In two passages of Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved, she describes a party at 124. Everyone become so full from the food that flows endlessly that they become angry at Baby Suggs extravagance. Baby Suggs thinks it was this overfullness that caused them all to not notice the coming of Schoolteacher and his sons. The narrator of one passage is Stamp Paid and he recounts to Paul D. what happened at the party – what they ate and how it made everyone feel.
These two passages rely on the retelling of stories from the Bible – the story of the Fall from Grace in the Garden of Eden in the Old Testament and the story of Jesus’ feeding of the hungry with an endless supply of loaves and fishes in the New Testament. In these passages of Beloved, Morrison relocates the reader to the true beginning of the story, the day that Sethe tries to kill her children. In addition, the passage alludes to the eating of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden and the overindulgence is analogous to the parable of the Loaves and Fishes.
While both passages mention ‘beginning’, they are told out of sequence – one on pages 136-138, “She had decided to do something with the fruit worthy of the man’s labor and his love. That’s how it began” (136) and the other on pages 156-157, “Stamp started with the party, the one Baby Suggs gave, but stopped and backed up a bit to tell about the berries—…” (156). These beginnings are “displaced to another time” (Bennett and Royle 4). These references to ‘beginning’ can also appear to be analogous to Biblical beginnings, in the Garden of Eden. The beginning of the story could be read as the true beginning, the Fall from Grace. The entire novel revolves around the day after the party, when Sethe kills Beloved. By placing the defining event in the middle of the novel, the author achieves, “…the hallucinatory terror of (re-)finding, of retrieving oneself” (Bennett and Royle 3).
Stamp Paid describes the gathering and cooking of the food in anticipation of the party and how the party was the cause of their ‘fall from grace’. He describes the gathering of the berries and the difficulty in retrieving them. Stamp Paid’s description of the ordeal he experiences brings to mind the snake in the Garden of Eve. His narration of the preparation for the party seems to signify the beginning of their downfall.
“He walked six miles to the riverbank; did a slide-run-slide down into a ravine made almost inaccessible by brush. He reached through brambleslined with blood-drawing thorns thick as knives that cut through his shirt sleeves and trousers. All the while suffering mosquitoes, bees, hornets, wasps and the meanest lady spiders in the state. Scratched, raked and bitten, he maneuvered through and took hold of each berry with fingertips so gentle not a single one was bruised. (136)
and “They open to the sun, but not the birds, ‘cause snakes down in there and the birds know it,” (156).
The reference to snakes refers back to the snake in the Garden of Eden. Additionally, the reference to berries seem to make them something holy, an unattainable object that is craved for, “Just one of the berries and you felt anointed” (136). Further, the reference to how the adults follow the example of the innocent, “…the baby’s thrilled eyes and smacking lips made them follow suit, sampling one at a time the berries that tasted like church” (136), exemplify the parallel to Jesus in which he admonishes the community to “suffer unto me the little children”.
In addition, the large quantity of food that is cooked that day is described in detail. “We baked, fried and stewed everything God put down there” (156). This description of the feast brings to mind the parable of the loaves and fishes in the New Testament. Jesus feeds the masses with food that multiplies as fast as it is consumed. Baby Sugg’s food does the same; “Baby Suggs three (maybe four) pies grew to ten (maybe twelve). Sethe’s two hens became five turkeys” (137) and “Much as they’d picked for the party, there were still ears ripening…” (138). There is almost a sense of foreboding in the abundance displayed by this party.
As a result of the robust feast, everyone who attends the party at Baby Suggs eats too much and they get angry. “Ninety people who ate so well, and laughed so much, it made them angry” (136). Five times in this passage Morrison repeats the phrase of the people’s anger. “…and got angry”, “…made them angry”, “…it made them mad”, “It made them furious” (137). The repetition in the passage serves to drive home the severity of the situation. Again paralleling the Jesus parable, the community is offended, “Loaves and fishes were His powers—they did not belong to an ex-slave…” (137).
Baby Suggs is aware that she has offended them, “The scent of their disapproval lay heavy in the air” (137), but it takes her some meditation, and precious time, to realize the severity of the anger. “And then she knew. Her friends and neighbors were angry with her because she had overstepped, given too much, offended them by excess” (138). Likewise, because of this overindulgence and anger, no one in the community warns Baby Suggs family that Schoolteacher is coming. They have all eaten of the ‘fruit’ but it has not brought knowledge, it has dulled it. Stamp paid had “…always believed it wasn’t the exhaustion from a long day’s gorging that dulled them, but some other thing---like, well, like meanness—…” (157). The community will soon confront evil personified by the people’s anger and the Schoolteacher’s hate that has arrived at 124.
Finally, the analogy to the fruit of knowledge and the downfall of man is played out by Sethe as she gathers her children (her fruit) to her. The text continues the analogy as Sethe does something unthinkable, something evil, and she is cast out of the garden for it. These passages serve to reaffirm the never ending battle between good and evil.
K. Y. Hamilton, BA, MA - Copyright 2003, 2006