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Summary

What Does the Ending Mean?

Summary What Does the Ending Mean?

Beloved concludes with a group of women from the local community converging on 124 to ward off the ghost that has been haunting it. After Beloved disappears, Paul D returns to the house intending to make amends. He finds Sethe lying in the bed where Baby Suggs died, distraught by Beloved’s sudden disappearance. Sethe laments, “She was my best thing.” In an attempt to comfort her, however, Paul D insists: “You your best thing, Sethe. You are.” Paul D’s remark is important because it signals a shift from Sethe’s status as a mother to her status as an individual. By saying that Beloved was her “best thing,” Sethe devalues herself and suggests that her only worth comes through her role as a mother. But when Paul D insists that Sethe is her own “best thing,” he is asserting that she has intrinsic value regardless of her role as a mother. Paul D’s words implicitly encourage Sethe to find love and forgiveness for herself. These words also encourage Sethe to cease living in the shadow of a traumatic past and to start living for a better future. As he puts it to Sethe: “We need some kind of tomorrow.”

Although the events of the novel conclude with the scene between Sethe and Paul D, Beloved closes with a short epilogue that describes how the community deliberately forgot about Beloved following her disappearance from 124. The narrator justifies this act of forgetting by repeatedly stating, “This is not a story to pass on.” The theme of forgetting in the epilogue echoes the scene that closed the novel proper. Just as Paul D rejected “yesterday” in favor of “some kind of tomorrow,” here the narrator invites the reader to forget the story they’ve just read and to refuse to pass it on. Both Paul D and the narrator seem to suggest that “disremembering” is necessary for healing. Yet this emphasis on forgetting has an ambiguous meaning at the end of a work of historical fiction that remembers an ugly reality that many Americans would much rather confine to the past. In other words, Beloved asks its readers not to forget but to remember. As such, the intentional forgetting of Beloved that occurs at the end of the book may in fact go against the novel’s overall suggestion that ghosts from the past must be examined closely before they can be banished.