Beloved Irony

The Cherokee Fugitives (Situational Irony)

“In between that calamity and this, they had visited George III in London, published a newspaper, made baskets, led Oglethorpe through forests, helped Andrew Jackson fight Creek, cooked maize, drawn up a constitution, petitioned the King of Spain, been experimented on by Dartmouth, established asylums, wrote their language, resisted settlers, shot bear and translated scripture.

All to no avail. The forced move to the Arkansas River, insisted upon by the same president they fought for against the Creek, destroyed another quarter of their already shattered number” (pg. 201).

This quote is an example of situational irony because after all the Cherokee did for the United States, they were still forced off of their native lands and sometimes even killed. After the Cherokees’ cooperation and aid, we would expect them to be rewarded, not punished. The effect of the Cherokees’ actions defy our reasonable expectations and makes us question the fairness of the world.

Baby Suggs’ Life (Dramatic Irony)

“Halle, the only son she is able to raise, buys her freedom” (pg. 307).

Halle is the only son whom Baby Suggs is able to raise herself and create a traditional mother-son bond with. All her other children were sold away to other plantations, never to be seen again. Therefore, it’s tragically ironic that by buying his mother’s freedom Halle is also ensuring that they will never see each other again. For Baby Suggs, what does freedom mean if she remains separated from family and loved ones? For a time, she’s able to carve out a life for herself by giving sermons in the Clearing. But even that freedom and newfound sense of self is stolen from Baby Suggs when the schoolteacher catches up to Sethe at 124. In the end, Baby Suggs dies of a broken heart, and slavery is partly to blame. Even after Halle’s sacrifice, his mother is never quite free from slavery’s reach.

Sethe’s Choice (Dramatic Irony)

“I stopped him," she said, staring at the place where the fence used to be. "I took and put my babies where they'd be safe” (pg. 288).

Sethe’s choice to kill her children rather than have them live as slaves is another example of dramatic irony. Typically, we think the role of a mother is to guard her children against death by loving them and providing them with food and shelter. Sethe, of course, does these things, almost to the point where she endangers her own life to make sure that her children are cared for. But when the schoolteacher appears at 124, intending to bring Sethe and her babies back to Sweet Home, Sethe is faced with a terrible choice. She can allow them to be captured, or she can do the unthinkable: make her children useless in the schoolteacher's eyes by killing them. In Sethe’s mind, killing her children would be putting them in a place where they'd be safe. It’s tragically ironic that Sethe, a woman who considers her children to be her best thing, feels the best thing she can do for them is to kill them. The horrible position that slavery places Sethe in makes us question the universe and justness of the world.

Loaves and Fishes (Situational Irony)

“From Denver's two thrilled eyes it grew to a feast for ninety people. 124 shook with their voices far into the night. Ninety people who ate so well, and laughed so much, it made them angry” (pg. 242).

After Sethe and her children arrive at Baby Suggs’ house, Baby Suggs is overjoyed to have her son’s family with her. Though she doesn’t know if her son is dead or alive, she now has a family: a daughter-in-law and grandchildren. She’s so happy that she throws an impressive party, the likes of which Cincinnati's black community has never seen. At first, the party attendees are excited to celebrate with Baby Suggs, to eat her food, and to welcome Sethe to the community. However, once the party is over, everyone who came grows jealous of Baby Suggs’ good fortune. After eating her food, they are resentful that she had so much food in the first place. And after welcoming Sethe and the children to the community they are upset that Baby Suggs was able to find her blood relatives when so many of them could not. Their jealousy means no one goes to warn the 124 household when the schoolteacher is first spotted in Cincinnati. It’s ironic that Baby Suggs’ loaves and fishes, which she so generously shared with her neighbors, are what leads to her downfall.