Beloved: Novel Summary: Section I Chapters 17-19
The story of what happened is told from three points of view, all in the third person: the sheriff, Stamp Paid, and Sethe. The local sheriff came with schoolteacher and one of his nephews to look for Sethe. Because they were all a little spiteful after the big supper, no black people came running to warn Sethe that they were on their way. So, Sethe did not have time to run. All she had time to do was grab her four children and take them into the shed. She injured the boys, Howard and Buglar, and was able to almost completely saw the head off the older baby girl. She was covered in that blood when they came into the shed and was trying to dash the newborn baby's head against the wall to kill it, too.
Schoolteacher left, probably deciding Sethe was worthless to him because she had gone crazy. Baby Suggs got Sethe to give the dead baby to her and nurse the living one, so the living one went to jail with Sethe, who was in jail not for murder but for destruction of schoolteacher's property-his slaves. The baby who died is the one who haunted 124 Bluestone Road.
When Paul D asks Sethe about what happened, she explains that she wanted to make her children safe from Sweet Home and slavery. He responds that she had other choices or that maybe what happened was even worse than slavery. Then, he leaves, saying he is only going out for a little while. Sethe knows he is leaving for good.
This book is based on a newspaper clipping that Toni Morrison saw from newspapers of the time. A slave woman did indeed kill her children to prevent them going back into slavery, deciding that death was better than slavery. In Christianity, this is a problematic choice, because that means a person thinks she can decide life and death, which should only be God's decision. However, in Beloved we see all the forces of slavery that might drive a person to do something like this.
Paul D tells Sethe, "Your love is too thick" (173). As he had predicted early in the book, it is dangerous for an ex-slave to love that deeply. But, Sethe did love that deeply, and she did what she had to to keep her children from being dehumanized by schoolteacher. One of the things this book accomplishes is to show how good emotions, like love, can be warped by the inhumanity of slavery, and that we have no right to judge what slavery made people do.
Because Sethe nursed Denver after killing her toddler sister, Denver took in her sister's blood with her mother's milk. In this way, love and violence are mixed, and the bloody results of Sethe's "too thick" love are part of Denver's life, as well.