Beloved Part 1, Chapter 1
In 1873, at 124 Bluestone Road in Cincinnati, Ohio, a house is tormented by a baby's ghost. Of the five people who once lived there, only two still remain -- Sethe and her daughter, Denver. Sethe made her way to 124 with her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, in 1855 when she and her children escaped slavery. Baby Suggs died in 1865 shortly after Sethe's sons, Buglar and Howard, ran away from 124. While Baby Suggs waited to die, she developed a fascination with color; it seemed a harmless thing to think about after all the evil things she'd seen as a result of slavery.
Sethe refers to the ghost of her first daughter as crawling-already? girl. Since she began haunting 124, no one comes by the house. After the death of Baby Suggs, Sethe and Denver tried to negotiate peace with the ghost, but got no answer. Now thinking about the color pink, Sethe recalls the rose colored headstone used to mark the baby girl's grave for which she prostituted herself. The marker reads "Beloved," the only word she had for the approximately 18-month-old girl she loved so much. Remembering other colors, Sethe recognizes the irony in how her memory highlights the beauty of Sweet Home, the Kentucky plantation from which she ran away, instead of the lynchings she witnessed, or the abuse she experienced there. Sethe remembers that memory was just as cruel to Baby Suggs -- "'My first-born. All I can remember of her is how she loved the burned bottom of bread. Can you beat that? Eight children and that's all I remember.'" Chapter 1, pg. 5
Paul D, a fellow Sweet Home ex-slave, is waiting on the porch of 124 when Sethe comes home from work one afternoon. Walking into 124, he encounters the red light of the ghost and mistakes it for Baby Suggs. Sethe explains that it's her first daughter, but explains no further. Paul D notices the changes in Sethe since the 18 years before when they were together at Sweet Home -- her face seems older and softer, but her eyes are still hard and dark. He recalls when Sethe arrived to replace Baby Suggs after her son, Halle, bought her freedom with his labor. All the men at Sweet Home desired Sethe when she arrived, but she married Halle, and for the six years they were married, she was always pregnant, even when she ran away.
Denver meets Paul D and notices that her mother acts differently around him; she seems girlish and distracted. Sethe looks away when Paul D looks at her, and Denver's never seen her mother look away from anything -- not even when the baby ghost knocked the dog's eye out of its socket. This change makes Denver feel lonely and ignored, so she mentions the ghost to participate in the conversation. When Paul D steers the conversation back to Sweet Home, a place she can't talk about because she was never there, she sasses the adults and then bursts into tears. She says she's crying because no one visits them or likes them, and she blames Sethe for their isolation.
Paul D suggests that they move away from the haunted house, and Sethe refuses. She says:
"'I got a tree on my back and a haint in my house, and nothing in between but the daughter I am holding in my arms. No more running -- from nothing. I will never run from another thing on this earth. I took one journey and I paid for the ticket, but let me tell you something, Paul D Garner: it cost too much! Do you hear me? It cost too much.'" Chapter 1, pg. 15
Sethe remembers vividly the story she tells Paul D about sending her first daughter away while she was still nursing her and pregnant with Denver. While she was still at Sweet Home, her milk was nursed by the grown nephews of Schoolteacher, the man who took over Sweet Home when Mr. Garner, the original owner, died. Before she escaped, they beat her for telling Mrs. Garner that the boys took her milk. The scars left a chokecherry tree on her back that has stayed with her for eighteen years.
Paul D listens to the story and then holds Sethe, kissing the scars on her back. And while he's holding her, the floorboards start to shake. The house pitches back and forth. Paul D commands the ghost to leave the house, to leave Sethe alone after all she has suffered. 124 is quiet.
When Sethe and Paul D go upstairs to have sex, Denver thinks about how all her companions in 124 have left her -- her brothers ran away; Baby Suggs died; and now Paul D has chased away the ghost. Denver doesn't appreciate his intrusion.