Beloved is devoted to paying Sethe attention. She waits for her in the kitchen in the morning and goes to meet her on her way back from work at night. Time passes with Sethe, Denver, Paul D, and Beloved all living at 124.
Beloved's devoted attention is not normal. Her dependence on Sethe seems to be almost total, like the way a baby is dependent on its parent.
One night, Beloved asks Sethe where her diamonds are. Sethe is confused, but then realizes that Beloved is asking about a pair of crystal earrings she once got from Mrs. Garner. Sethe tells Beloved about the earrings. Beloved derives a “profound satisfaction” from storytelling and Sethe finds that she too enjoys telling Beloved about her past.
Sethe tells Beloved that she got the earrings from Mrs. Garner when she married Halle. She had heard about Mrs. Garner’s wedding and wanted some kind of celebration or meal to acknowledge her marrying Halle. But the Garners didn’t allow Sethe to have any kind of wedding. Sethe at least wanted a dress, so she began stealing bits of fabric in order to eventually put together a dress. Mrs. Garner discovered what Sethe was doing, and gave her a pair of earrings and told her that she wanted her and Halle to be happy together. Denver asks where the earrings are now and Sethe says that they are gone.
Sethe’s earrings are evidence of the relative kindness of the Garners. Nonetheless, the Garners still owned and exploited slaves. As a counterpoint to Schoolteacher, the Garners show that even seemingly kind slave-owners participated in a horrible, dehumanizing system of slavery.
One day, as Sethe is unbraiding Denver’s hair, Beloved asks if Sethe’s mother ever did her hair. Sethe says she can’t remember and tells her a bit about her mother. When she was a young girl, her mother was always already working by the time she woke up in the morning. Often, she didn’t sleep in the same cabin as Sethe, since it was too far from where she worked in the field.
Beloved continues to spur recollections of Sethe’s past. Sethe’s memories of her mother show how slavery separates children from their mothers, not allowing for close maternal relationships.
One time, Sethe’s mother took her behind the smokehouse and showed her a mark burnt into her skin above her ribs. She told Sethe that this was how she could identify her mother. Sethe then says that her mother was hanged along with many other slaves, but that she couldn’t identify the body, even though she looked for her mother’s mark. Denver asks why Sethe’s mother was hanged, and Sethe says that she didn’t know.
The indiscriminant killing of Sethe’s mother along with other slaves shows how little slaves’ lives were valued by their owners. The fact that Sethe could not even find her mother’s body, nor know why her mother was killed, emphasizes her lack of a relationship with her own mother as well as her total lack of agency in her own life. Her life was full of questions because it was controlled by others, by slave-owners.
Sethe suddenly remembers something she had forgotten: a woman called Nan had pulled her away from the dead, hanged bodies, when Sethe was trying to identify her mother. Nan told her that she and Sethe’s mother were together on the boat voyage from Africa and that Sethe’s mother had been raped many times by white men but always threw away the resulting infants. She finally kept Sethe and gave her the name of the black man that was her father.
Beloved continues to operate as a force of memory, causing Sethe to remember something she had always forgotten or repressed. The story of her mother’s journey from Africa evidences the cruelty of slavery that has persisted across generations. Sethe's mother's murder of her infants who were the products of rape by white slave traders is reminiscent of Sethe's own decision to kill her own children to save them from slavery.
Sethe ends her story and Denver realizes that she hates the stories that do not have to do with her own birth or childhood, which is why she only ever asks Sethe about the white woman, Amy. Denver notices how “greedy” Beloved is to hear Sethe tell stories. She wonders how Beloved could have known about Sethe’s earrings.
Denver doesn't want to know about the past. She wants to know about her own past. Since she can't know about the far past, she wants her mother's past to start with her own birth.