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Free Study Guide: Beloved by Toni Morrison

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FREE STUDY NOTES FOR BELOVED BY TONI MORRISON

BOOK II

CHAPTER 19

Summary

In this chapter, Stamp Paid feels badly about what he has told Paul D and about the subsequent events that occurred at 124 Bluestone. He approaches Sethe's house feeling like a sneak; but his whole life has been based on his ability to sneak around, usually "for a clear and holy purpose." Before the Civil War, he helped pass secret information and hid runaway slaves. He fed them vegetables from his garden and the remains of pigs from his job at the slaughterhouse. He also wrote letters and read mail for the ones who could not read or write.

After telling Paul D about the murder, Stamp Paid began to consider Sethe's feelings and the hardships she had endured. The community immediately recoiled from Sethe after she killed her daughter. Then she had to endure the death of Baby Suggs, who was soon buried next to Sethe's dead child. Sethe went to the gravesite, but she refused to join in the singing. When the neighbors came to the house after the funeral, they only ate the food they had brought and would not touch anything prepared by Sethe. After Baby Suggs' funeral, every one in town avoided Sethe and hope that she would fall into bad times.

As he walks towards Sethe's house down Bluestone Road, Stamp Paid hears many voices all speaking at once; "he couldn't describe or cipher it to save his life." The only word he could understand was "mine." When Stamp Paid approaches Sethe's porch, the voices lower to a whisper. He raises his hand to knock even though he has never knocked on this door before; he felt knocking was too formal, for a friend should just be able to walk inside. Stamp Paid cannot bring himself to knock, so he simply leaves without seeing Sethe. For the next six days, he returns to 124 Bluestone, but he can never make himself knock. "The coldness of the gesture--its sign that he was indeed a stranger at the gate--overwhelmed him."

After Paul D's departure, Sethe is miserable. She tries to take Baby Suggs' advice and "lay it all down, sword and shield." Four days after he left, Sethe thinks about Paul D saying that she acted like she had four legs and realizes she hates herself for trusting him so much. She decides she will never again have happiness. Sethe then reflects on the pleasantries of her past. She remembers having women friends, living in a thriving community, sharing happy dinners, singing and dancing in the Clearing, and enjoying her life with Baby Suggs and her four children all together. Those happy days, however, were followed by eighteen years of disapproval and ostracism; even her sons deserted her. Then Paul D had come into her life and brought her a little sunshine once again. She had even dared to go out socially with him. Now, however, he is gone and she is once again left alone with her past. She believes her life will continue to run in cycles of approximately twenty years of misery interrupted by short-lived glory.

In trying to lay down the sword, Sethe attempts to exorcise her anger toward Paul D and the rest of the community, but it will not be easy. She thinks back to Beloved's funeral and remembers how no one in the community would talk to her. She then remembers how she had to sell sex in order to buy Beloved's gravestone. Her emotions run deep.

Sethe interrupts her reveries to take Denver and Beloved ice-skating. As they walk back home in the cold, Sethe puts one arm around each girl. Inside the house, they wrap themselves in quilts and drink milk, trying to get warm. In this peaceful setting, Beloved starts to hum a song, and something "clicks" with Sethe. She does not know what the click is, but it soon dawns on her.

When Beloved finishes humming her tune, Sethe looks at the girl's profile. Sethe then tells her that she (Sethe) made up the song Beloved has been humming; she made the song up for her children and regularly sang it to them. No one other than Sethe's children knew the song. Beloved says that she knows that. Sethe is finally certain that Beloved is her daughter returned from the grave.

Stamp Paid approaches 124 Bluestone again, hoping to have enough courage to knock this time. Inside the house, he hears voice, but he cannot make sense of the words that are being said: "The people of the broken necks, of fire-cooked blood and black girls who had lost their ribbons. What a roaring." He leaves without knocking.


Sethe wakes up the next morning and decides she will be late for work for the first time ever. Downstairs she enjoys watching Denver and Beloved, still sleeping and holding hands. She marvels at the presence of both of her daughters. She then thinks that if Beloved has come back from the "timeless place," surely her sons will also come back. As she walks to work, Sethe feels giddy about all that she no longer has to remember or explain. She tells herself that she will not think anymore about the slaughterhouse and the Saturday girls who worked as prostitutes in its yard. She will also forget how her actions changed Baby's life, for after the murder, the preacher never returned to the Clearing again.

As Sethe walks to work, Stamp Paid arrives on her front porch once again and bangs on the door. When no one answers, he looks in the window and sees two people. He feels like crying over the fact that they do not answer his knock. He is also shocked to realize that the two figures are two girls. One he recognizes as Denver, but the other one "troubled him," for it is an unknown face. He knows no one visits 124 Bluestone. Stamp Paid then goes to see Ella. He tells her he went out to Baby Suggs' house and saw somebody new inside. She has no explanation for him. Ella does, however, tell him that Paul D is sleeping in the church. Stamp Paid is upset, for he feels someone in the community should have offered him a bed. Realizing that Stamp Paid is criticizing her, Ella tells him she does not know Paul D. Stamp Paid responds, "You know he's colored!"

When Sethe arrives at the restaurant, her boss, Sawyer, yells at her for being late. She turns her back to him and gets to work. She thinks of all the things white people have done to her and decides she does not want to hear any more news about "whitefolks." She remembers a few kind whites, like Amy Denver and Bodwin. She also remembers when she could trust the owners of Sweet Home, especially Mrs. Garner. Her earrings were a sign of her belief that she could trust some white people.

After daydreaming while she worked, Sethe realizes that she has forgotten to hold back some food for herself. She takes dinner home every night from the restaurant, for she had negotiated that with Sawyer in the beginning. She also thinks about the kitchen supplies that she sometimes takes. Even though she can afford to buy the supplies, she hates to wait out back at the store until all the white customers are finished with their shopping. She does not like to be with the other blacks, who clearly reveal "their judgment or pity" for her.

On her way home, Sethe again thinks about all of the things she is going to forget. She talks to Beloved in her mind and tells her that she was trying to save her from slavery. She did not want Beloved to have to listen to Schoolteacher, like she had done, for he always said that blacks were similar to animals. She feels proud of herself for keeping her children from slavery despite the price paid.

Notes

Like Book I, Book II opens with a description of the house at 124 Bluestone. This time the house is loud and filled with anger. As Stamp Paid approaches the house, he hears all kinds of voices that seem to be coming from inside. He believes that the sounds are really the rage of all the blacks who have been tortured by white oppression. Once again, there is a ghostly, supernatural image here.

Stamp Paid's reaction to knocking at the door of 124 Bluestone is humorous, but touching. He feels ashamed that he has shown the article about Sethe to Paul D, especially since it caused him to depart from 124 Bluestone. In his guilt, Stamp Paid wants to see Sethe and explain things to her, but he feels he can no longer just walk inside her house as a welcome guest. Instead, he believes he must knock and be invited in. Several times he comes to the house, and each time he leaves without knocking. He just cannot make himself bang on the door, as if he were some stranger.

When Stamp Paid is finally brave enough to knock, he gets no answer. As a result, he looks through the window and is shocked and hurt to see two people, who have ignored his knock. He is even more surprised to realize that one of the people is a stranger, for he knows that no guest ever comes to visit at 124 Bluestone. He is so shocked at what he sees that he goes to tell Ella the news. She has no idea who is staying at Bluestone with Sethe. She does, however, inform Stamp Paid that Paul D is staying at the church. The news makes Stamp Paid feel even worse, for he believes no black man should ever be denied a bed in Cincinnati. He feels that all blacks have all been made to suffer too much and too long at the hands of white men. As a result, they should always be willing to reach out and help each other.

Stamp Paid has spent his life helping those in need. Before the Civil War, he hid runaway slaves and cared for them. He also passed secret information to help them. It was also Stamp Paid he helped Sethe and the Baby Denver get across the Ohio River to freedom. It was also he who summoned Ella to care for Sethe and the child until they were strong enough to travel to the way station belong to Baby Suggs.

Much of the chapter is devoted to Sethe reflecting on her past. She thinks of both happy times and sad times. She realizes that she seems to suffer in cycles of twenty years, followed by brief bursts of joy. Her time with Paul D was one of those pleasant times. Now that he has gone, she feels her life will by fill with misery again for many years.

Sethe stops her reveries to take Beloved and Denver ice-skating. When they return home and huddle in blankets to get warm, Beloved begins to hum a song. Sethe is shocked to hear it, for it is a song that she made up to sing to her children. No one other than her children would know the melody. Sethe has her proof at last. Beloved is her dead baby daughter come back from the grave. Realizing this, Sethe feels greatly relieved. She believes she can now put part of her past behind her. The return of Beloved also gives her hope that her two sons may also return some day.

There is an irony in Sethe's sense of relief. She has lived her life since the murder in a state of disorder, as if she has been out of connection with the living world. With the return of her daughter, she feels connected again; unfortunately, Beloved is not really connected to the living world. Knowing that Beloved is the reincarnation of her dead daughter, Sethe imagines trying to talk to Beloved and to justify what she did to her, just like she tried to justify her actions to Paul D. She explains the misery of not being able to be a complete mother to her children since she was a slave. She bemoans the fact that they were considered to be property belonging to white man, who judged them little better than animals. She describes her sadness at having to send her children off in a wagon from Sweet Home, away from her; but she also explains her delight that they were escaping from slavery. Obviously, Sethe still feels terribly guilty, but by acknowledging the things that have bothered her all these years, she can begin to overcome the trauma and self-condemnation she has endured for all these years. Then when she realizes that Beloved is not angry with her, she feels even greater relief. It is one less thing to worry over and feel guilty about.

Again in this chapter, as in some of the early chapters of the novel, there is an emphasis on color. Sethe remembers that she stopped seeing colors after she saw the red blood of her baby and the pink chips of her granite gravestone. She remembers that she noticed color again after Paul D came to stay with he. For Sethe, the recognition of color symbolized the opening of herself to experience life.


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