Beloved Baby Suggs Analysis Essay

Part One, Chapter 9

Summary:

Sethe feels the need to go to the clearing where Baby Suggs used to preach. Baby Suggs did not give sermons, but instead instructed the crowds of black folks to laugh, dance, and love their bodies, in particular their hearts and mouths. Sethe wants to go there now to pay tribute to Halle, and she feels the need to commune with Baby Sugg's spirit. But she remembers, too, that Baby Suggs died in grief, embittered against whites and without hope for the future, all because of what happened to Sethe.

After Amy left and Sethe was on her own, she walked until she found a black man with two boys. The man was Stamp Paid, who gave her some eel and a coat in which to carry her baby. He left her at a relay station, where a woman named Ella came to pick her up, having been left "the sign" by Stamp Paid. Ella brought her to Baby Suggs, whom Sethe had never met before. Finally, she had made it, although she had to wait until the next morning to see her children so as to avoid frightening them with her haggard appearance. Baby Suggs bathed Sethe and soaked her feet, and Sethe began her life as a free woman. Her third child, a girl, whom she had not seen since she sent her ahead with the Railroad, had started to crawl. Sethe was so happy that for a while the realization that she was free seemed more like a dream, unable to hit her with full force.

In the clearing with Beloved and Denver, Sethe tries to feel Baby Sugg's presence. She feels Baby Sugg's fingers caressing her neck, they way they once did in life, but then the fingers begin to choke her. Beloved and Denver rescue her, and Denver tells her that Baby Suggs would never hurt her. Beloved massages Sethe's neck and kisses her, too passionately, her breath smelling like milk. Sethe tells her she's too old for that. Still, the visit to the clearing makes Sethe feel better, and she also decides that she wants Paul D in her life. She goes back to cook up dinner for all, remember the first day she arrived at 124, when she had milk enough for all.

Beloved hates Paul D, because he takes too much of Sethe's attention. She listens to the to of them for a while and then leaves to go outside. Denver confronts her about the clearing, telling her that she knows Beloved was choking Sethe, even if she did "rescue" Sethe afterward. Beloved warns Denver not to cross her and runs away.

Denver remembers when she used to go to school. When she was seven, she walked away from home and found the house of Lady Jones, a mulatto woman who taught black children reading, writing, and math. The year of school (in which she was avoided by her classmates without realizing it) ended when Nelson Lord asked Denver "the question." When Denver asked her mother "the question," she became deaf, not even hearing her mother's answer or anything else for two years. She regained her hearing when she heard the baby ghost crawling up the stairs.

Analysis:

Baby Suggs instructed the blacks to love their bodies, especially their mouths and hearts. They had to love their mouths to battle the speechlessness imposed on them under slavery, and their hearts they had to love in order to preserve their human feelings-her old philosophy stood in sharp contrast to Paul D's need to keep his heart locked away. But what happened to Sethe broke Baby Suggs, convincing her that there was "no bad luck in this world but whitefolks," and making her feel that her preaching had all been lies.

Sethe was elated at finally achieving freedom, unable even to conceive of the change in her life. Her elation set the stage for the desperate action she took later when schoolteacher found her.

Beloved's actions in the clearing reveal her malevolent streak, and her reaction to Denver's accusations hint at how dangerous she might be. In the clearing, however, Sethe is able to make peace with Halle's memory, and subsequently can resolve that she wants to try and make a new life with Paul D and the two girls. She believes she can take care of all of them, just like when she first arrived in Ohio, when "she had milk enough for all." She understands herself as a provider.

Denver's childhood deafness shows some of the danger of the past, from which Sethe has always tried to protect her daughter. The question of what happened to her mother made it impossible for Denver to hear anything, representing the power of the past to impair life in the present. But Denver's hearing also returned because of the sound of the ghost baby, possibly indicating that the answer to the pain of the past may lie in confronting it rather than avoiding it.

Part One, Chapter 10

Summary:

After failing to escape from Sweet Home, Paul D was sold to a new master, whom he tried to kill. He was sent to Georgia. At a prison for blacks, he was kept in a small box in the ground at night and let out during the day to work in a chain gang. At night, he trembled uncontrollably. After months, a powerful rainstorm gave the men a chance to escape. Still chained, they ran until they found a Cherokee encampment. The Cherokee broke their chains.

Paul D, instructed to follow the blossoms (which would keep him going North) found his way to Delaware, where he stayed with a weaver woman for eighteen months. All of these experiences he put away in the "tobacco tin" lodged in his chest, and "nothing in this world could pry it open."

Analysis:

More of Paul D's painful past is revealed, making clear why his strategy for survival has been to strangle his own feelings. The level of brutality in Georgia far exceeded anything he had experienced at Sweet Home, and showed him how little his life was valued. The relatively gentle treatment he received under Mr. Garner, however, is no argument that there is an enlightened form of slavery. Whatever privileges he enjoyed under Garner were fragile, not his own to keep and protect. After Garner's death, there was nothing Paul D could do to save himself.

The image of the tobacco tin in his chest reveals how tightly he holds back all of his memories. Although we are told that "nothing in this world" can open it, Beloved is not of this world.

Part One, Chapter 11

Summary:

Beloved moves Paul D. Inexplicably, he begins to feel uncomfortable sleeping with Sethe. He begins to sleep in the rocker, then in Baby Sugg's old room, then in the store room, then in the cold house. The moving, he knows, has nothing to do with Sethe, but is involuntary, yet he can do nothing to prevent it.

Beloved comes to him in the cold house and tells him to touch her "inside part" and call her by her name. Paul D tries to resist, but he cannot. She insists, and he does as she asks, horrified by his own actions. As he touches her, he repeats the words "red heart" again and again, like a mantra.

Analysis:

Beloved shows her intent to be rid of Paul D, first by moving him, and then by using sex to try to conquer him. Paul D cannot resist her, and the reader sees an indication of Beloved's power. He has survived slavery and a Southern prison for blacks, but he cannot resist the ghost.

The encounter pries open the "tobacco tin" in his chest, and his repetition of "red heart" indicates that he still has what he had tried to leave behind, the repetition giving the words a pattern like a heartbeat. Beloved forces him to feel what he does not want to feel. Perhaps because she is an embodiment of the past, the encounter with her tears down Paul D's defenses. Certainly, the sex is horrific and desperate and not entirely under his control, but Paul D's vulnerability and defeat by the ghost reminds him of his own human feelings.

Part One, Chapter 12

Summary:

Denver remembers the "original hunger," before Beloved came. But even now, she cannot consistently win Beloved's approval or her smiles. She is desperate for Beloved to love her, and she fears that Beloved might leave again.

Sethe comes to believe that Beloved was locked up by a white man-all Beloved can remember is standing up on a bridge looking down and one white man. We later realize that the one white man is schoolteacher, but Sethe believes that Beloved was locked up and used for a white master's pleasure. Sethe remembers Ella, the woman who took her on the last leg of the Underground Railroad. Ella was locked up by a father and his son for a year, and Sethe thinks something like that may have happened to Beloved.

Denver follows Beloved out to the cold house, where Beloved vanishes into thin air. Denver begins to cry, worse than when Paul D first came: "Then it was for herself. Now she is crying because she has no self." But Beloved reappears, and asks mysteriously if Denver can see "her face." Denver cannot, and asks whose face it is, to which Beloved replies, "Me. It's me."

Analysis:

Denver conflates her own identity with the identity of Beloved, just as Beloved conflates her own identity with Sethe's. She cries and feels that "she has no self," showing how absolutely dependent she has become on Beloved's presence and approval.

Beloved, in turn, sees herself as one with Sethe. When she sees "her face," she means the face of her mother-which, in her mind, is equivalent to herself. Like infants in the theories of some psychologists and psychoanalysts, she sees her mother's identity and her own as one.

This relinquishment of selfhood is not healthy-and is a transformation and continuation, of sorts, of the lack of selfhood blacks had while still slaves. Although the Civil War has been fought and the slaves emancipated, Denver and Beloved are not yet ready to own themselves. They instead find the Self lodged in the identity of another.

Sethe  - Sethe, the protagonist of Beloved, is a proud and independent woman who is extremely devoted to her children. Though she barely knew her own mother, Sethe’s motherly instincts are her most striking characteristic. Unwilling to relinquish her children to the physical, emotional, sexual, and spiritual trauma she endured as a slave at Sweet Home, she attempts to murder them in an act of motherly love and protection. She remains haunted by this and other scarring events in her past, which she tries, in vain, to repress.

Read an in-depth analysis of Sethe.

Denver  - Sethe’s youngest child, Denver is the most dynamic character in the novel. Though intelligent, introspective, and sensitive, Denver has been stunted in her emotional growth by years of relative isolation. Beloved’s increasing malevolence, however, forces Denver to overcome her fear of the world beyond 124 and seek help from the community. Her foray out into the town and her attempts to find permanent work and possibly attend college mark the beginning of her fight for independence and self-possession.

Read an in-depth analysis of Denver.

Beloved  - Beloved’s identity is mysterious. The novel provides evidence that she could be an ordinary woman traumatized by years of captivity, the ghost of Sethe’s mother, or, most convincingly, the embodied spirit of Sethe’s murdered daughter. On an allegorical level, Beloved represents the inescapable, horrible past of slavery returned to haunt the present. Her presence, which grows increasingly malevolent and parasitic as the novel progresses, ultimately serves as a catalyst for Sethe’s, Paul D’s, and Denver’s respective processes of emotional growth.

Read an in-depth analysis of Beloved.

Paul D  - The physical and emotional brutality suffered by Paul D at Sweet Home and as part of a chain gang has caused him to bury his feelings in the “rusted tobacco tin” of his heart. He represses his painful memories and believes that the key to survival is not becoming too attached to anything. At the same time, he seems to incite the opening up of others’ hearts, and women in particular tend to confide in him. Sethe welcomes him to 124, where he becomes her lover and the object of Denver’s and Beloved’s jealousy. Though his union with Sethe provides him with stability and allows him to come to terms with his past, Paul D continues to doubt fundamental aspects of his identity, such as the source of his manhood and his value as a person.

Baby Suggs  - After Halle buys his mother, Baby Suggs, her freedom, she travels to Cincinnati, where she becomes a source of emotional and spiritual inspiration for the city’s black residents. She holds religious gatherings at a place called the Clearing, where she teaches her followers to love their voices, bodies, and minds. However, after Sethe’s act of infanticide, Baby Suggs stops preaching and retreats to a sickbed to die. Even so, Baby Suggs continues to be a source of inspiration long after her death: in Part Three her memory motivates Denver to leave 124 and find help. It is partially out of respect for Baby Suggs that the community responds to Denver’s requests for support.

Stamp Paid  - Like Baby Suggs, Stamp Paid is considered by the community to be a figure of salvation, and he is welcomed at every door in town. An agent of the Underground Railroad, he helps Sethe to freedom and later saves Denver’s life. A grave sacrifice he made during his enslavement has caused him to consider his emotional and moral debts to be paid off for the rest of his life, which is why he decided to rename himself “Stamp Paid.” Yet by the end of the book he realizes that he may still owe protection and care to the residents of 124. Angered by the community’s neglect of Sethe, Denver, and Paul D, Stamp begins to question the nature of a community’s obligations to its members.

schoolteacher  - Following Mr. Garner’s death, schoolteacher takes charge of Sweet Home. Cold, sadistic, and vehemently racist, schoolteacher replaces what he views as Garner’s too-soft approach with an oppressive regime of rigid rules and punishment on the plantation. Schoolteacher’s own habits are extremely ascetic: he eats little, sleeps less, and works hard. His most insidious form of oppression is his “scientific” scrutiny of the slaves, which involves asking questions, taking physical measurements, and teaching lessons to his white pupils on the slaves’ “animal characteristics.” The lower-case s of schoolteacher’s appellation may have an ironic meaning: although he enjoys a position of extreme power over the slaves, they attribute no worth to him.

Halle  - Sethe’s husband and Baby Suggs’s son, Halle is generous, kind, and sincere. He is very much alert to the hypocrisies of the Garners’ “benevolent” form of slaveholding. Halle eventually goes mad, presumably after witnessing schoolteacher’s nephews’ violation of Sethe.

Lady Jones  - Lady Jones, a light-skinned black woman who loathes her blond hair, is convinced that everyone despises her for being a woman of mixed race. Despite her feelings of alienation, she maintains a strong sense of community obligation and teaches the underprivileged children of Cincinnati in her home. She is skeptical of the supernatural dimensions of Denver’s plea for assistance, but she nevertheless helps to organize the community’s delivery of food to Sethe’s plagued household.

Ella  - Ella worked with Stamp Paid on the Underground Railroad. Traumatized by the sexual brutality of a white father and son who once held her captive, she believes, like Sethe, that the past is best left buried. When it surfaces in the form of Beloved, Ella organizes the women of the community to exorcise Beloved from 124.

Mr. and Mrs. Garner -  Mr. and Mrs. Garner are the comparatively benevolent owners of Sweet Home. The events at Sweet Home reveal, however, that the idea of benevolent slavery is a contradiction in terms. The Garners’ paternalism and condescension are simply watered-down versions of schoolteacher’s vicious racism.

Mr. and Miss Bodwin -  Siblings Mr. and Miss Bodwin are white abolitionists who have played an active role in winning Sethe’s freedom. Yet there is something disconcerting about the Bodwins’ politics. Mr. Bodwin longs a little too eagerly for the “heady days” of abolitionism, and Miss Bodwin demonstrates a condescending desire to “experiment” on Denver by sending her to Oberlin College. The distasteful figurine Denver sees in the Bodwins’ house, portraying a slave and displaying the message “At Yo’ Service,” marks the limits and ironies of white involvement in the struggle for racial equality. Nevertheless, the siblings are motivated by good intentions, believing that “human life is holy, all of it.”

Amy Denver  - A nurturing and compassionate girl who works as an indentured servant, Amy is young, flighty, talkative, and idealistic. She helps Sethe when she is ill during her escape from Sweet Home, and when she sees Sethe’s wounds from being whipped, Amy says that they resemble a tree. She later delivers baby Denver, whom Sethe names after her.

Paul A, Paul F, and Sixo -  Paul A and Paul F are the brothers of Paul D. They were slaves at Sweet Home with him, Halle, Sethe, and, earlier, Baby Suggs. Sixo is another fellow slave. Sixo and Paul A die during the escape from the plantation.

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