124 is haunted. And this isn't just your regular everyday haunting. This is a mean, vengeful baby-haunting. Are you scared yet? You should be.
124, by the way, is a house at the edge of Cincinnati. Sethe lives in it with her daughter, Denver.
It used to be the home of her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, but Baby Suggs passed away several years ago.
We find out right away that Sethe had two sons as well—Howard and Buglar. They weren't big fans of the creepy things that keep happening in the house, so they ran away a long time ago. Now Sethe and Denver are all alone (except, of course, for the little ghost baby).
Our narrator flashes back in time to take us to Baby Suggs's deathbed.
We'd like to interrupt this program for a brief technical note: Morrison's made skipping around in time into an art form. Believe us, we're just getting started. There are dozens (if not hundreds) of flashbacks and flashforwards in this novel. It's like Back to the Future to the 10th degree. Wonder why? Check out our analysis in "Writing Style" for more thoughts on the subject. For now, though, buckle up—it's going to be a pretty wild ride.
Right before she dies, Baby Suggs develops a passion for colors. She asks Sethe for pink—or purple—or whatever color she's craving at the moment, and Sethe finds things that fit the bill.All right, back to the present: Sethe and Denver are struggling with the sideboard. That's a sort of table/cupboard in the kitchen.
It should be against the wall, but the baby ghost is having some fun with Sethe.
Right now, the sideboard's in the middle of the room.
As Denver pushes against the heavy piece of furniture, she tells Sethe that the baby must have an awful lot of hate in her.
Sethe replies that the baby has as much hate as Sethe has love for the baby.
Thinking about her love for the baby makes Sethe think of what she had to do to get a tombstone for her baby—have sex with the engraver to get "Beloved" carved into the stone.
A pretty awful memory, huh? As Sethe thinks about it, she wonders if she could have gotten more engraved on the stone (like "Dearly Beloved") if she'd only stayed with the man longer.
In case you're wondering, this isn't exactly a fairy tale, folks. Things are pretty bleak.
Okay, back to the present: Sethe starts thinking about the nature of memory. It seems like memories just pop up, even when she doesn't want to remember.
For example, the plantation on which she was a slave, Sweet Home, constantly comes into her mind.
Sethe walks back to her house, thinking about Sweet Home. It was a beautiful place—unless, of course, you think about all the violence the slaves suffered there.
Strangely enough, when Sethe gets back to 124, one of the Sweet Home men is sitting on her porch.
Paul D hasn't seen Sethe in 18 years. That's a long time.
As soon as Sethe sees Paul D, she remembers how empathetic he's always been. He seems to feel exactly what she (or anyone else around him) is feeling.
Paul D asks Sethe about Halle, her husband. She hasn't seen him in 18 years either. Even Baby Suggs, his mother, was pretty sure that he's dead.
Paul thinks that he knows things he could tell Sethe about Halle, but he decides to save her from knowing.
As it turns out, when Sethe ran away from Sweet Home, she was pregnant. Running away from slavery wasn't exactly an easy thing to do. We're guessing things get a bit harder when you're nine months pregnant.
Sethe asks Paul D to stay the night, but she warns him that they have "company" in the house.
Talk about an understatement.
Paul D gives Sethe a once-over. She seems about the same… except that there's something different about her.
It's her eyes, Paul D decides. They're dark. Too dark. You can't even see the irises anymore.
Instead of commenting on it, Paul D tells her about Sweet Home.
There used to be 6 slaves on Sweet Home: 5 men and Sethe. The Garners, the owners of the plantation were "good" masters.
Wait. Hold it. Good slave owners?
Well, "good" is a pretty relative term here. After all, as both Paul D and Sethe remember, the schoolteacher was far, far worse than the Garners.He was so bad that he destroyed three of the Sweet Home men.
Oh and by the way, he was also the reason why Sethe's eyes became so dark.
What did he do, exactly? Well, we'll get to that in a bit. We promise. Morrison's playing with a lot of foreshadowing right now—she hints at important things, but doesn't quite tell us what they mean. Frustrated? See our analysis of her storytelling chops in "Narrative Point of View" for some clarity.
But let's get back to Paul D. Paul D remembers when Sethe and Halle got married.
Flashback to Sweet Home: All the men on Sweet Home want Sethe, but she chooses Halle.Even the fact that Sethe could choose her lover was a pretty big deal at the time. The Garners could have forced her to sleep with anyone they wanted, but they didn't.That's because Mr. Garner was convinced that he raised "men" at Sweet Home, not "nigger boys." How enlightened.
There were five men at Sweet Home: Paul D, Paul F, Paul A, Halle Suggs, and Sixo. Now back to the present: Sethe introduces Paul D to Denver.
Denver's not so sold on the idea of a new man in the house. All of a sudden, she feels left out.
Sethe and the new man share a past that doesn't include her. Now she has no one.
Denver informs Paul D that her baby sister died in the house and is now the house ghost.
Sethe gets mad at Denver. Who wouldn't right?
Talk about ruining Sethe's game. Paul D stays calm, though. He asks Sethe why they haven't just moved. After all, that seems like the logical thing to do, right?
Wrong. Sethe refuses to run from anything else in life. Ever again.
As she talks, she mentions a "tree" on her back.Confused, Paul D asks her what she means.
Sethe explains that the white girl who helped her run away called the marks on her back a tree.
Angry, she tells Paul D that schoolteacher and his two boys beat her with a cowhide and took her milk.
Prepare for some steaminess (there'll be plenty more later on too): without saying anything, Paul D stands up behind her and gently pulls down the top of her dress to see the tree.
Devastated by what he sees, he slowly kisses the deep ridges on her back.
All of a sudden, things start shaking and moving in the kitchen.
124's ghost is back in action.
Paul D won't stand for this sort of haunting though.
He screams at the ghost, telling it to go away.
Strangely enough, it does.
Denver sits alone on the front porch.
She feels even more alone now that the ghost is gone.