Beloved By Toni Morrison Summary and Analysis Part 1: Chapter 8

Summary

Enjoying the sisterly companionship of Beloved, Denver sits on the bed and smiles as Beloved dances. Denver questions Beloved's name and her method of escaping the netherworld to see her mother's face once more. Denver begs Beloved not to leave; Beloved retorts that it's Sethe whom she needs — not her sister. Denver tries to soothe Beloved's outburst by retelling the story of how Amy Denver helped Sethe give birth.


Sethe, instinctively wary of telling too much to a white woman who could easily turn in a runaway slave for a reward, had identified herself to Amy as Lu. Unburdened by race prejudice, Amy set about easing Sethe's pain. She hummed as she performed primitive first aid to Sethe's swollen feet and maimed back. She also fashioned slippers from pieces of Sethe's shawl, which she filled with leaves. By noon, Amy and Sethe had reached the Ohio River and located a boat with one oar.

Water seeping into the boat threatened to engulf Sethe in her birthing labor, but she succeeded in delivery on her fourth push. Amy wrapped the infant in her skirt, and the two women waded ashore. At twilight, Amy left, admonishing Sethe to tell the child how "Miss Amy Denver. Of Boston" brought her into the world. Sethe, relaxing into sleep, murmured the name "Denver."

Analysis

Morrison's characterization of Denver reveals a pensiveness, a longing to cancel an old debt. Isolated physically and emotionally by her mother's secrets, she knows only the oral tradition of her birth and other bits of her life story that she has derived over the years. By identifying with Sethe's flight into the woods, Denver is able to feel the dogs following and dread the white men's "mossy teeth" and their guns. Emulating a nursing mother, she thrives on feeding Beloved's curiosity about the past.

The portrayal of Amy Denver, for whom Sethe's second daughter was named, echoes images of touching and healing that were introduced earlier in the book. Morrison hints at Amy's nature by her name, which derives from the Latin word amor, or love. An ignorant, tactless child, Amy expects Sethe (Lu) to die. Yet, cheerfully humming, she detours from her own flight to gather cobwebs, elevate Sethe's swollen feet, and prattle on about her desire for bright red velvet, which symbolizes luxury.

The contrast between Amy and Sethe reveals much about the social and economic climate of pre-Civil War America. Amy, who croons three verses of an elegant Renaissance lullaby, may have come from an educated mother. Like Sethe, she cannot identify her father and has endured the whims of a callous master. Unlike Sethe, she fixes her hopes on a future filled with material pleasures. Although Amy, child of an indentured white servant, endured her share of torment from Mr. Buddy, she was spared the black woman's use as a brood animal and knows nothing of the demands of motherhood. Sethe, so far removed from materialism that she fashioned a wedding dress from stolen pillow cases, a scorched scarf, and discolored mosquito netting, sets her hopes on her children, who are her treasures. Whereas Amy has the option to refuse to nurse a child, for Sethe, the act of breastfeeding is the focal point of her drive to stay alive, to deliver the "antelope" kicking her womb, and to cross the river to Cincinnati, where Buglar, Howard, and Beloved await.

As though blessed by "four summer stars," emblematic of her four children, Sethe ignores hunger, pain, and fear in her rush to get milk to her baby. An equivalent number of contractions bring Denver safely to life before the foundering boat almost submerges both mother and child.

In benediction, Morrison blesses Sethe's "charmed" daughter (Denver) with a sprinkling of bluefern spores, the "seeds in which the whole generation sleeps confident of a future." This blessing uses the pathetic fallacy — the ascription of human traits or feelings to inanimate nature. It bends nature to the author's purpose, yet, in a leaky boat shaped like a human vulva, it promises no more than momentary safety on the "bloody side of the river."

Glossary

spiderwebs used as a primitive type of coagulant, or clotting agent.

to let my water to urinate.

I been bleeding I have been menstruating.

pike a highway.

in the brace in a vise.

to curse His daddy say "Goddamn."

sunshots sunlight reflected by water.

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