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Beloved | Part 1, Chapter 3 | Summary

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Summary

Denver recalls a time when she left her safe place in the woods, a ring of five boxwood bushes that form a little room. She returns home to find an apparition in a white dress kneeling down with its sleeve around her mother. This vision prompts Denver to recall the story of her birth.

When Sethe was pregnant with Denver, she fled Sweet Home. A white girl in a white dress named Amy Denver found Sethe half dead in the woods. She took her to a lean-to and massaged her swollen feet. Then she helped Sethe deliver her daughter, whom she named Denver, in a boat by the river.

Denver remembers telling her mother about the white dress and then asking about what happened at Sweet Home. Sethe tells Denver only that she can never go back there. Schoolteacher—who, readers learn, was Mr. Garner's brother-in-law and whom Mrs. Garner brought to the plantation after the death of Mr. Garner—used to write about the slaves in his book. This "tore up" Sixo, one of the enslaved men on the plantation. Sethe stops speaking, and Denver reflects that the baby "got plans" for them. Denver is lonely, missing the baby's ghost.

Back in the present day, Sethe smiles, remembering Denver's interpretation of the white dress and wondering what it all means. Perhaps it's okay to feel something, to count on Paul D, she thinks. The last colors she remembers are red baby's blood and a pink gravestone.

Paul D recollects his life on a chain gang and remembers some of the songs he sang then. He can't sing them at 124; they are "too loud, had too much power" for the house. He asks Sethe if he can stay on and look for work, and she agrees. Paul D is worried about Denver's reaction, but Sethe assures him that Denver will always be fine because she has a charmed life.

Analysis

The green trees of the woods are Denver's salvation, where she can leave the chaos of the haunted house behind. When she arrives home, however, this feeling is dashed as she sees another apparition. The vision of the ghost helping her mother reminds Denver of the story of her own miraculous birth. The memory foreshadows the moment when the women of Bluestone Road will band together to help Sethe and Denver rid their house of the ghost. Denver, who has never known slavery, can see that memories help keep some people alive; Sethe can only repress hers.

When Denver asks about what happened at Sweet Home, Sethe abruptly stops; her memories are too painful. In this chapter Sethe uses the term rememory for remembering; the word will recur throughout the novel as characters struggle to keep their memories locked inside. Sethe's deep maternal instincts and her desperation to protect Denver is at the forefront of her effort not to remember. Sethe is determined to keep Denver shielded from the past; this is all that matters to her. The ghost of Sethe's baby is a symbol of rememory. It is so strong that Sethe is "oblivious to the loss of anything at all," even her sons.

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