people believed that whatever the manners, under every dark skin
was a jungle. Swift unnavigable waters, swinging screaming baboons,
sleeping snakes, red gums ready for their sweet white blood. In
a way . . . they were right. . . . But it wasn’t the jungle blacks
brought with them to this place. . . . It was the jungle whitefolks
planted in them. And it grew. It spread . . . until it invaded the
whites who had made it. . . . Made them bloody, silly, worse than even
they wanted to be, so scared were they of the jungle they had made.
The screaming baboon lived under their own white skin; the red gums
were their own.
In Chapter 19,
at the beginning of Part Two, Stamp Paid considers the ways in which
slavery corrupts and dehumanizes everyone who comes in contact with
it, including the white slave owners. It makes them fearful, sadistic,
and raving. For example, one could say that schoolteacher’s perverse
lessons and violent racism exist because they are his means of justifying
the institution of slavery. In his thoughts, Stamp Paid depicts
the jungle from a white person’s point of view—as awesome, exotic,
and thrilling. He perceives anxiety on the part of the whites about
the unknown, unintelligible, “unnavigable” psyche of the slaves
they steal. The sense of anxiety is emphasized by the images of
wild consumption in the passage—jungles growing and spreading, red
gums ready for blood. The conclusion of this passage asserts that
what the whites recognize and run from is in fact their own savagery.
They project this savagery onto those whom they perceive to be their
opposites—“the Other.” The passage derives its power from the way
Morrison moves the images of the jungle around, so that, by the
end, the whites are the ones who hide a jungle under their skin;
they are consuming themselves.