White people believed that . . . under every dark skin was a jungle . . . In a way, [Stamp Paid] thought, they were right . . . But it wasn’t the jungle blacks brought with them. . . . It was the jungle whitefolks planted in them. And it grew . . . until it invaded the whites who had made it.
When Stamp Paid hears that Paul D has left 124, he feels guilty for having told Paul D about Sethe’s crime without considering her family’s welfare. Stamp Paid reminds himself that he has a duty to Sethe and Denver by virtue of their connection to Baby Suggs, of whom he was very fond. He thinks about her late-life depression, which deeply saddened him. He tried to convince her to continue preaching God’s word, but she claimed she had lost all motivation after the white men’s intrusion into her household.
For the first time since Baby Suggs’s death, Stamp returns to 124. When he approaches the house, he hears a clamor of disturbing, disembodied conversation. He can discern only the word “mine.” Although he has a habit of walking into houses without knocking—it is the one privilege he claims in exchange for the good he does for the Cincinnati community—Stamp Paid feels uncomfortable entering 124 unannounced. He stands awkwardly at the door and thinks about what he ought to do.
Sethe takes Beloved and Denver ice-skating, partly to show that she has not been devastated by Paul D’s departure. Later, Sethe hears Beloved humming a song Sethe made up to sing to her children. Faced with such evidence, Sethe finally recognizes Beloved as her resurrected daughter. Now that her dead child has rejoined her, she decides to discard the past and the future for the “timeless present” of 124.
After returning to 124 several more times and finding himself unable to knock on each occasion, Stamp Paid finally works up the courage to knock on Sethe’s door. No one answers. When he peeks in the window, he sees Denver sleeping in front of the fire, but he does not recognize Beloved and her presence disturbs him. When he asks around about the stranger in Sethe’s home, his friend Ella tells him that Paul D is sleeping at the church. Stamp chastises Ella for not offering Paul D a place to stay, and he is angered by the community’s general neglect of Paul D and of the women.
Stamp wonders whether perhaps he has made a mistake in staying away from 124 for so long, whether he might not owe something to Baby Suggs’s kin. Earlier in his life, he decided that he no longer owed anyone anything. While a slave, Stamp was forced to give his wife to his master’s son to sleep with, and he concluded that his wife was a gift so terrible that it freed him forever after of all obligation. For this reason, he changed his name from Joshua to Stamp Paid.
Sethe cooks all morning at a restaurant and then takes her lunch home. Occasionally, she steals food and supplies because she is too proud to endure the local grocer’s racism. She feels ashamed of her petty thievery and remembers an occasion when Sixo stole a small pig from Sweet Home. When schoolteacher confronted him, Sixo cleverly talked his way out of blame by insisting that he was actually improving schoolteacher’s property by feeding himself so that he could better work the land. Schoolteacher whipped him to teach him that “definitions belonged to the definers—not to the defined.”
Sethe’s memory of Sixo launches a series of other memories about Sweet Home and slavery. One is so painful that Sethe has told it to no one but Beloved: schoolteacher treated the slaves like farm stock, measuring their body parts and studying them like biological specimens. Once, Sethe overheard him giving a lesson to his nephews about her in which he instructed them to categorize each of her characteristics as either human or animal. Schoolteacher again manifested his cruelty again when, after Baby Suggs’s departure, he stopped Halle from doing any more work outside Sweet Home, thus depriving him of the chance to pay for the rest of his family’s release from slavery. This incident sparked the family to plot a secret escape. But their plan met with a tragic conclusion: Halle went insane, Paul A was hanged, Sixo was burned, and Paul D ended up with a bit in his mouth. Sethe recalls one night when she and Halle discussed the days of Mr. Garner’s rule of Sweet Home, the days before schoolteacher and his sadistic nephews arrived. Halle had surprised Sethe by saying that he saw no real difference between Garner’s kind of slavery and schoolteacher’s.
When Stamp runs away from 124 without knocking, he believes that the “undecipherable” voices he hears from the porch of the house belong to the “black and angry dead.” The chapter ends with Stamp’s thoughts about how slavery dehumanizes everyone involved, including whites. By defining the blacks as “jungle”-like, the whites “plant” resentment among the blacks that burgeons into a real, “jungle” anger. The whites, in turn, become so frightened of their own creation that they, too, began to behave brutally, like animals. The jungle, Stamp thinks, touches everyone, but it is normally hidden. Only from time to time does it manifest itself in rumblings such as the ones he hears emanating from 124.
In this chapter, Stamp Paid’s feelings of guilt are interspersed with Sethe’s memories of schoolteacher and Sweet Home. The result is a sort of dialogue centering on issues of responsibility and blame. The majority of the black characters in Beloved are unhappy, but it is unclear whether the white people are solely responsible or whether the blacks’ sorrows are to some extent due to their inability to come to terms with themselves and their pasts. The chapter also raises questions about what the black community owes to itself and about the ties that bind people who are no longer slaves.
The complex, confused dynamics of Beloved’s behavior—alternately weak and strong, vulnerable and invincible, loving and malicious, needy and omnipotent—represent the irony and contradiction inherent in Stamp Paid’s portrait of the black psyche. Stamp Paid believes that black people feel the need to work extremely hard because they wish to dissociate themselves from white people’s image of them as a savage, animalistic species. Yet, Stamp Paid notes, the harder they work to demonstrate their humanity, the more bitter and angry they become. In the end, that rage begins to threaten the very humanity they had been trying to protect and emphasize. In this way, thinks Stamp, the whites succeed in creating a kind of savagery where there was none before, and that savagery in turn spreads to the whites themselves. The result is a snarled and anarchic jungle in which questions of blame and guilt can seem almost impossible to unravel. Stamp Paid’s meditation on the tangled network of guilt and retribution that forms racism’s “jungle” expands the chapter’s focus from individual characters and the local black community to the black community at large.
Although, as his chosen name signifies, Stamp Paid used to believe that his own suffering and deprivation freed him from future obligations, he now begins to realize that it may be his responsibility to look out for Denver’s and Sethe’s welfare. He also decides that Baby Suggs is to blame for her own depression, which he saw as her surrender to her oppressors. In Stamp’s mind, when Baby Suggs decided to stop speaking “the Word,” she made a choice to “wear the bit,” even though Baby Suggs herself blamed the whites for her suffering and cited the intrusion of the four horsemen as the beginning of her emotional deterioration. Stamp Paid reminds himself that the black community contributed to Baby Suggs’s eventual descent by failing to warn her of schoolteacher’s approach, thus hindering her ability to prevent the tragedy. These memories end up muddying his formerly clear-cut understanding of Baby Suggs’s plight.
Sethe, too, deals with issues of guilt. Although she tells herself that she does not need to explain to Beloved what led her to murder a daughter because Beloved already understands, Sethe nonetheless continues to detail her motivations mentally, which suggests her need to justify her actions to herself. Sethe has invested all of her identity in motherhood. Every sacrifice she made was for her children and every abuse she suffered she felt as an offense against her children because, in Sethe’s eyes, her children are extensions of herself and vice versa. Her behavior—plotting out how to explain her act of infanticide to Beloved and to herself—suggests that however much Sethe blames her murder of Beloved on the oppression of slavery, she in fact places a good deal of the blame for the murder on her own shoulders.
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