Beloved

Pdf fan dd71f526917d6085d66d045bd94fb5b55d02a108dd45d836cbdd4abe2d4c043d Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

Baby Suggs Character Analysis

Baby Suggs is Halle’s mother, Sethe’s mother-in-law, and Denver’s grandmother. Halle buys her freedom before the events of the novel and, after establishing a life at 124 in Cincinnati, she becomes something of a preacher or holy person in the surrounding community, holding gatherings in the Clearing in the forest. But after Sethe kills her child, Baby Suggs becomes exhausted and withdrawn, caring only about seeing bits of color, and slowly dies.

Baby Suggs Quotes in Beloved

The Beloved quotes below are all either spoken by Baby Suggs or refer to Baby Suggs. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Slavery Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of Beloved published in 2004.
Part 1, Chapter 2 Quotes

[...] in all of Baby’s life, as well as Sethe’s own, men and women were moved around like checkers. Anybody Baby Suggs knew, let alone loved, who hadn’t run off or been hanged, got rented out, loaned out, bought up, brought back, stored up, mortgaged, won, stolen or seized. So Baby’s eight children had six fathers. What she called the nastiness of life was the shock she received upon learning that nobody stopped playing checkers just because the pieces included her children.

Related Characters: Sethe, Baby Suggs
Page Number: 27-28
Explanation and Analysis:

Sethe ruminates on her life and the lives of other slaves back at Sweet Home. She explains here that those lives have generally been lived at the whims of other people: white slave owners.

That people “were moved around like checkers” shows how in slavery, humans were treated like pieces in a game—objects to be manipulated rather than given real care or dignity. The following series of verbs are presented in similarly passive constructions: “been hanged, got rented out […]” that place the subjects in roles lacking actual control. It presents their lives as subject to external forces rather than constituted by personal agency. When Sethe links this passivity to the paternity of Baby Suggs’ children, she implies that the men Baby Suggs loved were all taken away from her as part of that checkers game “called the nastiness of life.”

Her realization that children function as “pieces” in this game is particularly disheartening. Baby Suggs presumably assumed that children would be given a separate and safe dispensation away from these manipulative tactics, but in fact they are treated equally ruthlessly. This theme of a perverted childhood and motherhood will reverberate throughout Beloved: Morrison underlines how the cruelty and dehumanization of slavery was applied regardless of one’s innocence or weakness.

A+

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other Beloved quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!
Part 1, Chapter 9 Quotes

Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them.... No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. ...The dark, dark liver—love it, love it, and the beat and beating heart, love that too.

Related Characters: Baby Suggs (speaker)
Page Number: 103-104
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Sethe recounts the sermons that Baby Suggs would deliver at the clearing. The oration encouraged ex-slaves to love themselves and each other, a behavior in direct contrast to the hatred and dehumanization they experienced from white people.

This passage shows the way Baby Suggs was, for a time, able to cultivate a meaningful and isolated community for ex-slaves. She defines the clearing in opposition to a “yonder,” which is described in terms of negations: “do not love”; “don’t love”; “no more do they love” etc. The clearing, on the other hand, is characterized by affirmations and actions—which Baby Suggs implores her listeners to replicate. She becomes a spiritual leader for the community, then, and the clearing becomes her allegorical church. Morrison seems in this scene to offer a form of mental emancipation and spirituality for the ex-slaves.

It bears noticing how much of the language focuses on components of the body: “hands” “liver” and “heart.” Instead of speaking only of emotional and spiritual identity, Baby Suggs maintains an almost exclusive focus on physicality. This emphasis speaks to how her unique brand of religion is non-denominational—unified by physical bodies instead of by ideology. It also underlines how the physical identity is what is most detested by those “yonder,” and thus what is most in need of protection by the closed circle of the clearing. Slavery was, at its simplest level, about the dehumanization and destruction of black bodies, and so here Baby Suggs seeks to undo that horror by teaching the former slaves to love and celebrate those same black bodies.

Part 1, Chapter 15 Quotes

The last of [Baby Suggs’] children, whom she barely glanced at when he was born because it wasn’t worth the trouble to try to learn features you would never see change into adulthood anyway. Seven times she had done that: held a little foot; examined the fat fingertips with her own—fingers she never saw become the male or female hands a mother would recognize anywhere. She didn’t know to this day what their permanent teeth looked like; or how they held their heads when they walked.

Related Characters: Baby Suggs, Halle
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:

While waiting for Sethe and Halle to arrive at 124, Baby Suggs thinks fondly of her son. She recounts how her previous children had been stolen from her immediately upon being born.

Suggs’ memories speak to the alienation between slaves and their relatives. The cruel actions of traders and owners would rip families apart, even severing children from their mothers. As a result, Suggs’ memory is imprinted only with the initial physical components of her children, and she lacks any knowledge of their future. Describing the children in terms of fractured body parts—“a little foot”; “the fat fingertips”—emphasizes the disconnected way that Suggs engaged with them. And she has similar snapshots of their existence in time, holding only past images with no present or future to combine into a full sense of her children as people.

The passage shows how this broken relationship with one’s relatives has a permanent effect on how one deals with all relationships. Suggs’ earlier experiences with her children, for instance, induced complete alienation from Halle because she presumed “it wasn’t worth the trouble.” Morrison thus draws our attention to the fact that one’s ability to take an interest in those around them is predicated on perceived value and permanence—both of which are negated by slavery.

Part 3, Chapter 26 Quotes

Yet [Denver] knew Sethe’s greatest fear was...that Beloved might leave.... Leave before Sethe could make her realize that far worse than [death]...was what Baby Suggs died of, what Ella knew, what Stamp saw and what made Paul D tremble. That anybody white could take your whole self for anything that came to mind. Not just work, kill, or maim you, but dirty you. Dirty you so bad you couldn’t like yourself anymore. Dirty you so bad you forgot who you were and couldn’t think it up.

Related Characters: Sethe, Denver, Baby Suggs, Paul D, Beloved, Stamp Paid, Ella
Page Number: 295
Explanation and Analysis:

As life at 124 grows ever worse, Denver reflects on what is motivating Sethe to acquiesce to Beloved’s wishes. Sethe, she explains, wants to prove to Beloved that her infanticide offered her a better end than she would have had alive under slavery.

This passage casts Sethe’s relationship with Beloved in a somewhat different light than before. Whereas earlier sections justified her actions as derived from pure affection, this passage presents them as seeking some kind of repentance or justice. That Sethe wants Beloved to “realize” that another fate (slavery) was “far worse” reveals a wish for acceptance and forgiveness on Beloved’s part. She wants her, in a bizarre way, to understand the horror of an alternative past that she never experienced—in order that Sethe's decision will be deemed merciful and the result of love.

Denver’s focus on the loss of identity is intriguing here. She presents the worst end of slavery as that one “forgot who you were and couldn’t think it up,” which speaks to how mentally fractured Sethe had become by the time she fled Sweet Home. Yet if Sethe had sought to save Beloved from this fate, she also has caused it to come true: if Beloved is indeed the ghost of her child, she lost her identity and came blindly to Sethe without a clear sense of self. Morrison thus presents the murder less as a real escape from the institution of slavery, but rather as a reproduction of its horrifying ends.

Get the entire Beloved LitChart as a printable PDF.
Beloved.pdf.medium

Baby Suggs Character Timeline in Beloved

The timeline below shows where the character Baby Suggs appears in Beloved. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
...earlier, scared by hauntings such as a baby’s handprints appearing in a cake. Sethe’s mother-in-law, Baby Suggs , used to live at the house, but became withdrawn not long after Howard and... (full context)
Motherhood Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Shortly after Baby Suggs ’ death, Sethe and Denver attempt to call forth the ghost to talk to it,... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
Sethe remembers once suggesting to Baby Suggs that they could move out of the house to escape the ghost, but Baby Suggs... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
...an ex-slave who also worked on Sweet Home, sitting on her porch. He asks about Baby Suggs and Sethe tells him that her death was easy and that “being alive was the... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
...how her children had been sneaked out of Sweet Home and sent to Halle’s mother, Baby Suggs , and how Sethe had run away after, to meet up with them. Paul D... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Community Theme Icon
...a Sweet Home man who had worked extra time to buy freedom for his mother, Baby Suggs . (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
...D go upstairs. Alone, she thinks of her brothers and remembers her young childhood with Baby Suggs and them. Now she feels lonely and miserable. (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 2
Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
...men and women like checkers, moving them around, selling them off, and breaking up families. Baby Suggs , for example, was separated from all of her eight children except for Halle. (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 3
Motherhood Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
...but she was determined to get to her children (who had been sent ahead to Baby Suggs ). As Sethe lay exhausted on the ground, she remembered bits of her childhood. She... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 8
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
...was dark and hot, with heaps of people (some of them dead). Denver asks if Baby Suggs is there, but Beloved says she doesn’t know the people’s names. She says she came... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 9
Community Theme Icon
Sethe can’t stop thinking about Halle going mad. She misses Baby Suggs and wishes that she were around to help her deal with this new information. She... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Community Theme Icon
At these gatherings, Baby Suggs would pray and then call forth children and tell them to laugh. Then, she’d call... (full context)
Community Theme Icon
...a woman named Ella found her and took her to 124. Once Sethe got there, Baby Suggs took care of her, bathed her, and bandaged her. (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Now, at the Clearing, Sethe goes to Baby Suggs ’ old preaching rock and wishes Baby Suggs were there to rub her neck. Suddenly,... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 11
Home Theme Icon
One evening, Paul D switches to Baby Suggs ’ old room. Then, he moves to the storeroom. He recognizes that he has felt... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 12
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
...that knelt next to Sethe, some presence of the dead baby. Denver tells Beloved about Baby Suggs , Howard, and Buglar. She grows to love doing chores with Beloved, grateful for any... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 15
Slavery Theme Icon
The novel flashes back to Baby Suggs waiting for Sethe and Halle to make it to 124 from Sweet Home. She is... (full context)
Community Theme Icon
...healthy baby, goes to a nearby stream and gathers blackberries, bringing them back to 124. Baby Suggs decides to make pies and invite others to 124 to have some kind of celebration.... (full context)
Community Theme Icon
The next day, Baby Suggs can feel the disapproval of her neighbors and she realizes that she has offended people... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Baby Suggs remembers when Halle and she were bought for Sweet Home. She had injured her hip... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
At Sweet Home, Baby Suggs realized that she and Halle had arrived at a better place, but were still slaves.... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Once Halle buys Baby Suggs ’ freedom, Mr. Garner delivers Baby Suggs to the Bodwins, who will help her get... (full context)
Community Theme Icon
Baby Suggs meets the Bodwins and they suggest some jobs she can do for money. They tell... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 16
Motherhood Theme Icon
Baby Suggs takes Sethe’s sons away from her and tries to get the dead baby from her,... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 17
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
...her child. Paul D doesn’t believe it’s her. Stamp Paid tells him about the celebration Baby Suggs had, with the blackberries he gathered. (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 19
Community Theme Icon
...the house. He realizes that the last time he went to 124 was to take Baby Suggs away to be buried. At Baby Suggs’ funeral, Sethe was silent and did not join... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Community Theme Icon
Stamp Paid approaches 124 again, remembering how Baby Suggs became exhausted and stopped her gatherings at the clearing after Sethe killed her baby. He... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 24
Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
...of her. Paul D thinks of his price and wonders what the monetary values of Baby Suggs , Halle, and others is. He thinks of Sixo laughing as he died because the... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 26
Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
...Mr. Bodwin approaches, he hears the women singing. Inside 124, the singing reminds Sethe of Baby Suggs ’ gatherings at the Clearing. She goes out to the porch to watch them sing,... (full context)