Chapter 5 goes back to Florens’s perspective. Florens describes her night in the tree, which is extremely uncomfortable. She descends to find a better sleeping place. Florens eventually piles up the branches of a fir tree and crawls under them, where she won’t have to worry about falling. Florens watches out for snakes, and tries not to think about how thirsty she is.
Again, Florens’s experience of the American wilderness contrasts starkly with Jacob’s experience riding through Virginia, showing how the idea of the American landscape as an “adventure” is only available to white Europeans with money.
To take her mind off of her discomfort, Florens remembers the wet ground on another night in the summer, when she was with the Blacksmith. She thinks of him telling her how he does his work and how much he enjoys it. The Blacksmith tells her how his ancestors clearly approve of his work because two owls appear when he says their name, meaning he is blessed. Florens asks the Blacksmith if they bless her too, and he tells Florens to wait and see.
Although the question of what will happen with the Blacksmith seems to be a source of anxiety for Florens, the memory of their love also comforts her. Unlike the other religious people in the book, the Blacksmith seems to follow a religion that includes communicating with ancestors, reiterating the breadth of types of religion in the colonies.
Florens thinks of how Lina tells her that some spirits look after warriors, while others look after virgins and mothers. Florens says she fits into none of those categories. She thinks she should do communion, as per the Reverend’s instructions, but there is no communion in the woods. Rebekka, meanwhile, being nonreligious, would have no advice for Florens.
As Florens worries about her fate in the woods, wishing she had a spirit to look out for her or that she could do communion, Morrison shows how some people mix and match different religious ideas in an attempt to get what they need out of their faith.
Florens thinks of the time she, Rebekka, and Sorrow went to sell the cows and a village woman slapped Sorrow in the face. When Rebekka found out, she was furious. Meanwhile, Sorrow was peeing in the yard, not paying any attention to the people watching. Rebekka drove them all away, and once out of sight of the village, she slapped Sorrow in the face. This shocked Florens, because Rebekka never hits them. Sorrow didn’t respond. Florens thinks that the look in Rebekka’s eyes was like the look in the women’s eyes as she and Lina waited for the wagon: not scary, but still a “hurting thing.”
As Florens thinks of the time that Rebekka slapped Sorrow, Morrison shows how even a generally kind woman like Rebekka can be drawn into abusing vulnerable people. Sorrow’s behavior and punishment embarrassed Rebekka, who, feeling responsible for her as her mistress, then slapped Sorrow. Although Rebekka seems kinder than other Europeans, she still does a “hurting thing” to her servants.
In spite of this incident, Florens feels that Rebekka has a good heart. She remembers when Lina asked Rebekka for Patrician’s old shoes to give to Florens, and how Rebekka agreed, but cried when she saw Florens wearing them. Florens, meanwhile, asserts that she never cries, not even in her current situation.
Although Rebekka hurts Sorrow, Florens sees her love for her daughter as a sign that she has a good heart. Her motherhood redeems Rebekka’s cruel behavior in Florens’s eyes.
Florens’s memories make her sad, so she thinks instead of the Blacksmith and her love for him. She says that when she’s with him she doesn’t need any religion, and that he can be her protection because he is a free man. Florens admits she does not really understand the meaning of free and unfree.
Florens sees the Blacksmith as a force that, unlike religion, can protection her from harm. For Florens, love is a religion. Florens’s understanding of freedom, at this point underdeveloped, crystallizes later in the book.
Florens remembers going to search for the Blacksmith after he finished making Jacob’s gate. She followed a path through the elm trees to a high hill, which was crawling with scarlet, sweet-smelling flowers. As she gathered some of the flowers, Florens heard a stag behind her. She felt a kind of “looseness” and wonders if that is how freedom feels. She does not think she likes it, and only wants to live with the Blacksmith. Florens said good morning to the stag, which leapt away.
As Florens thinks about the feeling of freedom, trying to get a sense of what freedom means, she understands freedom as a kind of “looseness” that is both exciting and scary. Florens’s image of freedom also seems to be tied to nature and the American landscape, as she experiences the feeling alone in the woods.
Florens’s mind wanders to Jacob’s yearly bath in May. She remembers pouring hot water into the tub for Jacob to sit in. Rebekka washed Jacob until he was pink. Rebekka then took her turn in the water, washing herself while Jacob dressed in the house. Florens remembers that, as Rebekka was washing, a moose appeared. Rebekka stared at the creature fearfully. Lina shouted and threw a stone at the animal, prompting the moose to walk away. Jacob’s came out of the house and Rebekka, naked, ran to him, though the moose had already left. Florens asked what Rebekka was afraid of. Lina told her “nothing.” When Florens asked why she ran to Jacob, Lina responded, “because she can.” Lina told her that the world shapes people, and Florens did not understand Lina, thinking that the Blacksmith was the shaper of her whole world.
When Florens thinks of the incident with the moose and the bath right after thinking about her experience of freedom, it is clear that Morrison is drawing a contrast between the two. In both stories, a large, potentially threatening animal appears. Florens feels “looseness” and fear when she encounters the stag, and Rebekka clearly is afraid of the moose. However, when Rebekka runs to Jacob even after the moose is gone, she exhibits a codependency that, although romantic and positive, seems to be the opposite of freedom as Florens sees it. Lina’s comment also seems rather wistful—as if she has never had a romantic partner she could run to in times of need.