HomeLiterature Study GuidesBelovedPart 1 Chapter 9 Summary

Beloved | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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Beloved | Part 1, Chapter 9 | Summary

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Summary

Sethe decides it is time to take Baby Suggs's advice and "to lay it all down" and find peace. She reminisces about how her mother-in-law made everyone welcome at 124 and how she used to call people to the Clearing to tell them to love their own flesh. Sethe now longs for a sign from Baby Suggs, telling her what she should do about Paul D, Denver, and Beloved. In search of reassurance from her mother-in-law, Sethe calls Denver and Beloved and they go to the Clearing. As they walk, Sethe recalls how she crossed the river and came to Baby Suggs. She believes that Baby Suggs's collapse started the day she and Denver arrived at 124 Bluestone Road. She remembers when Stamp Paid ferried her and Denver across the Ohio River to freedom and how Ella picked her up and took her to Baby Suggs's place, where Baby Suggs washed her and cared for the baby. Sethe remembers how it felt to "wake up at dawn and decide what to do with the day."

Upon reaching the Clearing, Sethe sits on Baby Suggs's rock, and she feels her fingers soothing the back of her neck. She thinks about the life she and Paul D could have together and believes that "her story was bearable because it was his as well—to tell, to refine, and tell again." Suddenly Sethe feels as if she is being strangled, and Denver and Beloved rush to help her. At first Sethe thinks that Baby Suggs had been strangling her, but Denver denies it, and on reflection she remembers Baby Sugg's familiar soothing hands and knows it was not her. Then Sethe remembers the soothing touches Beloved administered after she and Denver had come to her rescue; they were "exactly like the baby's ghost" who had haunted 124 for so long.

When they return home, Sethe gives her attention to Paul D, determined to "launch her newer, stronger life" with him. But this new dedication upsets Beloved, who misses every hour apart from Sethe. In one moment of anguish, Beloved runs to the stream where Denver finds her and confronts her for choking Sethe in the Clearing. Beloved denies it and warns her again to watch out. When Beloved runs away, Denver sits, thinking about when she learned from Lady Jones. It was a happy time until Nelson Lord asked her if her mother had gone to jail for murder and if she remembered being in jail with her. Denver posed the question to her mother and went deaf rather than hear the answer. The first thing she heard after two years of silence was the ghost of the baby crawling up the stairs. It was then that life at 124 became full of spite. Wondering what she might do if Beloved really tries to kill her mother, Denver decides that she would choose Beloved. Sethe, watching them, realizes that the two look like sisters.

Analysis

This chapter raises questions about what caused Baby Suggs's collapse. She had been a prominent figure in the community, teaching her neighbors that, as human beings, they were worthy of love and happiness. But after Sethe murdered her daughter, she found herself shunned, isolated, and depressed.

Guilt is another prominent theme in this chapter, as the characters and the reader try to untangle the mystery of who tried to strangle Sethe in the Clearing and why. Sethe feels guilty for having caused Baby Suggs to collapse, while Denver knows it was Beloved who was choking her mother. The reader must confront the difficult question of whether Sethe's actions can be justified or excused. The strangling incident is also emblematic of Sethe's memories, which will continue to strangle her until she comes to terms with them.

Baby Suggs's conviction that "there was no bad luck in the world but white people" has a different meaning for Denver. The white person who ruined her life was Nelson Lord, with his question about her mother, because the answer to her question brought the wrath of the baby's ghost. It also isolated Denver from the community, leaving her desperately lonely. When Denver decides to choose Beloved over her mother, her desperation for companionship is taken to a new level. She is afraid of her mother's power over Beloved and will do anything to keep Beloved to herself.

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