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Beloved | Part 3, Chapter 26 | Summary

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Summary

At 124 the three women are starving. Sethe and Beloved don't care. It began when Sethe saw the scar on Beloved's neck. After that she began devoting herself to Beloved, ignoring Denver altogether, and going to work later and later each day until she was fired. At first they play games. Sethe will do anything for Beloved; she buys her ribbons and fancy food with her last few dollars. Nothing is too good for her. But in time Beloved begins complaining, accusing Sethe of having left her behind. Sethe pleads for forgiveness, but Beloved becomes wild. Denver now feels she has to protect her mother from Beloved. Denver decides to go out into the neighborhood to ask for help, so she walks to Lady Jones's house. She asks her for work, but Lady Jones tells her, if they need help, all she needs to do is ask. Denver declines and leaves, but a couple days later baskets of food begin to appear on the stump in the backyard. Denver leaves 124 to thank each person who has helped, and her life broadens.

Denver tries to keep the household together, but, no matter what she does, life at home continues to deteriorate. Denver realizes that Sethe is trying to make up for what she did to Beloved, and Beloved is making her pay for it. Yet she still fears Beloved will leave.

Denver sees Nelson Lord leaving his grandmother's house. He tells her to take care of herself. The words open her mind, and she decides to ask the Bodwins for a job. Denver tells the Bodwins' maid, Janey Wagon, all about the trouble at 124, and Janey offers to talk the Bodwins into taking on Denver as a night servant.

Janey spreads the news to the other black women of Cincinnati, who band together and march toward 124. One of them is Ella, who has also killed a child by refusing to nurse it. Meanwhile, Mr. Bodwin is riding to 124 to pick up Denver for work. When she hears the women outside, Sethe stops breaking up ice, putting the ice pick in her pocket. She and Beloved, who is naked, go to the doorway. The women see the "devil child" who has taken the form of a pregnant woman with a dazzling smile.

Sethe lowers her eyes to look at the praying women and sees Mr. Bodwin in a wide-brimmed hat. Thinking he is schoolteacher, she wildly runs toward him to attack him with the ice pick. Beloved sees Sethe running away from her and toward the women, leaving her alone. The others join Sethe and form "a hill of black people, falling."

Analysis

The theme of past versus present dominates this chapter. Sethe, wallowing in guilt for killing her baby, cannot do enough to make up for her sin as she coddles Beloved, spends lavishly on her, favors her above Denver and herself. Denver, starving and seeing the destruction wreaked by the past's influence on the present, forces herself to seek help outside—a place she has seldom been because, again, the past isolated her from the community. Now, finally, the present is catching up as Denver goes out into the world and draws in the women of the community to help. But the past remains potent: Sethe mistakes Mr. Bodwin for the feared and hated schoolteacher and charges him with an ice pick.

The influence of the past can also be seen in the symbolism of the figurine Denver sees in Mr. Bodwin's kitchen. A caricature of a black boy with the words At Yo Service written on its pedestal, the figurine symbolizes the degradation of black people and their lives of unquestioning service as slaves. Iironically, it sits in an abolitionist's kitchen.

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