Like a parasite, Beloved begins to drain Sethe’s life force. Sethe arrives at work later every morning until she loses her job. The food in the house begins to run low, and Sethe sacrifices her portion for Beloved, who grows fat while Sethe wastes away. Beloved wears Sethe’s clothing and copies her mannerisms until Denver has trouble telling them apart. Their roles merge and invert as Sethe comes to act like a child while Beloved looms over her like a mother. When Sethe tries to assert herself, Beloved reacts violently and breaks things, and the two fight constantly. Sethe points out how much she has suffered for her children, but Beloved accuses her of leaving her behind. Denver begins to fear that Beloved will kill her mother.
Denver decides to leave 124 to find help. Before she can do so, she needs (and gets) some encouragement from the spirit of Baby Suggs, because Denver hasn’t left the house by herself in twelve years and fears the outside world. Not knowing where else to turn, Denver goes to the house of her former teacher, Lady Jones.
Although part of the black community, Lady Jones has yellow hair and gray eyes. Ironically, Lady Jones was chosen to attend a school in Pennsylvania for “colored” girls because of her light skin. Afterward, she devoted herself to teaching those who were not picked to attend school. Because she loathes her yellow hair, she married the darkest man she could find. She is convinced that everyone, including her own children, despises her and her hair.
Omitting mention of Beloved, Denver explains that her mother is sick and asks Lady Jones if there is any work she can do in exchange for food. Lady Jones knows of no work, but she tells everyone at church about Sethe’s troubles. Denver begins finding plates and baskets of food on the tree stump in front of 124. Many include a slip of paper with the donator’s name, and as Denver ventures out to return the containers to their owners she becomes acquainted with the community. Lady Jones also offers her weekly reading lessons.
As the trouble at 124 continues, Denver visits the Bodwins for help. Their black maid, Janey, answers the door and recognizes Denver as a relative of Baby Suggs. Denver tells her about Beloved, and Janey circulates the story around town. Denver secures a job with the Bodwins, but as she leaves their house she is disturbed by the sight of a figurine on display. The statuette is a slave who holds coins in its mouth. At its base is a tag that reads: “At Yo’ Service.”
Ella hears Denver’s story. Although she sees Beloved’s tormenting presence as a fair punishment for Sethe’s act of infanticide, she does not believe that the punishment is “right,” because she believes that past sins should stay in the past. She empathizes with Sethe because she also once refused to care for her child. The child was born of abuse after Ella had been locked up for a year and repeatedly raped by a father and son. Ella decides to rally a group of roughly thirty black women to exorcise Beloved from 124. They march to Sethe’s house, where Denver is waiting for Mr. Bodwin to pick her up for work.