What was unusual (even for a girl who had lived all her life in a house peopled by the living activity of the dead) was that a white dress knelt down next to her mother and had its sleeve around her mother’s waist. And it was the tender embrace of the dress sleeve that made Denver remember the details of her birth—….
The narrator explains when Denver sees a white dress holding on to Sethe, providing the first appearance of Beloved. At this point, Beloved has not made it back from the other side and is still a ghost. Notably, she joins her mother in prayer and holds on to her tenderly. This version of Beloved seems to want to come back to reunite with her mother in a loving relationship, not a punishing one.
“Beloved,” she said, and her voice was so low and rough each one looked at the other two. They heard the voice first—later the name.
Shortly after arriving at 124, Beloved introduces herself, and when asked if she has a last name, she simply repeats “Beloved.” The embodied ghost of the dead baby has chosen to take as her new name the word that is carved on her tombstone instead of the name given to her at birth. This choice emphasizes that the family is stuck in the moment of Beloved’s death, immortalizing the dead baby instead of the one who lived and breathed.
Rainwater hold on to pine needles for dear life and Beloved could not take her eyes off Sethe. Stooping to shake the damper, or snapping sticks for kindlin, Sethe was licked, tasted, eaten by Beloved’s eyes. Like a familiar, she hovered, never leaving the room Sethe was in unless required and told to.
Here, the narrator describes life after Beloved’s arrival at 124. Beloved already has become ensconced in the rhythm of their daily lives, but her entire reason for being centers around Sethe. Morrison uses specific words here to convey ideas about Beloved that will be explored as the novel progresses: Beloved wants to consume Sethe entirely and she has ties to the spirit world.
“She is the one. She is the one I need. You can go but she is the one I have to have.”
Beloved tells Denver, who knows that she is the embodied ghost returned, that Sethe is the reason she returned. Beloved’s words reveals her dual nature. Separated from Sethe as a baby, Beloved craves a mother’s love. At the same time, Beloved wants to punish Sethe for her actions. Both emotions are primitive and simple, showing Beloved lacks the capacity to understand the complexity of her own tragedy.
“I kissed her neck. I didn’t choke it. The circle of iron choked it.”
Beloved expresses her love for Sethe while evoking images of slavery. She refers to the collar placed around slaves as punishment, the same kind Paul D wore. The incident of Sethe choking in the Clearing highlights both sides of Beloved’s character. She is the incarnation of the baby that Sethe killed, who can’t get enough love from her mother, and also the spirit of their slave ancestors. Her dual nature will be seen more fully as her anger at Sethe emerges.
Beloved smiles, “I don’t want that place. This is the place I am.”
In response to Denver’s worry that she left and went back where she came from, Beloved declares her intention to remain at 124 for good. Beloved doesn’t just belong to 124—she
Beloved looked at the tooth and thought, This is it. Next time would be her arm, her hand, a toe. Pieces of her would drop maybe one at a time, maybe all at once.
When one of Beloved’s teeth falls out, she thinks about how her body will one day come apart. The disintegration symbolizes decay, since Beloved is a ghost from the past brought back to life. However, the lost tooth also indicates the tremendous amount of work Beloved, the baby, performed to return to the land of the living in her grown form. Lacking an adult body, Beloved had to fully re-create herself.
She took the best of everything—first. The best chair, the biggest piece, the prettiest plate, the brightest ribbon for her hair, and the more she took, the more Sethe began to talk, explain, describe how much she had suffered, been through, for her children, waving away flies in grape arbors, crawling on her knees to a lean-to.
The narrator describes that despite having Sethe’s undivided attention, Beloved remains unsatisfied. To fill the void left by what she perceives as her mother’s desertion of her, Beloved must have the biggest and best of everything. Sethe, seeming to understand that Beloved is insatiable, attempts to explain why she did what she did, hoping that her explanation and her maternal love will suffice and satiate Beloved’s need.
Standing alone on the porch, Beloved is smiling. But now her hand is empty. Sethe is running away from her, running, and she feels the emptiness in the hand Sethe has been holding. Now she is running into the faces of the people out there, joining them and leaving Beloved behind. Alone. Again.
Here, the narrator describes a scene when Beloved thinks that Sethe is leaving her to join her former community. The idea of being left behind by Sethe breaks Beloved. Before this moment, Beloved thrived from having Sethe all to herself. Her body rounded, perhaps from real-life pregnancy, perhaps from finally consuming Sethe, her desire since she first arrived at 124. These scene ushers Beloved out of her family’s life for good.
It took longer for those who had spoken to her, lived with her, fallen in love with her, to forget, until they realized they couldn’t remember or repeat a single thing she said, and began to believe that, other than what they themselves were thinking, she hadn’t said anything at all. So, in the end, they forgot her too.
Here, the narrator explains how the family reacts to the memory and loss of Beloved after her departure. Beloved is now a ghost once again, but this time, the kind of ghost relegated to memory, then distant memory, and finally obscurity. Without a family to haunt, Beloved disappears for good.
Take a Study Break
Every Shakespeare Play Summed Up in a Quote from The Office
Every Book on Your English Syllabus, Summed Up in Marvel Quotes
A Roundup of the Funniest Great Gatsby Memes You'll Ever See
QUIZ: How Many of These Literary Jeopardy! Questions Can You Answer Correctly?
7 "Crazy" Women in Literature Who Were Actually Being Totally Reasonable
Honest Names for All the Books on Your English Syllabus
QUIZ: Are You a Hero, a Villain, or an Anti-Hero?