Adventures in Digital History

Thoughts on Beloved, Part #2

As we get closer to finishing Toni Morrison’s Beloved, I find myself more and more disturbed by the Sethe, Denver, and Beloved. Paul D is also a character of interest in this part, and we’ll get to him a little later. Being disturbed is not a bad thing, because it makes the book interesting. I’m more disturbed in the sense that each of these characters are obsessed with one another in some way, and not in a healthy way.

To start off, we learned more about Sethe and the tragedy surrounding Beloved’s death. “Tragedy” is probably not the right word, simply because Sethe went off the deep end and slit her infant daughter’s neck with a hacksaw. What a horrible, grueling, and painful way to go. Stamp Paid lets this information slip to Paul D, and he’s horrified that Sethe was capable of that. But we also learned that Sethe didn’t just try to kill Beloved. She tried to kill all of her children. No wonder her two sons ran away! They’re most likely traumatized for life! It also explains some of Denver’s strange behaviors, mainly because she was raised by Sethe in the aftermath of her horrible deeds. However, Sethe doesn’t find issue with this. She equates death with safety, thinking her children would be grateful she killed them rather than be sold into slavery. Slavery is traumatizing, but murder is equally so. Especially if it’s you mother trying to kill you. But now Beloved is back, and Sethe figures all’s right with the world. Unfortunately for Sethe, Denver and Beloved perceive these events differently.

Second, we have Denver. Denver is obsessed with Beloved, because she wants Beloved all to herself. She believes she shares a special connection with Beloved because she consumed Beloved’s blood after Sethe killed her. Beloved appears to spend time with Denver, but is nowhere near as devoted to her as Denver is. Denver thinks that she can keep Beloved safe by keeping her away from Sethe. In Denver’s mind, her father, Halle, will return and everything will be great. Denver wants to leave Sethe behind, keeping Beloved and Halle for herself so Sethe does not try and kill them as well. This mentality leads the reader to conclude that Denver is just as traumatized as her brothers, especially since she refuses to leave the house unless necessary.

Thirdly, we have Beloved. Beloved herself is a conundrum. On the one hand, you are meant to think she is Sethe’s daughter come back from the dead. However, Beloved has this tendency to identify as multiple people. She is herself, yet she is “other” as well. She knows a little too much about certain things that happened before Beloved’s birth, let alone her childlike understanding of those events before her death. It is hinted towards the end of the second part of the book that Beloved might even be a girl that had been held captive down by the river. It would certainly make sense, given the water imagery and metaphors that constantly appear around her. However, this also hints at possession. Perhaps Beloved is not really Beloved, and is instead the spirit of the infant that haunted 124, who is presumably Beloved, possessing the poor girl who went missing. Whatever she may be, Beloved love Sethe. Her love for Sethe is obsessive, bordering on manic. Yet, when asked if she forgives Sethe for killing her, Beloved cannot answer. This itself is more than a little foreboding.

Finally, we have Paul D. Paul D has gone through his own traumatic experiences before finding Sethe, only to be pushed away by Beloved. One of the more interesting things about Paul D is his concept of manhood. The Garner’s are described as being “good” slave owners, treating their slaves more like people than animals. Paul D came to see himself as a man, only for that idea to be squashed by Schoolteacher. To Paul D, manhood appears to represent humanity and freedom. If he is a man, then he is human (not a slave), and if he’s human then he’s free. However, Schoolteacher claims that is not true, and this shattering revelation of Paul D’s lot in life haunts him, just as Beloved haunts Sethe.

There was quite a lot to unpack in this part of the book, so I hope I have written out my thoughts in a cohesive manner. Sethe, Denver, Beloved, and Paul D are all complex characters with their own traumatic pasts and issues. This coupled with the disjointed writing style makes interpreting them difficult. I hope to understand more as we finish out the book, because there are so many questions left unanswered at this point.

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