This chapter provides a flashback to Sethe's arrival at 124 Bluestone in Cincinnati, Ohio. When Sethe arrived with another grandchild in her arms, Baby Suggs was happy, but she would not immediately prepare a celebration. She was afraid to celebrate the child when her son was still missing.
Stamp Paid, who had rowed Sethe and the baby to freedom and summoned Ella to care for them, comes to check on Sethe twenty days after her arrival at 124. He goes out to gather blackberries for Sethe to eat. When he returns with two full buckets, he shares the berries with everyone and puts one in the mouth of the three-week old Denver, as a blessing.
After Stamp Paid's visit, Baby Suggs decides to throw a big party. She invites her congregation of ninety to come and celebrate with her. The party does not end well. The neighbors grow jealous of Baby Suggs, deciding she has not suffered like they have. She gained her freedom from slavery early because Halle bought it for her; she owns her own house; and she has a close relationship with the Bodwins, influential abolitionists. Baby Suggs realizes that she has offended them by excess.
After the party, Baby Suggs senses something "dark and coming." She fears it may be news of Halle's death, which she has dreaded since his birth. She has lost seven children, and she does not want Halle to be the eighth. Baby Suggs reflects on her past with Halle. They were sold to Mr. Garner when Halle was only ten years old. Since she had hurt her hip in Carolina, she was sold at a low price to work at Sweet Home, a small plantation in comparison to the places she had worked previously. At Sweet Home, her hip often bothered her. Although she never said anything about the pain, Halle noticed how hard it was for her to get around. He decided he would buy her out of slavery so she could sit down in her old age.
Mr. Garner agreed to let Halle work extra for Baby Suggs' freedom. When
he had amassed enough to make the purchase, Baby Suggs did not really
want to leave, for she could not stand the thought of being separated
from Halle. Her son, however, convinced her that she needed to go across
the river and live a life of freedom. When Baby Suggs arrived in Cincinnati,
she was amazed at its size. She met the Bodwins, well-know abolitionists,
and went to work for them as a canner, washwoman, and seamstress. She
also moved into her own house, began preaching, and waited for news of
her children. After two years, she had heard from none of them. She had
learned, however, that Halle had gotten married and had a baby on the
way. Everything worked out well "until she got proud and let herself
be overwhelmed by the sight of her daughter-in law and Halle's children."
This chapter provides two flashbacks: one to Sethe's arrival and first days at 124 Bluestone and one to Baby Suggs' release from slavery. These serve as a bridge to the next, important chapter.
Baby Suggs was afraid to celebrate the arrival of Sethe and her new grandchild. She thought that a party might jinx the safe return of Halle. When she does finally throw a celebration, it does not go well. The neighbors who attend grow jealous of Baby Suggs and all that she has. They are particularly envious that she was bought out of slavery early and has her own home.
In her concern over the safe return of Halle, Baby Suggs thinks back to the time that she and the ten-year old Halle arrived at Sweet Home. Because she had hurt her hip, Baby Suggs and her young son had been sold at a cheap price. Halle saw how painful it was for his mother to work with her bad hip; as a result, he resolves to buy her freedom. Mr. Garner allows him to work extra to purchase the freedom of Baby Suggs.
An insight is given into the character of Mr. Garner, the owner of Sweet Home Plantation. Baby Suggs knows Mr. Garner was not being generous when he let Halle buy her out slavery. Old and crippled, she was not worth much, for it was difficult for her to get out of bed and move around. By allowing Halle to buy her freedom, Mr. Garner gained the benefit of her son doing extra work for years. Mr. Garner further proves his arrogance when he asks Baby Suggs to tell the Bodwins of his largesse and kindness.
The Bodwins are abolitionists who claim to hate slavery, but in many ways
they enslave Baby Suggs after Halle has purchased her freedom. The Bodwins
employ Baby Suggs. They give her a house, but they do not pay her a wage.
By this arrangement, they control her, almost as if she were still a slave.
They can add to the list of her chores at will and she has no recourse
and no way of planning her life fully. She will always be at their disposal.