Sethe can’t stop thinking about Halle going mad. She misses Baby Suggs and wishes that she were around to help her deal with this new information. She decides to go to the Clearing. Before 124 became haunted, Baby Suggs used to be a quasi-religious figure in the community and hold gatherings at a clearing in the woods.
Sethe’s memories of Baby Suggs and the Clearing provide insight into the community of ex-slaves around 124 prior to the death of Sethe’s child. It also raises the question of what happened to transform Baby Suggs from a communally loved religious figure into a depressive who cared only about little scraps of color, and what made the inhabitants of 124 now almost completely isolated from the surrounding community.
At these gatherings, Baby Suggs would pray and then call forth children and tell them to laugh. Then, she’d call forth men and tell them to laugh. Finally, she would call forth women to cry. Then, everyone would mix together and cry, laugh, and dance as they wished. Baby Suggs would not offer any traditional sermon, but simply told people to love their own flesh and skin that white people so despised. Once things turned bad at 124, though, Baby Suggs lost her faith and stopped preaching. Missing Baby Suggs, Sethe decides to take Denver and Beloved with her to the Clearing.
Baby Suggs’ gatherings show the community coming together to deal with the lingering pain and consequences of slavery. Instead of speaking down to them with a dogmatic religious sermon, Baby Suggs simply gathers the community together and encourages them to love themselves, denying slavery’s devaluation of them based on race.
When the three arrive at the Clearing, Sethe feels just as she did when Amy left her on the bank of the river. She was weak and tired, but managed to walk along the river until she met a black fisherman who gave her food and water. The man introduced himself as Stamp Paid and ferried Sethe across the river, where a woman named Ella found her and took her to 124. Once Sethe got there, Baby Suggs took care of her, bathed her, and bandaged her.
Sethe’s memories intrude on her involuntarily. The memory of her escape provides another example of the importance of relying on the help of a larger community for Sethe and other people in her position.
Now, at the Clearing, Sethe goes to Baby Suggs’ old preaching rock and wishes Baby Suggs were there to rub her neck. Suddenly, she feels invisible fingers massaging her neck. But then, the fingers begin to choke her. Denver runs to help her and the choking stops. Sethe guesses that it was the spirit of Baby Suggs, but Denver disagrees.
Whether from Baby Suggs or the spirit of Sethe’s dead daughter, the fingers are another supernatural embodiment of Sethe’s past. Sethe seeks comfort in the memory of Baby Suggs, but dwelling in memories is dangerous and can be constraining, just as the fingers are soothing at first, but then suffocating.
Beloved points out bruises on Sethe’s neck and rubs them soothingly, then starts to kiss Sethe’s neck. Sethe is carried away and feels comforted, but then stops her. The three leave the clearing. Sethe briefly thinks that Beloved’s fingers as she rubbed her neck felt like the presence of the ghost of her child.
As Beloved rubs Sethe’s neck soothingly, she is associated both with the ghost of Sethe’s child and with Baby Suggs. Beloved can be seen as embodying various female figures of Sethe’s past.
Upon returning to 124, Sethe finds Paul D bathing. Realizing how much she wants him in her life, she embraces him. Beloved sees this and is immediately jealous. She runs outside to a stream where Denver is. Denver accuses her of choking Sethe. Beloved denies it and runs off a short distance.
Beloved’s intense attachment to Sethe means that she opposes the new household arrangement at 124 with Paul D and Sethe. Meanwhile, Denver has a sense of Beloved's selfish neediness, which could lead her to do something like choke Sethe.
Denver recalls going to a schoolhouse when she was younger and how much she liked the lessons that Lady Jones taught. But one day a boy asked her whether her mother had been sent to jail for murder. Denver was so upset she never returned to the schoolhouse. Denver walks over to join Beloved.
Sethe’s murdering her child isolated Denver from the larger community, which would have given her some opportunity for both personal connection and a chance at a real future through education. It is not clear if Denver walks over to Beloved because she recalls how isolated she herself is and therefore feels sympathy for Beloved's own isolation, or if Denver senses that Beloved is connected to Sethe being a murderer.