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When authors refer to other great works, people, and events, it’s usually not accidental. Put on your super-sleuth hat and figure out why.
Literary and Cinematic
Paul D's tobacco tin box of a heart reminds us of the Tin Man in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Paul D saying "Red heart. Red heart. Red heart" (11.117) reminds us of the phrase "Red rum red rum" from The Shining (1980).
Amy Denver sings "Lady Button-Eyes," a poem by Eugene Field, to Sethe (8.80-81).
"Sis Joe"—railroad work song: "Little rice, little bean,/No meant in between./Hard word ain't easy,/Dry bread ain't greasy." (3.40)
"Trouble in Mind"—railroad work song: "Lay my head on the railroad line,/ Train come along, pacify my mind/ If I had my weight in lime,/ I'd whip my captain till he went stone blind./ Five-cent nickel,/ Ten-cent dime,/ Busting rocks is busting time." (3.40)
"Storm upon the Waters"—spiritual: "He couldn't go back to 'Storm upon the Waters' that they sang under the trees of Sweet Home, so he contented himself with mmmmmmmmm, throwing in a line if one occurred to him, and what occurred over and over was 'Bare feet and chamomile sap,/Took off my shoes; took off my hat.'" (3.40)
"Down by the Riverside"—spiritual: "Lay em down, Sethe. Sword and shield. Down. Down. Both of em down. Down by the riverside. Sword and shield. Don't study war no more. Lay all that mess down. Sword and shield." (9.86)
When Stamp Paid feeds baby Denver some blackberries (15.136), we think of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:3-3:7).
On the day of baby Beloved's death, Baby Suggs holds a party and ends up having enough food for the entire town (15.136-137).
Kind of like the fishes and loaves parable (Matthew 14:13-21; Matthew 15:32-39; Mark 6:31-44; Mark 8:1-9; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:5-15).
The "tree" that schoolteacher makes when he whips Sethe's back (1.17-18; 2.21-22; 8.79) is reminiscent of the tree of knowledge and evil (Genesis 2-4).
"She is mine" (22.210; 23.214) is from Song of Solomon 2-6.
Sethe, Denver, and the "holy ghost" Beloved might symbolize the Holy Trinity (Matthew 28:19).
"When the four horsemen came—schoolteacher, one nephew, one slave catcher and a sheriff—the house on Bluestone Road was so quiet they thought they were too late" (16.148). Sounds like the Four Horsemen (Revelations 6).
"If he trembled like Lot's wife and felt some womanish need to see the nature of the sin behind him; feel a sympathy, perhaps, for the cursing cursed, or want to hold it in his arms out of respect for the connection between them, he too would be lost" (11.117). This is a shout-out to Lot's wife (Genesis 19).
"'Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,' and nobody needed more; nobody needed a grown-up evil sitting at the table with a grudge" (26.128). It makes us think of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:34).
Margaret Garner (Chapter 16; the Garners)
The Middle Passage (Chapter 22, and throughout)
The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 (Chapter 16)
Buffalo Solders; "The Cherokee saw the chains and went away. When they returned each carried a handful of small axes. Two children followed with a pot of mush cooling and thinning in the rain. Buffalo men, they called them, and talked slowly to the prisoners scooping mush and tapping away at their chains" (10.29-30).