by Toni Morrison
Mr. and Mrs. Garner
Is there such a thing as a good slaveowner? That's what you have to ask yourself when you come across the Garners. After all, they aren't flat-out horrendous like schoolteacher. In fact, when you first meet them, the Garners really do seem like they might be that "Great White Hope" for the Sweet Home crew.
Mr. Garner, for instance, believes in treating the slaves like men: "'Now at Sweet Home, my niggers is men every one of em. Bought em thataway, raised em thataway. Men every one,'" (1.10) he proudly states to other slave owners. All of which means that the slaves at Sweet Home get to act more like self-managing employees than slaves:
[Paul D] grew up thinking that, of all the Blacks in Kentucky, only the five of them were men. Allowed, encoured to correct Garner, even defy him. To invent ways of doing things; to see what was needed and attack it without permission. To buy a mother, choose a horse or a wife, handle guns, even learn reading if they wanted to. (13.125)
It isn't until Paul D does some serious pondering about his past that he starts to question Mr. Garner's good intentions.
Halle never believes in Mr. Garner, either. He points out to Sethe that Mr. Garner may have let him buy out Baby Suggs's time at Sweet Home, but in return, Mr. Garner got him, Sethe, and their three children. In other words, Mr. Garner got a bargain deal, especially considering Baby Suggs wasn't really in the condition to work anymore.
Plus, you've got to wonder: wouldn't a truly benevolent slaveowner just emancipate the slaves? That's something we're reminded time and again that the Garners never did. Instead, once Mr. Garner dies and Mrs. Garner becomes too sick to leave bed, the slaves are left under schoolteacher's "care."
Not exactly a lot of foresight on the part of the Garners, if you ask us.