When I was thinking of songs that might possibly fit into a Beloved playlist, my mind immediately jumped to Hospice, a concept album by the indie rock band The Antlers. Hospice is an album where every song is about a hospice worker’s romance and deteriorating relationship with a patient, Sylvia, after her diagnosis with terminal cancer. The album’s story is fictional, but some details are so vivid that they appear autobiographical, and frontman Peter Silberman has refused to confirm exactly how autobiographical it is. It’s chock full of both beauty and brutality, and for that reason, I knew I had to analyze a song from it. That song is “Two”.
“Two”, subtitle: “(I Would Have Saved Her If I Could)”, is a story of death, emotional abuse, and refusing to let go. Not every single lyric is an exact parallel to Beloved, but enough matches that it’s worth going over the lyrics. I strongly recommend you listen to it first, though. With that said…
In the middle of the night I was sleeping sitting up
When a doctor came to tell me, “Enough is enough.”
The speaker here has a lot of parallels to Sethe (as well as Silberman), so that’s who I’ll “attribute” that line to, so to speak. Sethe has trouble sleeping with all of her past constantly at the forefront of her mind. The doctor here can represent Paul D, who comes to Sethe’s house and tells her that this situation has gotten out of hand.
He brought me out into the hall, I could have sworn it was haunted
The house is haunted with Beloved’s ghost. Pretty self-explanatory.
And told me something that I didn’t know that I wanted
To hear that there was nothing that I could do to save you
The choir’s gonna sing, and this thing is gonna kill you
Sethe is hanging on to her memory of Beloved and the rest of her past, convinced that it was her fault and that she has to make it right. But she can’t. The “you” here is referring to Beloved herself in our little world of comparison.
Something in my throat made my next words shake
Sethe is shaken and unsteady about her past, unwilling to share all of the details.
And something in the wires made the light-bulbs break
The ghost is still causing havoc throughout the house during the early part of the novel.
There was glass inside my feet and raining down from the ceiling
It opened up the scars that had just finished healing
Sethe has scars all over her body, especially on her back and feet. The arrival of Paul D and Beloved’s resurgence reopen those old scars, forcing her to face the painful events that created them.
It tore apart the canyon running down your femur
I thought that it was beautiful, it made me a believer
This line is harder to link to the book, but like Sylvia, Beloved also has a characteristic scar — one running across her neck. Whether Sethe thinks that scar is beautiful is up for interpretation.
And as it opened I could hear you howling from your room
Beloved as a ghost is angry and in pain, just like Sylvia is from her treatment.
But I hid out in the hall until the hurricane blew
Sethe mostly avoids or ignores the ghost, while Paul D (the “doctor”) takes a more active role in dealing with it.
When I reappeared and tried to give you something for the pain
You came to hating me again and just sang your refrain:
Sethe wants to resolve the guilt she has for what she did to Beloved, but nothing works. Beloved wants love, but she also wants vengeance, and nothing Sethe does ever satisfies her.
At this point in the song, the quiet singing and guitar strumming pick up with the introduction of drums and a piano. The song reaches its full volume and the beat picks up. This shift could be interpreted as the shift from the early segment of the book to its main events, which begin when Beloved climbs out of the river in human form.
You had a new dream, it was more like a nightmare
You were just a little kid and they cut your hair
Then they stuck you in machines, you came so close to dying
They should have listened, they thought that you were lying
In the actual song, this section of lines is about chemotherapy (and I love the way it’s expressed), but it can also represent Beloved’s pain at the hands of the “men without skin”.
Your daddy was an asshole and he fucked you up
Built the gears in your head, now he greases them up
Halle was not an asshole, as far as we know, but considering that we’re interpreting the lines from Sethe’s point of view, this represents the guilt Sethe feels for what she did to Beloved and how Beloved resents her for it (although Sethe doesn’t exactly regret what she did… her situation’s complicated).
And no one paid attention when you just stopped eating
“Eighty-seven pounds!” and this all bears repeating
This line doesn’t really apply to the book (unless you consider Sethe’s slow deterioration as Beloved eats all the food as representing this line), but… it’s a pretty brutal line. I felt like that was worth pointing out. Onward to the second verse.
Tell me when you think that we became so unhappy
Wearing silver rings with nobody clapping
Nobody gets married in Beloved (well, aside from flashbacks), but the silver rings could also represent Sethe’s earrings, or the lack of a formal wedding for Sethe and Halle.
When we moved here together we were so disappointed
Sleeping out of tune with our dreams disjointed
Sethe’s life in 124 has never been easy, and her family was only happy for less than a month before all hell broke loose. Their house is a disjointed and broken one.
It killed me to see you getting always rejected
This line applies to Denver more than Beloved: Sethe watches from the sidelines while Denver runs away from school because the children question her about her mother.
But I didn’t mind the things you threw, the phones I deflected
As a ghost and a human, Beloved is violent, but Sethe doesn’t mind. She’s just content to have her daughter there.
I didn’t mind you blaming me for your mistakes
I just held you in the door-frame through all of the earthquakes
Sethe just hangs onto Beloved regardless of the horrible things that happen.
But you packed up your clothes in that bag every night
I would try to grab your ankles, what a pitiful sight
But after over a year, I stopped trying to stop you from stomping out that door
Coming back like you always do
I don’t really know how to apply this to Beloved, necessarily.
Well no one’s gonna fix it for us, no one can
You say that, ‘No one’s gonna listen, and no one understands.’
Sethe and Beloved both refuse to engage the community, and even the rest of their family, when dealing with their issues.
No there’s no open doors and there’s no way to get through
There’s no other witnesses, just us two
Title drop, and an emphasis on Sethe and Beloved’s isolation, even as others try to reach out to them.
There’s two people living in one small room
At one point in the book, Sethe and Beloved are effectively living by themselves in the house.
From your two half-families tearing at you
Denver and Paul D, perhaps? If we consider the size of a family as “two”, then each person is indeed a half-family.
Two ways to tell the story, no one worries
There are two sides to every story, and storytelling is a major theme in Beloved.
Two silver rings on our fingers in a hurry
Return of the rings motif.
Two people talking inside your brain
Beloved seems, at some points, like she’s two different people — one desperate for love, one bent on vengeance. She’s also torn between two modes of existence, physically and mentally.
Two people believing that I’m the one to blame
Both Sethe and Beloved blame Sethe for her actions. Similarly to the narrator of “Two” and Sylvia, unfortunate circumstances lead to an abusive relationship.
Two different voices coming out of your mouth
While I’m too cold to care and too sick to shout
As Beloved gradually subsumes Sethe’s energy, she grows more apathetic and weak.
Yeah. Beloved is about an unfortunate victim who drags someone else into an abusive relationship. So is “Two”. Go listen to Hospice; it’s very good. Thanks for reading.