Toni Morrison

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Beloved: Part 1, Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Near 124, an unidentified young woman in a nice-looking dress climbs out of the river. She is 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 woman, Sethe feels as though she has to urinate and runs around to the outhouse. But before she gets there, she voids a copious amount of water behind the house, as if her water had just broken while pregnant.
The events surrounding the appearance of this woman suggest a symbolic rebirth: she comes up out of the water of the river and Sethe has a kind of birth-giving experience upon seeing her. This symbolism helps suggest that the mysterious woman is linked to Sethe’s dead child.
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Inside the house, the strange woman eats nothing but drinks lots of water. She says her name is Beloved. Paul D decides not to ask her who she is or where she’s from, thinking of all the ex-slaves 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.
Beloved’s name again connects her to Sethe’s dead child. Her mysterious appearance and wandering hardly astonishes Paul D, or makes him think of anything supernatural, because of how many people slavery has separated from their families, which is itself a horrifying commentary on slavery.
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Sethe and Paul D think Beloved is sick with cholera, but Denver defiantly says that she isn’t. For four days, Denver tends to Beloved, changing her sheets and giving her water. Sethe tries to help her, but Denver rejects the assistance, preferring to take care of Beloved by herself.
Just as Sethe, Paul, and Denver were beginning to feel comfortable as a group in 124, Beloved has again changed the dynamic of the home, attracting Denver’s interest and attention.
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Beloved begins to eat, but only sweet things, such 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 mysterious woman and asks Sethe if she plans to continue to house and feed her. Paul D says that Beloved is not as weak and sickly as she seems: he and Denver saw her pick up a large rocking chair with one hand. Denver lies and says that she saw no such thing.
Beloved’s strange behavior contributes to the mystery surrounding this supernatural character and suggests that she may not be simply a fugitive ex-slave as Paul D thought, but is perhaps related to Sethe’s dead child. Denver lies because she is desperate to keep Beloved around to have a playmate, or perhaps Denver senses that Beloved is something more.
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