Beloved

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Beloved Part 1, Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Soon after the celebration, four horsemen come to 124—Schoolteacher, his nephew, a slave catcher, and a sheriff. They have come to take Sethe and her children back to Sweet Home.
The appearance of the four horsemen, reminiscent of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, is one literal way in which Sethe’s past of slavery comes back to haunt her and her family. It is also an example of how permanent and pervasive the effects of slavery were. Even after slaves escaped to freedom, they were not really free, since they could potentially be recaptured by their former owners. There is also the sense that if the community had not been offended by the celebration they might have warned Baby Suggs and Sethe of what was approaching. But they did not.
Themes
Slavery Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
The four go around to the shed and find Sethe and her children standing by a hand saw. Sethe is holding a dead, bloody child to her chest in one hand and an infant (Denver) by its heel in the other. A nearby black man comes and takes Denver from Sethe. Schoolteacher thinks that Sethe has “gone wild” because she was mistreated by his nephews and realizes that there is nothing here for him to bring back to Sweet Home. Schoolteacher, his nephew, and the slave catcher leave. The sheriff prepares to take Sethe off to jail.
Sethe’s killing her own child is the strongest statement against slavery. Her act essentially claims that death is preferable to a life of slavery. Moreover, she implicitly asserts that it is better to be the mother of a dead child than the mother of an enslaved child. This is the central event to the novel’s exploration of motherhood and slavery. Schoolteacher cannot understand such thoughts (he can't even understand that slaves are anything more than animals) and so he thinks she has gone wild. He can't see the rationality and love in her actions. At the same time, Sethe has murdered a baby, here baby, even if to protect it. She has saved and murdered the baby, and the irreconcilable fact of doing both of those things in the same action shows just how pernicious and awful slavery was.
Themes
Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
Baby Suggs takes Sethe’s sons away from her and tries to get the dead baby from her, but Sethe will not let it go. Baby Suggs exchanges Denver for the baby and Sethe breastfeeds Denver, with the blood of her dead baby all over her and mixing with her breast milk. Sethe and Denver are taken to jail.
Despite her attempt to kill her children, Sethe maintains a fierce sense of motherly duty, as she is reluctant to let her baby go and breastfeeds Denver immediately. Her actions show that her attempt to kill her own children was out of a kind of love, however perverse it may appear.
Themes
Motherhood Theme Icon