Summary: Chapter 7
He would keep the rest [of what he had to tell Sethe] where it belonged: in that tobacco tin buried in his chest where a red heart used to be.
Beloved’s presence—especially what is described as her “shining” sexuality—disturbs Paul D. He anxiously interrogates her about her past until Sethe, sensing Beloved’s agitation, interrupts him. Afterward, Sethe chastises Paul D for pressing Beloved so cruelly, and during their argument Halle’s name comes up. Paul D then tells Sethe the reason Halle didn’t meet her during the escape as planned. Halle was in the loft of the barn when Sethe was violated by schoolteacher’s nephews. Afterward, he found himself unable to leave. When Sethe realizes that Halle saw everything that schoolteacher and his nephews did to her, she is initially furious that he did not intervene. But Paul D explains that Halle was shattered by the experience: afterward, Paul D saw him sitting blankly by a butter churn; he had smeared butter all over his face. At the time, Paul D was ignorant of the events in the barn and thus wondered what had caused this breakdown in Halle. However, Paul D could not physically form the words to ask him because he had an iron bit in his mouth. Outside, Sethe and Paul D discuss the shame of wearing the bit. Paul D says that the worst part of the punishment was seeing the farm’s rooster, named Mister, watch him and walk around more freely than himself. It is thoughts like these that Paul D keeps locked within the rusted “tobacco tin” of his heart.
Summary: Chapter 8
While Sethe and Paul D sit on the porch, Beloved and Denver dance together inside the house. Denver asks Beloved how she got her name, and Beloved replies that it is her name “in the dark.” Denver asks what it is like in the dark place from which Beloved came. Beloved says that when she was there she was small and curled up. It was hot and crowded with lots of other people, and some of them were dead. She describes a bridge and water. When Denver asks her why she came back, Beloved mentions Sethe, saying she wanted to see “her face.” Denver feels slighted that she was not the main reason for Beloved’s return.
Denver asks Beloved not to tell Sethe who she really is. Beloved becomes angry and tells Denver never to tell her what to do. She reminds Denver that she doesn’t need her—Sethe is the one she needs. The two girls sit in uncomfortable silence until Beloved asks Denver to narrate the story of Denver’s birth. As Denver watches the way Beloved eagerly drinks in every detail, she is able to envision the story she narrates.
Denver tells Beloved about how Amy Denver found Sethe and discerned the image of a chokecherry tree in Sethe’s bleeding scars. After Amy cleaned the wounds, the two women spent the night in a lean-to shelter. The next morning, Amy helped Sethe limp down to the river, where they found a leaky boat with one oar. It was upon stepping into the boat that Sethe’s water broke. It seemed as though the newborn Denver might die, but Amy finally coaxed a whimper out of her. Later that evening, Amy left Sethe waiting by the riverbank for a chance to cross the river to Ohio.
Analysis: Chapters 7–8
Beloved incites the narration of history time and again. Often, she directly questions Denver and Sethe about the past, but Beloved also has an indirect influence, which the scene between Sethe and Paul D illustrates. It is the couple’s argument over Beloved that sparks Paul D’s revelation of Halle’s fate to Sethe.
Once Beloved has kindled the storytelling process, Sethe and Paul D devote their own energies to it, despite the pain that is involved. For as Amy says to Sethe in Chapter 3 about Sethe’s throbbing feet, “Anything dead coming back to life hurts.” On a certain level, both Sethe and Paul D realize that it is worth the pain to bring their memories back to life, back into the open. In releasing these memories, they themselves can come back to life and live again without fear. Aware of the pain it will cause, Sethe and Paul D nevertheless proceed to fill in the gaps in each other’s knowledge of the past. For both characters, forming a coherent identity involves weaving together the fragments of their past into a coherent narrative.
These chapters focus on Paul D’s identity in particular. Mr. Garner always bragged that he raised his slaves as “men,” and Paul D had always considered himself a man in his own right. But schoolteacher proved to him that his claim to manhood was not inherent and that it depended upon the will of another. After wearing a bit as an animal would, a portion of Paul D’s identity was shattered. His relationship with Sethe prompts him to try to find a way to reclaim his humanity, and the process of narration that Beloved inspires proves integral to his attempt.
Beloved also counters the more general forces of silence that recur throughout the novel. According to Sethe and Baby Suggs, one should withhold all talk of the past. Once, when Sethe did speak, she almost lost her life: her report to Mrs. Garner about the theft of her milk caused her to be whipped nearly to death. Because speech is one of the most important differences between humans and animals, white slave owners did everything they could to control the speech of their slaves. Those who rebelled or did not speak with a suitably deferential tone often had their tongues cut out. Thus, the mere act of speaking about a dehumanizing experience is a way of reclaiming one’s humanity.
For slaves and former slaves, such speech often takes the form of song or metaphor. For a long while, Paul D was unable to talk about his degrading experiences, but he could describe them through songs. Sethe uses similar circumlocution when she refers to the violation and beating she suffered using the images of stolen milk and of a chokecherry tree. Stylized expression is historically a means of secretly venting anger or criticizing. Thus, for the oppressed, including slaves, artistic expression becomes a matter of survival, because explicit language could be punished with death.
Paradoxically, although Beloved incites the narratives of others, she remains quite cryptic about her own past. What we do hear of her previous experiences suggests that she may be above all a symbolic figure who represents the history of a people. In her interchange with Denver, Beloved’s memories of the “dark place” from which she came can be taken as those of a deceased infant girl, but they also greatly resemble an African woman’s memories of the “Middle Passage,” the crossing of the Atlantic on the way to America. Beloved recalls dark, hot, cramped quarters, a pile of dead bodies, and water. Additionally, the “bridge” she talks about could be the bridge of a ship. These uncanny images will resurface in Beloved’s monologue in Chapter 22.
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