The symbolic healing caress, a convention that recalls the tradition of medieval kings who placed a ritual touch on the sick is represented in this passage. The touch of blessing permeates the story – from Amy’s gentle massage and makeshift bandage for Sethe’s feet to Baby Suggs’s compassionate, methodical washing of Sethe’s body, quadrant by quadrant; from Paul D’s blessing of Sethe’s hideous tree-like scar to his loving return to Sethe’s bedside to anoint her feet and accept her for the powerful woman she once was and still can be.
The motif grows more focused on womanhood through the use of myriad breast images, which connect suckling with the maternal will to raise healthy, whole and safe babies, whatever the cost. By extension, Baby Suggs offers a spiritual caress to the worshippers who surround her miniature Sermon on the Mount in the clearing. Her message restores their sense of self-worth by urging them to love their physical bodies, which have been so discounted by slavery that, like Paul D, they have confronted themselves in terms of value.
Morrison also blends several religious conventions in this chapter. Like Pythia, Apollo’s priestess in ancient Delphi, “Baby Suggs, holy” sat in her shrine – the Clearing – and, without training, responded intuitively to the spiritual needs of all comers. Her Christ-like message, “Let the children come,” emulates Mark 10:14, “Suffer the little children to come unto me. ” Reaching out to men and women as well, Baby Suggs bid the children to laugh, the men to dance, and the women to cry.
The throng, mixing their roles in a symphony of laughter, dance, and sobs, responded to Baby Suggs’s “great big heart. ” An example of Baby Suggs’ ‘healing ceremony’, Sethe follows the advice of her to deal with her past and “lay it all down. ” Before Paul D’s arrival, she was satisfied to live with the memories of faces of Howard and Buglar and to keep her husband in mind somewhere out there. Now, because of Paul D’s revelation, she can only see an image of her husband with his face covered with butter.
She knows she must exorcise such visions. Sethe decides that she must go to the Clearing to try and heal the past. Furthermore, Sethe wishes Baby Suggs was still around to rub her neck and say, “Lay em down, Sethe. Sword and shield. Don’t study war no more. ” She also wishes she could hear one of the healing sermons of Baby Suggs that would encourage her to get rid of her “knives of defence against misery, regret, gall, and hurt. ” She still misses Baby Suggs, nine years after her mother-in-law succumbed to her weak heart.
Like the Native American All-Mother or Mediterranean Earth Mother mythic figures who offer blessings and transcend time and place by permeating all cultures, Baby Suggs offers her own version of Christ’s beatitudes. After the battering self-denial of slavery, her followers need self-esteem more than theology. Baby Suggs exhorts them to find human comfort – to love their hands and to use them in touching, patting, and stroking others. She names feet, backs, shoulders, arms, liver, and “the prize”—the heart.
A foreshadowing of Baby Suggs’s heart condition as well as of Sethe’s need to rediscover her own self-worth, the scene anticipates the conclusion of the novel in which Sethe, no longer able to lean upon her wise mother-in-law, finds acceptance in Paul D and thus accepts herself. Baby Suggs revival meetings in the Clearing originated when she arrived in Cincinnati because her heart had remained intact, even though slavery had nearly destroyed the rest of her body. Baby Suggs instructed the blacks to love their bodies, especially their mouths and hearts.
They had to love their mouths to battle the speechlessness imposed on them under slavery, and their hearts they had to love in order to preserve their human feelings-her old philosophy stood in sharp contrast to Paul D’s need to keep his heart locked away. However, what happened to Sethe broke Baby Suggs, convincing her that there was “no bad luck in this world but whitefolks,” and making her feel that her preaching had all been lies. Those were her final words; after Schoolteacher came to 124 and Sethe killed her daughter, Baby Suggs lost her faith and her will to live.