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Free Study Guide: Beloved by Toni Morrison

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BELOVED: PLOT NOTES / CHAPTER NOTES / CHAPTER SUMMARIES

CHAPTER 6

Summary

Beloved cannot take her eyes off Sethe and follows her around. When Sethe goes to work, Beloved watches for her return and often goes out to meet her on the road. Sethe is flattered by the attention. One night when Sethe nods off to sleep while sitting up, she feels Beloved touch her lightly; Sethe thinks her touch is loaded with desire.

Beloved begs Sethe to tell her stories from her past. Even though Sethe finds it difficult to pull out her repressed memories, she obliges Beloved, who thoroughly enjoys the stories. It is amazing that she is willing to share with Beloved the tales that she had never shared with Denver before now. Sethe tells Beloved about when she got married. She had hoped to have a wedding, even though she had never seen one. When Mrs. Garner, the woman that she worked for in Kentucky, told her that it would not be proper for a slave to have a wedding ceremony, Sethe was very disappointed. Determined to at least have a fitting dress for her marriage day, Sethe stole some scraps of fabric and sewed them into a dress.

Sethe then tells Beloved about her "honeymoon" in the cornfield and how the Pauls and Sixo watched Halle and her from a distance. Mrs. Garner was also aware that the couple was out in the cornfield. The following day she called Sethe to her bedroom and gave her a pair of crystal earrings as a wedding gift; she also wished the couple happiness. Sethe did not wear the earrings until she was no longer a slave. When she is questioned about where the earrings are, Sethe only says that they are "long gone."

Beloved asks Sethe about her mother. Sethe explains that she never really knew her mother. She was taken from her as an infant to be raised communally on the plantation. She was even nursed by "a woman whose job it was." Sethe explains that her mother was expected to work in the fields from dawn to dark and had no time to raise her children. Sethe does remember one time when her mother picked her up and carried her behind the smokehouse. She opened up her dress and showed Sethe a circle and a cross burned into the skin just below her breast. Sethe's mother told her, "This is your ma'am
. . . I am the only one got this mark now. The rest dead." She tells Sethe that she can always be identified by the mark. When Sethe tries to question her mother about the mark, her mother answers by slapping her face, a slap that Sethe has never forgotten. To end the painful story of her mother, Sethe explains that eventually she was hanged and left on the rope to rot. When they finally lowered the body, nobody could see the circle and the cross on her chest, even though Sethe looked for it.


As Sethe has been telling the story of her mother, she has been combing Denver's hair. She stops to clean the hair out of the comb and throws it into the fire. As the acrid smell of burning hair drifts through the air, Sethe exclaims, "Oh, my Jesus." Beloved asks her what is the matter, but Sethe will not answer. It is obvious that "she was remembering something she had forgotten she knew. Something privately shameful that had seeped into a slit in her mind right behind the slap on her face and the circled cross."

Denver asks why they had hanged her mother. Sethe says she never knew the reason, but there were several slaves hanged at the same time. She remembers looking at the pile of corpses. She also remembers that Nan, the woman who took care of the babies and cooked, pulled her away from the corpses. Sethe also remembers that Nan spoke in words different from English. Sethe understood them then, but she cannot recall or repeat any of them now. She believes that she does not remember her much of her childhood because she cannot remember the language spoken to her by Nan.

Denver is relieved when Sethe stops talking about the past. She hates the stories her mother tells that do not include her. She notices, however, that Beloved loves all of Sethe's stories. She also notices that Beloved asks questions about things she should not know.

Notes

Beloved cannot get enough of Sethe or her stories. She follows her around the house and eagerly waits for her return from work. She seems to be so "hungry" for Sethe that she devours her with her eyes. The image is meant to indicate that Beloved is the grown-up baby that Sethe left without milk. She is so desperate for her mother's love that she threatens to swallow her up. The hidden meaning is that Sethe must face her past and overcome it, or it will overcome her.

It is significant that Beloved is able to get Sethe to talk about her past. Denver has often questioned her mother about it, but until Beloved's arrival, Sethe has been unwilling to share her repressed memories with her younger daughter. Instead, she let them lie below the surface and torment her. As Sethe tells Beloved about her past, it helps her to come to terms with it and begin to heal.

Sethe's stories about her own mother are very revealing. It becomes obvious that Sethe's trauma did not begin with her escape from Sweet Home. Her trauma began when she was taken from her mother by a system of slavery that regarded the children as property and the adults as work animals that had no time for raising children. Sethe was raised in a communal environment by Nan. Since she was in charge of cooking and caring for all the slave children, she had no time to nurture them. To complicate matters further, she did not speak English, for she had arrived on the plantation directly from Africa. Sethe believes that the reason she does not remember much about her childhood is because she cannot remember Nan's language or the words that she spoke to her.

Both Sethe's mother and Nan came as slaves from Africa during the Middle Passage. Being women, they had to endure unbelievable torture, for they were raped innumerable times. Their only means of resistance was to kill any child born out of the union and to refuse to put their arms around their rapists. The female slaves were also cruelly branded on the chest in order that their owners could always recognize and claim them. When Sethe's mother grabs her daughter and shows her the brand on her chest, it is a sad commentary. Since Sethe has not been permitted to know her mother, Sethe's mother cannot mark her identity for her daughter in anything but a brand that indicates that she is a slave. Although Sethe remembers little about her mother, the image of the brand is very clear to her.


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