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Literature Study GuidesBelovedPart 2 Chapter 20 Summary

Beloved | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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Part 2: Chapter 20

Kristen Over, Associate Professor at Northeastern Illinois University, provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Part 2: Chapter 20 of Toni Morrison's book Beloved.

Beloved | Part 2, Chapter 20 | Summary



Sethe believes that her baby daughter has come back to her in the flesh. In her mind, she explains to Beloved why she killed her. The explanation includes relating events at Sweet Home that led to her escape and all the events that followed. It began, she recalls, when she told Mrs. Garner about the nephews abusing her. When schoolteacher found out that she told, Sethe was beaten so severely that she bit off part of her tongue.

Sethe remembered taking care of Mrs. Garner when she heard gunshots. She brought her children to the woman waiting in the cornfield to receive them, then went back to look for Halle, though she never saw him again.

After Sethe made her own way to Baby Suggs's, helped by Amy Denver, schoolteacher later tried to reclaim her and her children. But she refused to let her children go back to slavery and intended to kill them and herself. But that plan also went awry; Beloved was the only one who died. After Sethe bought the gravestone for Beloved, she wanted to lie in the grave with the baby, but she knew she couldn't because her other children needed her. Now that Beloved has returned to her, Sethe can finally "sleep like the drowned, have mercy."


This is the first in a series of chapters that gives the reader direct insight into the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of the three women living in 124. Each is written in a literary style called stream of consciousness, in which the character expresses a continuous, seemingly random flow of thoughts.

Chapter 20 gives readers insights into Sethe's history and feelings. She begins by expressing her belief that Beloved is her own dead child returned to her from the grave, and it reveals her growing obsession with this daughter. She doesn't have to explain anything to Beloved, but in her mind she rehearses what she would say. The reader might think that Sethe went crazy when schoolteacher appeared, out of fear that her children will have to return to Sweet Home. But Sethe makes it clear that she had a plan to keep them safe. It was a plan conceived out of the love only a mother knows to keep them safe, even if they were dead, from an even worse fate.

Sethe makes an ironic revelation: "if I hadn't killed her she would have died and that is something I could not bear to happen to her." The reader can see that Sethe is convinced that her daughter has come back to her "in the flesh." Beloved is standing right in front of her. She vows to love her like no other mother has ever loved a child, an obsession that begins to overwhelm her.

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