Hot, shy, now Denver was lonely. All that leaving: first her brothers, then her grandmother—serious losses since there were no children willing to circle her in a game or hang by their knees from her porch railing. None of that had mattered as long as her mother did not look away as she was doing now, making Denver long, downright
long, for a sign of spite from the baby ghost.
Here, the narrator encapsulates Denver’s young life, providing readers with a glimpse of how her circumstances have affected her emotional wellbeing. She exists in isolation, interacting with no one but her mother and the ghost of her dead sister in the house at 124. Denver’s stability is threatened by the arrival of Paul D, who draws Sethe into a different past than the one mother and daughter share. Presciently, Denver hopes the baby ghost will do what she herself cannot: Drive Paul D away.
In that bower, closed off from the hurt of the hurt world, Denver’s imagination produced its own hunger and its own food, which she badly needed because the loneliness wore her out.
The narrator explains that when Denver retreats to her special place in the woods, she obtains the nourishment she needs to survive the isolation of life in 124. Shunned by her peers and deserted by her brothers, Denver has no friends or companionship. The fact that the only place Denver finds solace is a location far away from all people underscores both her disconnection with the community and the failure of her home to nurture her.
“Nothing bad can happen to her. Look at it. Everybody I know dead or gone or dead and gone. No her. Not my Denver. Even when I was carrying her, when it got clear that I wasn’t going to make it either—she pulled a whitegirl out of the hill.”
Sethe explains to Paul D her belief that Denver is a “charmed child.” Sethe draws upon Denver’s birth story, crediting the unborn baby with delivering Amy Denver to help Sethe. Readers understand that Denver’s life since she was only a month old, however, does not support Sethe’s assessment. While Denver physically exists, she is dead spiritually and emotionally, needing awakening in order to have any meaning in her life.
Four days she slept, waking and sitting up only for water. Denver tended her, watched her sound sleep, listened to her labored breathing and, out of love and a breakneck possessiveness that charged her, hid like a personal blemish Beloved’s incontinence.
The narrator describes how, after Beloved’s arrival, Denver spends all of her time and energy nursing Beloved back to health. The intensity of her care indicates that Denver identifies something more in Beloved than just a stranger who needs help. Beloved’s arrival also marks the beginning of Denver keeping secrets from Sethe—here that Beloved is wetting the bed. Even lying in a stupor, Beloved has the power to create a wedge between Denver and Sethe.
Now, watching Beloved’s alert and hungry face, how she took in every word, asking questions about the color of things and their size, her downright craving to know, Denver began to see what she was saying and not just heard it: there is this nineteen-year-old slave girl—a year older than herself—walking through the dark woods to get to her children who are far away. She is tired, scared maybe, and maybe even lost. Most of all she is by herself and inside her is another baby she has to think about.
The narrator describes Denver’s inner reaction as Sethe tells her and Beloved about how she escaped to Ohio, a familiar story to Denver. As Denver observes Beloved taking in the story, however, she starts to see the world from someone else’s point of view. For the first time, Denver realizes that Sethe plays the main role in the story, not Denver. She comes to understand the difficulties Sethe underwent but that she persevered because she was a mother.
So she had almost a whole year of the company of her peers and along with them learned to spell and count. She was seven, and those two hours in the afternoon were precious to her.
Denver recalls the only year of her life that she mixed in with members of her community, when she was seven and attended the school for black children at a neighbor’s home until another boy taunted her with Sethe’s past. Denver’s love of school reveals she is smart, driven, and enjoys the company of other children. Readers learn later in this scene, however, that she is also haunted by her mother’s actions: As soon as she learns about her mother’s past, Denver retreats back into 124, for good, until Beloved arrives.
Whatever her power and however she used it, Beloved was
hers. Denver was alarmed by the harm she thought Beloved planned for Sethe but helpless to thwart it, so unrestricted was her need to love another. The display she witnessed at the Clearing shamed her because the choice between Sethe and Beloved was without conflict.
Here, the narrator describes how Denver questions her own actions and motivations after realizing that Beloved choked Sethe and she did nothing to stop it. Now that Paul D has arrived and taken her mother’s attention away from her, she is so desperate for affection that she will not risk chasing Beloved away. Instead, she will side with Beloved because she wants someone special of her own.
Denver is a strategist now and has to keep Beloved by her side from the minute Sethe leaves for work until the hour of her return when Beloved begins to hover at the window, then work her way out the door, down the steps and near the road.
The narrator describes the effect Beloved’s long-term presence has on Denver. The longer Beloved stays in the house, the more Denver becomes enamored of her. At the same time, however, Beloved wants only Sethe. This dynamic creates a triangle in which Denver does whatever she can to keep Beloved engaged with her instead of Sethe. Denver has come to depend upon Beloved in a manner that is both unhealthy and unwise.
I love my mother but I know she killed one of her own daughters, and tender as she is with me, I’m scared of her because of it.
In Denver’s monologue, she expresses the cause of her estrangement from Sethe: Denver doesn’t trust her. She acknowledges that while her mother treats her with tenderness, the violence that Sethe inflicted on another child in the past is paramount. Denver’s feelings highlight the dangers of refusing to deal openly with painful events. Not only has the family been haunted by the baby’s ghost all these years, Denver’s relationship with her mother has been fundamentally damaged.
Her father’s daughter after all, Denver decided to do the necessary. Decided to stop relying on kindness to leave something on the stump. She would hire herself out somewhere,...
The narrator provides insight into the moment Denver undergoes her most fundamental change: She grabs hold of her future and takes steps to create a new life for herself. In making this decision, Denver travels even further from the confines of 124 than when she left to ask for help from Lady Jane. In seeking and acquiring work, she is fully acknowledging and claiming her rightful place in the world of adults.
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