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Free Study Guide: Beloved by Toni Morrison

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BELOVED: FREE LITERATURE NOTES / STUDY GUIDE

CHAPTER 8

Summary

Up in her room, Denver watches in enchantment as Beloved dances. She then joins in the dance. When they fall on the floor exhausted, Denver begins to question Beloved. She asks what it is like "over there, where you were before." Beloved replies that it is sort of like a slave ship with "heaps" of people down there. Denver wants to know if she saw Jesus or Baby Suggs, but Beloved does not respond. Denver then asks how she escaped the spirit world to appear in the flesh. She tells Denver she got to this world by waiting on the bridge for a long time. Denver begs her to stay with them for a long time as well; but she asks her not to tell Sethe who she really is. Beloved says that she plans to stay, for she needs Sethe.


Beloved then asks Denver to tell her about her birth. Denver starts by describing Amy Denver, the young white runaway who helped Sethe. She tells how the girl found the pregnant and miserable Sethe and took her to a lean-to, where she nursed her. At first, Sethe was afraid Amy was going to turn her into the authorities in order to earn a reward; but Amy genuinely wanted to assist her. In the end she helps Sethe make it safely across the Ohio River to a free state. When the two of them near the river, Sethe's water breaks, and she goes into labor. With Amy's help, she manages to crawl into an empty boat and throw her legs over the sides. The weight of Amy and Sethe cause the boat to settle down in the river, and water seeps into the holes in the boat, covering Sethe's hips as she tries to give birth. Amy claws at the baby's head to get hold of it and help pull it out. After the baby is born, the two women climb back to shore. Sethe is desperate to save the child. Since she has no milk to nurse the baby because of the torture she has endured, she asks Amy to try and feed her. But Amy has never given birth and has no interest in trying to help further. At twilight Amy prepares to depart; before leaving, she makes Sethe promise to tell the baby about her. Sethe falls asleep thinking how pretty the name Denver is.

Notes

When Denver asks Beloved what it is like in the spirit world, Beloved compares it to the hold of a slave ship; she says that "down there" it was hot, with no room to breathe. After death, the pain of life continued to haunt Beloved. Her plight was no better than the slaves who were miserably crowded into the hold of a ship on their journey from Africa to America. When Denver asks Beloved, how and why she has returned to the living, she explains that she waited on the bridge (between life and death) for a long time in order to be with Sethe again.

When Beloved asks about Denver's birth, the story, for the first time, is told in its entirety. Denver begins by describing Amy Denver, the poor white daughter of an indentured servant who has run away from a violent man who claims to own her. She finds the pregnant Sethe in a miserable state after she has been beaten and abused by Schoolteacher's nephews. She offers to help Sethe by caring for her swollen feet and scarred back. At first Sethe is afraid to trust Amy, for she fears she will turn her in for a reward, especially since she calls Sethe "nigger" and talks about her as if she were an animal about to "foal." In truth, Amy is a kind soul who does not know better than to voice the racial slurs that she has always heard. She makes it obvious that she genuinely wants to help Sethe, even though she is a black runaway slave. Finally, Sethe allows her to lead her to a lean-to, where Amy nurses her wounds. She then helps Sethe toward the Ohio River. If Sethe can just make it across the river, she will be in a free state.

As the two girls approach the river, Sethe's water breaks and she goes into labor. With Amy's help, she manages to get into a dilapidated boat, where she can give birth. Amy helps her to deliver the baby and then helps her back to shore before the boat sinks. She refuses, however, to try and nurse the baby. At twilight she departs after making Sethe promise that she will tell the baby all about her. Even though Amy leaves her, Sethe is determined to save her child, whom she names Denver in honor of the girl who helped in her birth. She knows, however, that she must make it across the river to safety and find milk for her child to eat.

There are several intended similarities between Sethe and Amy. Both are young women who do not know their parents. Both have endured hardships and torture as a slave and a servant. Both are basically kind people, willing to help others. Both are runaways trying to escape a miserable existence. There are also many obvious differences between the two women. Although Amy was the daughter of an indentured servant and was sometimes mistreated, she was not, like Sethe, repeatedly raped; nor was she expected to produce countless children to serve as additional slave labor. Amy is also more educated and knowledgeable than Sethe. She easily recalls and sings the words of an elegant lullaby. In addition, she knows about some of the finer things in life and believes that someday she will have a dress of bright red velvet, a symbol of luxury. In contrast, Sethe is totally uneducated, speaking only a dialectical, broken English. She has no hope of a bright future and cannot dream of red velvet. In fact, she had to fashion her wedding dress out of stolen scraps of old pillowcases. Her only hope for the future is in her children.


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