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SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)
When Baby Suggs died about a month after the murder, Sethe’s sons, fearing her, go away, leaving Sethe and Denver alone in the house. Before long, however, the infant ghost of Beloved, Sethe’s dead daughter, came to live with them and haunt them. The baby ghost stayed until Paul D arrived, some eighteen years later. In the interim, Denver, who had no playmates or siblings at home, thought of the ghost of her dead sister as her best friend. Sethe merely tolerated the ghost, but its presence constantly reminded her of what she had done.
When Paul D showed up at 124 Bluestone, he told Sethe all about his past. After the failed escape from Sweet Home, Paul D was sold to a plantation further south. He attempted to escape from there and was caught and sent to a work prison in Alfred, Georgia. At the prison, he was forced to live in underground darkness, to be chained at all times, to perform oral sex on the prison guards, and to work in a quarry. When a storm flooded the underground cubicles where the prisoners were kept, the entire chain gang dug through the mud and escaped together. They ran until they came upon a camp of sick Cherokee Indians, who helped them. Paul D stayed with them the longest, for he no place to go and no person to take him in. He finally decided to travel north and reached Wilmington, Delaware, where he met a woman weaver who took him in. He stayed with her as her lover for three years and then moved on. During the Civil War, he worked in the death fields, sorting the dead from the wounded. He was then sent to work in a foundry, until the Civil War ended. After the war, he wandered for several years until he decided to find Sethe. When he arrived at 124 Bluestone and chased the baby ghost away, Sethe asked him to stay with her.
Just as Sethe and Paul are beginning to feel hopeful about a future together, a stranger arrives at the house; she says her name is Beloved. She has no memory of a past life and wears a black silk dress. Denver soon realizes that she is the ghost of her dead sister, come back in the flesh. The lonely Denver loves her, enjoys her company, and protects her from Sethe, whom Denver feels will kill again. Unfortunately for Denver, Beloved only cares about Sethe, whom she wants to possess as her own. When she sees Paul D kissing Sethe, Beloved is upset and silently drives a wedge between the two of them. Before long Paul D, not really knowing why, is sleeping in the cold house. Beloved finds him there and tries to seduce him. When he resists, her temptations grow even stronger, until he can refuse no more. Paul D feels extremely guilty about having sex with Beloved, for he knows he cares about Sethe and wants to create a future with her. When he realizes that Beloved has a power over him, he decides he must tell Sethe what is happening and seek her assistance. In the end, he cannot confess to her; instead, he tells her he wants her to have his baby. That night, Sethe tells him to sleep in her bed with her, where he belongs.
Stamp Paid decides he should tell Paul D about Sethe's murder of her child. He shows Paul D a worn newspaper clipping that describes what happened in the shed. Paul D cannot believe it and confronts Sethe about it when he goes home. She tries to explain what motivated her to kill her daughter. She tells Paul D that she felt her children would be better off in the afterlife that in slavery; but Paul D is appalled. Before he leaves the house for good, he tells her she acted like an animal. His accusation greatly pained Sethe, for the white people had always talked about the slaves in animal terms and treated them like animals as well.
Both Beloved and Denver are delighted that Paul D has left 124 Bluestone. One day, shortly after his departure, the girls convince Sethe to take them ice-skating. After they return home, Sethe puts them to bed later. As she looks at them and sees their similarities, she finally accepts that Beloved is her dead daughter come back to her. At first she is delighted at the thought of having her daughter restored to her; before long, however, she realizes that Beloved is “chewing and swallowing” and her. As Beloved demands more and more of her mother, Sethe cannot function; all she can think about is making Beloved understand why she was murdered. She is so distracted at her job at the restaurant that Sawyer fires her. With no money coming in and no friends to help, the family has little to eat. Ironically, as Sethe grows thinner and weaker, Beloved grows larger, as if she were literally devouring her mother.
When Denver realizes what is happening, she turns her allegiance from Beloved to Sethe. She also goes out by herself for the first time ever, for she knows that she has to find help for her mother. She walks to the house of Lady Jones, where she used to go for her lessons. Denver tells her that Sethe is sick and not working and that here is no food in the house. Encouraged by Lady Jones, the black women in the community decide to help Sethe and Denver. They begin to regularly leave food for the family outside in the yard, along with their names. Denver always returns the dishes in which the food was delivered; in so doing, she finally meets the women of the community. She then becomes brave enough to go the Bodwins’ house to ask them for work. When she is greeted there by a kind black lady, named Janey Wagon, Denver tells her what is happening at 124 Bluestone. Janey spreads the news in the community that Sethe is being haunted by her dead daughter. The women organize a rescue party to save Sethe. On the day they arrive at her house, Sethe listens to their singing and feels a wonderful sense of baptism in the sound. Beloved departs from the house the same day.
After Beloved's disappearance, Paul D runs into Denver in town. She tells him Sethe is doing very badly and will probably die. Paul D goes out to see Sethe and finds her in Baby Suggs’ bed singing a lullaby. He tells her he will stay with her at night while Denver stays with her during the day. When he offers to give her a bath, Sethe asks him if he is going to count her feet, a reference to the fact that he had called her an animal. Paul D assures her that he only wants to take care of her. He also tells her that she is her own best thing.