• Study Guide

Part One: Chapters 2–3

Summary Part One: Chapters 2–3

Summary: Chapter 2

After twenty-five years of fantasizing about Sethe, Paul D finds the consummation of his desire to be a disappointment. He lies awake in Sethe’s bed and decides that her “tree” is nothing but an ugly clump of scars. His thoughts turn to Sixo, a fellow slave at Sweet Home, who would walk thirty miles to meet his girlfriend while Halle and the Paul brothers pined away after Sethe.

We learn that although Baby Suggs had eight children by six different men, Halle, her youngest, was the only one who wasn’t taken from her. When Halle bought Baby Suggs her freedom, she believed that, at her age, she was too old for her freedom to mean anything.

Paul D’s interested gaze reminds Sethe of Halle, whose love was more like that of a brother than that of a man “laying claim.” Sethe remembers that when she and Halle first decided to get married, she asked Mrs. Garner if they were to have a wedding, but the white woman only laughed. With nothing to make the partnership official in any way, Sethe secretly stitched herself a dress to mark the occasion. The lovers consummated their relationship in a cornfield, and the swaying corn stalks alerted the other men that Sethe had finally made her choice. That night, the other Sweet Home men ate the fresh corn that came from the stalks broken by Sethe and Halle.

Summary: Chapter 3

. . . if you go there—you who was never there—if you go there and stand in the place where it was, it will happen again; it will be there . . . it’s going to always be there waiting for you.

See Important Quotations Explained

Denver turns to the outdoors for comfort and contemplation. Since childhood, she has sought privacy and repose in what she calls her “emerald closet”—a bower formed by a ring of boxwood bushes that smells of cologne she once spilled there. One time, as she was returning from the bower, through the window Denver saw Sethe kneeling in prayer in Baby Suggs’s room. A ghostly white dress knelt beside Sethe with its arm around her waist. Denver interpreted the vision as a sign that the baby ghost had “plans.” Paul D, she thinks resentfully, has now interrupted those plans.

When Denver had asked her mother what she was praying about, Sethe told her she was thinking about time, memory, and the past. In Sethe’s philosophy, “nothing ever dies.” This means that past events continue to occur, not only in one’s “rememory” but also somehow in the real world. Sethe believes it is possible to “bump into” past events and places again, and her main priority is shielding Denver from these tangible, painful collisions with the past.

Sethe ran away from Sweet Home when she was pregnant with Denver. Sethe’s feet had become raw lumps of flesh by the time she collapsed in the woods, where she was found by a white girl, Amy Denver. Amy explained that she had just completed a childhood of indentured servitude and was heading to Boston to get some “carmine” velvet. Carmine, Amy explained, is what people who buy velvet in Boston call “red.” When Amy asked Sethe her name, Sethe told her a false name, “Lu.” If Sethe were caught, she could be sent back to Sweet Home. Amy led Sethe to an abandoned lean-to and massaged her tortured feet back to life. Sethe later gave birth to her baby with Amy’s help, naming the child after the compassionate girl. Because the story is about her birth, Denver loves to hear it told.