"They were a twosome, saying "Your daddy" and "Sweet Home" in a way that made it clear both belonged to them and not to her."
Denver's feelings of loneliness are established in the first few pages of Beloved. Her feelings are compounded when Paul D reenters Seethe's life because, to Denver, it appears that Paul D is taking her mother away from her. This quote demonstrates Denver's isolation and also shows the powerful hold that the past has on the characters in Beloved.
“But I mean we want to get married."
"You just said so. And I said all right."
"Is there a wedding?"
Mrs. Garner put down her cooking spoon. Laughing a little, she touched Sethe on the head, saying, "You are one sweet child." And then no more.”
After having their families torn apart and sold to plantations states away from each other, some slaves clung to any familial bond they could maintain. Slave marriages, oftentimes encouraged by masters who wanted their slaves to reproduce, were one way that American slaves tried to form these new bonds. These marriages almost never took place in churches, and they were binding only in the eyes of the slave, not the law. This quote demonstrates the difference in how slaves and their masters viewed these marriages. Seethe naively assumes that she'll get a wedding, whereas Mrs. Garner thinks the matter was resolved once she gave her permission.
“It's gonna hurt, now," said Amy. "Anything dead coming back to life hurts.”
In this quote, Amy is speaking about Sethe's weathered feet, but her words also foreshadow what's to come. The words "anything dead coming back to life hurts" can easily be applied to Beloved, who returns to her mother and sister hurt, confused, and vengeful about her death.
“Yet the morning she woke up next to Paul D, the word her daughter had used a few years ago did cross her mind and she thought about what Denver had seen kneeling next to her, and thought also of the temptation to trust and remember that gripped her as she stood before the cooking stove in his arms. Would it be all right? Would it be all right to go ahead and feel? Go ahead and count on something?”
This quote shows how Sethe has shut herself off from emotions and learned to not depend on others. When she escaped Sweet Home, she thought she could depend on Baby Suggs' community, but their neighbors allowed their jealousy to result in tragedy. As a result, Sethe stops feeling and depending on others. When Paul D reenters her life, offering love, companionship, and a future, Sethe begins to wonder if she can open up again.
“Risky, thought Paul D, very risky. For a used-to-be-slave woman to love anything that much was dangerous, especially if it was her children she had settled on to love.”
Paul D's words highlight the emotional and psychological struggles Black Americans faced post-slavery. Though they are technically freed, Paul D still thinks it's dangerous for Sethe to love her children. He's haunted by slavery and the way that slaves were separated from their families based on the whims and needs of their owners. Back then, slaves were careful not to love or grow too attached to others, even their children, because they could be ripped away at a moment's notice. Though times have changed somewhat, Paul D remains hesitant to forge emotional connections and thinks Sethe should be, too.
“Bit by bit, at 124 and in the Clearing, along with the others, she had claimed herself. Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”
After leaving Sweet Home, Sethe had 28 blissful days free from slavery's odious grasp. During this time, she frequented Baby Suggs' religious services in the Clearing and created a place for herself in Ohio's Black community. Through these interactions, Sethe was able to discover and claim herself—not as a former slave, but rather as an independent human being. Sadly, the schoolmaster's appearance at 124 rewinds the clock on Sethe's sense of self-ownership.
“Collected every bit of life she had made, all the parts of her that were precious and fine and beautiful, and carried, pushed, dragged them through the veil, out, away, over there where no one could hurt them.”
This quote demonstrates not only Sethe's deep connection to her children but also her reasoning when she tried to kill children. Sethe views her children as extensions of herself, as "precious," "fine," and "beautiful" pieces of herself that she brought out into the world. When the schoolmaster comes to 124 threatening to drag those pieces back into a life of enslavement, Sethe tried to protect them the only way she knew how. By killing her children and pushing them "through the veil," Sethe believed she was keeping them safe and saving them from a life worse than death.
“You got two feet, Sethe, not four," he said, and right then a forest sprang up between them; trackless and quiet.”
After Stamp Paid tells him of Sethe's tragic choice from years before, Paul D cannot look at Sethe the same. In this quote, he questions her humanity by comparing her to an animal. Having spent most of their lives treated like livestock, this comparison cuts to the quick and creates an instant divide between the two lovers.
“Tell me something, Stamp." Paul D's eyes were rheumy. "Tell me this one thing. How much is a nigger supposed to take? Tell me. How much?"
"All he can," said Stamp Paid. "All he can."
"why? Why? Why? Why? Why?"
Though he made it through the pain and suffering of slavery, Paul D knows firsthand that the struggle is far from over. In this quote, he rhetorically asks how much Black Americans are supposed to endure, as if he were wondering if there will ever be a light at the end of the tunnel. Though the suffering is not over by Beloved's ending, Paul D's reunion with Sethe, along with his reaffirmation of her humanity, gives a sense of hope.
“Sethe," he says, "me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow."
He leans over and takes her hand. With the other he touches her face. "You your best thing, Sethe. You are." His holding fingers are holding hers.
Throughout the entire novel, Sethe struggles with her sense of self because the wounds she carries from slavery never healed. She doubts her own worth and holds up her children as her "best thing," or the pieces of herself that she can be proud of. In this quote, Paul D recognizes Sethe's lack of self-worth and tries to instill in her a sense of self-love. Sethe's disbelieving question of "Me? Me?" demonstrates that her path back to the self she claimed in the Clearing won't be easy, but the novel closes with the hope that she will one day treat herself as beloved.
Beloved Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Beloved is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The return of Denver's hearing, cut off by an answer she could not hear to hear, cut on by the sound of her dead sister trying to climb the stairs, signaled another shift in the fortunes of the people of 124. From then on the...