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Free Study Guide: Beloved by Toni Morrison

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FREE LITERATURE SUMMARY FOR BELOVED BY TONI MORRISON

BOOK III

CHAPTER 26

Summary

The last section of the novel starts with another observation about the house: "124 was quiet." It is an unnatural quiet, for it is caused by the occupants going hungry. Ironically, as Sethe becomes more and more weak, Beloved's belly grows bigger and bigger; it is like she is devouring her mother. Denver, who observes what is going on, thinks she may have to "step off the edge of the world and die because if she doesn't, they all would."

Denver remembers that the three of them had one happy day in January before Sethe and Beloved began to vie for power in the household. Since January, Sethe has been fired by Sawyer and does not bother to look for another job because she is too preoccupied with being pardoned of her crime. Sethe totally ignores her younger daughter and leaves her out of everything she does with Beloved. Denver's only explanation for Sethe's behavior is that her mother is losing her mind.

For a month, Sethe and Beloved play all kinds of games. They spend Sethe's savings of thirty-eight dollars to buy expensive food and colorful ribbons. By the end of March, "the three of them look like carnival women." Although Denver never participates in their games, she carefully watches what is going on to make certain that Beloved is never in danger. She also listens to Sethe as she tries to explain about her hard life before the murder and how much she loved her children. Beloved is not impressed. She keeps repeating that Sethe left her and refused to smile at her.

When there is no more food, Sethe and Beloved grow quiet. Denver, however, notices that her mother is wasting away, while Beloved grows larger. As a result, Denver switches her allegiance and begins to try to protect her mother from Beloved. She finally decides she must leave 124 Bluestone to ask somebody for help. Since she has never been out alone since her school days, Denver is frightened. She fears the white people against whom Baby Suggs had said there was "no defense." As Denver stands on the porch, trying to make herself move, she hears her grandmother laughing and prodding her to go ahead. As she walks into town, she passes Lady Jones's house and knocks on the door. Lady Jones welcomes Denver and serves her tea. Denver says that she needs to find work. She explains that Sethe is not feeling well, and they have no food in the house.


After Denver's visit to Lady Jones, the women of the neighborhood begin to bring food and leave it on the stump in the yard at 124 Bluestone. The women who bring the food leave slips of paper with their names on them so that Denver can return their dishes. Slowly, Denver begins to come out of her shell. She visits Lady Jones' house once a week and learns Bible verses to memorize. By June, Denver has memorized fifty-two pages of verses.

In spite of the food given to the family, Sethe's condition continues to deteriorate. Denver notices that Beloved acts like the mother, and Sethe seems like "the teething child." As Sethe continues to shrink, Beloved grows larger. Denver, determined to care for her mother, finds herself cleaning and cooking for both Sethe and Beloved. She also thinks about taking care of herself; it is the first time she has ever thought about having a self.

Denver decides to visit the Bodwins, who helped her mother and grandmother, and ask them for work. When she knocks on the door of their house, a black woman answers. She introduces herself as Janey Wagon, invites Denver to come in, and asks about Sethe. Janey then tells Denver that she was already working for the Bodwins when Baby Suggs came and sat in the same seat that Denver is sitting in now. As Denver warms up to Janey, she begins to tell her what is going on at 124 Bluestone. After Janey hears her story, she tells Denver that she will ask the Bodwins if they can give Denver some work to help her and her family out.

Janey spreads the news about Sethe's visitor among the black community. Everyone, including Ella, believes that Sethe's dead daughter has come back. Ella convinces the other women that they must rescue Sethe from the ghost. Even though she, like the rest of the community, was upset that Sethe murdered her daughter and then acted proud about it, Ella believes they must now come to Sethe's aid.

On the day Denver is supposed to go to work and spend her first night at the Bodwins, Mr. Bodwin tells her he will pick her up before supper. Since Denver is sitting on the porch watching for him, she does not see the neighborhood women coming up the road. Thirty of them have assembled to do something about the ghost at 124 Bluestone. Some of the women have special things stuffed in their pockets or hung around their necks. Others speak of their Christian faith. None of the women knows what they will do when they arrive at 124 Bluestone.

As the women congregate, Edward Bodwin is driving his cart down the road toward the house in which he was born. As he travels around the curve in the road, he sees the women singing. Sethe and Beloved also hear the singing. Sethe opens the door to look at the women and sees Mr. Bodwin arriving in the cart. In her almost delirious state, Sethe mistakes Bodwin for Schoolteacher. She runs forward with an ice pick, attempting this time to protect Beloved from harm.

Notes

The mood of the house at 124 Bluestone has changed to silence, foreshadowing that the resolution of the novel is approaching. The unnatural quietness is caused by the hunger that the inhabitants feel. Since Sethe has been fired from Sawyer's Restaurant and has not gotten another job, there is no money to buy food. It is ironic that in spite of the lack of food, Beloved grows larger as Sethe seems to be wasting away.

Denver undergoes a huge change in this chapter. Realizing what is happening to her mother, she switches her allegiance from Beloved to Sethe. She knows that if any of them are to survive, she must take matters into her own hands. With great fear, she goes out into the world alone for the first time. It is a great act of bravery since she has been taught that the outside hurts people so badly that they lay down and die or kill their children. Denver becomes the hope at the end of this painful novel for the next generation.

Despite all her deprivations, Denver understands that one of the most important tools for survival is community. As a result, she bravely knocks on the door of Lady Jones, who invites her in for tea and calls her "baby." It is ironic that this word is used to describe Denver at the point in her life when she is finally accepting responsibility and becoming a woman. She explains to Lady Jones that the family is going hungry, for Sethe is out of work. Lady Jones takes matters into her own hands. Soon the women of the neighborhood are bringing food to the 124 Bluestone and leaving it outside on the stump. They also leave their names so that Denver will know where to return the dishes.

Inspired by the caring of the community, Denver decides to go and see the Bodwins, who have helped her mother and grandmother in the past. When she knocks on their door, she is greeted by a black woman named Janey. Denver instinctively trusts Janey and tells her what is going on at 124 Bluestone. Janey tells the black community about the ghost that is haunting 124 Bluestone and rallies them to come to Sethe's aid. At the end of the chapter, thirty of the neighborhood women have armed themselves with amulets and their Christian faith and arrive at Sethe's house to help drive the ghost away.

The women arrive on the same day that Denver is to begin work at the Bodwins. When Sethe hears the voice of the women singing, she opens the door to see what is happening. Just as she looks out, Mr. Bodwin pulls up in a cart. In her weakened state, Sethe thinks he is Schoolteacher come to take Beloved away. She grabs the ice pick and rushes out to stab him and protect her daughter.

Several important points are brought out in this chapter. Sethe voices the central problem of her life when she says that "the best thing she was, was her children." Unable to differentiate between herself and her sons and daughters, Sethe has not been able to grant herself a separate existence that has needs of its own. In order to overcome her past and heal herself, Sethe needs to recognize and accept her own value as a person, separate and apart from being just the mother of her children.

Another important point is made through the Bodwins, who are supposed to be "good whitefolks." In spite of their reputation as abolitionists, they have a horribly racist figurine in their kitchen; it is a statue of a small black boy kneeling and saying, "At Yo'Service." Edward Bodwin also waxes nostalgic over the "heady days" he enjoyed during the trial of Sethe Suggs. Earlier in the novel it was said of the Bodwins that they hated slavery worse than they hated slaves. While it is true that the Bodwins saved Sethe's life by keeping her from being hanged for her daughter's death, it was done for the abolition movement, not because they cared about Sethe as a human being. They do not even seem to have many feelings for Janey Wagon, the black woman who has served them twenty-four hours a day for twenty years.

Some of the most respected characters in the novel, including Baby Suggs, Halle, and Sixo, believed that whites, without exception, were untrustworthy, for they always inflicted pain on the blacks. During the course of the novel, whites are repeatedly shown inflicting pain. In fact, the only white who is fully good is Amy Denver. She unselfishly helped Sethe deliver her baby and headed her towards freedom. Sethe senses the basic goodness of the girl and names her baby after her.


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