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Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained
5. And if she thought anything, it was No. No. Nono. Nonono. Simple. She just flew. Collected every bit of life she had made, all the parts of her that were precious and fine and beautiful, and carried, pushed, dragged them through the veil, out, away, over there where no one could hurt them. Over there. Outside this place, where they would be safe.

After Paul D learns about Sethe’s crime from Stamp Paid in Chapter 18, he goes to 124 in search of an explanation. This passage, although written in the third person, records Sethe’s thoughts. Sethe saw the decision she made as “simple.” She wanted to secure her children’s safety, to send them “over there” into the afterlife rather than let them be pulled back to Sweet Home with schoolteacher. Sethe’s passion for her children, which infuses so much of the novel, shines through in this passage with particular clarity. The moment Sethe’s reason reduced itself to instinct, her language broke down as well: she recalls her words as “No. No. Nono. Nonono.” For her, the border between life and death is tenuous, nothing more than a screen or “veil” that she hopes to place in front of her children.

Another significant aspect of the passage is Sethe’s identification of her children as “the parts of her that were precious and fine and beautiful”; for Sethe, to allow schoolteacher to take her children would be to allow him to destroy everything that is good in herself, to destroy all the “life” she had made. According to this understanding, Sethe’s murder of her daughter seems a less legally and morally reprehensible crime because it becomes an act of self-defense. Yet the question of Sethe’s guilt is never fully settled in the book. The characters debate the morality of her act in pointed language, but Morrison herself withholds judgment on the deed. Throughout the book, she focuses her criticisms instead on the forces of slavery that led Sethe to kill her own daughter. In this passage and elsewhere, Morrison condemns slavery as an institution so perverse that it could mutate a mother’s love into murder.