Beloved Part 3 Summaries

Table of Contents

In part three, the bond between Sethe and Beloved tightens, and their raw emotions escalate as the relationship reveals its destructive quality. Sethe notices Beloved’s neck scar and from then on “the two of them cut Denver out of their games: the cooking games, the sewing games, the hair and dressing-up games. Games her mother loved so well she took to going to work later and later each day” Sethe becomes obsessive about playing with Beloved, and she stops going to work altogether and eventually loses her job.The play and games soon change into fighting. Beloved, tyrannical, takes “the best of everything” and she grows bigger and bigger, as if consuming Sethe. “She intimated Sethe, talked the way she did, laughed her laugh and used her body the same way down to the walk, the way Sethe moved her hands, sighed through her nose, held her head…

It was difficult for Denver to tell who was who” Figuratively, the past is now swallowing Sethe. She recounts, over and over, the painful stories Beloved craves “and the more she took, the more Sethe began to talk, to explain, describe how much she had suffered, been through, for her children” However, raging and furious, Beloved refuses to forgive Sethe for her past actions. Denver realises her job has changed from “protecting Beloved from Sethe… to protecting her mother from Beloved” Neither Sethe nor Beloved seem concerned that the house is empty of food, and so Denver finally makes the crucial decision “to step off the edge of the world” she hesitates on the front porch, terrified to leave the premises of 124, and then she hears Baby Suggs’ gentle laugh. Baby Suggs encourages her to go on, reminding her of her ancestors’ courage and strength including Sethe’s.The novel began with Denver crying because of the isolation and loneliness of 124; now she steps into the public eye, growing stronger as she enters the community. She first approaches Lady Jones, her old school teacher. When she tells Lady Jones that her mother is sick, Lady Jones calls her “baby” and “it was that word ‘baby’ said softly and with such kindness, that inaugurated her life in the world as a woman” Denver helps revive the role of the community. The women who have isolated Sethe for eighteen years now make up for their silence by providing for the family.

Two days after Denver speaks with Lady Jones, she finds a sack of white beans lying in the tree stump on the edge of the yard. Each day there is something new and these gifts force Denver to interact as she must return the plates and bowls to the women in the neighbourhood. However, as “Denver’s outside life improved, her home deteriorated” Now re-energised with food Sethe and Beloved resume their destructive relationship. Sometimes Beloved chokes at her own throat, drawing blood and metaphorically swallowing Sethe. “The bigger Beloved got, the smaller Sethe became; the brighter Beloved’s eyes, the more eyes that never used to look away became slits of sleeplessness” Sethe fades as Beloved attempts to consume her, and Denver understands the cycle will never end: “Sethe was trying to make up for the handsaw; Beloved was making her pay for it” Sethe wants Beloved to understand why she cut her throat, that whites not only have the power to destroy you physically, but they can “dirty you” Sethe grapples with the past, facing her own guilt and the violent murder of her daughter.Over the course of the novel Denver transforms from an isolated and sheltered girl into the outgoing heroine of the novel. She takes responsibility for herself and her family “it was a new thought, having a self to look out for and preserve” Denver seems to best understand the words Baby Suggs had been preaching, that her life is her own. She sets out for work, approaching the abolitionist couple, the Bodwins. When she tells their servant Janey Wagon about her mother and Beloved, Janey assumes she is a ghost “She got any lines in her hands?” When Ella hears the story of how Beloved is slowly sucking the life out of Sethe, she organises a rescue. Even though Ella has ostracised Sethe to punish her for killing her own daughter, she as an ex-slave, understands Sethe’s motive.

Ella’s adolescence was spent as a sex slave, “shared by father and son”, whom she considers “the lowest yet”. Having been impregnated by her masters, she refuses to nurse the baby, and after five days it died. This defiant act of refusing to nurse the rapist’s baby symbolises another act of a slave woman resisting her subservient role as a sexual object or “mammy”. Ella believes the terrible past of slavery must not be able to reclaim its victims. She considers the ghost of the baby “an invasion” of the dead into the living, or the past into the present.While Denver waits on the porch for Mr Bodwin to pick her up for the first day of work, the neighbourhood women arrive at 124 with charms and religious objects. When they step up to 124, they envision younger versions of themselves “The first thing they saw was not Denver sitting on the steps but the younger versions of themselves. Younger, stronger, even as little girls lying in the grass asleep”. These visions and memories evoke a sense of innocence and freedom, a form of “rememory” in which “positive moments instead of the painful oppressive past” give them strength (Critic Bowers). The women pray, then sing and the strength of the communal voices calls Sethe and Beloved to the doorway.This climatic scene revolves around themes such as Sethe’s relationship to the community and the relationship of past and present. When Sethe hears the combined voices of the women, it is “as though the clearing had come to her with all its heat and simmering leaves, where the voices of women searched for the right words, the key, the code, the sound that broke the back of words… It broke over Sethe and trembled like the baptised in its wash”.

The image of the Clearing emphasised the healing power of women come together, and the reference to baptism signifies that the moment will give Sethe a new beginning.The women’s voices representing a version of call and response, finally save Sethe from being devoured by the past. Critics have stressed the role of the community in this scene, and its importance throughout the novel:“The power of women’s voices joined together has a creative capacity that symbolises and ritualises Sethe’s cycle from spiritual death to rebirth” – Critic Krumholz For Critic Bouson, the women are “enacting a rescue fantasy and illustrating the potentially healing community” Bernard W. Bell cites how the scene evokes themes of “black kinship, motherhood, sisterhood and love” Susan Bowers reminds us of Denver’s role in the revival of the community: “Her efforts lead to everyone’s salvation: the reunion of the community”The women act as a force against which they consider to be evil the “devil-child”. Yet the image that emerges of Beloved standing there naked and pregnant, “thunderbolt and glistening” also evokes the image of a beautiful African ancestral mother according to Krumholz. The pregnant Beloved symbolises the true bridge between past and future. When Mr Bodwin rides up, the “little hummingbirds” return to Sethe, and the scene suggests that she confuses Bodwin with schoolteacher. But this time instead of killing herself, or her child, she rushes after Bodwin. In this moment, Beloved believes that Sethe is abandoning her as she stands alone on the porch, that the man without skin and a whip in his hand “is looking at her” and in fear she runs away.

It is Denver who stops her mother from attacking Bodwin and thus stops the cycle of the past overpowering the present. Critic Corey argues that Denver “provides a link to the white community and a sign of potential interracial healing”. Unlike Beloved, Denver can learn: she changes by the end. She has set in motion a maturation that will eventually make her an empowering ancestral spirit like Baby Suggs.Part Three – Chapter 27“Now 124 is quiet” Chapter 27 begins. Beloved is gone, although she is spotted by a stream, “cutting through the woods, a naked woman with fish for hair” and image that according to critic Corey refers to the African water spirit. Denver who now looks more like her father, takes care of her mother. Denver also begins working for the Bodwin’s and makes plans to attend school, as Mrs Bodwin plans to “experiment on her” and send her to Oberlin. This reference evokes schoolteacher’s dangerous, and critic Corey claims that this reference exemplifies the ambiguity of the ending. However, critic Krumholz takes a brighter view arguing that Denver is now in a position to “usurp schoolteacher’s position; she must take away from him the power to define African Americans”.

Denver has changed from a wholly dependent to an independent woman, and she is a character who is able to acknowledge the past yet also move forward: “Denver represents both the future and the past: Denver will be the new African-American woman teacher, and she is Morrison’s precursor, the woman who has taken on the task of carrying the story through generations to our story-teller” says critic Krumholz.Towards the end of the novel, Paul D finds Sethe lying in Baby Suggs’ bed, un-bathed and fading out of reality, and he believes that she is planning to die, that she has given up. He promises to take care of her and looking at her she recognises there are “too many things to feel about this woman”. When he first heard about Sethe’s past, Paul D withdrew from Sethe and the community. Now, he returns to her, his wandering finally over, and his present thoughts suggest that he has confronted and finally come to peace with both his and Sethe’s past. He sees Sethe fully and realises that she never judged him, and he had judged her. Critic Lawrence suggests that now Paul D’s memories are “constructive rather destructive, giving him the freedom, finally, to choose his own desire”. He now responds to Sethe with love and talk of the future, telling her “We got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow”. Critic Bowers explains “only when characters can recover the past, do they begin to imagine a future”.

Now Paul D can “put his story next to hers”Sethe believes she had lost her daughter once again calling Beloved her “best thing” and Paul D disagrees, telling her “You your best thing, Sethe. You are”. Sethe’s last question “Me? Me?” affirms Baby Suggs’ words that loving oneself leads to freedom. While Beloved represents an unchangeable past, Sethe, Paul D and Denver illustrate the possibilities of present and future as they evolve from saves into free men and women.Part Three EpilogueBy chapter 28, Beloved is no longer a fleshy form. She has “broken up”, like her early fears. She has become a part of the background, “disremembered and unaccounted for”. Although the narrative implies that the community has forgotten her, it also reveals that “occasionally, however, the rustle of a skirt tussles when they wake” or that “her footprints come and go, come and go” stirring up memories of Beloved and all she symbolises. Thus, her presence does not completely disappear. The refrain that this “is not a story to pass on” works ironically, as of course, the story has been passed on and continues to haunt: “Beloved is a work that is passed on – told and retold in the vast and proliferating critical conversation that surrounds it” says critic Bouson. “Beloved remains in the background as a haunting presence who reminds the community of ‘Sixty million and more’ untold stories of slavery and the Middle Passage” critic Corey states.

As the novel closes with one word “Beloved” Morrison seems to be challenging the reader not to forget the tragedy of slavery. The character of Beloved has already demonstrated the consequences of trying to forget the past. As critic Harris points out, the “price of human existence cannot be placated through escapism – not that of Sethe killing her child or Baby Suggs willing herself to death, or any other form”. In order to truly be free, the characters have faced the past, in all its horrors and degradations and found a way to live with its presence, whilst embracing their futures.It was not a story to pass on The text presents the notion of an impossibility of a complete understanding of the black slave experience. Specifically, for the contemporary black reader, the problem of having access to one’s own heritage arises within this impossibility. As an experience that was largely undocumented, and fundamentally distinct from any other experience, the present-day audience must learn to accept when limitations arise in their comprehension off this history. This text forces the reader to take responsibility for the knowledge that can be obtained and respect the knowledge that can be obtained, and respect the knowledge that remains distanced and unattainable as part of the black slave experience.

From Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination, author Avery Gordon writes: Slavery has ended, but something of it continues to live on, in the social geography of where people reside, in the authority of collective wisdom and shared benightments, in the veins of the contradictory formation we call New World modernity, propelling as it always has, a something to be done. Such endings that are not over is what haunting is about (Gordon 139)