Summary and Analysis
The brief and unsatisfying sexual encounter between Paul D and Sethe reminds them both of slavery. He recalls his slave-brother, Sixo, who walked 34 miles to and from meetings with his lover, Patsy; Sethe recalls kitchen work for Mrs. Garner, who helped her with the tedious chores of bristle-sorting and ink-making. Aged 13 when she arrived at Sweet Home, Sethe took a year to select a husband from among the five male slaves. Halle, the gentlest man, revealed his qualities through devotion to Baby Suggs, his crippled mother, whom he worked to emancipate. Sethe naively requested a marriage service to honor her union with Halle. Mrs. Garner laughed a little at the suggestion of slaves needing the same type of marital conventions as whites. Nonetheless, Sethe, dressed in a make-do wedding frock, enjoyed her brief honeymoon in Mr. Garner's cornfield. The other Sweet Home slaves celebrated Sethe and Halle's honeymoon evening with a feast of new corn.
From the start of Sethe's relationship with Paul D, she recognizes the difference between their passion and the brother-sister love that she and Halle shared. While Sethe and Paul D begin their relationship within a reality haunted by the pain of the past, Sethe and Halle's relationship blossomed in the pastoral setting of Sweet Home, surrounded by the mythic trappings of Eden, a tree-lined haven where the indigo-black Sixo walked naked and danced at night in the emancipating groves. Whereas Sethe and Paul D make love openly in the middle of the day, Sethe and Halle, who rose early and went to bed late, had limited time for love on weekdays and looked forward to the luxury of gazing at each other on Sundays, their day of blessing and communion.
Replete with physical, visual, oral, and auditory impressions, the extended metaphor of the cornfield blends two motifs — plants and female genitalia. The clinical revelation of Sethe's clitoris ("parting the hair to get to the tip, the edge of his fingernail just under, so as not to grace a single kernel") and the glans of Halle's penis ("pulling down of the tight sheath") gives way to gentle, virginal images of the "ear [yielding] up to him its shy rows, exposed at last." Morrison, entranced with the image, repeats "How loose the silk," suggesting the girlish sweetness of Sethe, whose pubic hair is still "fine and loose and free." Their union is favorable to the lovers, because its "simple joy" meets their anticipations.
pitched ceiling an angled ceiling with windows opening on the sky.
indigo a deep violet blue.
salsify a purple-flowered plant of the composite family, with long, white, edible, fleshy roots having an oysterlike flavor.
butter wouldn't come the cream failed to clot into butter.
brine in the barrel a primitive method of preserving fish, meat, and vegetables. The salt draws out the natural juices and replaces them with brine, or water full of salt, which impedes spoilage.
myrtle a plant with evergreen leaves, white or pinkish flowers, and dark, fragrant berries.
bristle any short, stiff, prickly hair of an animal or plant.
mint sprig a piece of an aromatic plant whose leaves are used for flavoring and in medicine; a natural breath freshener.
Brother a favorite tree at Sweet Home.