Free Study Guide: Beloved by Toni Morrison|
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BELOVED BY TONI MORRISON: FREE CHAPTER SUMMARY ONLINE
From the very first day, Paul D has wanted Beloved to depart, but Sethe and Denver want her to stay. He decides he should investigate her past to learn more about her. Just as Paul D has this thought, Beloved strangles on a raisin. When Sethe and Denver help to dislodge it, Denver tells her to come up to her room so she can care for her better. She is always happy to be alone with Beloved, for she enjoys the conversation that they have.
When Sethe and Paul D are alone, their conversation again drifts toward the past. Paul D claims that he has never mistreated a woman in his life. Sethe thinks he may be the only such man alive. She explains that she feels Halle mistreated her by deserting her and the children. She tells how Halle failed to be where he said he would be on the day of the escape. Paul D tells her that he was hiding in the loft of the barn and was there when she was being attacked by the two nephews of Schoolteacher. Sethe cannot believe that Halle saw what those boys did to her and did not kill them. Paul D says that what Halle saw broke his spirit, especially since he felt helpless to do anything. In his misery, Halle began to act irrationally. The last time Paul saw Halle, he had smeared butter all over his face.
Shocked and angered to learn that Halle had watched her being assaulted and did not come to her aid, Sethe goes outside to sit on the porch steps and cool off. She thinks about Halle's smearing the butter on his face. She believes it was a reaction to his having seen the boys take the milk from her breasts. She wonders where Halle is now and decides that he is probably dead since he was a broken man. She thinks it might have been nice for the two of them to go insane together.
Sethe's mind cannot think about the future because it is too loaded down with the past. She has "no room to imagine, let alone plan, for the next day." Her thoughts remind her of the day she gave birth to Denver. Totally exhausted, she reclined in a field of wild onions. Her thoughts are interrupted by Paul D, who comes and sits beside her. He says he did not plan to tell her about Halle, but now he has more he wants to say. He explains to Sethe how they put a bit in his mouth so that he could not even talk. Sethe had seen such a bit in the mouths of many slaves. She tells Paul D that all the people she knew with a bit developed a wild look about them. Paul D, however, does not have such a wildness about him. Paul D continues to talk. He tells Sethe that it really drove him crazy to look at the deformed rooster named Mister, for he knew that the rooster was freer than he. Mister was allowed to be what he was, but Paul D was forever changed by the cruel torture of Schoolteacher.
Sethe tenderly rubs Paul D's knee as a way of saying she is sorry for
his pain. He takes it as a signal that she wants him to stop talking about
the past. He pushes the memories back down inside him - to the place in
his chest where his red heart used to be. As Sethe continues to rub his
knee, she also thinks about "beating back the past."
Beloved has a strong effect on Paul D. He knows something is wrong with her, but he cannot really sense what it is. In subsequent chapters, Paul D has different encounters with this re-incarnated being from Sethe's past. At the present, however, he just wishes that Beloved would disappear, for he feels she is a disruption to the peaceful existence he had found with Sethe. Beloved does not care for Paul D either; she knows that he is a threat to her intimacy with Sethe.
When Paul D questions Beloved about why she came to 124 Bluestone, she tells him that a woman at the bridge told her to come. The bridge and the water below it are significant symbols. They symbolize the crossing from and washing away of the spirit world, where Beloved had existed since her death. The fact that Sethe's home used to be a way station is also significant. In the past, a way station was a haven for the freed slaves; it was a safe resting place where they could stop for food, mail, messages, and conversation. Now Beloved, a reincarnated spirit, comes to the way station to seek a resting place after returning from the afterlife. Both the freed slaves and Beloved are wandering souls needing a home.
The timing of Beloved's arrival at 124 Bluestone is very significant, for she appeared on the day that Sethe had gone to the carnival with Paul D and Denver. It was the first time that Sethe had been out socially in years. As she walked with Paul D and her daughter, Sethe envisioned a future for the three of them as a family. Beloved had to feel threatened by Sethe's thoughts of pursuing a new lifestyle. After all, Paul D had chased away her infant ghost from the house shortly after his arrival. Now Sethe was thinking about spending the rest of her life with him. Beloved felt she had to appear in the flesh to try and drive Paul D away and save Sethe for herself.
As in previous chapters, the thoughts of Paul D and Sethe drift to the past. Paul D reflects on his own years of wandering after he escaped from Sweet Home. He encountered all types of African Americans, most of whom were lost souls after being emancipated. There were many who were so hungry and tired that they could not function. Others he found sleeping in trees or hiding in caves. His description of the freed slaves clearly brings to light the horror and misery that blacks had to endure.
When Paul D tells Sethe that in all his years he has never mistreated a woman, she comments he is probably the only such man, for even Halle mistreated her by deserting her and the children. She tells Paul D how he failed to show up as planned on the day of the escape from Sweet Home. Her criticism causes Paul D to tell Sethe what really happened on that day. Halle was hiding in the loft of the barn when the nephews of Schoolteacher attacked her. Watching the entire brutal incident and feeling helpless to do anything about it, Halle is literally driven crazy. The last time Paul D saw him, Halle had smeared butter from the churn all over his face. At first Sethe is angry to hear that Halle saw what happened to her and did not come to her rescue. When she thinks more about it, however, she reacts by saying it might have been nice if she and Halle could have gone insane together. It is clear that Sethe still misses her husband, whom she now believes is dead.
The chapter ends on a tender note. After telling Sethe about the bit that
was placed in his mouth and the torment caused by the rooster, Paul D
reveals that he has responded to the traumas of his past by shutting down
his emotions. He even imagines that he does not have a heart any longer.
Sethe, when she hears his pain, is touched and gently rubs his knee with
tenderness. It is clear that both of them need healing from the scars
of their pasts.
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. 09 May 2017