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Self-Identity & Slavery

During the beginning of this section of the novel, Baby Suggs struggles with the concept of her own self-identity. After Halle buys her freedom, Baby Suggs and Mr. Garner leave Sweet Home to make Baby Suggs a new life for herself as a freed slave. Through this experience, Baby Suggs has difficulty adjusting to being her own person after years of being someone else’s property. She’s never had anything of her own including her own name. At Sweet Home she was called by the name of Jenny which she indicates was not her real name, and she was unsure as to why everyone called her Jenny there. When Mr. Garner asks what she was called beforehand she responds, “Anything, but Suggs is what my husband named me.” Even the most simple and basic human expectations of what one should have, such as a name, are lacking for Baby Suggs as a result of her life in slavery. 

Baby Suggs also describes how little she knew about her children. She intentionally did not get to know them because she knew they would either be taken from her or they would grow up and leave her. Despite this, Baby Suggs explains how she still knew more about them than she knew about herself. She thought, “sad as it was that she did not know where her children were buried or what they looked like if alive, fact was she knew more about them than she knew about herself.” She can barely recount what her children’s faces looked like, but in comparison to the knowledge she has about herself it is still greater. Many other subtle comments like these demonstrate how slaves like Baby Suggs lacked their self-identity. They did not have the sense of self-ownership that the average American citizen typically has, and they did not get to know themselves as whole, complex individuals with agency. 

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4 Comments

  1. Nicolette Romley Nicolette Romley

    It was interesting how you mentioned the struggles that slaves still faced after slavery. Baby Suggs was technically free, but she did not feel that way. Slaves had been conditioned to feel and act in a certain way that made it very difficult for them to transition to life after slavery. There was also the systematic oppression of blacks in general, outside of the institution of slavery, that made freedom almost an impossible concept.

  2. Katherine Fell Katherine Fell

    I think that you make a very interesting point about a slave’s relationship with identity. Often, when we think about what a person loses as a slave is their freedom. However, slaves also often lose their sense of identity when they are bought and sold. As you said in your post, this theme is explored through Baby Suggs. I also think this theme is still relevant, as countless African Americans struggle to trace back their family trees because their ancestors were brought to America as slaves.

  3. Alexander Bogomolov Alexander Bogomolov

    Your reflection made some good points about the challenges of finding a sense of identity after slavery. For a free slave, the only possession they really have besides the clothes on their backs is their name. Even though Baby Suggs was free to start her life and find her sense of purpose, she did not want to abandon the only thing that was hers and the only thing she had left from her husband: her name.

  4. David Ataide David Ataide

    I like how you brought up Baby Suggs’s connection with her children. It seems like a major theme of this book is the connection between a mother and daughter. I was honestly really sad to read how Baby Suggs didn’t want to develop a connection with her children because she feared they would be taken from her. I sort of feel the same connection between Sethe and Denver now, as if Sethe distances herself from Denver because of fear of losing her.

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