Paul D takes Sethe and Denver to a carnival, where they have a wonderful time. Although Denver has been eager to get rid of Paul D, it now seems like there is a chance they will be able to get along. However, when they return from the carnival, there is a stranger sitting on a tree stump outside of their house. The book describes how she emerged, fully clothed, from the river and had to sit for over a day to get the strength to walk to 124 Bluestone Road. When Sethe sees this young woman for the first time, sitting on a stump outside of her house, she has to urinate very badly and cannot even make it to the outhouse.
The family invites this stranger into the house. She has smooth, unlined skin and soft feet, and she is very weak. She is also incredibly thirsty. She tells them that her name is Beloved, and then she falls asleep. She sleeps for several days while Denver watches over her, giving her water when she awakens for short periods and washing the sheets out when she soils them. Denver brings this young woman sweet things to eat once she gets up some strength, and she becomes a part of the household. Paul D does not trust her, as he has seen her lift heavy objects even though she seems weak, but Denver lies to Sethe to protect Beloved.
While Denver is happy to have a companion and is completely devoted to Beloved, Beloved is only interested in Sethe. She follows Sethe around and stares at her. She wants Sethe to tell her stories. She asks Sethe where her diamonds are. Sethe is surprised, because she did once have crystal earrings many years ago. Sethe tells the story of how Mrs. Garner gave her the earrings because she was sympathetic that Sethe had wanted a real wedding
Beloved also wants to know about Sethe's mother. Sethe did not really know her mother because after a few weeks of nursing, the masters sent the mothers back to the fields and had another slave nurse the babies. But, Sethe does remember that her mother once took her aside and showed her a brand on her skin so that Sethe would always know her. Sethe also remembers for the first time what the slave who cared for the babies told her about her mother on the day her mother was killed. While her mother had thrown away all the babies that came from white men who raped her, she kept Sethe and named her after the black man who was her father Sethe was the only baby she kept, even though she was not the one who was allowed to care for her.
When the three people go to the carnival, Denver is very resentful of Paul D, but Sethe notices that "They were not holding hands, but their shadows were" (50). Even though the three people have not come together as a family and are isolated and lonely, there is hope that they can be together because their shadows are together.
This hope is shattered when they return to the house and see Beloved. Sethe's need to urinate is like a woman's water breaking when she is about to deliver a baby, and so Beloved becomes like a child to her.
The concern with women nursing their babies continues here. Sethe's milk was forcibly taken away from her, so the white boys were interfering with a mother's basic connection with her child. So, too, was her mother's connection with her interrupted when she was not allowed to nurse her child. Since nursing a baby is a chance to nurture the next generation, taking away that right is denying women the chance to take care of their own children. This was also true for Baby Suggs, who also did not get a chance to see most of her children grow up.
The only way Sethe's mother could show love for her daughter was to allow her to live. She threw away the rest of the babies because they represented for her the white men taking control of her reproduction, and she was denying them the right to decide who she can love. Sethe tried to resist the schoolteacher interfering with who she chose to love, but when the boys took her milk, they were coming between her and her child.
As Paul D notes, "For a used-to-be-slave woman to love anything that much was dangerous, especially if it was her children she had settled on to love" (48). Slavery came between women and their children so often that it was dangerous to put that much emotional energy into loving children. When they are taken away, it can really destroy the person who loves them.