Summary and Analysis
Part 1: Chapters 13-14
Three weeks into his affair with Beloved, Paul D ponders his servitude under Garner, who allowed so much freedom that the male Sweet Home slaves were deluded into thinking themselves men. After schoolteacher took over the management of Sweet Home, the slaves realized that they had nurtured a false sense of security. Paul D's bitter recriminations return him to the scene of Sixo's death, when Sixo displayed his strength by refusing to cry out while his body roasted over flames.
Fears for his lost sense of self impel Paul D to seek Sethe at Sawyer's restaurant. She smiles with "pleasure and surprise" when she sees him and hurries to finish her work. Paul D tries to prepare her for the revelation that Beloved has overpowered and sapped his strong sense of independence. The look of resignation in Sethe's eyes tells Paul D that she expects him to leave her. Inexplicably, he decides not to confess his relations with Beloved, instead proposing that he and Sethe conceive a child.
Paul D's proposal surprises him with its threefold application: A pregnancy would return him to Sethe, salvage his manhood, and break Beloved's hold on him. Sethe cuddles with him on the way home. Snowflakes fall on the couple, and Paul D talks himself into adopting his own suggestion. Joyously, he hoists Sethe on his back and runs toward home.
As usual, Beloved awaits Sethe's return. Holding out a shawl to her mother, Beloved breaks the romantic spell. Concerned for Beloved's health, Sethe instead wraps her in the shawl. Paul D, angry at being displaced in Sethe's affections, scuffs along behind, "icy cold." Seeing Denver, his other adversary, he thinks, "And whose ally you?"
Sethe settles Paul D's quandary by inviting his return to her bed. Paul D realizes that, with Sethe's help, "he could put up with two crazy girls." Sethe, remembering the demands of a mother's love, questions her ability to cope with a fifth child, and she decides that she must decline the offer of another pregnancy. At the same time, Sethe's mind moves a little closer to accepting that Beloved is the child that she has willed to return from the dead.
In the next scene, as Paul D and Sethe return to the upstairs bed, Denver washes dishes while Beloved sucks her forefinger and whimpers, "Make him go away." With finger and thumb she removes a back tooth and fears that her body will self-destruct. At Denver's urging, Beloved cries, knowing that her security slips away as Paul D and Sethe make love.
In Chapter 13, the images of dismemberment that permeate the novel become more prominent and more ominous as Sethe scatters animal bones, skins, heads, and innards outside the restaurant for dogs to eat. Her forces seem equally scattered as she considers the possibilities of Paul D leaving her with another child to raise, Buglar and Howard returning home, and Beloved remaining in her life in place of the infant she killed.
Meanwhile, Paul D contemplates what it means to be a man and compares his sense of powerlessness in 124 with the powerlessness he felt as a slave. In 124, he feels alienated from the intimacy of three women who speak their own code. Sethe even acknowledges to herself that "They were a family somehow and he was not the head of it." When Paul D meets Sethe at her work, he is attempting to regain his sense of manhood and his place in the family by taking control of his situation. If he reveals the secret of his relationship with Beloved, he feels he will break free from Beloved's power over him.
When the opportunity comes to be honest with Sethe, though, he is unable to tell her that he is not man enough to fend off a young woman's advances. Instead he asserts his manhood by declaring that he wants Sethe to have his baby. Getting Sethe pregnant would prove his manhood and would also serve to create his own family. Paul D's attempt to reinstate himself in Sethe's life seems to have worked when she invites him to share her bed. However, despite her affection for Paul D, Sethe is determined to resist his attempts to alter the dynamics of her family.
Sethe ponders how to turn down Paul D's proposal without bruising his already battered ego. With a mother's certainty, she recognizes that her family is complete, that the symbolic breaking of waters she experienced when she first saw Beloved on the stump concluded years of dreaming of her baby girl, who was lopped off just like the felled tree. As though assuring the reader that Sethe controls Paul D's destiny, the chapter closes with his chest rising and falling beneath her hand.
Chapter 14 presents Beloved's response to Sethe's decision to bring Paul D back into the house and into her bed. Beloved, who has manifested enough strength to seduce Paul D, now feels herself losing control of her mother's affections and of her power over Paul D. The easy extraction of her tooth signifies how tenuous her physical presence is and how much she depends upon Sethe's attention for her own survival. As Beloved weeps over images of herself physically falling apart, Sethe and Paul D are joined upstairs in intercourse. This simultaneous union and disunion, coupling and dismembering, pushes the dysfunctional family closer to disaster as the snowy weather packs them into the microcosm of 124 Bluestone Road.
even learn reading Laws forbade owners from teaching their slaves to read.
calves of his youth Paul D, in the absence of available females, found sexual release in intercourse with calves.
fixing me putting a hex or magic spell on; conjuring.
slats The Cincinnati sidewalk is made of wooden planks.