Part One, Chapter 17
During the days, Paul D and Stamp Paid work with hogs. Cincinatti is the city of pork, exporting the valuable meat back to the Northeast. Stamp Paid shows Paul D the old newspaper clipping about Sethe killing her baby daughter. Paul D insists that the woman in the picture is not Sethe because "that ain't her mouth." Stamp Paid, remembering that horrible day, thinks about the fact that no black person sent warning to Sethe. The four white people were riding towards 124 with "the Look," and everyone who saw it knew what it meant. Stamp believes that there was some meanness that caused the inaction of the black community, jealousy left from the feast weeks earlier. He keeps these thoughts to himself.
But Stamp Paid helps Paul D to read through the article, at the end of which Paul D is still insisting the woman in the drawing cannot be Sethe.
The revelation that no one in the black community helped Sethe, all because of jealousy aimed at Baby Suggs, is a horrifying one. It makes the tragedy of the child's death the responsibility not only of Sethe and the whites who came to get her, but of the entire black community. Jealous of Baby Suggs, all because of her preaching and her fine house and her intact family, the community let Sethe take punishment-all would have known that schoolteacher and his nephews were coming for her and her children.
Part One, Chapter 18
Sethe, confronted by Paul D about the newspaper article, tries to explain herself. She circles the room wildly, starting by talking about the child who died, and then about what it was like to be free. Suddenly, Sethe was allowed to be selfish, to live her life as if it were her own to live. And her children were free; she felt for the first time that she could love them fully, because in Kentucky they had not been hers to love. What she doesn't tell Paul D is that when she saw schoolteacher's hat, it was as if a giant flock of birds was beating in her head. She could not allow her children to be taken.
Sethe still insists that she did the right thing. She still believes that her children were better off dead than under schoolteacher's rule. Paul D is frightened by her and her claims, feeling that Stamp Paid showed him the article not just to warn him of what Sethe had done but of what Sethe tries to claim. Sethe loves her children too much, not knowing where "the world stopped and she began." What she wanted for her children was guaranteed safety, and she was willing to kill them to get it for them. Paul D also is still ashamed of his sex with Beloved, feeling her eyes on him through the ceiling. He tells her that she has two legs and not four, implying that she is a human and not an animal and that she should have found another way. He leaves 124.
Sethe's literal circling of the room parallels the way she tells her story, moving around, filling in gaps, trying to explain all the circumstances leading up to the horrible event. Her insistence on loving her children so fiercely actually scares Paul D, who believes that ex-slaves should not love so much. He accuses her of having love that is "too thick," but from Sethe's point of view love is either thick or worthless.
The text has prepared us for Sethe's deed by showing the horrible conditions under slavery and the dehumanization suffered by human beings when they are owned by other human beings. Sethe could not bear to have her children treated as animals, and Paul D's insinuation that she behaved as an animal is especially hurtful for that reason. He is also coming down hard on Sethe because he is ashamed of his relationship with Beloved, whose gaze he feels he cannot escape. And both he and the black community are wary of the demands Sethe places on life, for her and her children-demands too proud and fierce, in their opinions, for an ex-slave to have.