Home and Homelessness in Epic, Part 3

In Part 3 of this series, I look at what "home" his for Baby Suggs, holy in Toni Morrison's Beloved.

Baby Suggs, holy–Home is an Attitude

From reading Beloved, it appears to me that “home” in this story is not a place, it is an attitude. Baby Suggs, holy is bought out of slavery and crosses the Ohio River into freedom. She moves into a house owned by Mr. Bodwin, but this house becomes a center of activity. I do not see the house as a “home” in the same sense that home was a building as well as an estate for Odysseus. Baby Suggs now has this fixed residence, but that is not what makes it her home. For Baby Suggs her home is the center of community activity where anybody and everybody are welcome. This ability to host others as well as help them is a big part of what makes this house her home. It is not a building or ownership that make a “home” for Baby Suggs. It is where she can be herself; free and contributing to her community.

Baby Suggs was a slave for Mr. and Mrs. Garner at a place called “Sweet Home.” She was a slave there for ten years and her treatment there was better than anywhere else she had been a slave. Sweet Home was where her master lived and where she had a fixed residence for ten years, but was not “home” for Baby Suggs. Slavery is its own homelessness and calling it “Sweet Home” does not make it one.

In the institution of slavery, “fixed residence” truly does not make it a home. There is always the possibility that the slave would be sold and relocated, near or far, with no advance notice. In these circumstances, if a slave lived in one place for 20 years, 40 years or even 60 years, how could it ever be considered home? The reverse can also be true. It is not uncommon in today’s modern world for a person to move around as part of a promotion or a perceived improved life. One can be at a location for a couple of year then move or be transferred again. And yet those two years one could call that place “home”. Somehow the matter of freedom of choice contributes to the sense of “home”. The corporate ladder climber chooses to accept the move. The slave not only has no choice, frequently he and his family members would not even have notification.

About Baby Suggs the author says, “Sweet Home was a marked improvement. No questions.  And no matter, for the sadness was at her center, the desolated center where the self that was no self made its home.” The location of her body is not necessarily where she is home. The sadness at her center is her home. For the slave, where the body is probably is intolerable. Another “home” must be found in order to survive emotionally. For Baby Suggs this becomes the “desolated center.”

Baby Suggs’ son, Halle, bought her out of slavery and she was taken across the Ohio to a free state. She says,

“And when she stepped foot on free ground she could not believe that Halle knew what she didn’t; that Halle, who had never drawn one free breath, knew that there was nothing like it in the world … [S]uddenly she saw her hands and thought with a clarity as simple as it was dazzling, ‘These hands belong to me. These my hands.’ Next she felt a knocking in her chest and discovered something else new: her own heartbeat.”

Baby Suggs uses this newfound freedom and sense of her own heart to salve the pain of the members of her community and, by so doing, the community as a whole begins a healing process. This is what home is for Baby Suggs–helping others through the journey of pain into healing.

This attitude of Baby Suggs, that makes 124 Bluestone Road her center, was, in part, her ability to make a difference to her community. When the community turns its back on her, her attitude of  “homeness” collapsed. When Baby Suggs is cut off from her community she withdraws and eventually dies because of what has now become “homelessness”. She is in the community but no longer of it. For Baby Suggs having family and a fixed residence was not enough to call it a “home”. It was her attitude of community at large and using her gifts of emotional healing that made a place a “home” for her. When the community no longer accepted her or her gifts, she had no home and no reason to live. “Homelessness” creates an apathy that is a challenge to overcome. For Baby Suggs, holy, having no “home” eventually drains the life totally out of her.

The experience of “home” is different for Telemachus than it is for Odysseus than it is for Baby Suggs, holy. The word “home” points to so many variations. No wonder it can carry such a charge and become an emotional trigger.

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