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Free Study Guide-Beloved by Toni Morrison-Free Online Booknotes Summary
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CHAPTER 9

Notes

The moving passages about Baby Suggs reveal an important aspect of a slave becoming free. Although the black slaves were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, they did not know what to do with their freedom. Since they had been enslaved for three hundred and fifty years, they did not know how to mentally free themselves from the oppression that they had suffered for so long. Baby Suggs realizes what the freed slaves need to do. In her sermons, she teaches them to love themselves - every part of their bodies. She also cajoles them to resist hatred and to help each other. Her sermons about claiming true freedom always had a healing touch. Her listeners respond by singing, dancing, shouting, and crying.

Baby Suggs was a very special woman. When Sethe arrived at her way station, she took her in with loving arms and nursed her back to health. She also preached to her, telling her to lay down her past and give up her weapons of hatred. Soon after Sethe’s arrival, however, something terrible happens that breaks the strong spirit of Baby Suggs. As a result, she succumbs to her weak heart and soon dies. Sethe admits that she has always felt that she caused her death, which makes her feel guilty.

When Sethe calls the spirit of her baby girl a "chastising ghost," she indicates her sense of guilt over the baby's death. Although the details of the story are not given until a later chapter, it becomes more clear in this chapter that Sethe has killed Beloved. Morrison delays telling the whole story of Beloved’s death in order to prepare the reader to understand Sethe’s actions and to empathize with her character. Before all the details are revealed, Sethe must try to heal herself. She goes to the Clearing, where Baby Suggs used to preach, to try and lay down her past.

In the clearing, Sethe sits on Baby Suggs’ rock and admits to herself that Halle is never coming back. She then calls out to her mother- in-law to give her a neck rub in order to ease the pain. Since Sethe believes in ghosts, she fully expects Baby Suggs to hear her plea and respond. Suddenly, she feels tiny, childlike hands touching her neck, even though no one is present near her; Sethe is not surprised. Once again Morrison is employing magical realism, a matter-of-fact style of artistic expression in which the magical is represented as if it were real. It was also magical realism that brought back Beloved, first as a child ghost to haunt 124 Bluestone and then in the living flesh.

The childlike touch on Sethe’s neck quickly becomes a strangling grip. When Denver realizes what is happening to her mother, she runs towards her mother and shouts. Immediately, the fingers ease their grip and go away. Sethe is thankful that Denver and Beloved have come along with her to the Clearing so that she is saved from strangulation. After she recovers from the incident, Sethe realizes that she called forth the ghost of her child, not Baby Suggs. She assumes the child ghost has come to live in the Clearing since Paul D has run it out of the house.


Beloved tries to comfort Sethe, by stroking and kissing her neck. Sethe senses a connection between the touch of the ghost and the touch of Beloved and pushes the girl away. Sethe will soon realize that Beloved is the incarnation of her lost baby. For now, she merely entertains the thought for a moment and then dismisses it from her mind. The reader begins to realize, however, that the baby ghost and Beloved are one in the same, and they both want revenge. They strangle her physically, while Sethe strangles herself mentally. Until Sethe can deal with her past and heal herself, she will continue to be strangled by it.

Denver, knowing who Beloved really is, accuses her of choking Sethe. Beloved denies that she did it and says that a circle of iron choked Sethe’s neck. The allusion is clearly a reference to slavery, when blacks were frequently chained. Although Beloved never experienced slavery, she is very sensitive to it because she was killed as a result of it. She also knows that the painful memories of slavery are strangling her mother.

Another piece of Sethe’s story is revealed in this chapter. It is hinted that she was put in jail for the murder of her child. Additionally, Denver has monstrous dreams about her mother and seems to fear something about her. The pieces of the puzzle about Beloved are beginning to come together into a whole.

The chapter ends with the image of turtles mating as Beloved watches them in fascination. The embrace of the turtles reminds her of the embrace of Sethe and Paul D, which she witnessed earlier on the porch. Both of these embraces seem to be a foreboding foreshadowing of things to come.

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