Beloved

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of Beloved published in 2004.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom.

Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

The novel’s opening lines describe the house in which Sethe and Denver live. We are presented first with its name and second with a description of its malicious nature.

These sentences create several levels of distance between the text and the reader. First, beginning with a number rather than a word is disorienting, and presents the story in a sterile and abstract environment. Second, instead of describing a character or natural setting, the text opts to hone in on a building. Third, that building is detailed with emotional language that would seem more fitting for a human. In addition to establishing the importance of this physical space as a sort of pseudo-character, Morrison also disrupts the ordinary conventions we expect from a novel’s opening.

Furthermore, the image of “baby’s venom” foreshadows how the haunted quality of 124 will be tied to Sethe’s killing of her child. A delayed sense of malice seems to have set into the physical space, filling it with the “venom” of the baby's murder. In this way, Morrison shows the events of the past to be deeply enmeshed in the happenings of the present—and in particular in its physical space.

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“How come everybody run off from Sweet Home can’t stop talking about it? Look like if it was so sweet you would have stayed.”
[...]
Paul D laughed. “True, true. [Denver’s] right, Sethe. It wasn’t sweet and it sure wasn’t home.” He shook his head.
“But it’s where we were,” said Sethe. “All together. Comes back whether we want it to or not.”

Related Characters: Sethe (speaker), Denver (speaker), Paul D (speaker)
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

Denver is perturbed by Paul D's arrival and his conversations with Sethe. She interrogates them about their discussion of Sweet Home, to which they respond that the place continues to exert powerful control over their lives.

This exchange establishes the fraught relationship these characters have to the plantation from which they have escaped. Although the location signifies cruel memories, it is also part of Sethe’s personal history, as well as the communal history created among all the slaves who worked there. Her simple constructions—“it’s where we were” and “all together”—make the incontestable argument that the plantation functioned much like a home does. It played the same narrative and psychological role for these characters, whether they want it to or not, and thus it returns consistently in their interactions and lives.

As an outsider, Denver is unable to make sense of this pattern. Her distanced viewpoint allows her to notice, for instance, the irony in the plantation’s name itself. She thus stands for the role of a second generation of ex-slaves, as well as for the contemporary reader, who might be confused about why the plantation serves to connect Sethe and Paul D. Morrison thus points to a disjoint between these two generational perspectives: one that feels a continued link to the plantation and one that cannot make sense of that very link.

Part 1, Chapter 2 Quotes

[...] in all of Baby’s life, as well as Sethe’s own, men and women were moved around like checkers. Anybody Baby Suggs knew, let alone loved, who hadn’t run off or been hanged, got rented out, loaned out, bought up, brought back, stored up, mortgaged, won, stolen or seized. So Baby’s eight children had six fathers. What she called the nastiness of life was the shock she received upon learning that nobody stopped playing checkers just because the pieces included her children.

Related Characters: Sethe, Baby Suggs
Page Number: 27-28
Explanation and Analysis:

Sethe ruminates on her life and the lives of other slaves back at Sweet Home. She explains here that those lives have generally been lived at the whims of other people: white slave owners.

That people “were moved around like checkers” shows how in slavery, humans were treated like pieces in a game—objects to be manipulated rather than given real care or dignity. The following series of verbs are presented in similarly passive constructions: “been hanged, got rented out […]” that place the subjects in roles lacking actual control. It presents their lives as subject to external forces rather than constituted by personal agency. When Sethe links this passivity to the paternity of Baby Suggs’ children, she implies that the men Baby Suggs loved were all taken away from her as part of that checkers game “called the nastiness of life.”

Her realization that children function as “pieces” in this game is particularly disheartening. Baby Suggs presumably assumed that children would be given a separate and safe dispensation away from these manipulative tactics, but in fact they are treated equally ruthlessly. This theme of a perverted childhood and motherhood will reverberate throughout Beloved: Morrison underlines how the cruelty and dehumanization of slavery was applied regardless of one’s innocence or weakness.

Part 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

Some things go. Pass on. Some things just stay. I used to think it was my rememory.... Places, places are still there.

Related Characters: Sethe (speaker)
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

Denver is moved by the sight of a praying Sethe’s white dress, and she thinks of the story of her birth. When she asks Sethe what she was doing, Sethe reflects on the endurance of both memory and actual places.

Sethe makes two important distinctions on the permanence of certain aspects of life. The first is between things that “go” and things that “stay”: Certain events or people, she implies, are transitory while others maintain a permanent presence in her life. In making this distinction, she responds to Denver’s earlier skepticism on her and Paul D’s interest in Sweet Home, asserting that the past continues to play a significant role in the present. Selecting the term “rememory” instead of “memory” underlines its repetitive quality, demonstrating that a particularly strong memory recreates events in the present instead of merely observing them from a distance.

At this point, both the reader and Denver would presume that Sethe is speaking of memory—that memory allows things to “just stay.” But Sethe directly disarms this point, rejecting that “it was my rememory” and instead asserting the continued endurance of “places.” She thus affirms that what stays can be corporeal and physical instead of just psychological—a point that can be applied to her scarred body, to the building 124, and of course to the character of Beloved herself.

As for Denver, the job Sethe had of keeping her from the past that was still waiting for her was all that mattered.

Related Characters: Sethe, Denver
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

Sethe ponders a potential future with Paul D, but notes that Denver must be her first priority. She worries about how her slave past may affect Denver’s future.

This passage inverts a traditional linear time-scale, for it positions “the past” to be “waiting” for Denver as if it is in fact in her future. Sethe has already spoken of the way the past can play a continued role in the present, but here she takes the claim one step further—observing that it can also affect the future. As a result, the past takes on qualities of aggression, even violence—things from which a child must be kept. That protecting Denver from these memories “was all that mattered” shows Sethe’s singularity of purpose: even as Paul D might allow her to engage with the present and future, her focus remains entirely on keeping the past from her child. (Ironically, this obsession makes Sethe herself deeply imbedded in the past.) Morrison thus shows how memory provides not only a continued struggle for an individual person, but also affects the ability of communities and new generations to live independent of previous atrocities.

Part 1, Chapter 5 Quotes

Odd clusters and strays of Negroes wandered the back roads and cowpaths from Schenectady to Jackson.... Some of them were running from family that could not support them, some to family; some were running from dead crops, dead kin, life threats, and took-over land. Boys younger than Buglar and Howard; configurations and blends of families of women and children, while elsewhere, solitary, hunted and hunting for, were men, men, men.

Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

When Paul D meets Beloved, he decides not to interrogate her about her past. He contemplates the various ways that ex-slaves traveled to escape their plantations.

Here Paul D presents the ways that this population moved through the United States. Instead of portraying a coherent migration, he uses language that connotes haphazard movement: “odd clusters and strays” as the subject, “wandered” as the verb. He then subdivides this general movement into a series of separate ones—a set of “some” groups that fled from and toward various destinations. The makeup of the populations, he notes, was similarly varied: the phrase “configurations and blends” emphasizes the lack of a singular identity.

Morrison unseats, through these images, the preconception that ex-slaves moved in a single, coherent fashion. They were not, she implies, composed of traditional family units or made of a homogenous population (because most family units had been broken up or destroyed by slavery itself, and slave owners tried to keep slaves from forming any kind of real community). Considering this complexity, it may seem surprising that Paul D does not ask Beloved of her past. And here we also see a commentary on personal history: Its complexity can provide grounds to ignore the past, to not dig too deeply for fear of what may be found.

Part 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

Sethe learned the profound satisfaction Beloved got from storytelling. It amazed Sethe... because every mention of her past life hurt.... But, as she began telling about the earrings, she found herself wanting to, liking it. Perhaps it was Beloved’s distance from the events itself, or her thirst for hearing it—in any case it was an unexpected pleasure.

Related Characters: Sethe, Beloved
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

When Sethe recounts the tale of her earrings, she is surprised at how much the story pleases Beloved. She wonders why they relate to her memories so differently.

This passage returns to the theme of how the past continues to affect the present. Here, “storytelling” connects earlier memories to a current interaction—which is precisely what Sethe wished to avoid for both herself and for Denver. As a result, she is surprised that Beloved gains “profound satisfaction” from the tales: a combination of words that implies not only pleasure but also a deeper sense of meaning. More intriguing still, this enjoyment transfers from Beloved back to Sethe, from listener back to storyteller.

The precise significance of this transfer remains somewhat unclear. On the one hand, it might cast Beloved as helping heal Sethe—as providing a way for her to reconcile her past and find an “unexpected pleasure” in what has formerly haunted her. A more skeptical reading, however, would see in Beloved’s “thirst” a level of manipulation that painfully brings an unwanted past into the present. One way to resolve the tension might be to see how Sethe attributes Beloved’s enjoyment to her “distance from the events itself.” This line points to the reliance of storytelling on a certain detachment from what is being told: perhaps by forming a narrative of her past, Sethe is able to acquire her own distance from the events, to become an audience for her own story like Beloved.

She threw them all away but you. The one from the crew she threw away on the island. The others from more whites she also threw away. Without names, she threw them. You she gave the name of the black man... Telling you. I am telling you, small girl Sethe.

Related Characters: Sethe
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

Sethe recounts a story a woman Nan told her about Sethe's mother. When the two were crossing from Africa on a slave-boat, Sethe’s mother was raped repeatedly by white men, and she "threw away" all the children except for Sethe.

This tale sets up a cyclic quality to time in this novel, in which past events are repeated throughout different generations. Just as Sethe killed Beloved, we learn that her mother had killed many of her own children—selecting only one to save, just as Sethe only saved Denver. The abandoned children were similarly nameless, thus establishing the giving of names as a significant plot event. Furthermore, both Sethe’s and Sethe’s mother’s stories are characterized by migration: the first from Good Home, the second from Africa. By placing in parallel their two tales, Morrison shows how social conditions can cause similar histories to appear throughout generations. Although Sethe’s tale might seem to imply the progress of emancipation, she is still beholden to the symbolic terrors that crippled her mother.

Part 1, Chapter 7 Quotes

[Sethe] shook her head from side to side, resigned to her rebellious brain. Why was there nothing it refused? No misery, no regret, no hateful picture too rotten to accept? Like a greedy child it snatched up everything. Just once, could it say, No thank you?

Related Characters: Sethe
Page Number: 82-83
Explanation and Analysis:

Paul D has just told Sethe that Halle saw her being attacked by the white men back at Sweet Home. In response, Sethe despairs that her memories refuse her attempts at controlling them.

This passage develops a model of deeply involuntary memory. Whereas Sethe wishes to control her relationship to the past, she finds herself stuck with “her rebellious brain.” She wonders why it indiscriminately incorporates all information: nothing is “refused,” and all is permissible “to accept.” That memory can never say “No thank you” means that it can never be shut out of the present moment. Though Sethe earnestly wishes to control her relationship to the past, these tales continue to play an active role beyond her control.

Likening memory to “a greedy child” is a poignant simile. First, it corroborates the way that Beloved functions to induce Sethe's memory—both in that she reminds Sethe of Sweet Home and in that she greedily asks her to recount stories of her past. If before, Beloved’s inquisitive nature seemed to offer a positive way for Sethe to relate to her past, here the connection to “greedy child” casts it in a less favorable light. Beloved becomes, then, a metaphor for memory’s uncontrollable and ravenous nature—the way it can prey on one’s current psychology.

Mister, he looked so...free. Better than me. Stronger, tougher. ...Mister was allowed to be and stay what he was. But I wasn’t allowed to be and stay what I was. Even if you cooked him you’d be cooking a rooster named Mister. But wasn’t no way I’d ever be Paul D again, living or dead.

Related Characters: Paul D (speaker), Paul D
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

Sethe agrees to listen to Paul D’s stories about the past. He recounts, here, the despair he felt when he saw a rooster named Mister.

By juxtaposing the liberty of an animal with his own lack of liberty, Paul D shows the true destitution experienced in slavery. He considers the rooster to epitomize manlike qualities of “Stronger and tougher,” and to have more agency in determining his place in the world. In contrast to Mister’s ability to “stay what he was,” Paul D feels himself to be at the whims of others. This comparison functions in two ways: retroactively, it shows the misery of Paul D’s enslavement, and in the moment it caused him to understand just how powerless he was. His interaction with the rooster allowed and allows him to articulate the horror of slavery.

Bestowed with an honorary title—“Mister”—the rooster is presented to have a human identity and sense of control. Thus even if he were to be treated as an animal by being “cooked,” he would still have the honorific title that made him somehow more human and free. Paul D, on the other hand, trivializes his own name and, by extension, his own identity. Regardless of whether he is “living or dead,” he believes he will not be recognized. Morrison renders humanity, then, not an intrinsic quality, but rather a question of how one’s identity is constructed by others.

Part 1, Chapter 9 Quotes

Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them.... No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. ...The dark, dark liver—love it, love it, and the beat and beating heart, love that too.

Related Characters: Baby Suggs (speaker)
Page Number: 103-104
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Sethe recounts the sermons that Baby Suggs would deliver at the clearing. The oration encouraged ex-slaves to love themselves and each other, a behavior in direct contrast to the hatred and dehumanization they experienced from white people.

This passage shows the way Baby Suggs was, for a time, able to cultivate a meaningful and isolated community for ex-slaves. She defines the clearing in opposition to a “yonder,” which is described in terms of negations: “do not love”; “don’t love”; “no more do they love” etc. The clearing, on the other hand, is characterized by affirmations and actions—which Baby Suggs implores her listeners to replicate. She becomes a spiritual leader for the community, then, and the clearing becomes her allegorical church. Morrison seems in this scene to offer a form of mental emancipation and spirituality for the ex-slaves.

It bears noticing how much of the language focuses on components of the body: “hands” “liver” and “heart.” Instead of speaking only of emotional and spiritual identity, Baby Suggs maintains an almost exclusive focus on physicality. This emphasis speaks to how her unique brand of religion is non-denominational—unified by physical bodies instead of by ideology. It also underlines how the physical identity is what is most detested by those “yonder,” and thus what is most in need of protection by the closed circle of the clearing. Slavery was, at its simplest level, about the dehumanization and destruction of black bodies, and so here Baby Suggs seeks to undo that horror by teaching the former slaves to love and celebrate those same black bodies.

Part 1, Chapter 10 Quotes

They chain-danced over the fields... They sang it out and beat it up, garbling the words so they could not be understood; tricking the words so their syllables yielded up other meanings.

Related Characters: Paul D
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

Paul D remembers the time that he spent on a Georgia chain gang. He reflects specifically on the way they used music as a way to connect to each other.

This passage speaks to the way that artistic expression allowed the slaves a limited amount of agency and mobility within their lives. Though they were unable to alter their work conditions, the slaves could still control their use of language. Thus “garbling the words” becomes an expression of personal control in that they can scramble language to their whims. “Tricking the words” presents their behavior as subversive, for the chain gang members can bend the language itself to their own purposes. That manipulation functions as a small rebellion, too, against white oppressors who otherwise maintained harsh control of language. Here, the slaveowners would not have been able to make sense of their songs.

This transformation also takes place in the language of Morrison’s novel itself. For instance the term “chain-danced” is formed in a similar compound-word structure as “chain gang,” but turns a noun that underlines entrapment into an expression of liberty. And this linguistic play is characteristic of her work: Morrison often uses unexpected syntax and unconventional images to disrupt our readerly expectations. She makes use of vernacular phrases and colloquial expressions—in particular those drawn from black communities—to counter the idea that literary language need not be made of a traditional form associated with white culture. Her work is thus a novelistic form of “tricking the words” so as to innovate storytelling and provide a space for literary black emancipation.

The chain that held them would save all or none, and Hi Man was the Delivery. They talked through that chain like Sam Morse and, Great God, they all came up. Like the unshriven dead, zombies on the loose, holding the chains in their hands, they trusted the rain and the dark, yes, but mostly Hi Man and each other.

Related Characters: Paul D
Page Number: 130
Explanation and Analysis:

While Paul D is working on the chain gang, a terrible storm threatens his group but also offers a route to escape. He observes that the instrument of their oppression could also serve as a route to salvation.

“The chain” becomes, in this description, far more than a physical object, but rather a way for the men attached to communicate and connect to each other. Morrison positions it as an active agent when she makes it the subject of the sentence that “would save all or none.” In comparison, the slaves are “unshriven dead, zombies,” language that emphasizes how dehumanized they have become in their current occupation. Thus the chain gains in agency just as the humans are deprived of it: indeed, the chain becomes the arbiter of their destiny.

At the same time, however, the cruel chain also becomes a route to escape. In connecting the slaves to each other, it gives them an opportunity to communicate without language—and to use the storm to access their freedom. In this way, Morrison transforms a symbol of slavery into a potential symbol of liberty; the slaves can use exactly what entraps them to flee entrapment.

It was some time before he could put Alfred, Georgia, Sixo, schoolteacher, Halle, his brothers, Sethe, Mister, the taste of iron, the sight of butter, the smell of hickory, notebook paper, one by one, into the tobacco tin lodged in his chest. By the time he got to 124 nothing in this world could pry it open.

Related Characters: Sethe, Paul D, Sixo
Related Symbols: Paul D’s Tobacco Tin
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:

Paul D describes his journey after escaping from the chain gang. He imagines placing memories into a tobacco tin in his chest, leaving them stored away and inaccessible.

This passage offers one example of how ex-slaves sought to confront their harrowing pasts. Here, Paul D’s strategy is to firmly seal off those memories in a metaphorical tobacco tin. He applies this process indiscriminately—to the cruel “schoolteacher” just as to his lover “Sethe” and to sensory images like butter and hickory. In contrast to the passage in which Sethe railed against how memory’s involuntary nature could easily overwhelm her, Paul D seems to maintain an impressive mastery over his mind.

Yet at the same time, Morrison hints at the fickle and uncontrollable nature of memory. In seeking to control his memories, Paul D must also sever himself from the positive ones. We should pause, similarly, at the image of the “tobacco tin.” Tobacco was one of the original crops grown by slave plantations in the United States, so the tin also serves as an implicit reference to the institution imprisoning Paul D. While this passage might seem to praise Paul D for his precise control over his past, the text both foreshadows that the tin will indeed be someday "pried open" and hints that Paul D's procedure of gaining this control may itself be deeply troubling.

Part 1, Chapter 15 Quotes

The last of [Baby Suggs’] children, whom she barely glanced at when he was born because it wasn’t worth the trouble to try to learn features you would never see change into adulthood anyway. Seven times she had done that: held a little foot; examined the fat fingertips with her own—fingers she never saw become the male or female hands a mother would recognize anywhere. She didn’t know to this day what their permanent teeth looked like; or how they held their heads when they walked.

Related Characters: Baby Suggs, Halle
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:

While waiting for Sethe and Halle to arrive at 124, Baby Suggs thinks fondly of her son. She recounts how her previous children had been stolen from her immediately upon being born.

Suggs’ memories speak to the alienation between slaves and their relatives. The cruel actions of traders and owners would rip families apart, even severing children from their mothers. As a result, Suggs’ memory is imprinted only with the initial physical components of her children, and she lacks any knowledge of their future. Describing the children in terms of fractured body parts—“a little foot”; “the fat fingertips”—emphasizes the disconnected way that Suggs engaged with them. And she has similar snapshots of their existence in time, holding only past images with no present or future to combine into a full sense of her children as people.

The passage shows how this broken relationship with one’s relatives has a permanent effect on how one deals with all relationships. Suggs’ earlier experiences with her children, for instance, induced complete alienation from Halle because she presumed “it wasn’t worth the trouble.” Morrison thus draws our attention to the fact that one’s ability to take an interest in those around them is predicated on perceived value and permanence—both of which are negated by slavery.

Part 1, Chapter 18 Quotes

And if [Sethe] thought anything, it was No. No. Nono. Nonono. Simple. She just flew. 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 else could hurt them. Over there. Outside this place, where they would be safe.

Related Characters: Sethe, Denver, Beloved
Page Number: 192
Explanation and Analysis:

Paul D confronts Sethe about murdering her child. During their discussion, she tells this story of her escape from Sweet Home.

Morrison juxtaposes two forms of potential action: a well-reasoned escape plan in which the route has been rationally conceptualized; and the haphazard, desperate style characterized of Sethe. Indeed, Sethe's mindset here does not seem to revolve around “thought” at all, but rather the absence of thought—the blunt rejection of “No” that grows and replicates itself into “Nonono.” We have little insight into Sethe’s thought process, for her journey lacks a coherent direction, a clear set of objects that she saves, or even a certain destination. Instead, she maintains the vague goal of “outside,” similarly defined in terms of negation, as was the “No.”

The language of this passage mimics Sethe’s style of thought. Composed of short fragments, it avoids normal, fluent syntax in order to place the reader in the mind of someone making stressed and disordered decisions. It is as if Sethe is trying to convince the reader of her disorientation just as she tries to convince Paul D. And Morrison thus makes sensible to us what might have motivated a series of decisions by Sethe. In particular, she demonstrates how deeply one’s psychology can be warped by the experiences of slavery—to the extent that one may even murder their own child as an act of intended love.

Part 2, Chapter 19 Quotes

I can forget it all now because as soon as I got the gravestone in place you made your presence known in the house and worried us all to distraction. I didn’t understand it then. I thought you were mad with me. And now I know that if you was, you ain’t now because you came back here to me... I only need to know one thing. How bad is the scar?

Related Characters: Sethe (speaker), Beloved
Page Number: 217
Explanation and Analysis:

After her skating outing with Denver and Beloved, Sethe grows increasingly convinced that Beloved is the spirit of her dead child. She ponders here how her dead spirit haunted 124.

This passage displays Sethe trying to reconcile with her memories—and to make sense of how past experiences exist alongside current ones. For instance, the new meaningful times with Beloved and Denver have caused her to “forget it all now,” thus distancing herself from the past. Similarly, she “didn’t understand it then,” but the past does have a more sensible nature when now considered in retrospect. It seems that Sethe is finally able to reconcile with her own guilt, believing that Beloved is not angry “because you came back here to me.” Thus her presence as a pseudo-child seems to recreate and to narrativize Sethe’s past.

These descriptions present Sethe as gaining greater clarity into her past based on her current moments with Beloved. But Morrison also implies that Beloved’s presence may be causing Sethe to sink inappropriately into the past—in a way that cripples her ability to progress into the future. Her singular focus on the “one thing” of the scar, for instance, speaks to emotional nearsightedness, which we also see in the way she has abandoned Paul D to be only with Beloved. Morrison thus shows how the symbolic return of the past has a double meaning: It can both order and obscure the present.

I was about to turn around and keep on my way to where the muslin was, when I heard [Schoolteacher] say, “No, no. That’s not the way. I told you to put her human characteristics on the left; her animal ones on the right. And don’t forget to line them up.”

Related Characters: Sethe (speaker), Sethe, Schoolteacher
Page Number: 228
Explanation and Analysis:

Sethe continues to involuntarily recall different events from Sweet Home. She cites a memory of Schoolteacher instructing his nephew, writing down lists of her human and animal characteristics.

This moment portrays the way slaveowners would make use of horrific and dehumanizing practices, as well as the pseudoscience they used to justify the institution itself. The Schoolteacher and his nephew have the semblance of scientific study through lining up attributes in a scientific manner. Yet their work horrifically demeans Sethe, reducing her human complexity to a series of bullet points. That one of those atomized lists is composed of “animal” characteristics is even more hideous: it shows that they believed slaves like her to only be partially human, to the extent that the non-human characteristics could be distilled through sufficient analysis.

That Sethe overhears this while asking for “muslin” is particularly ironic: muslin is a cotton cloth that would, of course, be only the concern of humans. Furthermore, the schoolteacher’s nephew is notably mis-ordering the lists, and thus presumably intellectually lacking even as he describes Sethe's intellectual inferiority. Thus even in the moment when the Schoolteacher dehumanizes Sethe, her actions and the text itself make a small effort to restore that humanity.

Whitepeople belived that whatever the manners, under every dark skin was a jungle. Swift unnavigable waters, swinging screaming baboons, sleeping snakes, red gums ready for their sweet white blood. In a way, he thought, they were right.... But it wasn’t the jungle blacks brought with them to this place from the other (livable) place. It was the jungle whitefolks planted in them.

Page Number: 234
Explanation and Analysis:

Stamp Paid ponders the frightening noises of 124. He describes a certain wildness in black people, but attributes it to the cruelty of whites.

At first, Stamp Paid seems to be engaging in the stereotypes held by white people toward black people. He describes the “jungle” beneath dark skin in exotifying imagery—reminiscent of a stereotypical idea of an African landscape—that presents slaves as pseudo-apes. Thus he develops the previous point that slaves are, in some way, part animal rather than entirely human. But then comes an unexpected turn: Stamp Paid does not deny the value of this image, and indeed claims “they were right.” Yet whereas white people believe that this metaphorical jungle derives from “the other (livable) place”—that is to say Africa itself—he believes it is the result of their oppression in America. The exact rage that white people fear in blacks was, in fact, planted by white people through the institution of slavery.

This passage is a brilliant example of how the imagery of oppressors can be repurposed by the oppressed for their own uses. Morrison implies that the most effective strategy for both Stamp Paid as a character and herself as author is not to deny the efficacy of the jungle metaphor. Rather, one must turn the horrific idea on its head, showing how it is a construction of white slave owners.

Part 2, Chapter 20 Quotes

Beloved, she my daughter. She mine.... She had to be safe and I put her where she would be. But my love was tough and she back now. I knew she would be.... I won’t never let her go.

Related Characters: Sethe (speaker), Beloved
Page Number: 236
Explanation and Analysis:

The novel has entered a pure stream-of-consciousness style at this point. Sethe repeatedly describes her deep love of Beloved and how that affection motivated her actions.

These lines reiterate that Sethe’s infanticide was the result of her deep love for Beloved. The action is phrased not even as a choice, but rather as a necessity given the circumstances: “She had to be safe.” In this way, Sethe seeks to justify her action not as the best choice given a set of circumstances, but indeed as the only one that could have been made. Morrison thus demonstrates how horrifically the definitions of safety and love have been warped under the specter of slavery: Love can be exemplified by murder, and safety is equated with death.

Yet the careful reader should not take this text at face value. Morrison uses halting statements and fragmented phrases to emphasize the lack of clarity in Sethe’s thought process. Further, her repeated use of possessives—“she my”; “she mine”; “my love”—present the mother-daughter relationship as deeply controlling, even obsessive. The moral compass in Morrison’s work is never entirely clear, and the text makes no clear pronouncement on Sethe’s actions. Thus even as she makes a compelling argument for how love motivated her behavior, parts of the stream-of-consciousness writing itself undermine the validity of that position.

Part 2, Chapter 24 Quotes

For years Paul D believed schoolteacher broke into children what Garner had raised into men. And it was that that made them run off. Now, plagued by the contents of his tobacco tin, he wondered how much difference there really was between before schoolteacher and after.

Related Characters: Paul D, Schoolteacher
Related Symbols: Paul D’s Tobacco Tin
Page Number: 260
Explanation and Analysis:

Now fully immersed in memories, Paul D questions the way he separated Garner and Schoolteacher. He thinks perhaps they were not as different as he had once thought.

This passages criticizes the way both whites and blacks would sometimes form hierarchies between slaveowners. It was and is a common practice to describe certain slaveowners as kinder than others. Here, Paul D has always believed Garner is kinder: His practices are applied to “men” instead of “children,” and they are “raised”—a relatively kind and nurturing verb—compared to the expression “broke into” used for Schoolteacher. Yet when Paul D revisits the actual content of the his memories, he realizes that this division may not actually be a significant as he had previously believed.

That “he wondered how much difference there really was” speaks to the flaws in viewing any behavior of a slaveowner in even relatively positive terms. Whether a slaveowner treated his slaves kindly or cruelly was secondary to the fact that he owned slaves at all, dehumanizing other people as "possessions" without identities other than those the slaveowner forces upon them. That this conclusion derives from Paul D having opened his “tobacco tin” speaks to the more positive results of revisiting one’s history. Though he may be “plagued” by these memories, they also give him greater clarity into his personal past—allowing him to realize the flaws in his more positive memories of Garner.

Remembering his own price, down to the cent, that schoolteacher was able to get for him, [Paul D] wondered what Sethe’s would have been. What had Baby Suggs’ been? How much did Halle owe, still, besides his labor? What did Mrs. Garner get for Paul F? More than nine hundred dollars? How much more? Ten dollars? Twenty?

Related Characters: Sethe, Paul D, Halle
Page Number: 269
Explanation and Analysis:

Still consumed by memories of Sweet Home, Paul D wonders about the economics of slavery. He starts to brainstorm the costs that might have been paid for other slaves on the plantation.

This description emphasizes once more the dehumanizing way that slaveowners interacted with their slaves. Whereas earlier descriptions pointed out how slaves were likened to animals, this passages views them as commodities for sale. That each person can be affixed with a certain price point condenses their identity into a single interchangeable number. Even more insidiously, this mindset seems to have infiltrated Paul D. He takes on the language and perspective of the slaveowners here—indeed, applying it to his closest family and friends. Thus Morrison not only portrays the existence of this horrifying economic mindset, but also shows how easily it can infiltrate the minds of even the slaves it oppresses, so that they develop inferiority complexes and think of themselves as commodities to be priced.

Part 3, Chapter 26 Quotes

Yet [Denver] knew Sethe’s greatest fear was...that Beloved might leave.... Leave before Sethe could make her realize that far worse than [death]...was what Baby Suggs died of, what Ella knew, what Stamp saw and what made Paul D tremble. That anybody white could take your whole self for anything that came to mind. Not just work, kill, or maim you, but dirty you. Dirty you so bad you couldn’t like yourself anymore. Dirty you so bad you forgot who you were and couldn’t think it up.

Related Characters: Sethe, Denver, Baby Suggs, Paul D, Beloved, Stamp Paid, Ella
Page Number: 295
Explanation and Analysis:

As life at 124 grows ever worse, Denver reflects on what is motivating Sethe to acquiesce to Beloved’s wishes. Sethe, she explains, wants to prove to Beloved that her infanticide offered her a better end than she would have had alive under slavery.

This passage casts Sethe’s relationship with Beloved in a somewhat different light than before. Whereas earlier sections justified her actions as derived from pure affection, this passage presents them as seeking some kind of repentance or justice. That Sethe wants Beloved to “realize” that another fate (slavery) was “far worse” reveals a wish for acceptance and forgiveness on Beloved’s part. She wants her, in a bizarre way, to understand the horror of an alternative past that she never experienced—in order that Sethe's decision will be deemed merciful and the result of love.

Denver’s focus on the loss of identity is intriguing here. She presents the worst end of slavery as that one “forgot who you were and couldn’t think it up,” which speaks to how mentally fractured Sethe had become by the time she fled Sweet Home. Yet if Sethe had sought to save Beloved from this fate, she also has caused it to come true: if Beloved is indeed the ghost of her child, she lost her identity and came blindly to Sethe without a clear sense of self. Morrison thus presents the murder less as a real escape from the institution of slavery, but rather as a reproduction of its horrifying ends.

Part 3, Chapter 28 Quotes

They forgot her like a bad dream. After they made up their tales, shaped and decorated them, those that saw her that day on the porch quickly and deliberately forgot her. It took longer for those who had spoken to her, lived with her, fallen in love with her, to forget... In the end, they forgot her too.

Related Characters: Beloved
Page Number: 323-324
Explanation and Analysis:

In this novel’s final chapter, the narrator describes the outcome of Beloved’s disappearance. She explains that Beloved soon faded from the town’s communal memory.

That Beloved is described as a “bad dream” emphasizes her spectral and haunted nature. At this point, she is not deemed to be Sethe’s actual child, but rather an abstract embodiment of the horrors of slavery. As a result, she takes on different meanings for different members of the town. They “made up their tales,” thus fitting her into personal narratives, but those narratives soon diverge from actual memories as they “deliberately forgot her.”

Morrison here shows the way that people and communities edit their memories, both in active and passive ways. The process happens at different paces depending on the type of relationship each person held to Beloved, but slowly all move toward a similar end of oblivion. For a community to cleanse itself of negative occurrences, the novel implies, the past must be left behind.

This is not a story to pass on.

Page Number: 324
Explanation and Analysis:

At the novel’s conclusion, the narrator reflects on the storytelling process itself. She claims that the tale ought to remain, ironically, untold.

This line uses a normative tense—“this is not”—to make a decisive, moral statement on the story. Morrison seems to take up the belief of her characters’ that certain narrative and personal histories belong to the past and should not be retold or re-experienced. Yet it is deeply ironic that this line appears at the end of a novel: Morrison has clearly decided that the story is worth passing on to her readership as she has just told it. Indeed, we should also note that the line is written twice: first “It was not a story to pass on” and then switched to the present tense, as in this quote. This switch from past to present itself proves that the story has succeeded in being passed on.

As is typical of Morrison’s work, there is no clear resolution to this interpretive paradox. The story is simultaneously too awful to recount and entirely necessary to remember. It functions somewhat like a textual version of Paul D’s tobacco tin: a repository for what is too awful to be constantly around, but what cannot be ignored permanently.

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