrified and was somehow shamed, too shamed to tell Halle about what she had heard. That night in bed, Sethe talked about missing Mr. Garner. Halle was none too eager to judge Mr. Garner too kindly, reminding Sethe that although Baby Suggs was bought and sent to freedom, Mr. Garner brought in Sethe and will own all of their children.
Sethe and the others decided to try to escape on the Underground Railroad. Life under schoolteacher was becoming increasingly difficult. But Sethe got her children through, sending three of them ahead on the Railroad and staying behind to wait for Halle. Later, on her own, she got through the journey to get to her children, walking by a mass of hanged black boys, one of whom was probably Paul A. Still speaking to Beloved in her mind, she seeks redemption and recognition of all that she suffered to reach her children: "Your remember that, don't you; that I did? That when I got here, I had milk enough for all?"
Stamp Paid believes that the voices around 124 are the voices of black angry dead. He thinks about what whites say: that under every black skin, no matter how polite the black person is on the exterior, a jungle is waiting. Stamp agrees that often it's true, but he believes that the jungle has been planted there by whites. The jungle has spread and spread, invading the whites who originally planted it.
The narrator tells us that mixed in with the voices around the house were the thoughts of Sethe, Denver, and Beloved: "unspeakable thoughts, unspoken."
The voices around the house link Beloved with all of the wronged black dead, making her the embodiment not just of the dead baby but of the entire bloody history of slavery. Repeatedly, Stamp can make out the word "mine," the meaning of which will be clear in the next four chapters.
Stamp and Baby Suggs show the incredible fatigue that comes after a lifetime of fighting slavery and its legacy. Stamp always considered Baby Suggs to be a partner in this fight, and her defeat troubled him deeply. Years later, the discovery of the ribbon has made him feel some part of her weariness. The novel is full of blacks who are broken by slavery and its aftermath-Halle, Sixo, Baby Suggs-and even those who survive slavery with something intact come away damaged. Baby Suggs stopped preaching, finally allowing life to silence her despite her earlier exhortation to her following that they should love their mouths. Baby Suggs blamed whites, but the black community also failed Sethe's family by not sending warning. Ella's ridiculous claim the Sethe might not be Halle's old wife shows the level of distrust for Sethe in the community.
Sethe is brought to a new brink by her daughter's return. She believes wrongly that Beloved's resurrection will mean an ability to live in the present-but the girl will prove to be a force for the darkness of the past. Sethe's internal monologue in this chapter is addressed to Beloved, as if she were speaking to her. In trying to explain to Beloved why she did what she did, she goes over the reasons again, explaining them to the reader and, perhaps most importantly, to herself. Although she hopes that she will not need to explain herself to Beloved, the need to go through the reasons shows that she still feels the need to explain her actions to herself.
Schoolteacher's pseudoscience shows one of the ways the blacks were objectified and dehumanized by whites. Sixo is beaten not only because he stole, but because he tries to usurp the position of "the definer." His clever manipulation of language and logic must be punished by schoolteacher, lest the white man's control of speech become threatened. Overhearing his categorization of Sethe's human and non-human characteristics is one of the most painful experiences of Sethe's life, perhaps as important as losing her milk or the beating she receives from schoolteacher's nephew. The experience caused a strange pinching and itching of her head, a precursor to the beating of birds' wings she felt before she murdered her baby.
Sethe still defines herself as a mother, trying to exhort the imagined Beloved to remember that when she arrived at 124, she had "milk enough for all." She wants to be able to shelter all of her children, protecting them from a world that despises them, and perhaps that explains why she is content to have Denver stay entirely on the property of 124. In her own house, the children of Sethe (Sethe believes) are easier to protect.
Stamp, still feeling guilty about showing Paul D the article, searches for him. He also tries to learn the identity of Beloved so that he can help Sethe if he can. Stamp realizes that in dehumanizing blacks, whites dehumanize themselves, as the "jungle" they have planted spreads and invades those who have planted it, making the whites act like animals themselves, worse than they ever want to act. Slavery degrades the masters as well.
Part Two, Chapter 20
"Beloved, she my daughter. She mine." The next four chapters are stream of consciousness, the first in the head of Sethe, the second in Denver's head, the third in Beloved's, and the fourth a mixture of all three. The end of the nineteenth chapter provides the setup, when it says that among the voices that Stamp Paid heard but did not recognize were the voices of the women of 124, voices formed from their unspeakable and unspoken thoughts.
Sethe begins by claiming the returned ghost as her own daughter, and insists that she does not need to explain herself because her daughter has come back of her own free will. She remembers the milk that was taken from her, and then she remembers when she herself was nursing, and Nan had to nurse her along with white babies. She remembers her mother's body. She says now she understands why Baby Suggs pondered color-because she had never had a chance to look at her world and enjoy it. She promises to show Beloved the world, colors and smells, the way a mother should. She recalls Amy, Mrs. Garner, what she can remember of the way they looked. She remembers taking the three children to the waiting spot for the Underground Railroad agent and deciding to wait because Halle was nowhere to be found. It was after she had been whipped. Sethe blames Paul D for her not being able to recognize Beloved right away. She wonders about her own mother, refusing to believe that she was hanged for running because she would not have run without Sethe. She remembers her mother's face, which was deformed into a permanent smile from wearing the bit so often. Sethe tells Beloved that she wanted to die with her baby, but had to stay because of the three surviving children. She was not allowed, at that time, to rest in peace. She believes her daughter will bring that peace to her, so that she "can sleep like the drowned." She closes as she opened, claiming Beloved as her own.
In Sethe's stream-of-consciousness passage, the past breaks open like a flood. Her memories tend to focus on the women of her life, from her mother and Nan to Amy and Mrs. Garner to Baby Suggs; she wonders about motherhood and the loss of milk, the milk that was taken from her as an adult but also as a baby, when Nan had to nurse the white infants first. In this chapter, she sees a little bit more that she could know-she would not be able to remember, under normal circumstances, that she received milk last as a child, although she might have known it from watching Nan nurse later on. Her devotion and protective instincts are overwhelming, and they are constantly foiled by slavery: she tends Mrs. Garner as if Mrs. Garner were her own mother, but Mrs. Garner looks at her ultimately as a person who is a piece of property. She waits for Halle, even though it is after she has received the abuse at the hands of schoolteacher and his nephews. She longs to give her daughter a world of the senses, the world many slaves never had the leisure to enjoy. Her demands are strong, and other ex-slaves cannot condone them: when she said she would not want to draw breath without her children, Baby Suggs begged God to forgive her. She could not bear to have her children endure slavery, and that is why she did what she did.
She cannot accept that her own mother may have run off without her. She is haunted by the image of her mother's face, which lost all power of expression after being deformed into a smile by the bit. Sethe's feeling of incompleteness in her early life, caused by the absence of any kind of family, has made her all the more desperate to have a family now. But the ghost's return, rather than provide closure to the past, opens it like a flood: one of the last images of the passage is Sethe sleeping "like the drowned." Beloved's return will overwhelm her physically and paralyze her emotionally, making it impossible to move forward. Remember that outside the house, the voices of Sethe and Denver are mixed in with the voices of the past, the voices of the dead-as if Sethe and Denver were already ghosts.
The idea of ownership runs through all four of these chapters. When Stamp is outside the house in the nineteenth chapter, the only word he can make out, repeatedly, is "mine." Love here is possessive and consuming. Sethe clarifies that for her, to say Beloved is hers means also that she belongs to Beloved. In the world after slavery, we can see in Sethe and her family the desperate need to do what Halle never could, to "lay claim." Part of that ownership, and the refusal to distinguish between one's self and others, is that Sethe could justify taking her child's life as if it were her own. This kind of desperate need to lay claim to others is not unnatural or evil, but it has dangers. This possessive love is devouring, and makes it difficult for Sethe to see herself and her own worth outside of her relationship to others and her role as mother.
Part Two, Chapter 21
Denver's stream-of-consciousness narration.
"Beloved is my sister." Denver reminds us that she swallowed Beloved's blood along with her sister's milk, and that the sound of her ghost restored her hearing. Denver has always been afraid of Sethe, although she does not known that she was nearly dashed against the wall by her. Howard and Buglar knew they had nearly been killed, and would terrify Denver with stories of how to kill Sethe if she ever tried to kill one of them again. Denver is afraid that whatever made Sethe do it could come again; she knows it comes from outside of the house, out in the world. She has never left 124 by herself since she was a pupil at Lady Jones' house-and that was twelve years ago. Twice she has been outside of the yard of 124 in that time, and both times she was with Sethe.
Denver feels it is her responsibility to protect Beloved should Sethe try to kill the girl again. She describes a recurring nightmare she had as a girl, in which Sethe decapitated her every night and then carried her head downstairs to braid her hair. Denver has waited years for her father to come, dreaming of him. She idealizes her father, calling him an angel-man. She misses Baby Suggs, remembering Grandma Baby's instructions to love her body. She remembers that Baby Suggs warned her that the ghost was greedy and needed lots of love. Denver claims Beloved as her own again: "She's mine, Beloved. She's mine."
Denver claims a kind of one-ness with her sister because, as in the sacrament of communion, she drank her sister's blood, making Beloved's flesh part of her own. The allusion to the Christian Eucharist is reinforced by the fact the Beloved's death made it possible for all of the other children to live in freedom. Although Sethe did not intend to turn Beloved into a sacrifice, the baby's death allowed all of them to stay in the North.
The image of Sethe braiding the hair on Denver's decapitated head is a powerful one, mixing motherly tenderness with brutality. Denver has never been able to fully understand why her mother did what she did, but she knows that Sethe's love was the force behind the act. In the nightmare, the love and the violent act are mixed in a macabre way, showing that Denver still does not truly understand her mother's actions, making her unable to reconcile her fear with her love for Sethe or herself with her mother's past.
Denver is still a young girl. Her dreams of her daddy's return are unrealistic, and the fact that she has never left the house alone since she was seven years old-twelve years ago-shows that she has allowed herself to be stunted by Sethe's smothering love. Her need to lay claim to her sister is powerful; she, too, seeks to dissolve herself in another.
Part Two, Chapter 22
Beloved's chapter is the most disjointed and difficult of the four.
"I am Beloved and she is mine." Beloved lays claim to her mother, remembering her face. She insists she is not separate from her and that "there is no place where I stop." Her mind does not wander to the past, but insists that she is in a timeless present: "All of it is now it is always now there will never be time when I am not crouching and watching others who are crouching too" She speaks of men without skin who frighten her, daylight that comes through cracks, a world where there is no room to move and rats that do not wait for them to sleep to attack them. A man's dead body is on top of her. People try to thrash but there is no room. Bodies pile up along with the living. She sees "the woman with my face" in the sea-possibly Sethe. There are clouds between them, and she sees a basket of flowers and Sethe's earrings. She is desperate not to lose her. The imagery is varied: there are clouds, water, then she is standing in the rain, there is night and day, the image of Sethe's face through the water, repeated reference to "a hot thing." Sometimes she is standing, sometimes she is curled up like a fetus. She want her face to join with Sethe's. Finally, Beloved is resurrected, emerging from the water and finding the house and the face she has wanted to join.
Beloved's passage is the most difficult of the four. Her memories are of the world of the dead, and, unlike her mother, whose mind wanders to the past, Beloved insists that in the world of ghosts it is always the timeless present. But she sees, again and again, the earrings Sethe used to dangle for her to play with and the flowers Sethe picked before schoolteacher came. She also was desperate to return to Sethe's face; she is most insistent on not being a separate entity, but rather an inextricable part of Sethe.
This chapter also constitutes a kind of race-memory, as Beloved describes a world that is eternally a slave ship. Sixty million or more died on the voyage from Africa (Toni Morrison dedicates this novel to them), and the slave ships were cramped and deadly places, where the bodies of the living and the dead were crammed into dark, rat-infested cargo holds. The "men with no skin," white men, are both schoolteacher and the slave traders. This world of Beloved's is claustrophobic and eternal, and often she is curled up in it like a trapped fetus, desperate to be born again so that she can return to Sethe.