Part One: Chapters 15-18

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Last Updated April 11, 2023.

Chapter 15

The narrative flashes back to Baby Suggs at 124, anxiously waiting for her family—but especially Halle—to arrive. Her grandchildren arrive first, then Sethe with the infant Denver. While their presence gladdens Baby Suggs, she also feels she must restrain herself, worrying that celebrating prematurely might invite disaster. Nevertheless, a celebration occurs after Stamp Paid brings home two buckets of blackberries for Denver. Moved by this labor of love, Baby Suggs makes pies from the berries. Soon, the event turns into a sizable feast with ninety people in attendance.

The flagrant display of abundance draws the envy of Baby Suggs’ neighbors. She “smells it in the air” and then sees an image of high-topped shoes—an entirely separate and troubling omen. Baby Suggs reminisces on her life with Halle at Sweet Home after they were bought by Mr. Garner. She notes the kindness of the Garners, who call her Jenny. The farm is small and lacks the violence of other farms; indeed, they treat their slaves more like paid labor. When Halle makes an arrangement with Mr. Garner to work for his mother’s freedom, Baby Suggs agrees to be taken across the river to Ohio, understanding that her freedom is important to Halle.

While traveling with Mr. Garner, Baby Suggs asks why they call her Jenny. Mr. Garner explains that it was the name written down on her sales ticket, asking what she actually goes by. She explains that she does not have a name; her husband was named Suggs, and he used to call her “Baby.” She decides to go by Baby Suggs, partly in the hopes it will help her husband find her. Later, in a meeting with the Bodwins, the Bodwins agree to give her a house in exchange for various jobs, such as cobbling shoes and washing clothes.

Chapter 16

Schoolteacher arrives at 124 with a posse, planning to take Sethe and her children back to Sweet Home as his slaves. They find her in the shed behind the house and are struck by the scene that greets them: Sethe’s two sons lay bleeding on the floor, her eldest daughter is bleeding from a deep cut in her throat, and Sethe holds Denver upside-down by her heel, ready to dash the child’s thin body against the wall. As the men approach, she attempts to swing Denver into the wall, but Stamp Paid intercedes, stealing Denver from her grasp. 

Believing Sethe and her children too wild and deranged for slave labor, schoolteacher and the others leave in disgust, alerting the sheriff and telling him to arrest Sethe. The sheriff takes Sethe and her baby away in a wagon. Baby Suggs goes outside too late to catch them, wanting to shout: “Don’t let her take that last one too.” From the crowd, two white children hand Baby Suggs a pair of high-topped shoes, demanding she fixes them.  In a tone filled with contrition, Baby Suggs agrees.

Chapter 17 

Stamp Paid shows Paul D an old newspaper clipping reporting on Sethe’s attempt to kill her children. However, Paul D immediately refuses to believe Stamp Paid’s words and rejects his attempts to tell the story. Paul D fixates on the mouth of the woman in the image, certain that the mouth does not belong to Sethe. His laughter prevents Stamp Paid from speaking, even as the latter tries to recount to Paul D the events leading up to the tragedy. 

Quietly, Stamp Paid remembers how Baby Suggs knew something was coming and had kept looking anxiously downstream. He notes that the neighborhood had not tried to warn them of the coming slave catchers, suspecting that this was borne out of resentment and a desire to test Baby Suggs’s luck. Moreover, he recalls Sethe’s panic when she realized that schoolteacher was coming for her and her children, whom she would rather kill than permit to fall back into slavery. 

In the end, Stamp Paid decides not to tell Paul D his own memory of the events. In fact, Paul D’s look of conviction makes him almost doubt what happened.

Chapter 18 

Paul D brings the newspaper clipping to Sethe, certain that she will deny the events printed on it. Instead, Sethe begins to circle the room and starts talking cryptically. She recounts her memories of her children: lessons about raising children she had to learn on her own, what it was like having nobody else to watch after them, and what it was like not being allowed, as a slave, to really love them. Sethe asserts that escaping Sweet Home was important to her, because being free meant she could choose who to love—being free, she finally felt she could love her children. The day the schoolteacher came, she gathered everything important to her—her children—and decided to put them “where they’d be safe.”

The intensity of Sethe’s conviction strikes fear into Paul D, who says that Sethe’s love is “too thick” and asserts there must have been some other way to protect them. When Sethe asks what else she could have done, Paul D replies that she should have behaved like a human and not like an animal. The insult creates an emotional rift between the two, and Paul D begins thinking of a way to leave. Moving slowly, he stands up and glances at Beloved, who was watching and listening from up the stairs. Before opening the front door, Paul D tells Sethe to put aside supper for when he returns later. However, he and Sethe both know that he has no plans to come back.

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Part One: Chapters 12-14


Part Two: Chapters 19-21