Summary: Chapter 12
Denver’s attachment to Beloved intensifies. Beloved’s gaze sustains and completes Denver, and Denver fears that she has no self apart from Beloved. Meanwhile, Sethe, ignoring her earlier sense that Beloved is her daughter’s reincarnation, decides that Beloved must have recently escaped from years of captivity. She knows Ella to have endured such an experience: a white man and his son locked her up and raped her repeatedly.
Denver often feels lonely and rejected by Beloved. When she isn’t directly stimulated, Beloved lapses into a dreamy silence, and she never interacts as much with Denver as she does with Sethe. Denver, interested only in the present, does not care for the stories about the past that Sethe narrates in response to Beloved’s questions. Denver also knows about Beloved’s attentions to Paul D because she has noted her nighttime trips to the cold house where he sleeps.
One day, Denver and Beloved go into the cold house to get cider. Suddenly, Beloved disappears into the darkness. Denver is certain that Beloved has gone forever and begins to cry, only to find Beloved in front of her, smiling. Beloved reassures Denver by telling her, “This the place I am.” Beloved then drops to the ground where she curls up and moans softly. Her eyes focus on a spot in the darkness where she claims to see “her face.” When Denver asks her to clarify, she says mysteriously, “It’s me.”
Summary: Chapter 13
Thinking about schoolteacher’s arrival at Sweet Home makes Paul D again question the legitimacy of his manhood in the way that schoolteacher used to force him to do. He likens Beloved’s current manipulation of him to schoolteacher’s abuse and decides that the only way he can hope to stop Beloved is to tell Sethe what has been happening. He meets her outside the restaurant where she works, but he cannot muster up enough courage to confess that he is “not a man.” He surprises himself—and Sethe, who thinks he is about to tell her he is leaving—by asking her to have a baby with him. It begins to snow, and they laugh and flirt on the walk home. Beloved, who has been waiting for Sethe, meets them outside and absorbs Sethe’s attention, leaving Paul D feeling cold and resentful. Sethe, however, breaks Beloved’s spell by insisting that Paul D resume sleeping with her at night. Sethe decides she cannot have a baby with Paul D because “[u]nless carefree, motherlove was a killer.” She begins to question Paul D’s intentions: perhaps, she thinks, he is jealous of Denver and Beloved and wants his own family. Ultimately, Sethe recognizes that she is just trying to justify her decision to not have any more children.
Summary: Chapter 14
After Sethe takes Paul D upstairs, Beloved begs Denver to drive Paul D away, but Denver replies that Sethe will be angry at Beloved if Paul D leaves. One of Beloved’s teeth falls out, and she wonders fearfully if her entire body will begin to fall apart. She finds it difficult to feel complete and unified when Sethe is away. Beloved begins to cry, and Denver takes her in her arms, while the snow gathering outside 124 piles higher and higher.
Analysis: Chapters 12–14
The language used to describe Denver’s relationship with Beloved is loaded with the vocabulary of need and desire. Denver feels that Beloved’s interested gaze sends her to a place “beyond appetite” and that looking at Beloved is “food enough.” Beloved provides emotional sustenance for Denver in a way that Sethe never could, because Denver is simultaneously responsible for and dependent upon Beloved. Beloved’s constant neediness is most like an infant’s desire for its mother; when Sethe is not there for Beloved, Denver becomes a sort of surrogate mother figure. She is forced out of her role as a daughter and into a more adult role that involves working in the interest of another’s welfare.
Indeed, both need and desire recur in Beloved as forces active in the shaping of human relationships. Indulging desire seems to affirm life. At the same time, repressing desire is self-destructive. Thus, Paul D’s attempts to reject his desire for Beloved are ultimately detrimental and inhibit him from constructing a complete identity.
When Beloved curls up into a ball and rocks herself back and forth in the shed, her behavior recalls her description of life in the “other place”—whether womb, grave, or slave ship—where she lay curled up and hot. In this scene, Beloved points to a spot in the darkness where she sees “her face.” “Me. It’s me,” she tells Denver. Beloved may be conflating her identity with Sethe’s, possibly because her premature death prevented her from forming an independent sense of self. She could also be pointing to the spot in the shed where she was murdered. Alternatively, if we understand much of Beloved’s speech as voicing the thoughts of the slaves during the Middle Passage, her words here may refer not to her own situation but to that of the slaves. Perhaps they refer specifically to the circumstances of her grandmother, Sethe’s mother. Thus, when Beloved identifies “her” face with “me,” she may be speaking in the voice of Sethe’s mother.
Paul D’s proposal that he get Sethe pregnant reveals his desire to redirect his attention from the past to the future. He has been worrying about his manhood and has been tormented by the curse Beloved seems to have cast over him. When he surprises himself by telling Sethe that he wants her to have a baby with him, he decides retroactively that a baby would be the perfect “solution: a way to hold on to her, document his manhood and break out of the girl’s spell—all in one.” But Sethe feels she has already paid too high a price for motherhood. She has already lost three children and does not want to have another, only to see it, too, run away or be taken from her. Sethe further demonstrates her reluctance to engage with her past when she ignores her earlier sense that Beloved is her daughter. Sethe does not feel ready to face up to the horrible fact that she killed her own daughter, a mother’s worst crime. Willfully rejecting her own instinct, Sethe convinces herself that Beloved must be an ordinary girl who has escaped from some sort of captivity.
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