Study Guide

Beloved Slavery

By Toni Morrison


Chapter 1
Mr. and Mrs. Garner

"Y'all got boys," he told them. "Young boys, old boys, picky boys, stroppin boys. Now at Sweet Home, my n*****s is men every one of em. Bought em thataway, raised em thataway. Men every one." (1.14)

"Beg to differ, Garner. Ain't no n***** men."

Does this make Garner any more sympathetic a character? Or is a slaveowner a slaveowner a slaveowner?

Chapter 8
Paul D

"Mister, he looked so… free. Better than me. Stronger, tougher. Son a b**** couldn't even get out of the shell hisself but he was still king and I was…" Paul D stopped and squeezed his left hand with his right. He held it that way long enough for it and the world to quiet down and let him go on.

"Mister was allowed to be and stay what he was. But I wasn't allowed to be and stay what I was. Even if you cooked him you'd be cooking a rooster named Mister. But wasn't no way I'd ever be Paul D again, living or dead. Schoolteacher changed me. I was something else and that something was less than a chicken sitting in the sun on a tub." (8.102-103)

Mister the rooster is the man. So much so that Paul D refers to Mister's super-red coxcomb more than once as a way of highlighting how Paul D falls short because of slavery. And yes, if you're starting to read into the whole red coxcomb thing, go right on ahead.

Chapter 10

"Breakfast? Want some breakfast, n*****?"

"Yes, sir."

"Hungry, n*****?"

"Yes, sir."

"Here you go."

Occasionally, a kneeling man chose gunshot in his head as the price, maybe, of taking a bit of foreskin with him to Jesus. (10.5-10)

Why is scene so effective? How is it supposed to shake you as a reader?

By the time they unhitched him from the wagon and he saw nothing but dogs and two shacks in the world of sizzling grass, the roiling blood was shaking him to and fro. But no one could tell. The wrists he held out for the bracelets that evening were steady as were the legs he stood on when chains were attached to the leg irons. But when they shoved him into the box and dropped the cage door down, his hands quit taking instruction. On their own, they traveled. Nothing could stop them or get their attention. They would not hold his penis to urinate or a spoon to scoop lumps of lima beans into his mouth. The miracle of their obedience came with the hammer at dawn. (10.2)

Yes, Paul D is almost getting buried alive; his prison cell is more or less like a coffin in the ground. If this scene doesn't get you thinking about the horrors and abuse of slavery as well as life on a chain gang, we don't know will. P.S. Check out how not even the personified hands listen to Paul D.

Chapter 13
Paul D

He thought what they said had merit, and what they felt was serious. Deferring to his slaves' opinions did not deprive him of authority or power. It was schoolteacher who taught them otherwise. A truth that waved like a scarecrow in rye: they were only Sweet Home men at Sweet Home. (13.1)

Paul D reflects on how different Mr. Garner and schoolteacher were. And because we love the Wizard of Oz, we can't help but wonder: is that "scarecrow in rye" a possible reference to the Scarecrow? Remember, his insecurities were all about how intelligent—and therefore, how human—he was.

Chapter 15
Baby Suggs

The Garners, it seemed to her, ran a special kind of slavery, treating them like paid labor, listening to what they said, teaching what they wanted known. And he didn't stud his boys. Never brought them to her cabin with directions to "lay down with her," like they did in Carolina, or rented their sex out on other farms. It surprised her and pleased her, but worried her too. Would he pick women for them or what did he think was going to happen when those boys ran smack into their nature? Some danger he was courting and he surely knew it. In fact, his order for them not to leave Sweet Home except in his company, was not so much because of the law, but the danger of men-bred slaves on the loose. (15.22)

Baby Suggs doesn't hold back as she describes the Garners' form of slavery. The "danger" she's referring to? Probably the possibility (in the eyes of the Garners) that "men-bred slaves" without any women to bed might be prone to rape. Whether or not she's right, Baby Suggs leads us to think about the stereotype of black men as sexual animals, open to preying on innocent, frail white women.

Loaves and fishes were His powers—they did not belong to an ex-slave who had probably never carried one hundred pounds to the scale, or picked okra with a baby on her back. Who had never been lashed by a ten-year-old whiteboy as God knows they had. Who had not even escaped slavery—had, in fact, been bought out of it by a doting son and driven to the Ohio River in a wagon—free papers folded between her breasts (driven by the very man who had been her master, who also paid her resettlement fee—name of Garner), and rented a house with two floors and a well from the Bodwins—the white brother and sister who gave Stamp Paid, Ella and John clothes, goods and gear for runaways because they hated slavery worse than they hated slaves. (15.12)

Here we see the tendency to use suffering and trauma as a way of feeling superior to other people who have supposedly experienced less. You'd think everyone would bond together over their shared slave pasts, but no. It's not easy to create a sense of community on a good day; it's even more difficult when everyone has his or her own wounds—physical and psychological—to heal.

Chapter 16

Schoolteacher had chastised that nephew, telling him to think—just think—what would his own horse do if you beat it beyond the point of education. Or Chipper, or Samson. Suppose you beat the hounds past that point thataway. Never again could you trust them in the woods or anywhere else. You'd be feeding them maybe, holding out a piece of rabbit in your hand, and the animal would revert—bite your hand clean off. So he punished that nephew by not letting him come on the hunt. Made him stay there, feed stock, feed himself, feed Lillian, tend crops. See how he liked it; see what happened when you overbeat creatures God had given you the responsibility of—the trouble it was, and the loss. (16.4)

It's weird seeing things from schoolteacher's point of view, isn't it? Talk about trippy. Also, didn't schoolteacher beat Paul A? Wasn't that one of the reasons why the Sweet Home crew wanted to leave? Hmmm, someone seems a little hypocritical here.

Right off it was clear, to schoolteacher especially, that there was nothing there to claim. The three (now four—because she'd had the one coming when she cut) pickaninnies they had hoped were alive and well enough to take back to Kentucky, take back and raise properly to do the work Sweet Home desperately needed, were not. Two were lying open-eyed in sawdust; a third pumped blood down the dress of the main one—the woman schoolteacher bragged about, the one he said made fine ink, damn good soup, pressed his collars the way he liked besides having at least ten breeding years left. But now she'd gone wild, due to the mishandling of the nephew who'd overbeat her and made her cut and run. (16.4)

Yep. This is the scene. Or the aftermath of the scene—from schoolteacher's perspective. To clarify, the two lying in the sawdust are Howard and Buglar; the one on Sethe's dress is baby Beloved; we later find out that Sethe is also swinging Denver by the heel, trying to bash her head against a wall and not succeeding. Just for kicks, ask yourself: Why is this scene told from schoolteacher's perspective? Why not someone else, like Baby Suggs?

Chapter 26
Mr. and Miss Bodwin

His father, probably, a deeply religious man who knew what God knew and told everybody what it was. Edward Bodwin thought him an odd man, in so many ways, yet he had one clear directive: human life is holy, all of it. And that his son still believed, although he had less and less reason to. Nothing since was as stimulating as the old days of letters, petitions, meetings, debates, recruitment, quarrels, rescue and downright sedition. Yet it had worked, more or less, and when it had not, he and his sister made themselves available to circumvent obstacles. (26.141)

Here's some reasoning behind the abolitionist movement. Sounds good, right? All life is holy—cool. But then we get Mr. Bodwin's nostalgia about those "old days" when the abolitionist movement was fighting the good fight, and we have to ask, where's his joy at the success of the movement? It sounds like he was only in the movement for the thrills, not for the slaves.