Summary and Analysis
At the entrance to the Church of the Holy Redeemer, Paul D sips from a liquor bottle and contemplates the crusty exterior that once protected his heart from vulnerability. He relives the demise of Sweet Home, the slave haven that crumbled rapidly after Garner's death. Because Paul D and the other slaves refused to believe Sixo's description of slavery in the outside world, Paul D found the truth the hard way — in the brutal Alfred, Georgia prison camp. The day the male slaves tried to escape from Sweet Home, Sixo was supposed to meet his lover, the Thirty-Mile Woman, and Halle was supposed to bring along his wife and three children. The black female Underground Railroad agent, hidden in the corn, promised to remain a night and half a day and to "rattle" to identify her whereabouts.
Paul D recalls hearing unidentified gunshots that night and seeing Halle inexplicably eat butter from the churn. Sixo joined Paul D and the Thirty-Mile Woman but could not account for the absence of Paul A, Halle, or Halle's family. As schoolteacher, four adults, and some pupils approached the dry creek bed, Sixo pushed his woman out of range. He and Paul D were apprehended. Sixo fought back. Schoolteacher struggled to take him alive but eventually determined that Sixo was of no use to Sweet Home. Schoolteacher lit a fire and roasted Sixo, who was tied at the waist to a tree. Schoolteacher then shot Sixo to quiet his singing to his unborn child, "Seven-O! Seven-O!"
Schoolteacher indicated that he would sell Paul D for $900 and replace him with two young male slaves so that "Sweet Home would be worth the trouble it was causing him." To restrain Paul D, schoolteacher applied the "three-spoke collar." Paul D was hobbling toward a pot of cooked meal when Sethe found him to inquire what had gone wrong. Paul D, shamed by his powerlessness, realized that Sethe was still determined to escape.
Putting together clues from the failed 1855 escape, Paul D deduces that Sethe was assaulted by schoolteacher's nephews shortly after leaving him. Sethe then informed Mrs. Garner of the violation and survived a lashing with "the cowhide." He admires her courage and recognizes that "her price was greater than his; property that reproduced itself without cost." He recalls that he laughed with "the bit in his mouth" as he was hitched to a buckboard bound for the prison camp in Alfred, Georgia. In retrospect, Paul D wishes that he had joined Sixo in his juba song, a celebration of the new life carried by the Thirty-Mile Woman. Humiliated by the dollar figure denoting his worth, by Sethe's greater worth as a breeder, and by Mister, the condescending rooster, Paul D could not guess the degradation that he would endure in the Georgia prison.
Paul D endures the sweet noose of love for Halle's former wife, the only woman he has allowed close enough to touch his atrophied emotions. In her house, he becomes "a rag doll"; without her, he probes "what-if thoughts that cut deep but struck nothing solid a man could hold on to." The stark reality of his helplessness is made clear through details — his lack of material goods such as shoes for the journey and his overwhelming ignorance of geography, road signs, and interaction with a free populace.
Although Sethe and Paul D are both dehumanized during their slave experiences, their responses to the experience differ due to their different roles. Sethe derives strength and resolve from her role as a mother. To Sethe, the threat of losing her sons to the auction block and the very real loss of sustenance for her breastfed baby are enough to send her fleeing Sweet Home, despite her heavy belly, her separation from her husband, and the trauma of a severe lashing. Meanwhile, the only role Paul D knows is that of being a man. For Paul D, slavery's devaluation of his personhood equals emasculation. The three-pointed collar shames him in front of Sethe, a woman whose acceptance he obviously values. Paul D flees Sethe's strength and determination after he learns that she murdered a child to spare it a similar life of subjugation. In stereotypical convention of male behaviors, Paul D soothes his wounded ego with liquor, a perverse communion ironically celebrated while seated on the front steps of the Redeemer's church, which is too cold to afford him comfort.
dry-goods church formerly a general merchandise store.
trace a beaten path or trail left by the repeated passage of persons, vehicles, etc.
Hush, hush. Somebody's calling my name. O my Lord, O my Lord, what shall I do? lyrics of a familiar spiritual used as a coded message. Such verses form a meaningful segment of black lore, particularly "Follow the Drinking Gourd," the lyrical reminder for runaways to aim for the Big Dipper, or Ursa Major, the constellation that pointed north toward the free states and Canada.
hominy dry corn (maize) with the hull and germ removed and often coarsely ground (hominy grits); it is boiled for food.
juba a Southern plantation black dance of the ninteenth century, characterized by a lively rhythm marked by clapping the hands.