“I had eight. Every one of them gone from me. Four taken, four chased, and all, I expect, worrying somebody’s house into evil.”
In response to Sethe’s suggestion that they move from 124, Baby Suggs explains the nature of the black family as marked by grief and loss. She uses herself as an example: Baby Suggs is the mother of eight children but all of them were either sold, ran away, or in Halle’s case, stayed behind in slavery so she could be free. Though the bonds of the black family are strong and true—as indicated by her taking in her grandchildren and Sethe without hesitation—under slavery, the institution itself is destroyed.
I wouldn’t draw breath without my children.
In her stream-of-consciousness chapter, Sethe talks about how intertwined a mother and a child are and emphasizes that a mother’s responsibility is to protect her child. She ruminates on her own mother, who was hanged, believing she didn’t try to escape because a mother would never voluntarily leave her children. Similarly, Sethe made the difficult decision to kill her own children rather than let them be taken back into slavery. The fact that Sethe lacked any good options when faced with eminent capture emphasizes the perversion of the family and the normal bonds of love.
…each time he discovered large families of black people he made them identify over and over who each was, what relation, who, in fact, belonged to who.
The narrator explains that when Paul D travels and meets black families made up of multiple generations of slaves, he is fascinated with their interconnection because it shows that they belong to one another and not an owner. These families stand in marked contrast to Paul D’s. He and his two half-brothers grew up on Garner’s farm, never knowing their parents. Under slavery, people were constantly forced to create their own family, as Halle and Sethe did. This instability carries beyond slavery, when though Paul D is free, he is afraid to forge close bonds because they are so fragile.