“I got a tree on my back and a haint in my house, and nothing in between but the daughter I am holding in my arms. No more running—from nothing, I will never run from another thing on this earth. I took one journey and I paid for the ticket, but let me tell you something, Paul D Garner; it cost too much!”
Sethe responds to Paul D’s suggestion that she leave 124 because of the baby ghost. Sethe, however, associates running away with loss. Her escape from Sweet Home separated her from her husband and triggered the events that led her to kill her daughter and attempt to kill her boys, which also contributed to them leaving home. Instead, Sethe will stay right where she is and live with the ghost rather than risk more loss.
The one set of plans she had made—getting away from Sweet Home—went awry so completely she never dared life by making more.
The narrator sheds light on Sethe’s thoughts as she reflects on the only plans she ever made: escaping from Sweet Home. Though she got herself and her children to Ohio, she never saw Halle again and something happened—at this point, the reader does not know—to cause her baby’s death. Sethe’s framing of her past provides insight into her character—instead of focusing on her successes, Sethe sees her life through her failures.
Sethe lay in bed under, around, over, among but especially with them all. The little girl dribbled clear spit into her face, and Sethe’s laugh of delight was so loud the crawling-already? baby blinked. Buglar and Howard played with her ugly feet, after daring each other to be the first to touch them. She kept kissing them. She kissed the back of their necks, the tops of their heads and the centers of their palms, and it was the boys who decided enough was enough when she lifted their shirts to kiss their tight rough bellies.
The narrator describes the reunion between Sethe and her children at 124 and reflects one of the rare instances of pure joy that Sethe—or any other character—experiences in
It was only a tiny disturbance anyway–not strong enough to divert her from the ambition welling in her now: she wanted Paul D. Now matter what he told her and knew, she wanted him in her life. More than commemorating Halle, this what she had come to the Clearing to figure out, and now it
The narrator describes the scene in which Sethe goes to the Clearing to think about her burgeoning relationship with Paul D. Since the day she killed her baby, Sethe has lived in almost complete isolation, but with Paul D’s arrival, Sethe opens her heart. At the Clearing, which is a place of spiritual significance to her family since Baby Suggs preached there, she makes to decision to commit herself to break from the past and slavery and create a new future with Paul D.
What I had to get through later I got through because of you. Passed right by those boys hanging in the trees. One had Paul A’s shirt on but not his feet or his head. I walked right on by because only me had your milk, and God do what He would, I was going to get it to you. You remember that, don’t you; that I did? That when I got here I had milk enough for all.
Sethe recalls what happened the day of the escape from Sweet Home. These lines encapsulate Sethe’s identity as a mother. She left everything behind, despite signs that the plan had gone awry, because she thought only of getting to her baby and providing mother’s milk. Sethe’s single-minded focus shows the devoted mother she could be if the system of slavery hadn’t taken that ability from her.
Beloved, she my daughter. She mine. See. She come back to me of her own free will and I don’t have to explain a thing. I didn’t have time to explain before because it had to be done quick. Quick. She had to be safe and I put her where she would be.
In Sethe’s monologue, she has just realized that Beloved is her daughter, grown up and come back to life. Sethe believes that Beloved understands her actions, and now they will be free to live as mother and daughter. She doesn’t realize that Beloved’s love is mixed with hate. In this way, Beloved embodies the day of her death, when Sethe’s love for her children led her to inflict hideous acts of violence upon them.
You forgot to smile I loved you You hurt me You came back to me You left me
Here, the voices of Sethe and Beloved blend together, showing the dynamic they share. Sethe focuses on the positive aspects of Beloved’s return: their reunion. Beloved, by contrast, dwells on her pain and loneliness. Sethe would like to build a future together, but Beloved can’t let go of the past.
That her plan was always that they would all be together on the other side.
When Beloved gets angry at Sethe for separating them, Sethe explains her intention was to kill her children and then kill herself, too. For Sethe, death presents a better option for herself and her children than a return to slavery. In death, they would always be together, and just as importantly, they would be safe and protected from the cruelties and human degradations of schoolteacher.
Guiding the mare, slowing down, his black hat wide-brimmed enough to hide his face but not his purpose. He is coming into her yard and he is coming for her best thing. She hears wings. Little hummingbirds stick needle beaks right through her headcloth into her hair and beat their wings. And if she thinks anything, it is no. No no. Nonono. She flies. The ice pick is not in her hand; it is her hand.
The narrator describes the moment Sethe sees Mr. Bodwin advancing on 124 and flashes back to when schoolteacher came to her home. This scene picks up details and language from that earlier scene to show how fully Sethe has returned to the past and reacts to it. Again, Sethe will kill to protect her children from slavery but notably, as later revealed, this time she tries to attack the white man, not her own children.
“You your best thing, Sethe. You are.”
After returning to 124 only to find Sethe disconsolate at the loss of her precious Beloved, Paul D points out that Sethe, too, is precious. Sethe believes that her children are the best part of herself. With three of her four children lost forever, Sethe feels she failed as a mother, but Beloved offered her a chance for redemption. Paul D’s compassionate words provide Sethe with a reason to keep on living.