Pages 218–235: Summary and Analysis
Vashti: Stamp Paid’s now-deceased wife
Joshua: Stamp Paid’s former slave name
Paul D is drinking on the steps of the church, remembering when Stamp Paid finds him in order to apologize for no one in the community offering to take him in (Paul D tells him Reverend Pike offered, but he preferred to be alone), and to tell him he, Stamp Paid, had been present when Sethe killed Beloved and tried to kill her other children. He tells Paul D it wasn’t like he thinks it was. Paul D is full of his own thoughts about the past: the attempted escape from Sweet Home; Sixo being burned and shot; Halle going insane; Paul A being missing; Thirty-Mile Woman—pregnant with Sixo’s child—being sent running by Sixo when it was clear they were going to be caught; not knowing his father; not remembering his mother; his own torture; and the way his heart stopped when Sethe had told him she’d already sent the children ahead and was going to run herself.
Then Stamp Paid tells Paul D how he renamed himself, how his wife Vashti had to sleep with the young master, and how frustrating it had been to Stamp Paid that he could neither kill the young master nor break Vashti’s neck. He asks about Beloved, and together they figure out she is probably the young girl who had been locked up in a house with a white man all winter. When spring came, the man was dead and the girl gone.
Paul D sees nothing in his life but losses and empty spaces until he thinks about Sethe. But he thinks of her as a loss too, regretting the fact that his “tobacco tin” (heart) has been unlocked by her after so long, only to be left blowing in the wind. He is very aware that he has no family history, no family present, and from the looks of it now, no family future. He is in mourning for what could have been and beseeches Stamp Paid to tell him just how much a man is supposed to take.
Stamp Paid, in explaining why he renamed himself, reveals his own sorrows: being a murderous husband who cannot kill either the young master soiling his wife nor the wife forced into this coupling, his throwing himself into helping the community only to find it torn apart by jealousy supposedly caused by “uppityness,” and his marrow-deep bone weariness. Neither man—Paul D protesting nor Stamp Paid accepting—sees a way out of misery.