This quote is located at the beginning of the novel, and is describing the relationship between Beloved and Sethe. The quote appears to contradict the warmness and comfort Sethe feels towards Beloved later in the chapter, but this simply lends itself to possible foreshadowing so that the reader may come to suspect that Beloved is not who she says she is and/or she cannot be trusted. Furthermore, this starts the chapter off with a jarring and blunt tone that seems to come full circle at the end of the chapter when Sethe remembers details of her past she had forgotten. The use of the simile, “like black swords” creates a vivid image in the reader’s mind that Beloved and Sethe are not only battling for control, but also for information. Beloved is thirsty for any sort of story she can get her hands on, and Sethe is battling her need to not open up about her past.
The simile also creates a sense of tension between the two characters that is not necessarily present in the rest of the chapter until the end when Denver remarks that the questions Beloved asks don’t make any sense. By personifying the shadows, Morrison is showing the true intentions and feelings of both Sethe and Beloved, and is suggesting that each other’s motivations is not what they are outwardly saying. The personification can also lend itself to the foreshadowing as well as the reader becomes acutely aware that Beloved and Sethe are internally and externally clashing, and that it will come to a climax at some point or another. The passage is written in third person omniscient POV to evoke a mood of suspicion and distrust. Furthermore, the use of alliteration with the words “clashed” “crossed” and “ceiling” add to the jarring feeling that accompanies the entire first section of the chapter.
The overall quote is written with staccato syntax so that it’s clear that the shadows are truly clashing and crashing together.