Chapter 9 returns to Florens’s first-person narrative. Florens finally arrives on the Blacksmith’s property, smelling the fire and ash from his forge. When the Blacksmith sees her, Florens notices the joy in his eyes. He asks why she is there and laughs at her dirty clothes. When Florens tells him why, the Blacksmith frowns and says he will ride to Rebekka immediately. Florens will wait for him at his house, since it is faster to go without her, and for “another reason.”
As Florens finally arrives at the Blacksmith’s house, he seems happy to see her, which gives Florens hope for their future. However, the scene is not the romantic reunion that the reader may have expected, or that Florens dreamed of. Instead, it is far more casual and subdued.
The Blacksmith looks toward the doorway, where Florens sees a little boy holding a cornhusk doll. The Blacksmith tells her the little boy is Malaik, and that he cannot be left alone. The boy’s father died while driving a cart and the boy was found sitting quietly in the back on it. The Blacksmith is taking care of Malaik until the town decides where to place him. The Blacksmith notes that they may never do so, since the boy is dark-skinned. Florens wonders if the Blacksmith intends to treat him as a son.
In Malaik, Morrison gives the reader yet another example of an orphan, and through his adoption by the Blacksmith, another example of an alternative family. When the Blacksmith tells Florens that the town may never “place” Malaik because of his skin, he indicates the racism that pervades his town and is increasing throughout the colonies.
The thought worries Florens, and as she watches the boy hold onto the Blacksmith’s finger, she wonders if the boy, not her, is the Blacksmith’s future. The Blacksmith sends the boy to play in the yard, bathes Florens, and gives her stew. Florens and the Blacksmith talk about their future together, and Florens tells him she wants to stay with him no matter what happens to Rebekka. With the Blacksmith, Florens feels safe and good about her body.
Florens clearly sees Malaik as a direct threat to her love with the Blacksmith. This seems to have to do with her childhood abandonment by her mother, who (as she thinks) chose to stay with Florens’s baby brother. Still, Florens continues to idolize the Blacksmith, stating that she is willing to give up her life on the Vaark farm for him.
When the Blacksmith leaves, Florens is calm, but she notices that the Blacksmith does not hug or kiss her. The Blacksmith prepares his horse and asks Florens to water the beans and collect the eggs. Malaik sleeps behind the door of the Blacksmith’s bedroom. Florens takes off her boots (formerly Jacob’s boots) and lies on the Blacksmith’s cot.
Again, the reunion between Florens and the Blacksmith seems a little off. The tepid nature of the Blacksmith’s feelings comes across when he does not try to hug or kiss Florens. When Florens notices this, she becomes increasingly anxious.
Florens pictures her mother standing at the door, holding her younger brother’s hand and trying to tell her something. Florens tells her to go away. She hears a creak and knows that Malaik is standing near her cot. She gets up and asks him what he wants, but the boy stays silent. Florens thinks he hates her and wants her to leave. Florens worries that the Blacksmith will choose Malaik over her like her mother chose her little brother.
Meanwhile, Florens’s thoughts of her mother and younger brother indicate that she connects her current situation with her mother’s abandonment in the past. This suggests that Florens has been trying to fill the void of her mother’s lost affection with romantic affection from the Blacksmith.
Florens falls asleep again and dreams that she is on the edge of a lake. She wants to put her face in the lake. As Florens approaches, she realizes she has no reflection. Daughter Jane is kneeling next to Florens. She looks in the water as well and tells Florens not to worry because she will find her reflection. When Florens wakes up, she imagines that her mother is standing next to the cot and holding Malaik by the hand instead of Florens’s baby brother. Florens hides her head in the blanket.
The idea of reflections recurs throughout the novel, from Rebekka’s desire to look in the mirror during her sickness to Sorrow’s Twin, who is, according to Sorrow, identical in appearance. Florens’s dream, in which she cannot see her reflection, seems to indicate a lack of self-identity, perhaps because she is so desperate for love and approval from others.
The next day the Blacksmith is still gone and Malaik and Florens stay far away from each other. Florens watches the horses in the pasture until it gets dark. That night she does not dream or imagine her mother. The next morning Florens makes porridge for herself and Malaik. Malaik stands in the road with his cornhusk doll, looking in the direction the Blacksmith went when he left.
Although Florens and Malaik seem to hate each other, they also both have the same reaction to the Blacksmith leaving, and sit staring out at the road waiting for his return. Both are effectively orphans, and both are desperate for the Blacksmith’s attention.
Florens notices that Jacob’s boots are missing. Florens watches a snake crawl around the garden until nightfall and goes back into the cabin. Malaik returns to the house as well. At the dinner they are both quiet. Florens thinks Malaik has stolen the boots. Florens thinks that Malaik is evil, and his power is contained in his cornhusk doll. Florens snatches it from him and puts it up on a shelf. Malaik screams and cries.
As Florens becomes more and more distressed, the reader sees Florens exhibiting the same deluded spiritual convictions as the townspeople who persecuted Jane: without real reason except her own jealousy, she convinces herself that Malaik is inherently evil.
Florens runs outside to avoid the sounds of Malaik’s cries. When he finally is quiet, she goes back inside and finds that the doll is no longer on the shelf. Instead, it is abandoned in a corner. When Malaik sees Florens he screams again. Florens grabs his arm to stop him, but she pulls it too hard and hears his shoulder crack. Malaik screams from pain then faints.
Florens’s paranoia about Malaik’s “evil” culminates in this violent encounter, in which Florens breaks Malaik’s arm. Notably, Florens believes that Malaik possesses occult powers, highlighting the spiritual aspect of Florens’s fears.
Florens hears the Blacksmith outside. He rushes inside and shouts for Malaik. When the Blacksmith sees Malaik limp on the floor, he becomes furious, pushing Florens and asking what she has done. The Blacksmith lifts the boy up and cries out when he sees that his arm is broken. Then he sets the arm and puts the boy down. Florens wonders why the Blacksmith pushed her around and blamed her without knowing that she was the one who hurt Malaik.
When the Blacksmith pushes Florens, he embodies Lina’s fears. The psychological trauma of Florens’s mother’s abandonment causes Florens to lash out at Malaik and then results in the Blacksmith’s backlash, showing how violence against vulnerable people often perpetuates itself.
The Blacksmith slaps Florens and she curls up on the floor. She thinks that the Blacksmith has clearly chosen the boy over her. Florens feels cowed and lost. The Blacksmith tells Florens that Rebekka is healed and that he will hire someone to take her back to the farm.
Again, the Blacksmith’s violence towards Florens puts her in company with the other female characters in the book, most of whom have suffered from some kind of male oppression or assault.
Florens begs him to let her explain, but the Blacksmith tells her she is a slave. Florens insists this is only because Jacob traded for her, but the Blacksmith tells her she has become one since her “head is empty” and her “body is wild.” Florens begs the Blacksmith to own her, and the Blacksmith tells her to own herself. The Blacksmith tells her she is a slave by choice. Florens crawls to the Blacksmith, but he steps away from her. Florens is shocked and feels like she is dying.
In this section, Morrison explores the question of what it means to be a slave, and whether it is only a legal state or a state of mind. When the Blacksmith insists that Florens acts like a slave, with an empty head and a wild body, it is hard to evaluate whether this is a kind of mystical truth being revealed about Florens, or whether the Blacksmith is just using it as an excuse to leave Florens without guilt.