Summary and Analysis
Part 1: Chapter 5
As Paul D, Sethe, and Denver return from the carnival late Thursday afternoon, they encounter a lone young woman, wet and wheezing, who has walked up from the stream and is napping on the stump outside the house. To Paul's questions, the girl gives hazy responses, introducing herself as Beloved and denying that she has a last name. Concerned for her tenuous state of health, Sethe and Paul D take her in; Denver quivers with anticipation. The girl sleeps for four days in Baby Suggs's former room. Paul D fears that Beloved may suffer from cholera. Denver takes care of her, hiding Beloved's urine-soaked sheets and lying about the fact that Beloved appears weak on her feet even though she is able to lift a rocking chair with one hand.
Morrison liberally salts this chapter with details that indicate that the visitor is the embodiment of Sethe's daughter Beloved, who would be about 20 years old if she had lived. Tendrils of superstition cling to the scene, such as the following:
- Beloved emerges from the water, like a child born from a watery sac.
- Her wobbly head is reminiscent of a newborn unable to support the weight of its oversized cranium. In this book, it is also emblematic of a head partially severed from the neck.
- Beloved's unlined hands and baby-soft complexion are as fragile as the skin of an infant.
- Her extreme thirst suggests a baby eager to nurse.
- The disappearance of the dog, Here Boy, is a gothic touch springing from traditions that claim animals can sense the presence of evil.
- Sethe's loss of bladder control is an image of the emptying of the chorion and amnion preceding birth.
It seems strange that Sethe, who often thinks about her dead daughter and has lived with her daughter's ghost for years, fails to connect the girl's name with her own Beloved. However, perhaps the idea that her daughter might return to her as something other than a spirit is something that Sethe cannot conceive. When Denver displays uncharacteristic devotion toward Beloved, Sethe assumes that Denver's compassion arises from a need for female companionship near her own age. Denver, perceiving that Beloved is the "something" that she has been waiting for, demonstrates her understanding of who Beloved is by announcing that Here Boy is not going to return.
The events in this chapter establish the foundation for the four-way emotional conflict that will arise as the novel continues. These events will ultimately lead to Denver's emancipation from an overprotective mother and Sethe's confrontation with her secret past. Meanwhile, cautiously silent Paul D will navigate the troubled waters between mother and daughters and realize that the expansion of a triad (Sethe, Denver, and Paul D) into a foursome (Sethe, Beloved, Denver, and Paul D) greatly weakens his position as the evolving male head of the household.
looking for something to beat a life of tobacco and sorghum Paul D assumes that the stranger is a farm girl, fleeing the labor-intensive chores associated with the production of tobacco and molasses.
talking sheets members of the Ku Klux Klan, who hide their identity beneath white sheets.
croup a condition resulting from any obstruction of the larynx, esp. an inflammation of the respiratory passages, with labored breathing, hoarse coughing, and laryngeal spasm.
He won't be back Here Boy leaves because dogs are believed to sense the presence of a ghost.