So this is the start of the second section of the novel. But we're actually still right where we started: at 124.
This time though, we're in Stamp Paid's head, and it's definitely worried.
First of all, he can hear loud sounds coming from 124. He's down the road, walking toward the house.
Why is he at 124 at all, though? Well, ever since Paul D left, Stamp's been feeling like a sneak. And no wonder really: he's been a sneak all his life, basically doing the opposite of what he appears to be doing (like hiding and transporting slaves or making private news public).
He also feels responsible for Sethe and the girls: hence, all that worry.
He thinks about whether or not he did the right thing, telling Paul D about Sethe's past.
After all, when Paul D was around, things seemed better at 124. Calmer.
The haunting stopped, for one thing. And that's no small thing.
And now he's gone because of what Stamp Paid told him.
More troubling, however, is Stamp Paid's memory of Baby Suggs.
The two of them had shared a lot over the years.
In fact, the last time he'd been to 124 was to carry her body out of the house and take it the Clearing. Only he wasn't allowed to bury her there due to the laws of white people; so, he ended up burying her next to the dead baby girl (not something Baby Suggs would necessarily appreciate, but moving on...).
Because Sethe and the townspeople had never reconciled, Baby Suggs' funeral was a mess of spite and hostility.
Everything, in fact, that Baby Suggs stood against.
As Stamp Paid thinks about Sethe and her pride, he begins to wonder if his own pride (or his need to see Sethe brought to rights) made him tell Paul D about her past.
If so, then he's hurt Sethe and Denver for no reason.
Anyway, back to 124: Stamp Paid can't quite tell, but he thinks that he hears the word "mine."
Everything else is a jumble of words that drops to a whisper once he arrives at the doorstep.
He raises his hand to knock.
For Stamp Paid, this is a huge thing.
And a very uncharacteristic one.
See, Stamp Paid spends his life helping other people.
All he asks in return is the right to enter your house as if he's family.
In other words, he doesn't knock. Ever.
And standing outside 124, trying to walk in, Stamp Paid has a bit of a crisis.
Six times he's tried to knock at that door this week.
He can't enter 124 without knocking. And he can't bring himself to knock on the door of Baby Suggs's house.
Finally he admits defeat. Turning, he walks quietly off the porch.
Okay, get ready, folks: the rest of the chapter moves pretty fast. And it covers lots of ground.
As Stamp stands outside the door of 124, Sethe's on the inside looking for ice skates and trying to follow Baby Suggs's advice: "to lay it all down, sword and shield."
What does that mean? We're guessing it has to do with letting the past rest.
Like letting go of the fact that she once had 28 days of happiness 18 years ago, when she first arrived at Baby Suggs house and wasn't yet a social outcast.
Or how she had a few months of love with Paul D.
Maybe that's just how life works; you get a short bit of bliss and then a really long period of misery. Maybe it's cyclical for her; every 20 years or so she can look forward to some joy and then it ends.
Anyhow, now Sethe's scrubbing the floor with Denver trailing behind.
But she leaves it all behind when Beloved appears with the very skates Sethe was looking for. (Coincidence? We think not.)
So Sethe takes Denver and Beloved skating on the ice behind her house.
They share the one pair of skates and a half (that makes 3 skates by the way—symbolism alert!) and fall a lot, but they clearly love it. And the best part? No one sees them fall.
For Sethe, falling down on all fours gets her to laugh and cry at the same time. Denver and Beloved understand: they show their sympathy through a touch.
Walking home, these three are clearly a unit: if they fall, they fall together with arms around each other's waists.
Once home, Sethe heats up some hot sweet milk. They all wrap themselves with quilts and sit in front of the cooking stove. It's like a nice, homey campfire. How peaceful.
Until of course Sethe hears the click. And not the click is such a bad thing; it just signals something falling into place. The click comes before Beloved starts to hum.
Sethe remember that moment: she sees Beloved's profile and gets it—Beloved's her daughter.
That's how Beloved knows about the song she's humming. Sethe made that song up for her children and no one else knows it.
Funnily enough, Sethe's not at all shocked. Or even surprised. And we're guessing you're probably not all that surprised either.
See, the thing about miracles is that you tend to know about them all along.
Sethe's calm now: she takes care of the girls and then goes upstairs to her room like a bride.
Outside? It's peaceful too: a snowy winter night.
Now we're back with Stamp Paid.He's back outside the house at 124.
In his fingers, he's holding a ribbon that was once on a dead girl's scalp.
He's tired. Really, really tired. A tired that goes all the way down into the marrow of his bones.
As Stamp Paid stands there, he realizes that Baby Suggs must have been this tired when she stopped coming to the Clearing.
For years, he's had it all wrong. He thought that she was ashamed of all the violence that occurred in her house. And that she had given up on God and the Word.
She did try to convince him otherwise. For her, it had to do with the fact that they came into her yard. And by "they," she means the white men.
Stamp didn't get it then. He remembers how Baby Suggs told him that she was just going to lie in her bed and think about color, especially blue and maybe yellow.
He thought she was crazy. And okay, we admit, it does sound a bit crazy.
But now that he thinks about it, Stamp Paid's pretty amazed that Baby Suggs managed to live for 8 years with this kind of tiredness—the kind that comes with the white men who were able to enter Baby Suggs' yard without her permission.
And what about himself? It's 1874 and slavery ended almost ten years ago, but white people are still loose. They're lynching, raping, burning, whipping blacks. It's all over the news and in legal documents.
But that's not what tires him out to the marrow. It's the ribbon in his hands.
He remembers finding the ribbon floating in the stream. It had a little bit of human scalp still attached to it.
Appalled at the memory, Stamp Paid tries to figure out what kind of people could commit such atrocities.
Now he knows that he needs to talk to Sethe about what he told Paul D. He's going to try and make it through the voices coming from 124 in order to knock on that door.
And this time, he thinks he knows whose voices they belong to—all the black people who have been lynched, murdered, raped, and broken by slavery.
Cue Sethe. (We told you that this was a monster chapter!)
It's morning and Sethe's perfectly happy. The girls are right where she left them, in front of the stove—her two daughters together. What else does she need?
She goes out to collect some wood for the fire and doesn't even notice the man's frozen footprints—that's how happy she is.
She's so happy that she even smiles at the shed—that place where she killed Beloved years ago. She's thinking, wow—Beloved isn't even mad at her!
(Something tells us this isn't exactly good luck, but moving on…)
She thinks back to that day when Paul D, Denver, and she were walking down the lane holding hands. The shadows they cast weren't of them three—it was of "us three": Denver, Sethe and Beloved.
They're the family unit of 3 doing everything together. Plus, Sethe's thinking that if Beloved can come back from the dead, then her boys can certainly return to her from wherever they are.
Who cares if she's late to work? If she's late to work for the first time in 16 years, then so be it. Look at what she has!
Sethe's absolutely convinced now that Paul D was wrong: there's nothing for her out there in the world. Everything she needs is right inside this house, with her two girls. (We're thinking Sethe hasn't heard about co-dependency…)
After breakfast, Sethe leaves for work, still not noticing the footprints or, for that matter, hearing the voices surrounding 124 like a noose. Not too observant, that Sethe.
But that's only because she's in her own head, so much so that she becomes our first-person narrator briefly.
Sethe's thinking she doesn't have to remember any of the bad stuff now that she has Beloved back.
Not how Baby Suggs's heart collapses or how Howard and Buglar could never let go of each other's hands, especially at night.
Or all those visits Baby Suggs made to see her and Denver in jail. Baby Suggs did want to take Denver out of that jail, but Sethe wouldn't let her go.
Baby Suggs was the one to give her all the news, like how schoolteacher left after filing a claim and how she would be let out of jail for the dead baby's burial (although not her funeral service).
She's remembering now about what she had to do to get "Beloved" etched onto a headstone for her baby and how it really should have been "Dearly Beloved," from Reverend Pike's sermon.
Only she's also forgetting—like the fact that she pretty much ruined Baby Suggs's life.
The only thing Sethe feels like she needs to know now is this: how bad is Beloved's scar?
That Sethe's a mind trip. Luckily, we get to go back to Stamp Paid, who's at 124 again and finally gets up the guts to knock.
Only no one answers. He looks through the window, sees their backs—those of Denver and Beloved (only he doesn't recognize Beloved)—and gets pretty furious that they aren't answering the door.
What black household would ever dare close its door to him?, Stamp's wondering.
But Stamp starts to cool down as he walks away. He also starts to get curious: who's that girl with Denver?
Since Stamp knows pretty much everyone, it's definitely strange that he doesn't know this black girl. But if he doesn't know her, then he knows who might: John and Ella, who have helped him transport Sethe and numerous other fugitive slaves to safety over the years.
While he's going to their place, he's wondering that maybe he misnamed himself because maybe he still has a debt to pay.
Yep—you're about to get an explanation of how Stamp got his name. Don't you wish the rest of the book could be this clear? Stamp was originally named Joshua, but he gave up that name when he "gave" his wife to his master's son.
At least he didn't kill anyone, including himself (his wife asked him to stay alive).
And with a sacrifice that big, he feels like he's paid all his debts.
Now he extends this debtlessness to other runaway and former slaves by helping them out. He figures that they've paid life all it could ask of them. Now life owes them.
For starters, he heads over to Ella's house to ask her if she knows anything about the new woman at 124.
She doesn't, but she does tell him that Paul D is now sleeping in the basement of the church.
Stamp Paid wants to know why no black people in the town took in Paul D? What happened to (Ella's) common Christian charity?
Ella says that Paul D stayed with Sethe. Maybe that explains why folks aren't so eager to help him.
But in Stamp's mind, that's just no excuse, so he tells Ella what we already know: Paul D left because of what Stamp told him about Sethe's baby.
Now all of a sudden Ella changes her mind about Paul D, but she's lost Stamp's respect because, frankly, Ella should be ashamed of herself. And so should all the other black people in town.
Ella does remind Stamp, however, that he came about the new girl and that, what with how strange 124 is, the new girl might not be a "who" but a "what." In other words, Ella's saying the new girl could be an unholy spirit.
Being the Christian warrior that he is, Stamp knows she's right, so they make up as friends and he goes to find Paul D. And there he is—on the steps of the church, looking exhausted.
Cutting back to Sethe: her boss Sawyer is yelling at her for being late.
But white people have put Sethe been through so much that she's not letting her boss or any white person get to her anymore. She used to be trusting, but no more.
Then she gets into a small spat with Sawyer about being late and making pies that are too sweet.
That blows over quickly (Sawyer's not a bad guy) and now Sethe's thinking about food: what will she take home? Sausages? Those are gone and so are her pies, but there's some stew.
She could eat her meal at the restaurant (it's included in her wages), but she never hangs around at work to eat.
She does, however, take stuff like the butter, a little salt, maybe some kerosene, from work.
Okay, yes, she steals from work, but she's got a good excuse: she doesn't like the shame of white people passing and looking at her at the local store while she's waiting in line outside with all the other black folk.
She's not proud of stealing, though—nor does she agree with Sixo's philosophy.
Flashback alert! Sethe's recalling an incident between schoolteacher and Sixo. Schoolteacher's accusing Sixo for stealing shoat (FYI: a piglet) but Sixo disagrees; he thinks that he's not stealing because he's actually increasing schoolteacher's earning.
Here's his logic: if he eats well, he'll be able to work harder and longer because he'll have the energy to do so, thereby increasing the wealth of Sweet Home. Labor rights, you know?
Schoolteacher thinks his argument's clever but beats him anyway. After all, Sixo's trying to redefine things and that's not ok since he's the defined, not the definer (that's a white person's role).
Sethe sees things a little differently; she traces all the stealing they do at Sweet Home back to the fact that, once schoolteacher arrived and took away their ability to hunt with guns, they had no more meat to eat. So you see, they had to steal in order to round out their diet.
Again, Sethe's not proud of all this stealing (she's got morals, you know), but it's still better than having white people stare at her while she's standing in line.
Sethe's back in the present again and thinking about going home: she just can't wait!
Sawyer warns her about being late again, but Sethe doesn't really take him seriously. She's not just thinking of home either; Sawyer used to be really kind to her and the rest of the help but ever since his son died in the Civil War, she thinks he blames it on her and her dark face.
While she's hurrying home, her mind wanders to all the stuff she was supposed to forget.
And now we're right back into Sethe's head and narration. Only this time, it's like she's talking directly to Beloved.
She starts off by saying that, lucky her, she doesn't have to "rememory" anything because Beloved knows everything already.
But of course we don't—good thing Sethe can't help but run through the memories in her head again. (If you haven't discovered this yet, Sethe's not too good at this whole forgetting thing.)
And what a memory: first, Sethe's thinking about how schoolteacher wrapped measuring string all around her, but how she and the others (except Sixo) didn't take the measuring seriously. She thinks schoolteacher's a fool with all his questions. (Little does she know…)
After he's done, she and her boys head out to garden a little.
Sethe recalls seeing Howard and Buglar running and laughing up and down the small hills when they head back to the house. That's a good image for Sethe because the other image she usually sees is the one where they're walking down the railroad tracks away from her.
Anyway, everything seems all sweet, nice and pretty. Howard and Buglar return to the quarters, while Sethe takes baby Beloved to the grape arbor that with the bad grapes (they're small and sour).
It's cool and shady—a nice place for Sethe to get some work done and hang out with her baby girl as long as she can get a piece of muslin to cover her baby with.
So she heads to the back of the house to get that muslin.
That's when she hears schoolteacher giving lessons to the Garner boys. The lesson is weird though: she basically hears schoolteacher directing one of the boys to divide her—Sethe—into human and animal characteristics.
This totally freaks her out: she runs away and it feels like her scalp is all prickly.
But she doesn't actually know what "characteristics" mean so she asks Mrs. Garner once she gets into the house.
Mrs. Garner's sick, so she doesn't answer Sethe's question immediately. Sethe has to return some soup, fetch some water first. But eventually, Mrs. Garner does tell her the meaning of the word—that "it's a thing natural to a thing."
Mrs. Garner's not exactly a Webster's dictionary, but Sethe more or less gets it.
Later that night, she's disturbed enough about schoolteacher to ask Halle what he thinks of schoolteacher. Is he like Mr. Garner? To Halle, the two men are the same: both white.
Even though Mr. Garner let him buy out Baby Suggs, Halle points out to Sethe that Mr. Garner more or less profited off Halle: first, by making him work to free his mother; second, by getting him, Sethe, and their kids in return for his mother.
Plus, he still owes the Garners even though Mr. Garner's dead. $123.70 to be exact.
Now schoolteacher isn't letting Halle work off of the plantation to pay his debt. He's forcing Halle to work at Sweet Home extra and isn't paying him for the work.
So how is he going to buy his own freedom? Or Sethe's? With his boys?
They're good questions. And Sethe doesn't have any answers.
When schoolteacher beats Paul A, the men on Sweet Home decide to run away.
Sixo has a plan. There's a whole train of runaway slaves they can join (i.e. the Underground Railroad) to escape.
Sethe overhears their conversation and asks what a "train" is, but the men just shut up.
Sethe remembers that it was a good plan—the only problem was that when the time came to run, the situation had changed.
By that time, Sethe was pregnant with Denver. Plus, as Paul D later told her, Sixo was burned; Paul D was in the stocks; and Halle had butter all over his face.
So Sethe sent her children ahead without her.
She also remembers that, when she finally did escape, she ran past bodies hanging in the trees, one of which had a shirt that looked like Paul A's—only the body didn't have any feet or a head.
The only thing that kept Sethe going was fact that only she had milk for her baby.
And once she got to 124, she had milk enough for all.
That's a pretty gruesome memory, so once Sethe sees smoke coming out of the chimney at 124, we get why she's so obsessed with Beloved.
Beloved's returned, and now Sethe thinks that Beloved never needed the headstone; her heart never stopped in Sethe's hands.
She gets to the house and locks the door tightly behind her.
The chapter doesn't end there though.
A third-person narrator who seems to know all about Stamp Paid and more explains that the noises Stamp heard at 124 aren't exactly the mumblings of the angry blacks who died.
It's true that no blacks really had a "livable life"—from Baby Suggs to even the educated black people. In fact, the educated ones not only had to use their heads to survive, they also had the weight of the black race on their shoulders. One would need two heads to handle all that pressure.
What was really awful though is that white people thought black people had a jungle inside that could hurt white people.
Stamp didn't think they were necessarily wrong either, but black people spent their lives trying to convince white people how they weren't like that—how human they were.
And all that spent energy just produced a more twisted jungle, one that would end up changing the white people who created it in the first place.
As a result of this "jungle" white people imagined, white people became more violent than they ever intended. That's because this "jungle"—it actually lived in white people.
Anyway, the point is this: this white people's "jungle" lived and made noises in places like 124. That's the racket Stamp hears when he visits 124.
By the way, Stamp never does enter 124 to see after Sethe. He gave up that time when the girls didn't open the door for him.
So now Sethe and the girls are free, free at last.
Or so they think…only part of that noise at 124? It comes from the unspoken, unspeakable thoughts of 124's women… and we're guessing nothing good is going to come from that.