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With Chapter 20, a series of stream-of-consciousness monologues begins. Sethe speaks in this chapter, followed by Denver in Chapter 21 and Beloved in Chapter 22. Chapter 23 comprises a chorus of the three voices. In Chapter 20, Sethe begins, “Beloved, she my daughter. She mine.” Sethe wants to explain everything to Beloved so that her daughter will understand why her own mother killed her. Sethe cannot understand why, despite all the clues, she initially failed to recognize that Beloved was her daughter incarnate. She decides Paul D must have distracted her.
Throughout the chapter, Sethe ponders the power of a mother’s love. She remembers that her own mother was hanged, but she does not know the circumstances that prompted the lynching. Perhaps her mother attempted to run away, but without Sethe. Sethe wants to believe her mother would never have abandoned her, that she was as devoted a mother as Sethe herself is. After killing Beloved, Sethe wanted to lie down in the grave with her dead daughter. Yet she knew she couldn’t give up; she had to keep going for the sake of her three living children.
Denver’s voice emerges in this chapter, which begins, “Beloved is my sister.” Denver knows that she swallowed her sister’s blood along with her mother’s milk. She confesses that she has loved Sethe out of fear, and that Howard and Buglar ran away because they, like Denver, feared that whatever it was that motivated Sethe to kill her children might resurface one day. Denver believes that Beloved returned to help her wait for her father to come home. Denver is also convinced that she must protect Beloved from Sethe. She remembers everything Baby Suggs told her about Halle, which was that he was an angel who loved things too much. The power of his love used to scare Baby Suggs because she knew that the large size of his heart made it an easy target. Denver’s youth has been comprised of her fear of her mother and her hope for her father’s arrival.
Beloved’s fragmented and complex monologue constitutes the third of the first-person stream-of-consciousness monologues. She begins, “I am Beloved and she is mine.” Her patchy memories are of a time when she crouched among dead bodies. She speaks of thirst and hunger, of death and sickness, and of “men without skin.” She says all the people are trying to leave their bodies behind.
Beloved then focuses on a woman whose face she “wants” because it is hers. The rest of the monologue consists of Beloved’s description of her attempt to “join” with the woman. She wishes she could bite the “iron circle” from around the woman’s neck and mentions the woman’s “sharp earrings” and “round basket” several times. At the end of the chapter, Beloved is “in the water,” and neither she nor the woman has an iron circle around her neck any longer. She is swallowed by the woman and, suddenly, she is the woman. She sees herself swim away and says, “I am alone.” She then describes emerging from the water and needing to find a place to be. When she opens her eyes, she sees the “face [she] lost.” She says that “Sethe’s is the face that left [her].” Beloved ends her monologue by saying, “now we can join a hot thing.”
Beloved’s words give way to a passage of poetic prose in which the three women’s voices come together and mingle, although not in a typical dialogic style. Beloved says that she and Sethe lost and found one another. She tells Sethe that she came back from the other side for her, that she remembers her, and that she is scared the men without skin will come back. Sethe assures her that they will not. Denver warns Beloved not to love Sethe too much. Beloved says she already loves Sethe too much, and Denver promises to protect her. Beloved begs Sethe never to leave her again and Sethe complies. Beloved laments that Sethe left and hurt her.
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