Throughout Beloved we see many instances in which the story could have changed, had certain scenarios not taken place. The scene that I felt to be a crucial point in the story is when Sethe got her milk taken from her. This specific moment changed her journey, and also, changed the course of life for many of the other main characters.
We first learn about Sethe’s milk being stolen somewhere in the beginning of the book. She reveals this moment to Paul D, also a former slave of Sweet Home, who comes to find her at 124. When Paul D arrives to her house at 124, she is living with her daughter Denver. Besides Sethe and Denver residing in the house, so does the ghost of her dead child who is referred to as Beloved, which was the name that was marked on her gravestone. Paul D’s arrival signals the first shift in the story, as Sethe is happy to see him, and gains comfort from his presence. He is also reminded of the longing that he had harbored for her back at Sweet Home.
Sethe invites him to stay for dinner, and the night, even at the annoyance of her daughter, Denver, who is very much accustomed to having Sethe all to herself. Sethe reveals to Paul D that she will not leave 124 because she is tired of running, and then she proceeds on telling him about her milk being stolen. She also tells him her milk being stolen.
“After I left you, those boys came in there and took my milk. That’s what they came in there for. Held me down and took it. I told Mrs. Garner on em. She had that lump and couldn’t speak but her eyes rolled out tears. Them boys found out I told on em. School teacher made one open up my back, and when it closed it made a tree. It grows there still.” (Morrison, 16)
This is a big revelation in the book on two accounts: the first being that we learned that she had a really traumatic experience that ties into her escape from Sweet Home, and also what happens to Halle. The second being that in telling this to Paul D, she allows herself to mourn and revisit a painful experience. She is also able to share her pain with someone who knows what means to suffer as she has.
Paul D comforts her physically after she tells the story by coming up behind her and carrying her breasts. Symbolically, that may show that he was trying to carry her burden for her in that moment. The intimacy between Paul D and Sethe not only makes Denver feel unsettled and worried, but also, upsets the ghost of Sethe’s baby girl who begins to show her anger by shaking the floor boards in the house and hurtling furniture at Paul D, which then leads them to fight, and he chases the spirit out of the house.
” God damn it! Hush up!” Paul D was shouting, falling, reaching for anchor, “Leave the place alone! Get the hell out!” A table rushed toward him and he grabbed its leg. Somehow he managed to stand at an angle and, holding the table by two legs, he bashed it about, wrecking everything , screaming back at the screaming house. “You want to fight, come on! God damn it! She got enough without you. She got enough!” (Morrison, 19)
In that moment the ghost leaves, and Paul D decides to remain at 124.
Paul D later tells Sethe that her husband, Halle, had witnessed her milk being stolen and that witnessing that atrocity had sent him over the edge, and that he lost his mind.
“The day I came in here. You said they stole your milk. I never knew what it was that messed him up. That was it, I guess. All I knew was that something broke him. Not a one of them years of Saturdays, Sundays, and nightime extra never touched him . But whatever he saw go on in that barn that day broke him like a twig.” (Morrison, 68)
This moment is an essential turning point in the book because we can see that with this revelation, many others things might not have come to be. Either this could have been her relationship with Paul D, how sensitive and lonely Denver is, how Baby Suggs died, why Halle didn’t try and stop the boys from taking her milk and prevent her from suffering that painful moment, but most significantly, would she have murdered her own baby had Halle been there to prevent her from taking such a painful and desperate decision. Sethe takes this revelation and puts it away with the rest of the pain that she harbors in her mind and heart.
“There is also my husband squatting by the churn smearing the butter as well as its clabber all over his face because the milk they took is on his mind [. . . ] I don’t want to know or have to remember that. I have other things to do: worry , for example, about tomorrow , about Denver, about Beloved , about age and sickness not to speak of love. (Morrison, 70)
In this moment there is a great deal of reveal for Sethe. In a way she realizes that Halle didn’t just abandon her and the children, but that what he saw broke him, and that if that alone broke him then he wouldn’t have possibly survived the rest of what happened, and also, she doesn’t have to wonder what happened to him any longer as she assumes that he must be dead. This bit of knowledge can bring her some closure. She realizes that she never had a choice to give into the pain and anguish of it all, but instead, she had to continue because of her children, and that life had to go on.
We can take this particular scene in the book and think of how it intermingles with so many other parts. Had Sethe’s milk not been stolen, Halle would not have seen and gone crazy, at least not in that particular moment. They would have left Sweet Home together and Denver, who might have been named something else, would maybe not have come prematurely or would have been delivered by her husband instead of Amy Denver.
The most important fact that might have changed was the death of Sethe’s daughter. Would Halle let her do such a thing? School teacher came to reclaim her and bring her back, but rather than have her children endure any pain and suffering of becoming a slave, she killed her baby. When Beloved returns, she ends up wanting all of Sethe’s attention and does all she can to alienate Paul D and Denver from her. Sethe’s quest to make Beloved happy almost ends her completely, but Sethe is able to recover again with love and a new beginning with Paul D.
The pivotal scene that I chose could have very well changed the whole course of the book, and maybe in turn Sethe’s choices would have been very different along with everyone else’s path as well. If Paul D would have come to 124, Halle could have been there with his wife and they would not have begun a romantic relationship, Denver might have grown into a different woman with her brothers and sister present and Beloved would have lived. Sethe would have moved on with her life and had her family, and could have found peace much sooner.