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Nightmare Fuel / Beloved

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This book is simultaneously a chilling meditation on the horrors of slavery and a ghost story revolving around a murdered child. As such, nightmares abound.

  • The first two sentences of the novel:
    "124 was spiteful. Full of a baby's venom."
  • Beloved's means for driving out those she deems unwelcome:
    • Buglar: A mirror shatters as soon as he looks in it.
    • Howard: Two tiny handprints suddenly appear in a cake.
    • Here Boy: Slammed into a wall so hard it breaks two legs, dislocates an eye, goes into convulsions, and chews its tongue up. It refuses to enter the house again.
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    • Paul D: Essentially Mind Raped by Adult!Beloved into no longer wanting to stay at 124. He just loses interest. He eventually winds up in a shed (the same one where Beloved was killed) just outside the house, where he and Adult!Beloved have sex. The consent is not at all clear, and it's quite disturbing to read.
  • The aftermath of the attempted escape from Sweet Home:
    • Paul F is sold before the day of the escape. His fate is unknown
    • Sethe manages to get her children on the wagon headed out of Sweet Home. She is intercepted going back for her husband, Halle, by schoolteacher and others. They flog her and, dear God, forcibly milk her breasts until they are empty. She inadvertently bites off a piece of her tongue in the process. All while pregnant with Denver. They even dig a hole in the ground so as not to hurt the baby. She still, in pure Determinator mode, makes it off the plantation and to 124. The experience scars her so badly, though, that she would rather kill her children and herself than be taken back.
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    • Halle is found out by schoolteacher and put in the barn, where he witnesses the above incident with Sethe. It completely breaks his will to escape. The last anyone sees of him, he is mindlessly smearing butter and soured milk on his face by a churn. His fate is unknown.
    • Paul A is found hanging from a tree by Sethe while she is on her way back for Halle. His feet and head are missing.
    • Sixo is surrounded and bound by schoolteacher and his pupils. He fights back, grabbing a rifle and smashing in someone's ribs. Singing all the while. He eventually is overwhelmed and burned alive. His laughing and shouting spook the slavers so badly that they prematurely shoot him to death.
    • Paul D is surrounded and bound with Sixo. He lives only because he does not resist. After overhearing exactly what his worth as a slave is to the whitemen, he is shackled, collared, and left in a cabin. Eventually, he is hitched to a board like an animal, with a bit in his mouth. He watches a rooster while in this condition, and reflects on how his status is even lower than the barn animals.
      • At one point, Sethe recalls seeing the bit used at her place before Sweet Home. The only thing to be done was rub goose fat on the corners of the mouth.
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    • The Thirty-Mile Woman, Sixo's ladyfriend, runs in the other direction from Sixo and Paul D. Her fate is unknown.
  • Sethe's journey from Sweet Home to 124. She walks until her feet are so swollen that her arch disappears and her ankles lose feeling. She is too tired to wave away the bugs swarming her, and eventually refuses to walk any further. When Amy finds her, it takes some persuading for her to resume trying to live. They make it together to a lean-to, where her lack of feeling now extends to everything below her knees. The process of massaging her feet back to life is unfathomably painful. Then, she goes into labor. The kindness of Amy, a whitegirl, is the only reason she and her baby survive.
  • The Misery:
    • When schoolteacher and a few others come to take Sethe and her children back to Sweet Home, she murders her infant daughter. With a handsaw. She has severely cut her boys, and had just attempted to dash Denver's head in when she is noticed and stopped.
    • When Sethe nursed Denver in the aftermath, she had yet to clean Beloved's blood off her nipples. Ick.
  • Beloved's stream-of-consciousness chapter. It's a chapter entirely free of punctuation from the point of view of Beloved. She talks about her time in Hell/Purgatory/slave ship/who knows where in a really graphic way, made even worse by her child-like outlook. She has the mind of a ONE-YEAR-OLD, remember.
  • Sethe giving her body to the to the engraver right there among the tombstones, with his young son watching, so she can get her murdered infant's stone engraved
  • Baby Suggs' life before Sweet Home. All of her children before Halle were taken from her while very young. She gives her body to a slavemaster for months to keep her thirdborn, only to have him traded the following year and find herself pregnant again. All she remembers of her firstborn is how she loved the burned bottom of bread. She eventually gives up trying to remember them at all as they're born, even facial features. She's prepared to do the same for Halle, and is stunned when she gets to keep him. Just heartbreaking.
  • Paul D's time as a slave after Sweet Home. After trying to kill his master, he is sent to work on a chain gang in Georgia, aka the deepest circle of hell. The men are told what to do by rifle shot, and are often indiscriminately shot themselves. Paul only survives his first day by vomiting, and then "only" gets bashed in the shoulder with a rifle butt. Their work consists of breaking rocks with sledgehammers, and they endure the monotony and horror by singing. Their "living quarters" are a small cage that sits in a ditch. They remain chained to each other at all times. Paul spends eighty-six days in this environment. He and his companions only escape due to a monsoon-like rain providing cover and the means to slip under the cages.
  • The constant vivid imagery of slaves hanging from trees. Including Sethe's mother, who she suspects was hung for trying to escape.
  • Beloved greets Paul D by bathing 124 in an unholy shade of red light. His travel through it is marked by a grief so intense it leaves him shaken.
  • Sethe's experience in the Clearing. She feels phantom fingers gently stroking her neck, before being suddenly strangled by them.
  • Adult!Beloved's tenuous existence can be quite... intense. When Paul D even thinks about her finding a new place to live, she suddenly and violently chokes on pudding. And, when Sethe affirms Paul D's place in the house, she promptly pulls out a tooth, and assumes it is the first thing of many to go.
  • Sethe and Denver's isolated existence in the house, with no company but the ghost and her tantrums, after the boys leave and Baby Suggs' death.
  • schoolteacher. He beat his slaves, took their guns, forbade them to eat meat, and refused to treat them on an equal intellectual level, all of which is contrary to Mr. Garner's treatment. Paul D describes him as being deeply hurt when he discovers a few slaves playing a pitching game. He is remorseful for Sethe's massive beating and abuse only because it lowers her value and work output. He quite plainly regards all black people as less than human.
  • The description of the "chokecherry tree" on Sethe's back
  • Sixo being beaten for catching a wild animal. schoolteacher, despite acknowledging his cleverness, beats him anyway "to show him that definitions belong to the definers, not the defined." He is locked up with the livestock every night after, and keeps a nail in his mouth to free himself when necessary.
  • Sethe's mother showing her a brand of a circle and a cross. So she can use it as an identifier in case something happens to her. Her mother slaps her when she doesn't understand and wants to be branded also.
  • Nan's recollection of her and Sethe's mother's journey across the sea. They both were raped an untold amount of times by the crew and "other whites". She discarded every child but Sethe, who she only kept because the father was black. His name was also Sethe.
  • Sethe revealing that she nursed whitebabies before her own children, with the latter getting only what milk was left over.
  • Paul D's recollection of black folks he knew that had gone insane after escaping slavery. One teenage boy lived alone in the woods and couldn't ever remember another existence. Another woman was jailed and hanged for stealing ducks she thought were her babies.
  • Sethe's nonchalant description of schoolteacher constantly measuring her body with string is stunning.
  • Sixo walking thirty-four hours round-trip just to spend one hour with a ladyfriend. During one trip, she misses a rendezvous point. When they find each other, they only have time for a quick lovemaking session on the spot. He then fakes a snakebite injury on her so she'll have an excuse for missing time in the field, and just misses getting whipped by a passing whiteman. The whitewoman with him averts her face from Sixo in horror.
  • Sethe's discovery that schoolteacher's pupils are being taught to sketch her with half-animal features.
  • Halle patiently explaining to Sethe that he'll still work at Sweet Home past what he owes for buying out his mother because:
    Halle: "It don't pay to have my labor somewhere else while the boys is small."
  • Stamp Paid having his wife taken and used sexually by his master's son. He only doesn't kill anyone, including himself, at her insistence. When she suddenly returns to him, he considers killing her as well.
  • Despite their better-than-usual treatment under the Garners, Halle and Sethe are still condescendingly denied a wedding ceremony.
  • Basically, the life of every slave was a singular, hellish nightmare.
  • Denver once spies on Sethe praying alone, except for a white dress kneeling beside her, with one sleeve around her waste.
  • Sethe's neighbor Ella, who once was locked up by a whiteman and his son for more than a year. While still going through puberty. Her words:
    Ella: "You couldn't think up what them two done to me."
  • When Sethe goes to jail for killing Beloved, Denver remains with her. With the rats. Brrrr.
  • Sethe struggling to get food from the diner where she works. At one point, she chides herself for "daydreaming" when what she ends up with is barely passable for a meal.
  • The Klan. Described by Paul D as a dragon that subsists on black blood.
  • Sethe insinuating that the girls working the slaughterhouse shifts on Saturdays are giving their bodies to the foremen, who they then pay on their way out.
  • After learning what her mother did, Denver goes deaf for two years, and lives in constant fear for her life.
  • When a fully grown Adult!Beloved emerges from the stream, Sethe endures a painfully long and sudden urination, to the point where she can't even make it to an outhouse.
  • Denver recalling Sethe would blame her boys for Beloved's paranormal activity, and would whip them accordingly.
  • The carnival that Sethe, Paul D, and Denver attend has a Colored Thursday. They endure the insults because they don't expect to ever have as much fun again.
  • When Adult!Beloved briefly disappears, Denver is so horrified and depressed that she yanks at her hair and wishes to die.
  • The repeated mantra at the novel's end:
    "This is not a story to pass on."
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