As the practice of slavery breaks up family units, Beloved provides numerous examples of slaves and ex-slaves creating and relying upon strong communities beyond the immediate family. Baby Suggs’ congregation that gathers in the woods illustrates this, as neighboring African-Americans come together as a community. They come together again toward the end of the novel, as different families provide food for Sethe and Denver when they are in need and a large group of women come to 124 to exorcize, in a manner of speaking, Beloved from the house.
Even in the depths of slavery, when Paul D is on the chain gang, he and the other prisoners escape by cooperating as a team. And it is only through the communal network of the Underground Railroad that Sethe and many other slaves are able to find their way to freedom and establish new lives in the north. At the same time, the novel’s most tragic act—Sethe’s killing of her baby—is partially caused by a failure of community. The community’s resentment about the joyousness and opulence of the feast that Baby Suggs puts together—which the community interprets as being prideful—leads to the community’s failure to warn Baby Suggs or Sethe of Schoolteacher’s approach, and thus Sethe is unable to hide and instead is forced to act quickly and radically.
Community Quotes in Beloved
“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.”