Beloved: Paul D’s Definition of Manhood

The following is my preliminary analysis of the text Beloved:

BelovedIn Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, Paul D has had no father to teach him what it means to be a man. He must deduce what that means for himself by evaluating the various definitions provided by others he encounters. At Sweet Home, Mr. Garner calls Paul D a man, but once schoolteacher takes Garner’s place, the applicability of that term is challenged. Paul D’s best understanding of the concept eventually comes from remembering his fellow “Sweet Home Men,” and recognizing what he feels for Sethe.

At Sweet Home, under the direction of Mr. Garner, Paul D firmly believes that he and his four fellow slaves are men, “so named and called by one who would know” (Morrison 147). According to Mr. Garner, their owner, manhood resides in the ability to make choices, and Garner provides options from which to choose. He encourages them, like paid labor, to think freely about how to best get the job done and to challenge him when they disagree with his methods. Paul D explains, “In their relationship with Garner was true metal: they were believed and trusted, but most of all they were listened to” (Morrison 147). At this stage in his life, Paul D’s feels manhood is not simply a definition from a higher authority, but the ability of that person to recognize value in his thoughts and feelings. He knows this is close but feels the need to investigate further.

When schoolteacher takes Garner’s position as overseer, Paul D begins to doubt the validity of Garner’s label. Schoolteacher clips “Paul D. First his shotgun, then his thoughts, for schoolteacher didn?t take advice from Negroes” (Morrison 259). When offering input once valued by Garner, he is now punished for what schoolteacher calls “talking back.” Schoolteacher places more value in the money Paul D’s body can collect. Overhearing his slave value of $900, and with nothing to compare that number to, Paul D cannot grasp his worth even in these terms. Never believing that Schoolteacher?s assessment is correct, Paul D continues to remain strong, regardless of the humiliation he suffers when treated more like an animal than a man, forced to wear a collar, chains, leg irons and a bit.

Beloved is the one who makes Paul D question his manhood most. In an effort to make him leave, she moves him about the house like a rag doll, making “him wonder if schoolteacher was right” (Morrison 148). He recalls the times he has been a man, most honorably when he watched “another man, whom he loved better than his brothers, roast without a tear just so the roasters would know what a man was like. And it was he, that man? who could not go or stay put where he wanted in 124 shame” (Morrison 148). Beloved’s manipulation of Paul D’s control, particularly in light of his ability to display the most stoic resolve, is the ultimate transgression for Paul D. This lack of ability to control his own will is more upsetting than Beloved?s seduction, a reminder of the shame he felt while abusing cows to spare Sethe from his sexual urges. More demeaning than likening him to an animal, his lack of control over his own will is the point where this girl defeats his perception of manhood.

Paul D, having been pushed out of Sethe’s house by Beloved, recalls Sixo?s thirty mile trip to see a woman, and thinks, “Now there was a man” (Morrison 26), understanding that his own lack of dedication to any one person does not compare. “Sixo, and even Halle; it was always clear to Paul D that those two were men whether Garner said so or not” (Morrison 260). Paul D is aware here that Halle and Sethe, Sixo and the Thirty-Mile Woman had become connected somehow. Paul D is stung by his lack of connection and questions his manhood, ashamed of the reasons surrounding his leaving the only woman who ever made him want to stay.

Paul D does eventually discover where his manhood comes from. First he remembers what Sixo says about the Thirty-Mile Woman, “She is a friend of my mind? The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order” (Morrison 321). Paul D offers this same kind of reconstruction to Sethe and she wonders, “If he bathes her in parts will the parts hold?” The two are so fractured, like their families and their shattered hearts, it takes one to piece the other together. Neither can do it for themselves. Sethe does this for Paul D when schoolteacher punishes his attempted escape. “She never mentioned or looked at it, so he did not have to feel the shame of being collared like a beast. Only this woman Sethe could have left him his manhood like that” (Morrison 322). Paul D’s manhood is not defined by whitemen. It resides in the tenderness offered by Sethe when she looks past the shackles that bind him like an animal, seeing him for who he truly is.

Opening to the past, living in the present, and searching for a future is what makes a person whole. To deny any experience means part of that person dies with the memory or hope lost. While Paul D is unable to experience all three on his own, he learns to feel again along side Sethe, and she with him. “He wants to put his story next to hers” (Morrison 322). Together, they allow for the full experience of life by helping each other to digest the past, one holding the pain of the other when it is too much to bear. Through their reciprocal love, honor, respect and understanding, Paul D discovers that he always has been a true man. He simply couldn’t recognize it until Sethe showed him how to look beyond what bound him from the outside. Through her love, she helped him feel the strength to face all parts of himself like a whole man.

Work Cited:

Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Random House, 2004.

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