Summary and Analysis
Beloved, a combination of adult body and infant perceptions, tries to describe her experience on the other side, where death is a "dead man on my face" and "daylight comes through the cracks." The strongest emotion left to her is love for Sethe, whom she observes "chewing and swallowing." Intent on eluding a return to the other side, the spirit emphasizes, "I am not dead — I am not."
The complements to Chapters 20 and 21 are these two lyric statements by Beloved, whose sensibilities and speech revert to babyhood, thus denying her the logic and expression appropriate to her adult body. As she explains, "how can I say things that are pictures." On "the little hill of dead people," she is troubled by "a hot thing"; the sensory impression Beloved describes represents Sethe's determined spirit, which wills her daughter back to earth. Still impelled by the bond to motherly love, Beloved insists, "I cannot lose her again." The horror of decay and of merging with the elements blends with Beloved's alienation. She mourns, "there is no one to want me----to say me my name." Morrison employs nonstandard spacing and syntax to probe the mind of the dead child: "again again----night day----night day----I am waiting----no iron circle is around my neck." So strong is Beloved's identification with her mother that the child's spirit loses itself in love: "[S]he is the laugh----I am the laugher----I see her face which is mine."
In a surreal depiction of the watery division between earth and the afterlife that fails to separate Sethe from her daughter, the departed spirit remains "in the water under the bridge." Analysts read into this chapter a scene resurrected from the collective unconscious, a murky race memory of the black diaspora — the scattering of Africans by ship to slave ports in the New World. Although Beloved had no knowledge of the fearful passage, her oneness with the dead forces her to experience the tight compression of black bodies in the hold of the slaves' galley.
The ghoulish interrogation between mother and murdered child gets at the truth. "Didn't you come from the other side?" Sethe asks. "Do you forgive me? Will you stay? You safe here now." Beloved questions her about "the men without skin," the white men who tried to take her back to Kentucky. Sethe extends the strongest of benedictions — a smile that assures Beloved of safety, blessing, and acceptance.
Chapter 23, a trio for three female voices, harmonizes the strains of Sethe, Denver, and Beloved, each craving and each finding nourishment in love, security, and banishment of the past. The dialogue shifts to Denver, who warns Beloved not to risk too much by loving too much. Vulnerable since the day Stamp Paid rescued her from a violent death against the shed's plank wall, Denver knows that "she can give you dreams." Like some devouring monster, the Sethe whom Denver calls mother "chews and swallows." The only safety is found in another dream, the fantasy of the deliverer: "Daddy is coming for us. A hot thing."
The trio — Sethe, Beloved, and Denver — merge in the final lines, blessed by milk, smiles, and blood. The benediction, like a voodoo incantation, like a classic admirer's charm, is uttered three times, once for each:
You are mine
You are mine
You are mine.