Beloved

Sethe Character Analysis

The main character of the novel, Sethe is an enslaved woman who first smuggles her two older boys to freedom and then escapes with her own baby girl children to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1855. A determined and strong character, she flees Sweet Home while pregnant with Denver and, once in Cincinnati, works to run the household of 124. Prior to the beginning of the novel, Sethe killed her own child when her former master, Schoolteacher, came to take her and her children back to work as slaves. In 1873, Sethe tries to make a new life with Paul D and then with Beloved, but is eventually overcome by Beloved and her painful past. By the end of the novel, she seems to have lost her mind, but also seems to have escaped Beloved’s haunting of her.

Sethe Quotes in Beloved

The Beloved quotes below are all either spoken by Sethe or refer to Sethe. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Slavery Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Beloved published in 2004.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

“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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Part 1, Chapter 10 Quotes

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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Part 2, Chapter 24 Quotes

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:

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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:

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Sethe Character Timeline in Beloved

The timeline below shows where the character Sethe appears in Beloved. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
...of a baby’s venom.” The house is haunted by the ghost of the baby of Sethe, a former slave who lives at 124 with her daughter, Denver. They have lived in... (full context)
Motherhood Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Shortly after Baby Suggs’ death, Sethe and Denver attempt to call forth the ghost to talk to it, but it does... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
Sethe remembers once suggesting to Baby Suggs that they could move out of the house to... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Sethe goes outside and is surprised to find Paul D, an ex-slave who also worked on... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
...of presence and asks, “What kind of evil you got in here?” He reflects on Sethe’s beauty and recalls how her children had been sneaked out of Sweet Home and sent... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Community Theme Icon
Sethe tells Paul D that the sad presence he feels in the house is from her... (full context)
Home Theme Icon
As Sethe and Denver start to prepare dinner, Denver makes a rude remark to Paul D and... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Sethe makes reference to having a tree on her back. Paul D asks her what she... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
Alone in the kitchen with Paul D, Sethe puts biscuits into the oven. Paul D comes up behind her and embraces her. As... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
After the house settles down, Denver takes the biscuits onto the porch and eats, while Sethe and Paul D go upstairs. Alone, she thinks of her brothers and remembers her young... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 2
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Sethe and Paul go upstairs and enter her bedroom. After brief sex, they are too shy... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
Sethe thinks of Sweet Home and working in the kitchen there. She thinks of how slavery... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Paul D thinks of how he had fantasized about Sethe on Sweet Home and how the actual consummation of that desire has failed to live... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Sethe and Paul D each separately remember when Sethe and Halle had sex out in the... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 3
Home Theme Icon
...sought refuge. Once, when she was returning to 124 from the boxwood room, Denver saw Sethe through a bedroom window, praying. A white dress was kneeling next to Sethe, with its... (full context)
Motherhood Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
The dress embracing Sethe reminds Denver of the story of her own birth. As Sethe has told her, she... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Thinking about the story of Amy, Denver enters 124 and tells Sethe about the dress she saw. She asks Sethe what she was praying for and Sethe... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Denver asks Sethe about Sweet Home. Sethe tells her about Schoolteacher, who came to the plantation after Mr.... (full context)
Home Theme Icon
...the haunting of their house, but now Paul D has scared the baby’s ghost away. Sethe thinks about Denver’s idea that the baby has plans. She reflects that she does not... (full context)
Home Theme Icon
Looking around one of the rooms of the house, Sethe notices that it is completely devoid of color except for two orange squares on one... (full context)
Motherhood Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Paul D tells Sethe that he can look for work around 124 and she tells him that he can... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 4
Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
...one night, Denver asks Paul D how long he’s going to “hang around”, which upsets Sethe. Paul asks if he should leave, but Sethe tells him not to. Denver leaves the... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
Paul D tells Sethe that he will stay at 124 and help her, but she has to talk to... (full context)
Home Theme Icon
The three go to the carnival. Sethe dresses up as much as she can for the occasion, but Denver is sullen. As... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 5
Motherhood Theme Icon
...described as having “new skin”. She sits down on a stump outside of 124, where Sethe, Denver, and Paul D find her upon returning from the carnival. Immediately upon seeing the... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
...wandering and traveling after the Civil War, trying to find family or a better life. Sethe tries to talk to Beloved, but Beloved falls asleep, exhausted. (full context)
Home Theme Icon
Sethe and Paul D think Beloved is sick with cholera, but Denver defiantly says that she... (full context)
Motherhood Theme Icon
...as honey, sugarcane, candy, and lemonade. She doesn’t seem to know where she came from. Sethe guesses that her fever robbed her of her memory. Paul D is suspicious of the... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 6
Motherhood Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
Beloved is devoted to paying Sethe attention. She waits for her in the kitchen in the morning and goes to meet... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
One night, Beloved asks Sethe where her diamonds are. Sethe is confused, but then realizes that Beloved is asking about... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Sethe tells Beloved that she got the earrings from Mrs. Garner when she married Halle. She... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
One day, as Sethe is unbraiding Denver’s hair, Beloved asks if Sethe’s mother ever did her hair. Sethe says... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
One time, Sethe’s mother took her behind the smokehouse and showed her a mark burnt into her skin... (full context)
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Sethe suddenly remembers something she had forgotten: a woman called Nan had pulled her away from... (full context)
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Sethe ends her story and Denver realizes that she hates the stories that do not have... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 7
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...to Paul D. He is bothered by the fact that she arrived just as he, Sethe, and Denver seemed to be getting along together. (full context)
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...Beloved to her room, excited to share the room with her. Alone, Paul D and Sethe discuss Beloved. Paul D says he doesn’t understand why Sethe continues to feed and house... (full context)
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As Sethe and Paul D argue, the conversation shifts to Halle. Paul D tells her that Halle... (full context)
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Sethe is shaken by this revelation. She is upset that Halle saw the whole thing and... (full context)
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Sethe is overwhelmed by this new addition to her traumatic memory and wishes she could refuse... (full context)
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Sethe offers to listen if Paul D should want to talk about having the bit in... (full context)
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Paul D doesn’t tell Sethe anything more about the experience of having the bit. He keeps the rest of the... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 8
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...the people’s names. She says she came to 124 from a large bridge, searching for Sethe and hoping to see her face. She saw Sethe’s earrings in the water of the... (full context)
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Denver asks Beloved never to leave and then asks her not to tell Sethe who she is. This makes Beloved angry; she says that she doesn’t want to be... (full context)
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The narration jumps into Denver’s story: Amy has found Sethe, who tells Amy that her name is Lu. Amy cares for her and sees the... (full context)
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Sethe thinks that the baby she’s pregnant with (Denver) must be dead. She limps to the... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 9
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Sethe can’t stop thinking about Halle going mad. She misses Baby Suggs and wishes that she... (full context)
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...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. (full context)
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When the three arrive at the Clearing, Sethe feels just as she did when Amy left her on the bank of the river.... (full context)
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Now, at the Clearing, Sethe goes to Baby Suggs’ old preaching rock and wishes Baby Suggs were there to rub... (full context)
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Beloved points out bruises on Sethe’s neck and rubs them soothingly, then starts to kiss Sethe’s neck. Sethe is carried away... (full context)
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Upon returning to 124, Sethe finds Paul D bathing. Realizing how much she wants him in her life, she embraces... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 11
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...process begins one night when he sleeps in a rocking chair rather than upstairs with Sethe. He begins to sleep downstairs in the chair every night. (full context)
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...the urge to leave a home before, but this is different, since he still loves Sethe and wants to stay. Once tired of the storeroom, he begins sleeping outside in the... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 12
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Denver loves it when Beloved looks at her and prizes her attention. Sethe asks Beloved about her past, but all Beloved can remember is crossing a bridge. Sethe... (full context)
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By contrast, Denver thinks that Beloved is the white dress that knelt next to Sethe, some presence of the dead baby. Denver tells Beloved about Baby Suggs, Howard, and Buglar.... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 13
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Paul D resolves to tell Sethe about what’s been happening and goes to meet her at the restaurant where she works.... (full context)
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Sethe and Paul D walk back to 124. It begins to snow and they start to... (full context)
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One night, Sethe finally says something about Paul D sleeping in the cold house and tells him to... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 14
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That night, after Paul D and Sethe leave the dinner table and go upstairs, Denver and Beloved talk. Denver says that Sethe... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 15
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The novel flashes back to Baby Suggs waiting for Sethe and Halle to make it to 124 from Sweet Home. She is delighted to see... (full context)
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Stamp Paid visits soon after Sethe’s arrival and, seeing her healthy baby, goes to a nearby stream and gathers blackberries, bringing... (full context)
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...where to write to and eventually gives up. But things work out decently well, as Sethe and her children make it to 124, up until her celebration “that put Christmas to... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 16
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...to 124—Schoolteacher, his nephew, a slave catcher, and a sheriff. They have come to take Sethe and her children back to Sweet Home. (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Baby Suggs takes Sethe’s sons away from her and tries to get the dead baby from her, but Sethe... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 17
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...Paid and Paul D both work, Stamp Paid shows Paul D a news clipping about Sethe killing her child. Paul D doesn’t believe it’s her. Stamp Paid tells him about the... (full context)
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Stamp Paid plans to tell Paul D about the day Sethe killed her child, how the four horseman arrived and she recognized Schoolteacher and gathered her... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 18
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When he gets back to 124, Paul D confronts Sethe about the news clipping. Sethe avoids the subject, telling him about her children and how... (full context)
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Sethe tells Paul D about her escape from Sweet Home, and how she did it by... (full context)
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Finally, Sethe tells Paul D that she stopped Schoolteacher from taking her children, saying, “I took and... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 19
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...to 124 was to take Baby Suggs away to be buried. At Baby Suggs’ funeral, Sethe was silent and did not join in the hymns, offending the other mourners. As he... (full context)
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Meanwhile, Sethe is trying to move on without Paul D, who she feels has abandoned her like... (full context)
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...again, remembering how Baby Suggs became exhausted and stopped her gatherings at the clearing after Sethe killed her baby. He had tried to persuade her not to give up her gatherings... (full context)
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The morning after the skating trip, Sethe thinks that the hand-holding shadows she saw on the day of the carnival were not... (full context)
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Sethe thinks that Beloved knows and understands everything about her past. She remembers burying her child,... (full context)
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Stamp Paid finally works up the nerve to knock on Sethe’s door, but no one answers. He sees Beloved through a window. He tells Ella that... (full context)
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Sethe is late to work. She takes food back home from the restaurant, which reminds her... (full context)
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Sethe remembers more about Sweet Home. Schoolteacher measured the slaves and counted their teeth, as if... (full context)
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Sethe remembers talking to Halle about Schoolteacher, asking if he thought Schoolteacher was different from Mr.... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 20
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This chapter follows Sethe’s stream of consciousness, which repeats the name “Beloved” and insists that “she is mine.” Sethe’s... (full context)
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Sethe recalls her escape from Sweet Home and the day when she killed her child. She... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 21
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Denver’s monologue follows Sethe’s. She asserts that Beloved is her sister and that they have a special bond: she... (full context)
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When she was younger, Denver was afraid Sethe would kill her, too. She would dream that her dad, Halle, was coming. She idealized... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 22
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This chapter follows Beloved’s thoughts. She insists that Sethe is hers. She says “it is always now” and her thoughts mix different times in... (full context)
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Beloved recalls coming out of water and finding a house, then seeing Sethe’s face and recognizing that Sethe is the face from which she was separated. Now, she... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 23
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Beloved’s thoughts are followed by a dialogue of thoughts between Beloved, Sethe, and Denver. Beloved says she comes from “the other side” and remembers Sethe. Sethe says... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 24
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...the other slaves. They wait and observe Schoolteacher, plotting the best way to escape. But Sethe becomes pregnant, and the changes Schoolteacher makes about how the farm is run complicate their... (full context)
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Paul D is brought back to Sweet Home in chains, where he sees Sethe. Sethe got her two older children out but has not escaped. She plans to run... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 25
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...Paid says he wants to make up for showing Paul D the news clipping about Sethe. He then tells Paul D about how he changed his name. He was named Joshua... (full context)
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Stamp Paid tells Paul D that he was at 124 on the day Sethe killed her child. He tells him it was out of love and “she was trying... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 26
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124 is now quiet. Sethe is getting progressively weaker, quieter, and hungrier. She has discovered a scar under Beloved’s chin... (full context)
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Beloved begins to dominate in her relationship with Sethe, not obeying her and throwing angry fits whenever Sethe tries to assert herself. Denver worries... (full context)
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...house more often, as life at 124 deteriorates. Beloved seems to be going crazy and Sethe has regressed and is childlike and weak. Denver thinks that Beloved is making Sethe pay... (full context)
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...the Bodwins to look for work. She tells their maid Janey about Beloved and how Sethe seems to have lost her mind. Janey tells her to come back in a few... (full context)
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As Mr. Bodwin approaches, he hears the women singing. Inside 124, the singing reminds Sethe of Baby Suggs’ gatherings at the Clearing. She goes out to the porch to watch... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 27
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...seems no longer to be haunted. It is “just another weathered house.” Paul D thinks Sethe has gone crazy. (full context)
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...to 124. He senses that Beloved is truly gone. He enters the house looking for Sethe and finally finds her humming in the keeping room. He tries to talk to her... (full context)