Literature Study GuidesBelovedPart 1 Chapter 12 Summary

Beloved | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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Part 1: Chapter 12

Kristen Over, Associate Professor at Northeastern Illinois University, provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Part 1: Chapter 12 of Toni Morrison's book Beloved.

Beloved | Part 1, Chapter 12 | Summary



Denver wrestles with her relationship with Beloved: she craves her attention and only occasionally gets it, and then unexpectedly. But, when Beloved does bestow her attention on Denver, it is "lovely." She doesn't try for more because she fears pushing Beloved further from her. Sethe, meanwhile, has taken on the task of asking Beloved about her past and what she remembers. Does she have any memories of her mother? Beloved replies that she remembers having been snatched from "a woman who was hers" but otherwise nothing much except the bridge. Sethe tells Denver that she believes Beloved had been locked up by a white man who used her for his sexual needs and that Beloved has wiped her memory clean. Denver doesn't believe the story; she knows that Beloved is the white dress that knelt beside her mother—the real-life presence of the baby's ghost.

One day Denver asks Beloved to help her get the cider jug from the cold room. Once inside the door closes, leaving them in complete darkness. Denver panics when Beloved won't answer her, and she rushes to the door, opens it, and finds that Beloved has disappeared. She doesn't want to go through being abandoned again after having been left behind by her brothers and Baby Suggs. Suddenly Beloved is standing before her, and Denver is elated. She tells Beloved that she feared she had gone back, but Beloved tells her that she doesn't want that place; she is here now. As she talks her eyes suddenly sharpen their focus, and she tells Denver that she sees a face and that it is herself.


Sethe's explanation of what she thinks happened to Beloved again shows the brutality of slavery, of how white men could do anything they wanted to their slaves. Denver doesn't believe her mother's story because she knows the truth: that Beloved is the baby ghost who used to keep Sethe company. Beloved and Denver share common goals and needs: they both crave attention, are jealous of Paul D, and want him to leave. But Beloved needs Sethe, not Denver. And Denver tries to occupy both women's attention, to keep them from connecting with each other and leaving her out.

Beloved has a different relationship with each person in the house. She offers her body to Paul D, awakening his lust. To Denver she is like a sister; they are both companions and rivals. Beloved is a replacement for the daughter Sethe lost. But the roles are mixed up. Sethe should be Paul's lover, and Denver should have a stronger mother-daughter relationship with Sethe.

At the end of the chapter, Beloved reveals more details about the dark place from which she came. Again, this can be read as symbolic of the Middle Passage. She convinces Denver that she does not want to go back there again.

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