Paul D feels uneasy around Beloved and is still suspicious of her, since he still does not know anything about her or where she comes from. At dinner one night, Paul D asks if Beloved has any siblings and asks what she was looking for when she came to 124. Beloved answers, “I don’t have nobody,” and simply says that she was looking for “this place I could be in.” Paul D continues to interrogate Beloved. She says that she walked to 124 from a faraway bridge. Paul D asks why her shoes look so new if she walked the whole way. Upset, Beloved admits that she stole the shoes and her dress.
Beloved’s origins remain mysterious. Her answer that she was looking for a “place [she] could be in” suggests that she, like many others in the novel, was searching for some kind of home. The bridge that Beloved speaks of can be interpreted as a bridge between this world and the next, as Beloved may possibly be an embodiment of Sethe’s daughter returned from the dead.
Paul D still feels suspicious of Beloved, even though he has known many “Negroes so stunned, or hungry, or tired or bereft it was a wonder they recalled or said anything.” He remembers coming across a young black man who lived in the woods and couldn’t remember living anywhere else. But Beloved seems different to Paul D. He is bothered by the fact that she arrived just as he, Sethe, and Denver seemed to be getting along together.
Despite the strangeness of Beloved, none of the other characters yet fully recognize her as something supernatural, since the effects of slavery have driven so many people to go mad or lose their memories.
Just as Paul D thinks of trying to get rid of Beloved, Beloved chokes on a raisin and then gets sick. Denver takes 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 her.
Intent on forming his own idea of a home with Sethe and Denver, Paul D wants Beloved out of 124. It is worth noting that while Paul D wants to focus on the future, all Beloved cares about is the past.
As Sethe and Paul D argue, the conversation shifts to Halle. Paul D tells her that Halle actually saw when the white boys held her down and took her breastmilk. Halle was in the loft of the barn and the sight of what happened “messed him up.”
This addition to Sethe’s memory deepens the cruelty of the boys who abused Sethe, since they did it in front of her own husband, driving him mad.
Sethe is shaken by this revelation. She is upset that Halle saw the whole thing and didn’t try to stop it. Paul D says that the event “broke” Halle. The last time Paul D saw him, he was sitting over a churn with butter smeared all over his face, unable to speak. Sethe asks if Paul D said anything to him, but Paul D answers that he couldn’t speak, because he had a bit in his mouth.
What appeared at first to be a story of one person’s suffering (Sethe’s) expands into a memory of the suffering of Sethe, Halle, and Paul D. This emphasizes that the sufferings of all the individual characters of the novel are not isolated, but are related to (and stand in for) the suffering of all slaves, hundreds of thousands of slaves.
Sethe is overwhelmed by this new addition to her traumatic memory and wishes she could refuse the new information. She wants to think about the future, but her mind is constantly “loaded with the past and hungry for more.” She wonders why she hasn’t gone crazy from all of her suffering, as Halle evidently did.
Sethe offers to listen if Paul D should want to talk about having the bit in his mouth. Paul D says that it wasn’t the extreme pain of the bit that got to him. He recalls walking past a group of roosters, including one named “Mister,” which looked at him. Paul D says that Mister looked free and better than him. He says that the experience changed him and made him something less than a rooster.
While remembering the past can be painful, there is potentially some cathartic value in sharing one’s story, so Sethe offers Paul D the chance to do so. Paul D’s experience with the bit epitomizes the dehumanizing aspect of slavery, which treats people as animals, as less than animals.
Paul D doesn’t tell Sethe anything more about the experience of having the bit. He keeps the rest of the story in “that tobacco tin buried in his chest where a red heart used to be.” He resolves to keep the pain of his past locked up there and not let Sethe know that he has lost his heart. Sethe tries to comfort Paul D.
Like Sethe, Paul D also struggles with the past. His burying memories and emotions in his metaphorical tobacco tin shows the importance of forgetting the past in order to survive, but also reveals the cost of this repression, as the hollow, unfeeling tobacco tin has replaced his heart. As Paul D and Sethe discuss their past they enact the opposite process, the painful effort to come back to life, to bring their memories back out into the open and face them, together, as they move forward.