Denver hurts Paul D by asking him how long he plans to “hang around.” Sethe is mortified by Denver’s behavior but refuses to allow Paul D to criticize her daughter. Paul D interprets this as a sign of intense motherly love and thinks it is dangerous for an ex-slave to love anything too much. Paul D has learned to love the individuals in his life only partially, so that he has enough love left over for the next person when the first is taken away.
Paul D promises Sethe that she can safely reenter her past because he will be there to catch her if she falls. He invites Denver and Sethe to a carnival in town that is having a special day for blacks. At the carnival, Denver surprises herself by having a good time. The people they see there greet her casually, rather than showing her the contempt she expects. Because he is such an extrovert and so shamelessly thrilled by the carnival, Paul D is a hit with the other carnival-goers. He thus helps reintegrate Sethe and Denver into the community, and he makes a few acquaintances. He also inquires about getting a job. Paul D is amused by the spectacle of the supposed “Wild African Savage,” because he says he knew the man back in Roanoke. On the way to and from the carnival, the smell of rotting roses is overpowering. Also, both on the way there and on the way back, Sethe notices that the three shadows of Paul D, Denver, and herself overlap so as to appear to be holding hands. She interprets this as a promising sign that signals future happiness.
A fully dressed woman walks out of a stream and falls asleep beneath a mulberry tree. The woman moves to a tree stump near the steps of 124, where Paul D, Sethe, and Denver find her as they return from the carnival. Sethe suddenly feels a strange, irrepressible need to urinate and is reminded of her water breaking before Denver’s birth. Denver and Paul D take the woman inside, where she drinks cup after cup of water. Her name, it turns out, is Beloved. Her skin is as smooth as a baby’s, and she has no recollection of the past. Denver notes that Here Boy, the dog that was disfigured during one of the baby ghost’s rages, has disappeared.
Beloved sleeps for four days, waking only to ask for water. While Beloved sleeps, Denver cares for her with a possessive devotion. Beloved’s presence makes Paul D uneasy. He remarks that although she acts and sounds sick, she does not show visible signs of ill health—the other day, he tells Sethe, he saw her pick up a rocking chair with one hand. He claims that Denver was also watching, but when he asks Denver for confirmation, she denies having seen any such thing.
Beloved develops a strange attachment to Sethe. Although she usually hates discussing the past, Sethe enjoys pouring stories into Beloved’s eager ears. Beloved asks what has happened to what she calls Sethe’s “diamonds.” Sethe replies that she once owned some crystal earrings given to her by Mrs. Garner for her wedding. She then recounts the story of her haphazard, patchwork wedding dress.
As she watches Sethe arrange Denver’s hair, Beloved asks about Sethe’s mother. Sethe explains that she rarely saw her. Sethe remembers that her mother once took her aside and showed her a circle and a cross that had been burned into her skin. She said that Sethe could use these marks to identify her body if she died. When Sethe asked to be marked, too, her mother slapped her. Sethe tells the girls that she did not understand why her mother had done this until she had a mark of her own.