Beloved by Toni Morrison

Analysis of Part 7 (Chapters 16 - 18)

It is first worthwhile to note that chapter 16 is written from the point of view of the "four horsemen." In making this odd choice, Toni Morrison manages to bring the biases of the white men into the light. In a particularly telling passage, schoolteacher notes that Sethe's actions are "testimony to the results of a little so-called freedom imposed on people who needed every care and guidance in the world to keep them from the cannibal life they preferred." To these men, consumed in their own righteousness, the institution of slavery is justified as a way of civilizing Negroes, whom they view to be little more than animals.

At the opening of this chapter, the four white men are referred to as "four horsemen," a clear allusion to the four horsemen of the Apocalypse (Conquest, War, Famine, and Death). Though it is unclear as to whether each of the men represents a respective horseman, the allusion implies that the ultimate cause for the destruction that follows is these men rather than Sethe. It also draws a tie between the events and the end of the world, perhaps foreshadowing that the murder of a girl will have far-reaching consequences.

The imagery of death brought on by the Apocalypse is paired with that of life. For example, Baby Suggs forces Sethe to exchange the dead girl for Denver: "'One at a time,' she said and traded the living for the dead." Also "Denver took her mother's milk right along with the blood of her sister." There is the feeling that life was bought with the death of Beloved-that milk and blood both sustain and perhaps Sethe did do the right thing after all. At the end of the chapter, Sethe is described as "stiff, like rigor mortis," perhaps implying that she possesses a determination which reaches beyond death.

The two children who keep Baby Suggs from supposedly saving Denver serve as a reminder that Baby Suggs, as a colored woman, is expected to place her work before her family. Clearly there is more which needs to be done than the granting of freedom to a Negro woman. Stamp Paid takes care to emphasize that this is the opposite of where a person's priorities should lie. When trying to tell the story to Paul D, Stamp notes that "he and Baby Suggs were looking the wrong way," meaning that they were looking at the white men instead of at Sethe. In other words, they were concentrating on the enemy rather than their own family-a mistake that proved fatal.

In chapter 18, Sethe and Paul D get into an argument demonstrating the ambiguity of morality. What is better, to love with all a person's heart or to love just a little and be safe? In trying to explain why she would rather kill her children than have them go to Sweet Home, Sethe notes that "when I got here, when I jumped down off that wagon-there wasn't nobody in the world I couldn't love if I wanted to." Paul D, on the other hand, lived for 18 years denying himself that kind of love so that he wouldn't break: "you protected yourself and loved small. . . . A woman, a child, a brother-a big love like that would split you wide open in Alfred, Georgia." What is essential here, though, is not the answer to this question. What is essential is noting that these two characters were both forced to choose between love and safety. It is essential to note that, by choosing love, the death of a child was largely inevitable.