Summary and Analysis
In a flashback, Baby Suggs reveals that her joy at the reunion of Sethe and her children was tempered by concern for Halle. On the twenty-eighth day after he delivered Sethe and her newborn baby to freedom, Stamp Paid, an agent for the Underground Railroad, delivers two buckets of blackberries to Sethe's family and feeds a single berry to Denver. Inspired by Stamp Paid's gift, Baby Suggs and her congregation celebrate by creating a feast for 90 people.
In the midst of the joyous event, ill feelings begin to grow toward Baby Suggs and her family. Neighbors participating in the feast grow envious of Baby Suggs's manumission (formal emancipation from slavery), her two-story house, her well, and her relationship with the Bodwins, the local Quaker abolitionists who let her live in 124. The next day, as Stamp Paid replenishes the woodpile, Baby Suggs begins to feel that something is amiss and recalls the loss of her four daughters and three sons. She allows herself to linger over memories of Halle, her eighth child — and her favorite — whom Mr. Garner purchased when he brought Baby Suggs from Carolina to assist his wife with kitchen chores.
As slaves, the three Pauls, Sixo, Halle, and Baby Suggs, who limped as a result of a hip displacement, ran Sweet Home. The sight of Baby Suggs's pain bothered Halle so much that he persuaded Garner to let him hire himself out on Sundays to pay for his mother's freedom. Garner, who usually sheltered his slaves on Sweet Home, agreed to the arrangement. In her 60s, Baby Suggs received her emancipation papers. Before delivering her to the Bodwins in Cincinnati, Mr. Garner revealed that Baby Suggs's bill-of-sale name was Jenny Whitlow.
Baby Suggs marveled at the size of Cincinnati, the number of white citizens and two-story houses, and the prospect of working for money. Set up as cobbler, washwoman, seamstress, and canner for the Bodwins, she moved into her own two-story house, which had belonged to the Bodwins' grandparents.
A major premise of Morrison's text is that benevolent masters often did more harm than good. As demonstrated by Mr. Garner's relationship with his slaves, Sweet Home — the embodiment of Stephen Foster's sentimental song "My Old Kentucky Home" — shielded slaves from the harsh world beyond that property. By playing God and creating an artificial haven, Garner ill-prepared his slaves for the shock of a new master, one disinterested in humanitarianism and concerned primarily with profit.
Another revelation from this and other chapters is that the Garners degraded their slaves by thinking of them as children. To Lillian Garner, the notion of a formal wedding for Sethe brought a patronizing upturn of the lips. To Mr. Garner, Baby Suggs's slave name, her only tie with her first mate in a string of eight, was undignified and also inappropriate for Halle, who was fathered by another slave. Garner devalued Baby Suggs's experiences as wife and mother by claiming that Jenny Whitlow was a more fitting name for a "freed Negro." Baby Suggs, who kept her opinions to herself, realized that the only way she could locate her displaced family was to maintain the name by which they knew her. Wherever they were, they would not recognize her if she were called by a white woman's name like Jenny Whitlow.
anointed put oil on in a ceremony of consecration.
strawberry shrug a version of "shrub," a dessert made from fruit pulp, sweetening, and crushed ice.
rue any of a genus of strong-scented shrubs of the rue family, esp. an herb with yellow flowers and bitter-tasting leaves formerly used in medicine; symbolizes regret.
rendered fat fat from cooked pork, skimmed off and hardened into lard.
laid fires arranged kindling, splits, and back logs to make a fire.
knocked her down (or up) mistreated or impregnated her.
stud his boys use male slaves as breeders.
gone to Glory died.
Bishop Allen Richard Allen, founder of the AME church.
fixed on concentrated on.