After Sethe first arrived at 124, Stamp Paid brought over two pails of rare, deliciously sweet, blackberries. Baby Suggs decided to bake some pies, and before long the celebration had transformed into a feast for ninety people. The community celebrated long into the night but grew jealous and angry as the feast wore on: to them, the excess of the feast was a measure of Baby Suggs’s unwarranted pride. Baby Suggs sensed a “dark and coming thing” in the distance, but the atmosphere of jealousy created by the townspeople clouded her perception.
From Sethe’s arrival at 124, the narration goes even further back in time to Sweet Home. Although it meant leaving behind the only child she had been able to see grow to adulthood, Baby Suggs allowed Halle to buy her freedom because it mattered so much to him. Once she left Sweet Home, Baby Suggs realized how sweet freedom could be. While Mr. Garner drove her to Cincinnati, she asked him why he and Mrs. Garner called her Jenny. He told her that Jenny Whitlow was the name on her bill-of-sale. She explains the origin of her real name—Suggs was her husband’s name, and he called her “Baby.” Mr. Garner tells her that Baby Suggs is “no name for a freed Negro.” He takes Baby Suggs to Ohio to meet the Bodwins, two white abolitionist siblings who allow Baby Suggs to live at 124 Bluestone Road in exchange for domestic work. Baby Suggs is unable to learn anything about the whereabouts of her lost children.
One day, about a month after Sethe arrived at 124, schoolteacher showed up at the house with one of his nephews, the sheriff, and a slave catcher. In the woodshed, they found Sethe’s sons, Howard and Buglar, lying in the sawdust, bleeding. Sethe was holding her bleeding “crawling already?” daughter, whose throat she had cut with a saw. Stamp Paid rushed in and grabbed Denver before Sethe could dash her brains out against the wall. Because none of the children could ever be of any use as a slave, schoolteacher concluded that there was nothing worth claiming at 124 and left in disgust. Sethe’s older daughter was dead, but Baby Suggs bound the boys’ wounds and struggled with Sethe over Denver. Denver nursed at Sethe’s breast, ingesting her dead sister’s blood along with her mother’s milk. The sheriff took Sethe, with Denver in her arms, to jail.
Stamp Paid shows Paul D a newspaper clipping with a drawing of Sethe, but Paul D, refusing to believe that the woman depicted is Sethe, insists, “That ain’t her mouth.” Paul D can’t read, so Stamp Paid tells him the story of Sethe’s tragedy. Stamp Paid leaves some parts of the story out, though. He doesn’t tell how Sethe grabbed her children and flew with them to the woodshed “like a hawk on the wing,” nor does he mention that, out of jealous spite, the community neglected to warn Sethe about schoolteacher’s approach.
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 . . . away, over there where no one could hurt them.See Important Quotations Explained
When Paul D confronts Sethe with the newspaper clipping, she begins to circle frantically around the room in a manner that parallels the circular manner in which she unravels her story for him. She tells Paul D how, at 124, she began to love her children with renewed force, because she knew finally that they were fully hers to love. When she recognized schoolteacher’s hat outside the house one day, she felt hummingbird wings beating around her head and could think only, “No. No. Nono. Nonono.” Killing her children was a way of protecting them from the horrors of slavery she had herself endured, a way to secure their safety.
Paul D tells her that her love is “too thick.” He feels distanced from Sethe and condemns her act, saying, “You got two feet, Sethe, not four,” by which he suggests that she acted like a beast in attempting to murder her own children. His anxiety increases when he sees Beloved standing on the staircase. He leaves 124, and Sethe simply says, “So long.” Although he does not say so, Sethe knows that Paul D isn’t coming back.