Pages 1–19: Summary and Analysis
Sethe: the protagonist of the novel
Denver: Sethe’s almost 19-year-old, somewhat simple, daughter who lives with her in isolation at 124 Bluestone Road, the house that had originally been rented, unhaunted, to Baby Suggs
Paul D: a former slave who was at Sweet Home in Kentucky with Sethe 18 years earlier
Baby Suggs: bought out of slavery at the age of 60 by her son, Halle, who is Sethe’s husband; spent many years in her bed deciding whether or not to die
The Garners: husband and wife who own Sweet Home; they treat their slaves with a modicum of respect
schoolteacher: Mr. Garner’s educated brother-in-law who comes to Sweet Home at Mrs. Garner’s request to manage the farm and the slaves after Mr. Garner’s death
schoolteacher’s nephews: possibly his sons, it is not made clear which they are; Sethe’s attackers while she was nursing and pregnant
Howard and Buglar: Sethe’s sons; each one runs away as he reaches his teens, fearing the spirit that lives in the house
Sethe and Denver have lived alone since Baby Suggs’ death almost nine years earlier, right after Howard and Buglar—Sethe’s sons and Denver’s older brothers—had run away from the spirit that haunts the house within two months of each other. The spirit is thought to be that of Sethe’s daughter (born two years before Denver), who died.
Paul D, another former slave from Sweet Home, comes to Sethe’s home. As he enters, the spirit makes an appearance as a red light. Paul D thinks it is evil, but Sethe insists it is only sad and full of grief. Sethe tells Paul D how schoolteacher’s nephews stole her breast milk, of her whipping, of the birth of Denver as she was fleeing from slavery, and of Baby Suggs’ death. The spirit appears again to shake the floorboards of the house, but Paul D sends it away, thereby leaving Denver lonely. They decide that Paul D will stay, Denver’s hostility toward him for sending away her only company notwithstanding.
These few pages are so chock-full of important events and history in each of the characters’ lives that the characters need to be separated from their parts in each others’ lives before we may begin to understand them. It is very clear that each has suffered tremendously, and it may be difficult for the reader to assimilate the intricate interweavings of their sorrows. For Sethe, it is the vivid memories of the theft of her breast milk and her whipping. Paul D has never come to terms with having his brother sold away from Sweet Home. Denver...
(The entire section is 679 words.)