Summary and Analysis
Part 1: Chapter 12
Denver feels content with the intimacy that she shares with her phantom sister. Beloved, however, does not share Denver's contentment and continues to press for some unnamed fulfillment. Sethe questions Beloved about her mother, her relationship with whites, and her clothes, but Beloved provides insubstantial replies: She remembers only the bridge and one white man. Sethe concludes that Beloved must have been locked away by a lecherous white male who abused her.
Denver remains convinced that Beloved is the ghost that once haunted 124, and she conceals from Sethe the fact that Beloved is now Paul D's lover. Denver's daily discourse with Beloved is limited to discussions of their chores, neighbors, and family. By winter, Denver is consumed with the task of holding Beloved's interest. One day, the two girls enter the shed for cider, and the door bangs shut. In the dark, Denver weeps because she fears that Beloved has returned to the other side, leaving Denver with "no self."
Like a spoiled, manipulative toddler, Beloved reappears and smiles at Denver's clutch on her hem. Suddenly, Beloved points, but Denver sees nothing. Beloved curls up, closes her eyes, and rocks. Denver, failing to understand, asks if Beloved is alright. Beloved directs her gaze to the darkness, telling Denver that she will find Beloved's face there. Denver sees nothing.
The mystery of Beloved's true nature deepens in this chapter as Sethe and Denver unsuccessfully attempt to determine her origins. Beloved offers only vague responses to questions about her past, stating that she remembers a white man, a bridge, and being taken away from her mother. Such ambiguous information allows Sethe and Denver to project their own perceptions of Beloved's identity onto her. While Sethe believes she is an abused young woman, Denver is certain that Beloved is the reincarnation of her dead sister's ghost. Although Beloved's sudden disappearance and reappearance in the cold house seems to substantiate Denver's belief that Beloved is a supernatural being, Beloved's statements and behavior indicate that perhaps she is something more than just the ghost of one dead child.
The scene between Denver and Beloved in the cold house is essential to understanding the depth of Beloved's character and her influence on the other characters in the novel. First, Morrison has established Denver's fascination with Beloved, showing how Denver has altered her daily routines and even her personality to keep Beloved near her. Part of Denver's strategy in this chapter involves asking Beloved to help her carry a cider jug from the cold house. In the cold house, however, Beloved momentarily disappears and Denver panics, distressed over the loss of the one thing that has given her life meaning.
Notice the setting Morrison uses for this scene and her description of Denver's panic. First, even though it is noon — the brightest part of the day — the interior of the cold house is almost completely dark. The few bits of sunlight that slip through the cracks in the roof and walls are swallowed "like minnows" in the darkness. When Beloved disappears, Denver becomes disoriented and distraught. Morrison describes Denver's reaction as if Denver is drowning: "She feels like an ice cake torn away from the solid surface of the stream, floating on darkness, thick and crashing against the edges of things around it. Breakable meltable and cold." Denver has difficulty breathing through her tears and cannot see anything in the darkness. Finally, she decides to "let the dark swallow her like the minnows of light above." Just as she has given up hope of life, Beloved reappears, smiling at Denver's despair.
With Beloved's reappearance, the description of the cold house subtly changes. The "minnows of light" are now described as "the cracklights above" and "the sunlit cracks." Still smiling, Beloved seems to be trying to tell Denver something about herself. She directs Denver's attention to the cracks of light and then tells her, "I'm like this," as she curls her body up, rocking and moaning. Finally, she points into the darkness at a face Denver cannot see, saying, "Me. It's me." Denver doesn't understand what Beloved is trying to tell her, and without close attention to Morrison's hints in the setting, the reader will not understand Beloved's meaning either.
In this scene, Morrison reveals that Beloved represents more than Sethe's dead child. She also represents the slaves who were brought over in the dark holds of ships; slaves who were faceless and nameless and who disappeared from history soundlessly, just as Beloved disappeared in the darkness of the cold house. Denver's experience of "drowning" simulates the countless drownings of slaves in the Atlantic, and Beloved's depiction of herself rocking and moaning demonstrates her experience in the hold of a ship, huddled in the darkness with only a few cracks of light above. Morrison dedicates this book to "sixty million and more" — the estimated number of blacks who died in slavery. Beloved is their voice and their experience. Consequently, in this scene, Morrison shows us that Beloved is a multifaceted character: She is the ghost of a child, the ghost of the nameless slaves, the ghost of a terrible but inescapable past. Sethe and Denver will have to learn to overcome Beloved's power — the power of the past — before they can create a life for themselves in the future.
moss rose a fleshy annual plant of the purslane family, usually with yellow, pink, or purple flowers.
cracklights glimmers of sun through the cracks.