Preferred Citation: Chandler, Marilyn R. Dwelling in the Text: Houses in American Fiction. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1991 1991.

11— Housekeeping and Beloved: When Women Come Home

Housekeeping and Beloved:
When Women Come Home

Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping and Toni Morrison's Beloved may seem at first glance to have little in common other than the slightly deteriorated houses in which they are both set.[1] The first is the story of a young woman from an isolated, white, middle-class Idaho mountain community of the 1950s who is summoned back to her family home to care for it and her two orphaned nieces. She finds a home too much to care for. One of a number of recent "bag lady" heroines in American fiction and drama, Sylvie prefers riding the rails and living under the sky to the domestic duties that bind her to a material world fast filling with used newspapers and empty tin cans. The "stuff" of daily existence assumes a ludicrous absurdity as she tries to cope with what seem to her pointless rituals of housekeeping, failing to understand what they have to do with real life. The second is the story of three black women—a freed slave, Baby Suggs, her daughter-in-law, Sethe, and her granddaughter, Denver—who live in a clapboard house in Ohio near the river they crossed to freedom. The house is haunted by the spirit of another granddaughter, Beloved, killed by her mother to keep her out of the hands of white men who might do her harm. Each of the women has her own peace to make with the past, with the free black community among whom they are constructing a new life in the ambiguous time of "reconstruction," and with the ghost who haunts them.

Though each novel can and should be read in relation to a distinct tradition whose recurrent themes have much to do with race, class, and region and with the shifting terms of feminist vision in the 1980s, I propose here to consider them under the rubric of house and home as ideas in relation to which women in every generation and in every situation have had to "work out their salvation" and define their identities. One important


difference between the issue of domestic life in these stories and in those of Chopin, Gilman, and Wharton is the absence of men as rule-givers and overseers of hearth and home. The actuality of women living without men is acknowledged here and addressed as a situation well within the range of the normal, though a long suppressed fact of American life unaccounted for in our mythology, which so liberally depicts the romantic adventures of men without women.

The houses in both novels are female places, housing three generations of women. The women in the middle generation—Sylvie in Housekeeping and Sethe in Beloved —are struggling to find a balance between continuity and change, between healing the wounds of their own past and finding a way with few resources and little guidance to raise the daughters in their care. Both Sylvie and Sethe remember pasts full of death—killing, suicide, accident—and both work through the particular kinds of craziness these memories have visited on them toward some version of life that will allow them freedom from the burden of a grisly past that is now part of a family mythology in which they are implicated as heirs. Their "craziness" sets them apart from other women: both their houses are conspicuously isolated, not only by fences but by an atmosphere of difference and an attitude of indifference, from the communities that surround them and are stigmatized, taboo, objects of curiosity and apprehension to the neighbors. To both, visiting ladies from the community, representing the forces of propriety and solidarity, come to bear gifts, spy, and gossip.

In both novels home is a place where women come to terms with themselves and their own choices and the choices of their female elders, which have come down to them as a destiny that they will not claim unchallenged because they cannot. The issues of each new generation are not those of their mothers; the women who had to spend their lives working for the freedom to own and keep a house or pioneering in hostile territory to establish a home have left those homes as a legacy to their daughters and granddaughters, who, inheriting them, experience a different set of challenges as a result of ambiguous privilege.

The granddaughters, growing up in these "haunted" houses, have their own separate peace to make with a past from which


they are even further removed and whose tragedies they understand only in the fragmentary way a person comes to understand family lore and history. In the paradoxical way in which growing up so often involves a reversal of generational roles, the young women in each novel come into their inheritance in the moment they assume responsibility for their own lives and in doing so either outgrow or become caretakers of their guardians/mothers. In Housekeeping the two possible responses to Sylvie's final rejection of domestic life as female destiny are played out in the choices her two nieces make. Ruth, the older, ultimately joins Sylvie in burning the house and running away, and they become a pair of female refugees, like Huck and Jim, from a civilization whose proprieties and prejudices make no sense to them. Lucille, the younger, like Sethe's Denver, leaves Sylvie and Ruth in their disheveled and disintegrating household to make a place for herself in the community and find a home among people she comes to recognize as her people. Denver's role is more redemptive than Lucille's; in a time when Sethe has succumbed to the mental distress her haunted house of memories has heaped on her, Denver forges a connection between home and community, finds employment among white people and a strong network of mutual support among the blacks from which her mother had cut off contact, and becomes a force of renewal and normality in her household.

Both novels have important wilderness scenes—moments of revelation take place in clearings out beyond the edges of town that become sacred spaces where an escape from domestic life into magical or spiritual time is possible. Like the forest scenes in The Scarlet Letter , where Hester's erotic and visionary potential momentarily comes alive and transforms her, these flights into the wilderness are portrayed in both stories as moments of grounding, renewals of contact with primary sources of spirituality and vitality—moments when contact with things invisible and too subtle to penetrate the walls of houses restores the energy, vision, and sense of purpose that give the women the strength they need. Sylvie habitually retreats from the house when domestic life overwhelms her, sometimes simply to the backyard, sometimes to a secret place to which she finally takes Ruth to experience with her the magic of the lake, the woods,


and a ramshackle, deserted hovel buried in those woods, which serves as a vehicle for Sylvie's fantasies of escape and transcendence. The trip is an initiation ceremony at which a tacit pact is sealed between the two—an implicit conspiracy of renegades who from then on begin their gradual retreat from the civilities of home and town life. For Baby Suggs, the clearing is the site of prophetic visions and visitations of power and holiness. People follow her there and are healed. She preaches to them and becomes an instrument of grace, binding them to one another in an effusion of love and ecstasy. Months after Baby Suggs' death, Sethe goes to the clearing to remember and pray and seek the grace that seems to have departed from her house and her heart; the spirit of Baby Suggs visits her there, and the light touch of her ghostly fingers are enough to "life her [Sethe's] spirits to the place where she could take the next step" (95). The renewing power of the wilderness, nature as the temple of God and habitation of spirits, an old American theme, is replayed here with peculiar significance in relation to the lives of women to whom the land has never belonged except as a vehicle of secret fantasies of freedom and a place of periodic escape from the duties of domestic life.

In light of these striking similarities, the differences between the two novels may become more significant as the meanings of house and home for black and white women in their respective historical situations unfold. For Sylvie, as for her two elderly aunts, the house is an inherited burden; the privilege of ownership, an unwelcome obligation; and the American dream, an unsettling pastiche of childhood memories, disillusionments, and possessions that weigh like ball and chain on feet that long for the freedom to wander. For Baby Suggs and Sethe, the house is a refuge, an achievement, and a gift entrusted to their stewardship, something they own, who have never known the privilege of ownership, and to which they bring a special expertise in "housekeeping," having long kept others' houses, and in hospitality, having developed a talent for the kind of sharing that wrings power and celebration out of repression and deprivation. In Housekeeping the inheritor longs to shed the burden of her heritage and wander like Ishmael, unconstrained by the burdens of legitimacy. The house is her antagonist. In Beloved a


slave woman become heir and home owner emerges for the first time into a position of legitimate entitlement and social empowerment, assuming a place in the local economy, keeping a house, making it a home, welcoming into it a man, starting a life in freedom and responsibility. It is revealing to compare how these two domestic dramas unfold on their different stages and how they respectively recast some very old questions about female destiny.

In Sylvie, Robinson has put a new twist on the well-established American tradition of the nomadic hero, the lone wanderer, the refugee from a degenerate civilization, the image of innocence regained. Sylvie is happiest riding the rails and sleeping on park benches. Long out of contact with her family, she defected not out of ill-will but out of the need of the chosen to follow a road less traveled, an innocent response to an ironically monastic vocation in a setting of Protestant capitalism turned ritualized consumerism wholly out of sympathy with the ideal of the solitary ascetic. She marches to Thoreau's "different drumbeat," but the consequences of her difference are complicated manyfold because she is a woman; eccentricities that make a man the object of curiosity and even ridicule make a woman the object of suspicion and scandal.

Sylvie's childhood home is in the tiny mountain town of Fingerbone, of which Ruth, her niece and the narrator of the story, observes, "Fingerbone was never an impressive town. It was chastened by an outsized landscape and extravagant weather, and chastened again by an awareness that the whole of human history had occurred elsewhere" (62). The town was "shallow-rooted"; it was plagued with yearly floods and had succumbed once to fire. Sylvie's father had come to this scene of dogged defiance of nature's discouragements, drawn to its harsh magnificence after a childhood in a Midwest sod house, a "mere mound, no more a human stronghold than a grave" (3), and had built a home for his family. Like many pioneer dwellings, its construction is crude, the work of a determined man who knew "nothing whatever of carpentry," but it serves its proud purpose and stands as a monument to self-sufficiency. Ruth remembers that "its fenestration was random" and that


"its corners were out of square" but that its builder "had had the good judgment to set it on a hill," from which perch of safety its inhabitants could, like Noah and his family, watch their neighbors struggle with the yearly floods (74). There is something essentially comic in these struggles; the myths of American know-how and the self-reliance of hardy pioneers are gently mocked in Ruth's depiction of the consequences of the ineptitude and maladaptive habits that subjected the settlers of this mountain town to repeated misunderstandings of nature in unfamiliar guises. The settlers built their houses

of planks nailed to a frame vertically, and strips of wood perhaps two inches wide nailed on at each seam to close the chinks. If the house began to lean, the chinking sprang loose and the pine knots popped out and as often as not the windowpanes fell and the door could only be opened with increasing effort, until finally it could not be closed. I imagine that this kind of building was a habit acquired in a milder climate. I do not know why it was persisted in, for it turned people out of house with a frequency to startle even Fingerbone. (156)

Homesteading in this place was a tenuous accomplishment. Not only did nature threaten continually to overwhelm efforts at domestication; it was a place that seemed to spawn transients in its frontier tolerance for a shifting population, whose "shanties and lean-tos under the bridge and along the shore" defined the margins between town and wilderness. Recalling her childhood fascination with these hoboes fashioning their makeshift shelters, Ruth reflects, "The sorrow is that every soul is put out of house. Fingerbone lived always among the dispossessed" (179). To be a possessor in their midst was a constant reminder of the achievements of survival and settlement—achievements that belonged to the grandparents' generation. With his death in a bizarre railroad accident that becomes a mainstay of local legend, and later his wife's, the house so proudly erected on its unyielding mountainside begins slowly to fall into disrepair. The floods occasionally fill the basement or lick at the porch and floorboards, though being on a hill, the house is not as ravaged by the rising lake as are those houses nearer the shore.


The grandmother's role in settlement was one of pushing the roots down further into the hard soil, consolidating the gains, and ensuring the future of the house to which she had come as a pioneer bride. She lived the life of a good wife in Fingerbone, her religion a version of some commonsense notion of hard work and domestic tranquillity, and cherished a vision of life as "a road down which one traveled, an easy enough road through a broad country, and that one's destination was there from the very beginning, a measured distance away, standing in the ordinary light like some plain house where one went in and was greeted by respectable people and was shown to a room where everything one had ever lost or put aside was gathered together, waiting" (10).

The values that inform this vision are those of settlers clinging to the simple civilities that connect the patterns of a new life emerging from the disruptions of migration with an old order where continuities were assured and categories were intact. Among the settlers' ambitions was the hope of reestablishing the institutions of that order in their new environment as part of the business of domesticating the wilderness and passing them on as an inheritance. Ruth recalls that because her grandmother owned both her house and a little money,

she always took some satisfaction in thinking ahead to the time when her simple private destiny would intersect with the great public processes of law and finance—that is, to the time of her death. All the habits and patterns and properties that had settled around her, the monthly checks from the bank, the house she had lived in since she came to it as a bride, the weedy orchard that surrounded the yard on three sides where smaller and wormier apples and apricots and plums had fallen every year of her widowhood, all these things would suddenly become liquid, capable of assuming new forms. And all of it would be Lucille's and mine. "Sell the orchards," she would say, looking grave and wise, "but keep the house. So long as you look after your health and own the roof above your head, you're as safe as anyone can be," she would say, "God willing." (27)

But her certainties do not transfer along with her assets. Keeping the house is not the same sacred task to Sylvie and her


sister as it was to their mother. In the transition from one generation to the next, values have been displaced, and the relationship among work, acquisition, accumulation, and satisfaction has been disrupted. The older daughter, Helen, marries a man who takes her away to Seattle, where she finds herself living

in two rooms at the top of a tall gray building, so that all the windows—there were five altogether, and a door with five rows of small panes—overlooked a narrow white porch, the highest flight of a great scaffolding of white steps and porches. . . . Since all the windows were in a line, our rooms were as light as the day was, near the door, and became darker as one went farther in. In the back wall of the main room was a door which opened into a carpeted hallway, and which was never opened. It was blocked, in fact, by a big green couch so weighty and shapeless that it looked as if it had been hoisted out of forty feet of water. Two putty-colored armchairs were drawn up in a conversational circle. Halves of two ceramic mallards were in full flight up the wall. As for the rest of the room, it contained a round card table covered with a plaid oilcloth, a refrigerator, a pale-blue china cupboard, a small table with a hotplate on it, and a sink with an oilcloth skirt. (20–21)

The apartment is a badly designed box, a place in which to survive, but incapable of properly housing the rituals of social life. The reduced family lives in reduced circumstances with space reduced to the essentials so that the distinctions between one living function and another are not borne out in the plan of the house but are mingled in an all-purpose room.

This is a house halfway between the house of Helen's birth and the complete disintegration represented by Sylvie's nomadic life, a halfway mark in the progressive diminishment of the grandfather's realized dream. Helen makes her final escape from it in a borrowed car with which she sails off a cliff to a dramatic suicide after having deposited her young daughters with her mother at the family homestead. On the grandmother's death her two maiden sisters come to look after the children. Ruth recalls, "They were almost destitute, and the savings in rent, not to mention the advantages of exchanging a little hotel room below ground for a rambling house surrounded by peonies and rose bushes, would be inducement enough to keep


them with us until we came of age" (28). But the burdens of householding outweigh the advantages, and the aunts find themselves daunted not only by the realities of home maintenance but by the idiosyncrasies of the old house and their own nightmarish visions of what might happen to it, the children, and themselves in the event of natural disaster. When they cannot take it anymore, they set about locating Sylvie and send her a message to come home. "I have often wondered," Ruth muses, "what it seemed like to Sylvie to come back to that house, which would have changed since she left it, shifted and settled" (48).

The reader can soon surmise what it felt like to Sylvie. She makes a valiant attempt to domesticate herself, to tone down her peculiarities and play mother to her abandoned nieces, but she literally and figuratively keeps bumping into the walls and furniture, unaccustomed to the constraints and niceties of indoor life. Her odd habits involve the girls in teaching her what they need in the way of care and housekeeping. But she is not a quick learner, and the house seems to be in league against her efforts at compromise. The spring after her arrival, for the first time in memory, the annual floods reach the house. Ruth recalls, "Water poured over the thresholds and covered the floor to the depth of four inches, obliging us to wear boots while we did the cooking and washing up. We lived on the second floor for a number of days. . . . If we opened or closed a door, a wave swept through the house, and chairs tottered, and bottles and pots clinked and clunked in the bottoms of the kitchen cabinets" (61–62).

Unlike the aunts, however, Sylvie meets this invasion of natural forces with serene and even amused detachment. In the midst of the flood she seizes Ruth in a fit of gnomic amusement and sloshes about the kitchen with her in an impromptu dance. The floodwater not only displaces the furniture within the house but seems to have reconfigured the landscape. Lucille looks out the front door in the midst of it and observes, "I don't think the Simmons' house is where it used to be." Sylvie replies, "It's so hard to tell." The landscape becomes, by a combination of flood, mist, and Sylvie's fluid perceptions, a running watercolor in which boundaries of time and space fluctuate disturbingly.


Recalling this time of cold exile to the upper rooms of the house, and looking out on a landscape both familiar and strange, Ruth lapses into musing on the resonances of the small material world around her:

Every spirit passing through the world fingers the tangible and mars the mutable, and finally has come to look and not to buy. So shoes are worn and hassocks are sat upon and finally everything is left where it was and the spirit passes on, just as the wind in the orchard picks up the leaves from the ground as if there were no other pleasure in the world but brown leaves, as if it would deck, clothe, flesh itself in flourishes of dusty brown apple leaves, and then drops them all in a heap at the side of the house and goes on. (73)

Here at its most appealing is the transcendent point of view that governs this footloose heroine and the niece who tells her story. Sylvie identifies in her deepest being with the rhythms of nature and the large cycles of seasonal change and geological movement. It is hard for her to take seriously the minutiae of daily existence in this house, which loses its significance against the vast backdrop of her imagination. She is a woman who has made the world her home, for whom, as for Thoreau and Ishmael, the sky is her roof and the wide earth itself a home she knows to be safe and habitable.

Life with Sylvie seems continually to threaten boundaries. She is a nocturnal animal, her circadian rhythms attuned to something other than human activity. The girls discover her several times awake and sitting in a dark house in a state of inexplicable and weird contentment, unwilling to turn on the lights that would restore their sense of normality. "She seemed" Ruth muses, "to dislike the disequilibrium of counterpoising a roomful of light against a worldful of darkness. Sylvie in a house was more or less like a mermaid in a ship's cabin. She preferred it sunk in the very element it was meant to exclude" (99).

Her unpredictable behavior creates an atmosphere that seems to invest the house itself with an aura of Gothic animation that bewilders the girls and keeps them in a sleepless state of vigilance over the habits of this aunt who in her way seems never to have been housebroken: "We thought we sometimes heard her leave the house [at night], and once when we got out


of bed, we found her playing solitaire in the kitchen, and once we found her sitting on the back porch steps, and once we found her standing in the orchard" (83). She seems to have brought with her some wild natural influence that begins with small intrusions of the outside world into the house—leaves unswept on the floors that make a sound of "lifting and alighting" when the door is opened.

Over time Ruth begins to sense something preternatural in the random motion of these bits of outdoors: "I noticed that the leaves would be lifted up by something that came before the wind, they would tack against some impalpable movement of air several seconds before the wind was heard in the trees. Thus finely did our house become attuned to the orchard and to the particularities of weather, even in the first days of Sylvie's housekeeping. Thus did she begin by littles and perhaps unawares to ready it for wasps and bats and barn swallows" (85). Sylvie, true to her name, seems an agent of natural forces who has come to seduce the house and its young inhabitants back to a state of nature.

While she is there the house begins to degenerate more rapidly and visibly by virtue of her active disregard for conventional standards of housekeeping. Things fall apart, and whatever center was once there, perhaps in the person of a woman trained to the tending of hearth and home, does not hold under Sylvie's haphazard regime. Once when Lucille's birthday candles set the curtains on fire, Sylvie "[beat] out the flames with a back issue of Good Housekeeping , but she . . . never replaced the curtain" (101). The niceties of order and cleanliness are lost on Sylvie, whose mind is on loftier, or at least airier, matters. She abandons her duties sometimes for whole days to make unannounced excursions to a hidden spot across the lake—"a little valley between two hills where someone built a house and planted an orchard and even started to dig a well. A long time ago" (137). The ghostly remnant of someone's abandoned settlement charms her with the mystery of its past and its seclusion, which make it a perfect setting for a visitation of spirit or at least for moods of fantastic speculation. When Ruth sees the place, on the occasion of her first illicit foray into the woods with Sylvie on a school day, she sees it at first with ordinary eyes


and has to learn to see the magic Sylvie sees. Remembering that first trip to the little house slowly returning to nature, Ruth reflects:

Abandoned homesteads like this one were rare . . . so perhaps all the tales of perished settlers were at root one tale, carried off in every direction the way one cry of alarm is carried among birds through the whole of the woods and even the sky. It might have been this house that peopled all these mountains. When it broke it might have cast them invisibly into the wind, like spores, thousands from one drab husk, or millions, for there was no reason to believe that anyone ever had heard all the tales of unsheltered fold that were in these mountains, or that anyone ever would. (157)

Never quite able to enter fully into Sylvie's fantastic vision, Ruth is nevertheless initiated on this shared pilgrimage, and as her desire for such moments of vision and for wild, natural things begins to deepen, the thin lines that bind her to civilization, such as it has survived in the little outpost town, begin to fray. She knows, despite the stories she and Sylvie invent, that the little ruin does not secretly shelter elfin children long since abandoned there, not because the story is unlikely but because its logic is faulty: if there were children there in that magic place, they would have to be "light and spare and thoroughly used to the cold," and it would be "almost a joke to them to be cast out into the woods, even if their eyes were gone and their feet were broken" (159). Ruth begins to become, like Sylvie, a creature of the outdoors, learning to live there the way a child learns to take possession of the house she lives in, as gradually its dark corners become less mysterious and her sense of authority to inhabit it grows into a proprietary claim. She learns to love and inhabit the darkness, to become a creature of the night: sleeping one night in the woods, she remembers, "I simply let the darkness in the sky become coextensive with the darkness in my skull and bowels and bones. Everything that falls upon the eye is apparition, a sheet dropped over the world's true workings. . . . Darkness is the only solvent" (116). Like Sylvie, Ruth begins to shed her attachments to the material culture of home and hearth like a skin grown too tight. "It is


better to have nothing, for at last even our bones will fall. It is better to have nothing" (159).

These nature women are innocent, but not sentimental, grateful but not evangelical about their private mysticism. Ruth recalls that "the deep woods are as dark and stiff and as full of their own odors as the parlor of an old house. We would walk among those great legs, hearing the enthralled and incessant murmurings far above our heads, like children at a funeral" (98).

But as Ruth's intimacy with Sylvie and her habits of mind deepens, Lucille begins to find herself alienated from them both, distressed and disoriented by what she sees not as friendly interminglings of nature into the life of the household but as threatening intrusions of chaos and distressing manifestations of pointless neglect. Sylvie collects things. Newspapers and cans seem to have a vague intrinsic value; she is not sure what to do with them or even, in a sense, what to make of them. So they pile up in corners, awaiting some revelation of their place in the order of things, and the house gradually takes on the aspect of a junk heap while Lucille, like the sorcerer's apprentice, tries desperately to devise strategies to maintain some semblance of order. The issue of housekeeping becomes a point of contention, driving her to take decisive measures in the interests of her own proper upbringing. "There were other things about Sylvie's housekeeping that bothered Lucille," Ruth recalls.

For example, Sylvie's room was just as my grandmother had left it, but the closet and the drawers were mostly empty, since Sylvie kept her clothes and even her hairbrush and toothpowder in a cardboard box under the bed. She slept on top of the covers, with a quilt over her, which during the daytime she pushed under the bed also. Such habits (she always slept clothed, at first with her shoes on, and then, after a month or two, with her shoes under her pillow) were clearly the habits of a transient. They offended Lucille's sense of propriety. (102–103)

Lucille's distress puts the reader in a curious position of recognizing, in the midst of sympathizing with the endearing oddities of Sylvie and Ruth, that it is Lucille who represents the will


to order, socialization, and "normality." She is the one trying to preserve what in ordinary life most of us regard as sane forms or accommodation and maintenance of civilized standards. Yet in the context of the novel, her efforts seem pathetic, slightly small-minded, common. Ruth, for a time, finds her loyalties divided between her aunt, whose fanciful freedom compels her heart, and Lucille, whom she senses is being lost to her. She tries to emulate Lucille's adaptations to the norms of social life, accompanying her to town one day to meet with friends, but her efforts fail miserably, and she begins to hear in herself the fateful sound of whatever voice called Sylvie to her unorthodox destiny. Returning from her unsuccessful foray into local society, she looks up at the house and experiences a strange shock of recognition, as if "something I had lost might be found in Sylvie's house" (124). At the same time, she sees it with Lucille's eyes: "As I approached the house I was newly aware of the changes that had overtaken it. The lawn was knee high, an oily, dank green, and the wind sent ripples across it. It had swamped the smaller bushes and the walk and the first step of the front porch and had risen to the height of the foundation. And it seemed that if the house were not to founder, it must soon begin to float" (124–125). Images of water, floating, dissolution, and random movement are associated throughout the book with Sylvie.

Ruth is learning gradually to adapt herself to this medium; she is acquiring a deep quality of fluidity, what in its best manifestation the ancients called "the way of water," which is the way of the wise man. She is not simply succumbing but is actively seeking some quality of knowing she recognizes in her mercurial aunt, whose wisdom looks so distressingly like ineptitude and foolishness. While Ruth spends a night in a stolen boat on the lake with Sylvie, her apprehensions dissolve into rumination and then into a dream in which first the boat and then her body fill with water to bursting. "Then, presumably, would come parturition in some form." The image fades into self-reflection: "What is thought, after all, what is dreaming, but swim and flow, and the images they seem to animate?" Our thoughts "mock us with their seeming slightness. If they were more substantial—if they had weight and took up space—they


would sink or be carried away in the general flux. But they persist, outside the brisk and ruinous energies of the world" (162–163). She realizes that perhaps it was some vain seeking to unite with the flow under the surface of things that prompted her mother's suicide. And with these thoughts she drifts into sleep "between Sylvie's feet, and under the reach of her arms" (163), curled in the hull of the boat.

Despite the germination and fruition of this magical relation with Sylvie, the loss of Lucille is a costly one for Ruth. Having a sister around, she recalls, is like having a light on in a house at night. Lucille is associated with images of light, as Sylvie is with images of darkness. Lucille represents to Ruth the safety of the known, the conventional, the comforts of ordinary life. She is tempted at moments to retreat to those comforts but finds herself increasingly unable to. After Lucille leaves, the authorities threaten to take Ruth away, too, and this threat propels Sylvie into a tragicomic frenzy of domestic activity, a last-ditch attempt to restore her credibility and learn the ways of her kind. She stages a great bonfire of old newspapers and phone books as Ruth watches, transfixed, "I saw the fiery transfiguration of a dog, and the bowl he ate from, and a baseball team, and a Chevrolet, and many hundreds of words. It had never occurred to me that words, too, must be salvaged, though when I thought about it, it seemed obvious. It was absurd to think that things were held in place, are held in place, by a web of words" (200). Sylvie sends for seeds to frame the house with flower beds in the spring and hangs a new yellow curtain in the kitchen. She is suddenly "full of purpose, which sometimes seemed like hope" (201).

But they are not her purposes, and they fail in translation. Ruth hides in the orchard the evening the sheriff comes to negotiate her removal and is overcome once again by an alien vision of things: the house with its lighted windows "stood out beyond the orchard with every one of its windows lighted. It looked large, and foreign, and contained, like a moored ship—a fantastic thing to find in a garden" (203). Ruth resurrects in her visionary moments Thoreau's old question, "What is a house?" in strange, fantastic terms that detach it from all the notions that make a house seem so elemental a grounding force. She


imagines a house as something that might be transformed to fit needs not dreamed of by generations not yet mired in the wreckage of their own progress and wonders what that house would have to be like: "Imagine that Noah knocked his house apart and used the planks to build an ark, while his neighbors looked on, full of doubt. A house, he must have told them, should be daubed with pitch and built to float cloud high, if need be. . . . A house should have a compass and a keel" (184). This house has neither but weighs them down, tying them to the mores of the little community and the duties it has defined for them, preventing these two visionaries from tasting life in the way that all adventurers have longed to taste it, and so they decide to set themselves free.

The only recourse is to burn the house and leave on the next train. What might turn into a scene of high melodrama or sentimental tragedy is redeemed and deepened by the comic difficulties of the arsonists: "The house was as dank as the orchard, and would not burn. Oh, the doilies on the couch blazed a while, and they left smoldering rings on the arms, but Sylvie slapped those out with her hand, saying they were worse than nothing" (208). Sylvie's strange unfamiliarity with domestic objects extends even to an inability to destroy them effectively. Like the newspapers and tin cans, the house itself baffles her in its resistances. Finally, however, Sylvie and Ruth manage a conflagration and escape before the townspeople have a chance to stop them. As the fugitives make their way across the bridge in the dark, the house burning behind them, they feel what Kundera would call a "lightness of being"—an exhilaration of freedom from possession. In her flight Ruth imagines the burning house "all turned to fire, and the fire leaping and whirling in its own fierce winds" and "the spirit of the house breaking out the windows and knocking down the doors, and all the neighbors astonished at the sovereign ease with which it burst its tomb, broke up its grave" (211). It seems not a destruction but a transformation, an apotheosis, a releasing of the elements of the house to some other, freer form.

This novel challenges us to reimagine the American dream of home ownership. Sylvie has it and does not value it. The home does not have any of the symbolic, and little of the practical,


importance for her that it did for her mother. Her mother collected family photos; Sylvie burns them—not out of hatred or rebellion but because such gathering and preserving seem irrelevant. She has, like Thoreau, "other lives to live." Sylvie is among a number of bag lady types featured in recent American writing. Certainly the plight of the homeless is anything but romantic; yet there is a romance of homelessness that has nearly as long a history in our culture as the dream of home and property ownership. The values reflected in that romance are counterweights to the domestic virtues that stabilize home and family. Sylvie and her predecessors are reminders of the dangers of the insularity, complacency, and too-comfortable materialism that accompany the very successes we are admonished to pursue. And they are symbols of a kind of radical freedom that needs to be exercised by the occasional eccentric or rebel to help the rest remember what freedom looks like and to drive us back to the fundamental paradoxes that keep desire and fulfillment from becoming greed and complacency: that voluntary renunciation can bring unsuspected richness and involuntary possession, unbearable impoverishment.

Possession, to the dispossessed, however, brings its own awakenings, especially to those who understand the material world as part of a subtle and complex spiritual economy that transcends the logic of the marketplace. Understood in their true significance, things become animated by the energies of the people who use them. Beloved, one of the most haunting "ghost stories" in American fiction, opens with a bald affirmation of that mysterious dimension of the material world: "124 was spiteful." One twenty-four is the address of a gray and white house on Bluestone Road in Cincinnati, once a way station for escaped slaves, a gathering place for the shifting population of black men and women on their way to somewhere better. It is a place full of spirit and history. As one character puts it, "Compared to 124, the rest of the world was bald" (41). At the story's beginning it is home to three women who have been abandoned by their men through death or desertion: Baby Suggs, an escaped slave, a holy woman, preacher, and minister to the local community; Sethe, escaped from the same plantation and now living


with Baby as her daughter; and Denver, Sethe's half-grown daughter. No one comes to 124 anymore; evil things have happened there, and a restless spirit troubles the house and makes it "spiteful." The house contains not just a ghost but a secret.

In a moment of desperation, threatened with death or worse by white slave-catchers standing on the threshold of this house, Sethe killed her own baby. Now the baby's spirit inhabits the place. The house is "palsied by the baby's fury at having its throat cut" (5). The sideboard moves when Sethe calls out the ghost. The house pitches when a man appears from Sethe's past to make love to her. Denver comes home one day to see in the living room a "pool of red and undulating light" (8). Strange phenomena like these are not, however, occasion for terror so much as for a kind of vexed tolerance. The erratic appeals of the invisible fourth inhabitant must be reckoned with as surely as must the demands of the dying Baby Suggs. Indeed, the ghost seems not so much an inhabitant as the soul of the house itself; Denver has come to regard the house as a person rather than a structure, so accustomed is she to its preternatural rumblings.

The house has some peculiar features. Like Pilate's house in Morrison's Song of Solomon, it has only one door. Baby Suggs boarded up the back door because she did not want to make the journey to the outside kitchen anymore (207). Like the houses of Hawthorne and Poe, this is a house haunted by a guilty and ambiguous past, weakened by the battles of sexes and generations, and located in a town but not of it—a house isolated in its own metaphysical space by virtue of the unexpiated evil that sets it apart. It is a place possessed by a power that inhabits it and entraps all its inhabitants in a common and isolating fate. In the course of the story, boundaries between present and past, living and dead, animate and inanimate, fade and dissolve, and the reader is left uneasily pondering the fragility of rational categories of experience.

But Beloved fits only marginally into the American Gothic tradition as it is generally defined. The questions it raises are different from those posed by traditional "ghost stories." It is not, for one thing, a tale of terror. Within the context of black Christianized folklore, intrusions of the supernatural into ordinary life are taken more or less for granted, regarded with respect


but not surprise. Moreover, the radical individuality that has so defined white American culture is far less a part of black consciousness; bonds of common suffering, ambiguous genealogical lines, and a religious tradition that evokes experiences of transcendent unity make the issue of establishing individual identity much less pressing than that of establishing communal identity. The presence of a restless spirit in a household is a demand to be reckoned with but not a threat to sanity or a challenge to some model of reality from which such occurrences are categorically excluded.

The main characters in this novel are the three women, a man, and a ghost whose presence is manifest first in the hauntings and then in the form of a young girl who inexplicably appears, stays, and gradually comes to dominate the will and intentions of the others, thereby turning household life to her hungry purposes. The three generations of women represent successive stages in emergence from enslavement and endangerment. Baby Suggs, who spent most of her life at the plantation of "Sweet Home" as personal slave to the plantation's mistress, having been freed, continues her life of service by ministering to the physical and spiritual needs of the fleeing and displaced. Like Faulkner's Dilsey, Baby Suggs has "seed de first and de last" and finds nothing human to be alien or anomalous. She acquires the status of local saint by the immense capacious tolerance and absorbency that make her an agent of healing and her home a general place of refuge.

Sethe, married to one of Baby Suggs' sons, arrives at 124 in need of that healing after she gave birth on her escape route, sent her child on ahead, and nearly died in crossing the river. She remains to care for Baby and the house and her own children, but her staying is sealed as an irrevocable fate the day she kills her baby daughter to save her from white men who have come into the yard threatening and tormenting the black fugitives. After that event Sethe's orientation turns away from community and toward what family remains to her. Her sons eventually leave her. Isolated and ostracized, she turns inward, enclosing herself, her daughter, and her memories behind the door that once stood open to so many travelers. Her story is a simple tale of survival and sorrow complicated by the one desperate act that has defined her and become her fate.


Denver, Sethe's surviving daughter, suffers that fate unhappily; it is an inherited burden, something that does not for her, as it does for Sethe, betoken the exaction of a just payment for sin committed but rather a dismal foreclosure of possibilities in the actual world. She grows up largely in ignorance of the world beyond the close boundaries of her home: "124 and the field behind it were all the world she knew or wanted" (101). She occasionally complains, "I can't live here. . . . Nobody speaks to us" (14). But she has nowhere to go, no understanding of the world beyond those animated walls, and so she lives in an uneasy truce with these women whose motives and way of life she only partly comprehends.

The reciprocity between the house and its inhabitants changes with each generation: where Baby Suggs knows how to exercise the power of prayer and exorcism to keep spirits in control, if not dispel them, Sethe can practice only an uneasy toleration. Denver, however, makes of the ghost a playmate and companion. She creates a complicated personal mythology around the fragments of the story she knows and accepts the mysterious presence as one of the givens of her strange, lonely life.

A balance of power has been struck in this household between the women who in their various ways accommodate to its strangeness and the spirit who visits them. Motives of appeasement and expiation shape ordinary activity. But that balance is disrupted by two major events: Baby Suggs' death and the appearance of Paul D, another refugee from Sweet Home, a man of Sethe's generation, friend to her lost husband, who has wandered for years finding freedom a matter of nomadic existence and marginal survival on uncertain terms. Suddenly the balance of power and the accommodation are threatened, and the ghost begins a campaign of intimidation to drive Paul D from the house, where it appears he may stay. He brings with him the normality of the outside world, intruding its reality into this little conventual cell where visitations from the other world are more frequent than visits from the town beyond Bluestone Road.

It is shortly after Paul D's arrival that "Beloved" appears, an incarnation of the ghost of the dead baby come now to take a


more active role in the struggle for a central place in Sethe's affections and in this home. With Beloved's arrival the house becomes the stage for an escalating battle of wills, a contest in which Beloved seeks to drive out Paul D, subordinate Denver, and have her mother's attentions entirely to herself—a returned baby getting back what is hers.

The idea of "ghosts" loses its boundaries in this novel. Habitation, presence, and fullness are expressed in the very character of inanimate things. The events that have occurred in a place leave a residue of atmosphere. As Beloved observes, the house is "heavy . . . this place is heavy" (54). Similarly, when Sethe goes to the clearing where Baby Suggs preached, she wants to "listen to the spaces that the long-ago singing had left behind" (89).

These people are aware of themselves as living in a force-field, operated on by unseen and unnamed powers. Habitation gives place character, establishing its own invisible but palpable boundaries. Moreover, the character of a place is a matter of relationship between the inhabitant and the spirit of the place. For each of the five main characters 124 assumes a different and peculiar character; the idea of home is shaped and altered by their histories, needs, and various accommodations to the house itself.

During Baby Suggs' best years there, 124 evolved from a way station on the underground railroad, where there were fugitives "folded up tight somewhere: beneath floorboards in a pantry, once in a chimney" (148), to the hospice and haven it became for any black townsperson or itinerant. The years when Baby Suggs owned and ran the house were the time "when 124 was alive." Under her aegis the house was an all-purpose gathering place: a refuge for travelers; a hospital where she nursed Sethe, among others, back to health and wholeness after harrowing escapes; a place where people brought and prepared food, sang, prayed, and nurtured one another. Baby Suggs "had women friends, men friends from all around to share grief with" (96).

Like Baby herself, the house evolves, expanding its influence, widening its hospitable arms to give more and more to the growing community of the freed and needy. As far as Baby is


concerned, this is a house the Lord has provided. When Sethe, trying to remind Baby Suggs that there are good white people, points out, "They gave you this house," Baby Suggs replies emphatically, "Nobody gave me nothing" (244). The house is hers by divine right; her years as a slave, then as a freedwoman watching her sons grow up in slavery, have paid in full for any goods life has given her thereafter. She accepts the house in a spirit of stewardship and begins the process of transforming the skills she learned in servitude into forms of power to be exercised in the chosen service of her people. Her preaching to them is not about repentance but about repossession of their birthright: "She did not tell them to clean up their lives or to go and sin no more. She did not tell them they were the blessed of the earth, its inheriting meek or its glorybound pure. She told them that the only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine. That if they could not see it, they would not have it" (88). She urges them to love their bodies, their own flesh, reminding them that no one will love it if they do not. Their empowerment must come from themselves; nothing will be given to them, even their own bodies, unless they take possession of them and claim power over them. This is what she has done with the home she has acquired.

But by the time of her death, the event with which the story opens, the house has already "faded," lost much of its vitality, and in Sethe's view, Baby Suggs lies broken in it waiting for death, no longer believing in grace, no longer able to wreak her transformations on fate. The house that was once such a place of refuge has "shut down and put up with the venom of its ghost" (89). Baby Suggs' one remaining desire is to see color; she is "hungry for color." In the middle of a bleak Ohio winter, in a house from which warmth, light, and spiritual vitality have departed, the only vestige of liveliness resides in the bright orange patch on Baby Suggs' quilt with which Sethe tries pathetically to satisfy her yearning.

Sethe's ministrations are far less inspired than Baby's. She does what is necessary to the survival and moderate comfort of the old woman and young girl in her care. She works, cooks, washes Baby's withering body, and preserves the truce with the spirit of the house, quietly harboring painful memories and liv-


ing on determination and defiance. Sethe lives with memories of Sweet Home that reel themselves in front of her like a private picture show repeated endlessly for her torment and comfort. The farm named Sweet Home "rolled itself out before her in its shameless beauty" (6).

When Baby dies and the house becomes Sethe's, it closes in on itself. Rather than sheltering the flocks, 124 becomes a protective shell around Sethe and Denver, keeping out a world they assume to be hostile. Sethe knows, too, the measure of the loss represented in the quietly deteriorating old house. Unlike Denver, she has memories with which to compare the diminishment and demise of 124: "She remembered when the yard had a fence with a gate that somebody was always latching and unlatching in the time when 124 was busy as a way station. She did not see the white-boys who pulled it down, yanked up posts and smashed the gate leaving 124 desolate and exposed at the very hour when everybody stopped dropping by. The shoulder weeds of Bluestone Road were all that came toward the house" (163).

Sethe has become a toughened woman. Misery has not had for her the benevolent effects it had for Baby Suggs. Like the scarred skin on Sethe's back, her sensitivity and her ability to feel have been reduced as the cost of psychic survival. Unlike Denver, whose sensitivities are heightened by her deprived environment, Sethe girds herself to go on with life with a straightened vision, limited ambitions, and simple survival as a daily goal. She protects herself and Denver, nourishes her memories, and goes on.

Sethe's memories, recorded in a long soliloquy in chapter 20, are a litany of justification. She killed her child for her safety. Killing her, Sethe sealed a bond with the child stronger than life. The strange return of Sethe's ghostly child seems to her a vindication and seems for a time to restore a semblance of family life. And she claims the child as her own. Sethe's primary motive is claiming: "Beloved, she my daughter. She mine. . . . I won't never let her go. . . . Nobody will ever get my milk no more except my own children" (200). She dreams of having the life she missed with her child, planting and sowing with her, teaching her to see and name the natural world. Sethe's


ambitions are to have and preserve. Like the steward with the few talents, she has no impulse to multiply but simply to protect and preserve what has been spared to her. The house is hers and the children are hers, and even against the man who enters her life and offers her love her impulse is fiercely to protect and keep them. She has served her term as a slave, has served her term in jail after the murder of her daughter, and now retains only the limited goal of survival without further trouble.

For Denver, neither the house nor the ghost-sister is ringed with the painful associations they have for her mother. Occasionally Denver is driven to a desperation of loneliness, but she develops strategies for coping with this isolation. Accustomed to the peculiarities of her confined and secretive upbringing, she enters into her own pact with both the place and its inhabitant. She regards the house "as a person rather than a structure" (29). In her puzzling world she has worked out a precarious economy of safety based on the half-truths she knows about the past. She knows her mother killed her sister and because of that lives with fear that whatever made her mother do that will return.

All the time, I'm afraid the thing that happened that made it all right for my mother to kill my sister could happen again. I don't know what it is, I don't know who it is, but maybe there is something else terrible enough to make her do it again. I need to know what that thing might be, but I don't want to. Whatever it is, it comes from outside this house, outside the yard, and it can come right on in the yard if it wants to. So I never leave this house and I watch over the yard, so it can't happen again and my mother won't have to kill me too. Not since Miss Lady Jones' house have I left 124 by myself. Never. (205)

Denver is far more sensitive to the presence in 124 than is her mother, who often does not see or feel the changing atmosphere. Denver's insularity has attuned her finely to the house's moods and to the presence of the invisible child: "Beloved is my sister. I swallowed her blood right along with my mother's milk. The first thing I heard after no hearing anything was the sound of her crawling up the stairs. She was my secret company until Paul D came. He threw her out" (205).


As with her mother and grandmother, Denver lives in an economy of radical loss and pursuit of restoration. What little she has is taken from her without clear promise of restitution. Her sense of a place in the world and her satisfactions depend largely on her own imaginings. As a child she makes a place for herself out in the field, a "green bush house" reminiscent of the clearing where Baby Suggs preached. She engages in "house-play" in a "room" of boxwood bushes behind the house. When Baby Suggs dies, Denver goes there. Like Baby, Denver claims a space for herself and keeps it to herself, harboring her secrets there.

As she grows older, Denver ventures hesitantly into the wider world. She peeks into the windows of Lady Jones's house, where children are taught their lessons, allowing herself only to observe from a distance, knowing too little even to covet what they have; it is "a house other children visited but not her" (102). To Denver, a house is a whole world. She has no comparisons to give her a sense of norms, only life in 124 and in the milieu of all the stories it contains.

When Beloved appears bodily as a member of the household, Denver is able for the first time to define her own role in terms of a meaningful function. Once the secret companion is incarnate and Denver is able to establish an actual relation with her, separation from her mother can begin on terms other than simple escape. Denver sees it has her mission to protect Beloved from her mother this time around. Denver now has a role in the family epic. The fact that it is not Beloved's object to be protected does not prevent Denver from defining the situation in such a way as to give herself this significance. She soon comes to realize that Beloved herself is a force to be reckoned with, dangerous in her own way, and she learns in ambiguous fashion to protect herself from this strange sister even as she presumes to protect her from their murderous mother. Denver takes to sleeping in Baby Suggs' old room, believing that is the "only place she [Beloved] can't get to me in the night" (206–207). Baby Suggs is still, even after her death, part of the household economy or force-field.

But the real spine of Denver's action, the motive of her cloistered existence, is her millennial faith in the return of her


father. In her private theology she has been singled out for a particular mission of waiting and protection, holding things together until his return. Her way of making sense of the world has been entirely focused on a past that belongs to another generation and on a future fashioned out of the strands of that past, which is receding into myth year by year with little in the way of lived life to displace it and relativize its importance.

It is only after Beloved's disappearance, when the hold of the ghost of the past on the household is released, that Denver ventures into a wider, more real world and takes her plunge into the ordinary. She leaves home of necessity, having to help Sethe, who is sick from her second ordeal of slow bereavement. Denver's first going out is depicted in a language appropriate to the emotional magnitude of that step: she "stood on the porch of 124 ready to be swallowed up in the world beyond the edge of the porch" (243). Denver finally has an epiphany of normality. She goes to Lady Jones's house and finds herself able to enter a larger world with grace.

As Denver ventures into the larger world, another displacement begins. As her outside life improves, her home life deteriorates. She begins to keep house and care for her mother. The balance of power shifts from mother to daughter, and as it does the process of reconnection with the community begins. Gifts of food are left discreetly at the fence for the sick woman. The tradition of mutual hospitality in the black community reasserts itself. Denver takes a job and begins to learn about the world, first with gratitude, later with dawning recognition of the ironies of inequality that have continued into the generations of freed slaves. She works for gentle white folk with soft blue carpets and china closets, comes in the back door, and attends to their needs so that at the end of the day she can return home to attend to her mother's. In other words, Denver assumes her place in the complex, ambiguous social world of freedom. This is her fall into experience, her liberation from an innocent and protected past into the sorrows of public adult life that are the cost of qualified freedom in a world where that commodity remains precarious.

If the three women represent the evolution of household and family from an economy of desperation into one of a social nor-


mality predicated on a new set of constraints as well as release from a past of extremities, Paul D is the agent of that release. His coming creates a disturbance in the field. he is capable of threatening the power of the ghost because he is not of this small world where such power can reign supreme. He is the ghost's competition, and the battle in which she engages him is a pitting of death against life, past against present, the mythic and repetitive against the actual and contingent. He brings his simple hungers for food, sex, and shelter and pits them against the driving, consuming, voracious needs of the baby ghost, breaking open the closed, hermetic circle of women's lives where there "was no room for any other thing or body" (39) and reorienting them to the realities of sex, work, and family. "It took a man," the narrator explains, "Paul D, to shout it off, beat it off, and take its place for himself" (104).

As in a fairy tale, he comes like the prince to free his woman from the thrall of an alien presence. He has been through the requisite trials. Like Sethe and Baby Suggs, Paul D lives haunted by memories of Sweet Home and worse. Paul D's escape story is a harrowing tale of being locked in boxes, nearly drowned in mud, chained by the ankles to a dozen other slaves, wandering homeless for seven years (a biblical number vaguely reminiscent of the wandering Israelites) as nomad and itinerant worker. His way of life is summed up easily: "Move. Walk. Run. Hide. Steal and move on" (66). He keeps his searing memories locked into "the tobacco tin lodged in his chest" (113).

The battle between Paul D and the ghost begins in Oedipal fashion with his first sexual advance toward Sethe, her mother. The house pitches when Paul holds Sethe's breasts. Later, at the carnival, Paul D, Sethe, and Denver become a family. Immediately thereupon Beloved appears. It is as though that vital connection brings to a head the disturbances in the force-field. Paul D is at first defeated by Beloved. He moves out of the house believing he is having "house fits," but he finally recognizes that in some irresistible way she "moved him." It takes Sethe's love, stronger than Beloved's jealousy, to bring him back in. In the interim, he encounters Stamp Paid, another veteran of Sweet Home who, like Denver, is sensitive to the house; he hears voices there, which he believes are voices of the dead. He comes


to 124 and cannot knock or go in. Stamp Paid understands Paul D's predicament and assures him that any black house in Cincinnati is open to him. Thus, the novel begins to reintroduce the world beyond Bluestone Road as a congenial place, a web of community ready to incorporate these strays. When Paul D returns, 124 is cleared of Beloved. "He looks toward the house and, surprisingly, it does not look back at him. Unloaded, 124 is just another house needing repair" (264).

In many ghost stories the convention holds that ghosts are bound to inhabit only certain places, returning to them until some unfinished business is resolved. They are bound to the place as they were once bound to their own bodies. Beloved belongs to 124 in just this way; she tells Denver, "I don't want that place [the beyond]. This is the place I am" (123). She is, as Denver perceives her, a "familiar" deeply enmeshed in the fabric of this strange family life until she and the house's other inhabitants are released from their mutual dependence forged of guilt, remorse, and desire for retribution. These accounts are not settled but are dispelled by Paul D's appearance, which signals the restoration of normality as measured by love, sex, and the simple communions of family life. The past is not avenged; it is simply lived beyond. Other elements of normal life are restored: thirty women gather at 124, recollecting their shared memories of the place, and exorcise Beloved with singing. Bodwin, the local abolitionist who gave 124 to Baby Suggs for her home, comes by and confronts Beloved. Thereafter, "124 was quiet."

After Beloved's departure the house is just a house—or almost. Paul D realizes the emptiness of the house: "Something is missing from 124. Something larger than the people who lived there. Something more than Beloved or the red light. He can't put his finger on it, but it seems, for a moment, that just beyond his knowing is the glare of an outside thing that embraces while it accuses" (270–271). The release has been a diminishment, as is every release from a past whose dimensions begin to enlarge into myth. This state of restored normality is not final; it is simply another stage of release into freedom, each stage also a release into a more complex relation with a wider world.


11— Housekeeping and Beloved: When Women Come Home

Preferred Citation: Chandler, Marilyn R. Dwelling in the Text: Houses in American Fiction. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1991 1991.