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Part Two: Chapter 19

Summary Part Two: Chapter 19


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.

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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.”