I won’t be submitting this as the “best blog post ever.” I’m on hyper drive. Must sleep. For now some initial thoughts…
Book X, 8-9: Ozy, Nite Owl and Rorschach are all watching the world, trying to find “patterns,” “order and structure.” Ozy does it to turn a profit but he’s supposed to the be the smartest. I guess it makes you wonder how smart he is if the world is going to collapse as he knows it and money probably won’t matter. The other two misfits seems to get the bigger picture. The difference between Nite Owl and Rorschach is that Rorschach has the most organic approach – hands on.
Book X, 8-9: Aren’t they just a couple of warm and fuzzy guys.
Book X, 12-13: Apocalyptic view of comic book of two (not four) horses and reference to Doomsday in Book of “Revolutions”…
The hands on the clock go
round and round
round and round
round and round
the hands on the clock go….
Book X, 20: “Egyptian decor coloring logic” for Rorschach. Past has no place in present and future? Hinders progress perhaps? Reminder of death undisturbed. Not working here concerning murder. Distrust of fascination with relics.
Book X, 20: Veidt. That prick! Rorschach unsure about ass kicking abilities when knowledge is power.
Book X, 20: Journal irony. Buried under junk mail avalanche. Dumbass. READ IT!
Book X, 26: Nite Owl and Rorschach have a snow day! Not horses, but there are two of them riding toward an end. Hurm.
Book X, scrapbook: Veidt – IS he what capitalism comes to? All or nothing marketing schemes based on war? Oh yeah, Iraq. Say no more, say no more. As for the Veidt Method, the dude talks about spiritual disciplines – Hurm.
Book XI, XII, XIII – will have to wait til morning. Oh. It IS morning. Scratching my watch and winding my ass – so tired.
The English department is trying to break me and they’re about to succeed. I’m really goddamn tired… tired of the high-gloss, quick-pick course designs where nothing is allowed to penetrate in depth before we’re jerked off down some new path. The tub is taking on water and it’s all just spilling over the side today. For that, I am pissed. It’s time for a warm bath… and maybe a razor blade.
And with that dramatic introduction, I offer my fully unformed and meandering thoughts on Watchmen…
What is real? Humanity seems destined to confinement within a predisposed genetic identity while we suffer from a past which offers us no control over our environment as children, for better or worse. These things have an impact on who we are, to be sure, but Watchmen demonstrates how “choice” also creates both our identity and our future. Rorschach and Nite Owl feel more comfortable in their costumes than they do within their own skin. Their alter-egos beg the question, is reality simply what is, or is it something we can define and redefine as we see fit? They believe the latter. Eventually, Dr. Manhattan does too.
Rorschach, perceived as a character played by Kovacs, becomes the reality. While avenging a child’s murder, Kovacs can’t stomach the sight after hacking the dogs that were eating the child’s bones. “It was Kovacs … who closed his eyes. It was Rorschach who opened them again” (VI, 21) From this point on, the internal shift to Rorschach is brought to life through outward appearance. Kovac’s natural face and clothes are no longer real. Taking his costume pieces from the alley, Rorschach says, “putting them on, I abandoned my disguise and became myself, free from fear or weakness or lust” (V, 18). Similarly, as the authorities remove his mask during his arrest, Rorschach says, “My face! Give it back!” (V, 28). The transformation eventually evolves full-on, seeming to require no mask. Because he creates his own reality, even his therapist calls him “Rorschach,” unwillingly and without the disguise. As Rorschach says, “Existence is random. Has no pattern save what we imagine after staring at it for too long” (VI,26). Rorschach is what Kovacs imagines for himself, and thus his existence becomes what he makes of it.
Like Kovacs, Dan is only able to fully experience his identity in costume. While seduced by Laurie, Dan can’t perform sexually, and not for lack of trying. Laurie pegs it when she says, “Y’know your trouble? You’re inhibited” (VII, 13). Once asleep, Dan fantasizes that Twilight Lady’s true identity is Laurie and Laurie reveals Dan’s true inner identity of Nite Owl by peeling back his skin. Only when their true inner identities are revealed do they experience their full sexuality… until they’re nuked (VII, 16). Later, the dynamic duo dresses up and performs a heroic act to find that dreams do come true. After heating things up to full-on flames, so to speak, Laurie asks, “Did the costumes make it good?” Nite Owl answers, “Yeah, I guess the costumes had something to do with it. It just feels strange, you know? To come out and admit that to somebody. To come out of the closet” (VII, 28). Admittedly, the Nite Owl costume is what allows Dan to experience his identity to the fullest, a reality unable to be achieved simply as Dan.
Jon brings Laurie to Mars to discuss his intervention with the possibility of nuclear war on Earth. According to him, the questions and answers are preordained but must be played out in time. Laurie accuses him of being “just a puppet following a script” (IX, 5). Jon replies, “We’re all puppets, Laurie. I’m just a puppet who can see the strings” (IX, 5). After a good old shot of Nostalgia shattered by reality, Laurie’s realization that the Comedian is her father persuades Jon to shift his own perception, to see that life isn’t meaningless. The random collision of circumstance and science that created Laurie’s life was nothing short of a miracle. Jon proclaims, “We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet, seen from another’s vantage point, as if new, it may still take the breath away” (IX, 27). Rather than an alter-ego, it is Laurie’s influence that alters reality, breaking from that which is predetermined.
The message throughout is hopeful. We all have the ability to create change by simply imagining the possibility. We have potential that needs only to be tapped by that imagination and freed from that which binds it. We are not emprisoned by our selected identity, but liberated by our chosen reality and our assertion within it. Taking on an alternate view gives us a more rounded picture of what truly exists. Now let’s all don our costumes and get out there!
I plan to eat a bowl of alphabet soup, shove the can on my head, and tackle the English department of Saint Rose with a vengeance. In just this one week I’ll kick out the Theory Carnival, finish Watchmen, lead my student discussion in Brit Lit AND write the paper due Friday. For Tuesday, I’ll read those two chapters on how to write Flash Fiction, read ten sample stories AND write two of my own. I’ll take on Ezra Pound and all his image map allusions with one hand tied behind my back. And for Stress Management, I’ll put that fucking pedometer on my dog’s collar so I can bang out three miles of walking all from the comfort of this chair – which sports a permanent imprint of my ass. First, I might just hop in the hot tub… razor blade no longer required. Like my new action figure?
So, I’m driving home today (Wednesday, Feb 21) and can’t get this Alphabet Barbie image out of my head. I think I’m going mad. The term SOUPer hero flashes through my gray matter. I totally crack up. Probably not funny, right? Okay, it’s just me.
This assignment is interesting. I am not, nor have I ever been, a fan of comics, but I’m having fun seeing echoes of Jameson all over the place. I can even see a bit of Saussure and the French duo, Deleuze and Guatarri.
Like the reflective walls of LA’s Bonaventure Hotel, Watchmen reflects the genre in which it situates itself, and yet it is certainly not a direct representation. This is a comic book – kind of. The format, like all comic books which came before, comes complete with crime, super heroes and cartoon-like illustrations, yet Watchmen borrows this traditional form to create something new, a graphic novel (as in pictoral AND graphic in content). This gives whole new meaning to the recycling of comics.
I’m reminded of Jameson’s description of the Bonaventure’s confusing layout with entrances that aren’t clearly marked and with no directions within. Maybe it’s just that I’m new to the whole comic thing, but it took me some time to learn how to navigate through the narrative. In the traditional sense of reading from left to right, I could enter into the story, but I needed to allow the text to carry me through time (flashback with the actual use of a flash image) and space (the use of color to designate East coast, West coast, Vietnam and Mars). Like the Boneventure’s escalators and elevators, the text required me to be receptive and adapt to the space within the page.
This is where Saussure’s sign/signifier/signified theory comes in. While he spoke solely of speech, I learned a new visual language, one randomly assigned but accepted and understood by the comic community. Again, I’m reminded of how color represents place while images of flash bulbs and fireworks signal flashback. This only works if this is true of all comics. Perhaps the Super Man and Batman “Pow” is a better example of the sign we all know to signify a punch.
More directly associated with Sassure is the necessity for societal acceptance in the adaptation of language. Minuteman Hollis Mason in Under the Hood also talks about?this happening in his lifetime when he says:
The arrival of Dr. Manhattan would make the terms “masked hero” and “costumed adventurer” as obsolete as the persons they described. A new phrase had entered the American language, just as a new and almost terrifying concept had entered its consciousness. It was the dawn of the Super-Hero” (Watchmen 13).
(Uh, do I credit Mason or Moore & Gibbons for this quote? I jest. Ah, the technicalities of a new form…)
To return to Jameson here, I have to ask – Are the super dudes parody or pastiche? I think parody, although Jameson would disagree. One thing is clear. These guys aren’t super heroes in the traditional sense. Most don’t have powers at all, except for the tall, blue freak. (I mean that in the nicest possible way.) These clowns (I mean that in the nicest possible way too) don’t even have morals to guide their mother-freaking mental ship. The Comedian is the ultimate satirical character. He isn’t funny and he doesn’t seem to find the world as funny as he says he does. His superbly f*&!ed up power is to rape a fellow super hero and shoot a pregnant woman carrying his child. Aside from the foulest of his transgressions, I think he’s an amusing character… but I’m kinda sick like that.
To recall Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizomes, this novel is certainly the organic orb to which the metaphor refers. There is a pulpy center called Watchmen. Off to one side is the offshoot of the Comedian’s journal. To the other, there is a comic book within a comic book. And somewhere left of center is Hollis Mason’s autobiography. This is no typical, traditional, linear representation.
Jameson would have a field day with the fact that Watchmen looks back to a non-existent social and political history. This brings us back to our discussion of capitalization on both the nostalgia and originality of a piece depending on the consumer’s generational perspective. If comics are for kids, and this is definitely not, does this idea still work? It seems that this book targets the same audience that was once interested in comics, although it targets them at an older age. And does Watchmen lose it’s comic critique in the face of the previously released Heavy Metal, an adult cartoon that similarly looks back on “future artifacts?” Does that make it pastiche – a dead language – something lacking indiviuality? I think yes. Sure, it won awards for what it accomplished, but so do pop songs and they’ve all been done before too.
Leslie Marmon Silko Celebrates at SUNY Albany
On Tuesday, January 30, 2007, at 8:00 p.m. Leslie Marmon Silko performed an enjoyable reading at the New York State Writers Institute to celebrate Penguin Classics’ 30th Anniversary Edition of Ceremony. This bestselling novel was Silko’s first, written in 1977. According to the New York State Writers Institute, it is “the tale of a ‘half-breed’ World War II veteran and his battle against personal demons. Ceremony received the American Book Award, sold three quarters of a million copies, sparked a revolution in Native American literature, and has remained a major influence on younger generations of writers” (NYSWI). Silko has also written Laguna Woman: Poems (1974), the story collection Storyteller (1981), the novel Almanac of the Dead (1991), the essay collection, Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays (1996), and the novel Gardens in the Dunes (1999). She received the Pushcart Prize for poetry in 1977, a MacArthur Foundation award in 1983, and was the youngest writer included in The Norton Anthology of Women’s Literature for her short story “Lullaby.”
In stark contrast with the scholarly suit who stiffly introduced her credentials as listed above, Silko tripped up the stage steps sporting faded blue jeans, sneakers and a dark tee shirt, waves of thick, black hair bouncing behind her. Her entrance was met with enthusiastic applause, filling the moderately attended Recital Hall of the Performing Arts Center with a generous welcome. Under yellow lights on a stage bare but for the podium, Silko introduced herself on a more intimate level as a woman coming from an oral tradition of storytelling which inspired her to write since elementary school. She was going to read the portion of her book where Tayo, suffering from PTSD after WWII, is being taken to Betonie, a medicine man, because he doesn’t respond well to hospital treatment. The story is set within the Navaho Reservation in Gallup, NM. Rocking on her ankles as she spoke, Silko’s saddened voice explained that she knows from personal experience that this reservation has not improved in the 30 years since the book was first written. Promising to take questions after reading because, as she noted, she reads “a lot” and has “an opinion on everything,” Silko started on page 94.
With a powerful, biting voice and confident posture, occasionally reaching up with both hands to tame her wild hair, Silko echoed the harsh reality of reservation life, In one instance, Tayo sees a dying cottonwood tree where he used to play. In a moment of mental escape, he remembers the comfort of the shade it once provided, that these trees were more than “just shade,” and the way the boys would throw the berry pods at each other, feeling the rush of the seeds exploding on impact. In this moment, “in a world of crickets and wind and cottonwood trees, he was almost alive again; almost visible. The green waves of dead faces and the screams of the dying that had echoed in his head were buried” (96). Silko has a gift for contrasts like these, contrasts that jerk her audience from a lovely, safe place and hurl them face first into the horror of surviving the war. Visions of the joyous youth are polluted with death of the undead. It may seem that Tayo is feeling at ease in this childhood reverie, yet even in burial, the faces of war haunt him. He claims they are buried, that he is nearly alive, yet the screams scream on even in his memory of them.
Told he must leave, that the old men are talking about the trouble he has caused, we are led down a bleak memory lane as Tayo recalls his childhood along his journey to Betonie. It is here we learn that Tayo has few nostalgic memories to cling to. His mother, from what he remembers, is a prostitute who left him in the care of bar patrons, giving them a dollar to feed him. Living under bar tables by day, he was always hungry. “When he found chewing gum stuck beneath the tables, he put it in his mouth and tried to keep it. He could not remember when he first knew that cigarettes would make him vomit if he ate them” (101). When temporarily taken from his mother and kept in a room full of white walls and cribs, Tayo “cried for a long time, standing up in the bed with his chin resting on the top rail. He chewed the paint from the top rail, still crying, but gradually becoming interested in the way the paint peeled off the metal and clung to his front teeth” (101). With her strong economy of words, Silko illustrates with fine brush strokes, Tayo’s vulnerability at not more than the age of three, the denial of his mother’s love, his desperate need of food, and his childlike resiliency to somehow survive the pain of it all. Used gum and cigarette butts are not sustenance for a developing human being, and yet the young Tayo of memory knows nothing else.
Silko peppers her story with background characters which are inherently part of the landscape. At the podium, she read with compassion about the plight of Navajos, Hopis, Zunis, and Lagunas under a bridge. These were once entire nations of people who were now scattered and searching for work among the tourist trap of the Gallup Ceremonial Grounds. “They walked like survivors, with dull vacant eyes, their fists clutching the coins [Tayo had] thrown to them. … They were educated only enough to know that they wanted to leave the reservation; when they got to Gallup there weren’t many jobs that they could get” (106). The Gallup landscape people are but one example of those who occupy this territory. Tayo and his mother lived like that when he was small, until a fight broke out between some unruly men and the prostitutes. “The police came. … He watched them tear down the last of the shelters, and they piled the rags and coats they found and sprinkled them with kerosene” (103). The police did their best to destroy these communities of impoverished people, breaking apart families in the process. Escaping to the stink of the tamarack, Tayo never saw his mother again after she was hauled away that day. Many years later, people still live under bridges. Hauling them away is not the cure.
Taking questions after the reading, most querries were structured around Silko’s personal political views. By writing about wine, poverty, prostitution, shelters, rags, comfortless smells, sounds and sights, Silko lifts the veil from the multiple horrors of racism and oppression on a very personal level. She spoke of the rape of Indian lands through Uranium mining and of the people with the introduction of alcohol and gambling. Having experienced these atrocities and their after effects first hand, it is no wonder Silko could create such an articulate and passionately crafted narrative. As Robert M. Nelson of Richmond University notes:
The disease that has infected the people, including Silko’s protagonist Tayo, is the old bane known at Laguna as Ck’o’yo medicine, which takes several new, but precedented, forms in the novel: World War II and its dreadful fallout, including such new art forms as nuclear fission and the atomic weapons capable of destroying all life (Nelson).
To each and every scarification, of both her land and her people, Silko speaks with conviction, … Despite the appearance of war, corruption and chaos, don’t lose hope. Spiritual healing persists on parallel but different plains.” She believes this emphatically and spoke so assuredly, she convinced me to believe the same even after hearing about the atrocities in such vivid detail.
What I’ve learned about writing through Leslie Morman Silko is that it is most rewarding to write about what you are most passionate about. Experimentation with form is one thing, but the way to truly reach people and raise awareness where little light is shed is to simply write from the heart. The world of settings and images, populated with characters ripe for contemplation, is already at an author’s fingertips. That passion, as Silko has made evident, reaches through the words and strums the chords of compassion within the depths of the soul. The dank detail we fear to face in our lives must be confronted and recorded. A lifetime of detail, snippets of conversations, people we love, hate, and love to hate are already stewing under the surface. They simply need to be wrestled out of hiding and brought into the light.
Nelson, Robert M. “Leslie Marmon Silko: storyteller” Joy Porter and Kenneth Roemer, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Native American Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. 245-56. University of Richmond, Virginia. 1 May 2007 .
Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.
Silko, Leslie Marmon. New York State Writers Institute, State University of New York. 1 May 2007 .
Part I: An Introduction
This portfolio contains my collection of work focusing on Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved. I chose to include this particular collection because each stage of rewriting, from thesis inception through final analysis, demonstrates a systematic increase in understanding of Paul D’s continuous journey toward his sense of “manhood.” My literary scholarship has been furthered through close reading of the novel and two peer reviewed research sources while carefully revisiting and expanding support for my thesis.
The final draft of this paper has been improved technically by addressing two considerations. Initially, euphemistic language was used to describe the difference in cultural issues. Gaining confidence in handling these issues openly, the terms “black” and “white” are used more frequently as appropriate. Also, the previous drafts seemed to address my concepts well enough, but the paper would not appeal to some one who had never read Beloved. Because my audience may someday include the uninitiated, more description was used to illustrate the points. Close attention and reworking of the overall sentence structure removed wandering verbiage, keeping my thoughts concise and poignant. This new version achieved the desired effect on my test subject as I read the paper aloud. This entire process allowed me to see how effectively my thoughts were conveyed.
Conceptual additions to the final draft move beyond a cursory glance at how Paul D is stripped of the label “man” and offer further analysis on his diminishing sense of self. In a half page of text on 125 in the novel, a new close reading reveals vivid details and important events in Paul D’s deconstructive history. Incorporating the transfer of Paul D’s ownership from schoolteacher to Brandywine, his attempt on Brandywine’s life, and time spent on the Alfred, Georgia chain gang demonstrates Morrison’s quick depiction of how Paul D is whisked from one place to another and also allows for the inclusion of Sitter’s theory on Morrison’s tree imagery. Having found Sitter’s ideas intriguing, I was unsure how to work them into my existing paper. The addition of two new pages opens the door, using her theory as complimentary support for my examination into the significance of Paul D’s trembling. This new material also equates white culture’s power with guns, spanning beyond previously argued examples of how Garner gives guns to his “men” and schoolteacher takes them away. By discussing Paul D’s inferred and repeated oral rape at the mercy of the barrel, sobering description adds weight to “the enormity of Paul D’s degradation in the irresponsible hands of white authority” (Clune 4). And lastly, as described in the rain scene in Georgia, I break through my original assessment of Paul D’s treatment as an animal, realizing that “his life is worth less here than that of an animal, and only slightly more than the dead” (Clune 4). These inclusions strengthen the support of my thesis by allowing for deeper analysis.
Because I have received the highest grade possible in all stages of this developmental process, I found that discovering new directions in which to move is more difficult than reworking something known to have failed. This challenge has forced me to exceed my best effort. It has also taught me the importance of keeping notes on possible exploration and revisiting abandoned ideas. As this final paper comes to a close, I would still like to examine how Paul D encounters the feminine embrace of “white” manhood from the point of view of Baby Suggs, Sethe and Denver and the eventual abandonment of that interpretation by Sethe and Denver. I would also like to inspect the shift in Paul D’s sense of identity beginning with his own introduction to Denver as “Paul D Garner” and his eventual acceptance of himself as his own man, in the end, as she calls him “Mr. D.” That, unfortunately, will have to wait for another paper. Having surprised myself with the amount of my own interpretations and conclusions I will really enjoy writing it some day.
Part II: Understanding the Guidelines and Objectives
At the start of the semester, I only vaguely understood the objectives of the course. Unfamiliar with certain concepts and terms in relation to literature, I was unable to define what made literature worthy of study. Even as we began to address that question early on, I had no idea what my answer would be. I used to determine whether a book was good by how it made me feel, but that has since changed. The past few months of study have taught me that literature reaches far beyond emotion. Reading back on my first essay, I can see how wide my eyes have opened.
Doubtful that I could say something new, I have discovered that my original interpretation is worthy of analytical study and expansion through research. I was fascinated by the new meaning historical documentation provided when reading Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and the types of critical approaches developed from its study, particularly New Colonialism. In reading and writing about Morrison’s Beloved, I was glad to engage with an alternative text to the traditional canon. This expansion of the canon offers a greater opportunity for students/scholars to dialogue with the text about relevant issues facing marginalized portions of society. Marginalization and diversification, the most prevalent topics in all my classes, are a grand departure from what was taught even in the late eighties. I enjoyed venturing into the world of research for Beloved after first using “The Tempest’s” training-wheel criticism because it gave me the chance to explore so many credible and relevant sources. This was one of the goals I had hoped to reach as mentioned in my first essay. Also, as much as the aforementioned facets applied to the poetry explication, I found that identification, understanding and employment of literary terminology reinforced its meaning. Now these terms are always close at hand for future projects.
Together, the abilities gained through this class have offered me a confidence I had not otherwise possessed when discussing various aspects of literature. Class discussion and development of papers has been a great exercise in abstract thinking and the feedback to my work has been a wonderful reward. One thing I have learned is that, while getting an A is nice, even an A is not the end of the road. Room for improvement always exists and I can still use much of that in public speaking. While my poetry explication was fraught with a case of nerves, it was a great personal triumph just to stand at the head of the class, particularly since I chose to speak at the podium rather than my seat. Since I remember very little about the experience, the most intriguing part of the presentation, for me, was the preparation. Next time can only be better. Overall, with the small exception of public speaking, this semester has broadened my skills and my enjoyment of reading and writing.
In Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved, families are fractured irreparably by slavery, and each of her characters strives for normalcy after the dismantling of the institution. For newly freed people of color, this quest becomes difficult to navigate. Blacks struggle to find identity in a world of white definitions, concepts which limit and obstruct their personal experience as human beings, and they are unable to fit into white traditional norms. Paul D’s personal journey is to define “manhood.” With no father available to set a precedent, he must deduce meaning from struggles he experiences as a black man, and by analyzing definitions supplied by the people he encounters. Throughout his life, Paul D’s idea of manhood is systematically deconstructed. This continues until he learns that he must redefine manhood in terms of his own sense of self, not in terms of white society. Paul D’s best understanding is achieved through historical remembrance of his slave family, the “Sweet Home Men,” and through recognition of where he and Sethe, a woman similarly struggling to carve new meaning for herself, presently fit together in the face of slavery and racism.
At Sweet Home, under the ownership 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). Here, Paul D realizes peripherally that Garner possesses authority over the label, as though being a man is not an inherent aspect but something bestowed upon him by another. In “Models of Memory and Romance: The Dual Endings of Toni Morrison’s Beloved,” Carden explains that Paul D lives “as the child of benevolent white parents, embedded in hierarchies that modeled those of a patriarchal family. Paul D Garner, however, is not a son – Sons inherit manhood with patrilineage; Paul D borrows a provisional second-order manhood from a master” (Carden 405). According to Mr. Garner, manhood resides in the ability to wield a gun, and in the ability to make choices, although he provides limited options from which his slaves can choose. Paul D naively believes that, “in their relationship with Garner was true metal: they were believed and trusted, but most of all they were listened to” (Morrison 147). Because Garner encourages his men, like paid labor, to think freely and argue their points at Sweet Home, their manhood is defined by Garner’s higher authority and in his recognition of value in their thoughts and feelings. Paul D suspects that this definition is nearly the truth. What he fails to realize, at this stage in the novel, is that Garner elevates his slaves’ status to “men” because, in maintaining control over the will of men rather than lesser animals, his sense of power increases.
Paul D must question this sense of manhood further as Sweet Home’s authority transfers from Garner, upon his sudden death, to schoolteacher. As power shifts, Paul D holds fast to the definition given him by Garner but learns quickly that his identity is constrained not only within the property lines of Sweet Home, but also by the individual perspective of white slave owners. Unlike Garner, who characterizes his slaves as men, schoolteacher’s approach is to classify the slaves as sub-human or animal. Like the wings of a bird, schoolteacher clips Paul D. “First his shotgun, then his thoughts, for schoolteacher didn’t take advice from Negroes” (Morrison 259). While offering input once valued by Garner, Paul D is now punished for what schoolteacher calls “talking back.” He becomes nothing more than a “product” to a “whiteman” who places more value in the money Paul D’s body can collect than what his mind has to offer. In the critical analysis “The Making of a Man: Dialogic Meaning in Beloved,” Deborah Sitter says, “Morrison shows how every natural instinct and emotion is in some way twisted or stunted by the experience of living in a culture that measures individual worth by resale value and the ability to reproduce oneself without cost” (Sitter 18). After overhearing his monetary worth of $900, and having nothing to compare that number with, Paul D cannot grasp his value even in these terms. The only conclusion he can draw is that Sethe is worth more because she can “breed.” While always questioning the validity of schoolteacher’s assessment, Paul D is deeply humiliated when forced to wear a collar, chains, leg irons and a bit during his transference off Sweet Home. Bound like a beast, he must march past Mister, an old rooster possessing more authority than he does. As evidence of his defeat, Paul D says, “schoolteacher changed me. I was something else and that something was less than a chicken sitting in the sun on a tub” (Morrison 86).
When schoolteacher sells Paul D, in the same manner as livestock, to a slave owner named Brandywine, Paul D’s reaction manifests in an uncontrollable attack against his new owner. He “didn’t know exactly what prompted him to try other than Halle, Sixo, Paul A, Paul F and Mister. But the trembling was fixed by the time he knew it was there.” (Morrison 125). In this passage, the Sweet Home Men reference Paul D’s black ideal of manhood and inspire his fight to keep it intact. His attack reaches far beyond retaliation against the disallowance of his basic human rights. More importantly, it demonstrates the authoritative and binding power of white language. To define a slave as “man” makes him a man; to define a slave as “animal” literally makes them an animal. Because, in his selling, he is stripped of his human identity, Paul D simultaneously employs an animalistic survival instinct along side a lack of control over his own will. It is within this realm that Paul D channels Sweet Home’s rooster, Mister, attempting to claim his position as free ruler of the roost. Sadly, Paul D is unable to differentiate between Mister’s apparent freedom and his true identity as livestock owned by schoolteacher. The uncontrollable trembling Paul D experiences at the time of the attack is “gentle at first – and then wild” (Morrison 125). It begins with Paul D’s last look at a Sweet Home tree he names ?Brother? and it grows wilder the further he is distanced from that image. Sitter argues that “Paul D’s image of tree seems at all moments to be an index of his sense of his own manliness. At Sweet Home Paul D is confident that he is a man” (Sitter 24). Here Brother appears big, strong, vibrant and beautiful. The extraction of Paul D’s vibrant identity from his physical person, removing Brother from his view, is what turns him wild.
The consequence for this wild behavior, despite Paul D’s reasoning, is a perpetuation of the white deconstructive cycle, and with increased severity. Paul D is sent to a chain gang in Alfred, Georgia where the governing “whitemen” willfully dismantle any association the black man has with his humanity. When “they [shove Paul D] into a box and [drop] the cage door down, his hands quit taking instruction” (Morrison 126). His will is paralyzed by a defeat greater than the one he suffered at the hand of schoolteacher. In “that grave calling itself quarters” (Morrison 125), Paul D recognizes that his life is worth less here than that of an animal, and only slightly more than the dead. For this reason, slave welfare holds no weight when, after eight days of rain, “it was decided to lock everybody down in the boxes till a whiteman could walk, damnit, without flooding his gun and the dog could quit shivering” (Morrison 129). A dog’s warmth supersedes the physical needs of Paul D, and a whiteman in possession of a functioning gun holds the greatest power. Paul D, once able to carry his own gun in order to protect and maintain the animals at Sweet Home, now finds himself at the other end of the barrel when, in the mornings, “all forty-six men [rise] to gunshot” (Morrison 126). While tethered together by heavy ankle chains, the butt and barrel of guns demand their utmost obedience and submission to repeated oral rape. This exemplifies the enormity of Paul D’s degradation in the irresponsible hands of white authority. With Paul D’s manhood as fragile as it is, he can only make out an aspen sapling. In sharp contrast to the image of Brother, “This aspen reflects a diminished sense of self” (Sitter 24). Still, Paul D retains enough sense of manhood to escape north. An indigenous Cherokee sharing understanding in the experience of uprooting, tells Paul D to “follow the tree flowers” (Morrison 127) in order to find what he is looking for. Sitter claims that, “Paul D follows the tree blossoms not north but to Sethe who bears a once flowering tree on her back” (Sitter 26) As Garner provides the tree image of Brother for Paul D, schoolteacher and his nephews give Sethe her tree-shape scar through an abusive lashing. Regardless of the actual tree’s beauty in contrast to the repulsive scar image, both images are born from white dominance and each is in need of reinterpretation.
When Paul D finds Sethe at 124 Bluestone Road, it is Beloved, a physical manifestation of Sethe’s ghost daughter, who challenges Paul D’s manhood more so than any white slave owner. In an effort to make him leave and keep her mother to herself, she supernaturally moves him out of the house, making him reason that “if schoolteacher was right, it explained how he had come to be a rag doll ? picked up and put down anywhere any time” (Morrison 148). His inability to resist her lands him on a pallet in the shed, where he lays like an animal rather than in the bed of his lover, Sethe. “The danger was in losing Sethe because he wasn’t man enough to break out” (Morrison 149). To counter Beloved’s manipulation, Paul D recalls the times he has been a man, most honorably when he watched another man, [Sixo,] whom he loved better than his brothers, roast without a tear just so the roasters would know what a man was like” (Morrison 148). Reinforcing his sense of identity, he adds, “And it was he, that man who could not go or stay put where he wanted in 124 ‘shame” (Morrison 148). Beloved’s successful seduction, particularly in light of Paul D’s ability to display the most stoic resolve, is the ultimate transgression, and his lack of resistance proves him feeble. “Whenever she turned her behind up, the calves of his youth (was that it?) cracked his resolve” (Morrison 148). Unable to see the sparing of Sethe from his sexual urges at Sweet Home as an act of kindness, a true testament to his manhood, he instead views himself as one of the animals he communes with. Beloved locates his bed in a shed, exiling him from the house. Bringing to the surface sore reminders of the past while enslaving him in the present, she demeans and defeats Paul D’s manhood at the deepest level yet.
Before Beloved fully pushes him away from Sethe, Paul D makes a failed attempt to seek Sethe’s help against Beloved’s manipulation. In essence, his failure to be honest with her proves that Beloved’s effect has fully taken hold. In the wake of honesty’s departure, and unable to combat Beloved on his own, Paul D asserts “his manhood in a different but standard way: He wants to prove himself a man by way of being a father” (Sitter 24), suggesting that Paul D falls back on traditional definitions of manhood rather than what must work solely between himself and Sethe. There is truth in this as no normal experience can exist between two such fractured people. This realization makes all the more dramatic Paul D?s shaken sense of fatherhood by learning of Sethe’s infanticide. Mary Carden, in “Models of Memory and Romance: The Dual Endings of Toni Morrison?s Beloved,” argues that, “in American culture, ‘man’ signifies head of household, protector of wife and children, giver of law, guardian of culture. But black men, as travelers driven to ‘secondary routs’ had no such foundation on which to identify” (Carden 404) After saying to her, “I want you pregnant, Sethe. Would you do that for me?” (Morrison 151), Paul D quickly learns that he will never reach that traditional goal of becoming head of the house. Sethe has filled that role far too long for Paul D to take her place, and she is too strong to need his rescuing. Sitter describes this idea in the form of a failed fairy tale, “When the maiden steps outside her assigned role the hero’s manhood is threatened” (Sitter 24). This new round of defeat is evident when Paul D leaves 124 Bluestone Road and, by choice, sleeps on the church basement floor. Before Beloved manipulates him, Paul D is able to reject all crimes committed against him. Now robbed of the ability to define his own terms as a man, especially as man of the house, he takes on the characterization of animal others place upon him, treating himself with the same degradation he has learned from them.
Having been pushed from Sethe’s house by Beloved, and leaving Sethe altogether for his fear of Sethe’s “safety with a handsaw” (Morrison 193), Paul D’s thoughts return to his friends at Sweet Home, “Sixo, and even Halle; it was always clear to Paul D that those two were men whether Garner said so or not” (Morrison 260). In this observance, false layers of white manhood are peeled away. White influence is problematic when the struggle for normalcy lies in the defining. Nothing can be normal in a world where white language determines worth, identity and acceptance of black people in the aftermath of slavery. Sixo and Halle don’t find their manhood in their possession of guns or through ownership of people; rather they have respect for life, nature, and the ability to care for another in the absence of ownership. Halle works for years to buy his mother’s freedom and fervently plans to deliver his family from the stranglehold of slavery. Sixo goes to great lengths to care for the Thirty-Mile Woman. He communes with nature, dancing naked without the restriction of his slave clothes, and protests the language of his slave holders by returning to his natural, native tongue. According to Sitter, “Through these associations Morrison subtly introduces the values of another culture” (Sitter 23). This seems particularly true as Sixo, the strongest, is also the blackest man of the Sweet Home Men with the thickest native language, Morrison’s symbolism that the superior form of manhood is also the most African (Sitter 23).
Connection is imperative to manhood as proven by couples Halle and Sethe, Sixo and the Thirty-Mile Woman, all joined one to another in their respective pairs. Paul D recalls Sixo’s thirty mile trip to see his woman, recognizing Sixo’s avid determination to make that connection, and thinks, “Now there was a man” (Morrison 26). Paul D becomes painfully aware that his lack of dedication to any one person provides no comparison. The most time spent in one place, prior to his residence with Sethe, is eighteen months with the woman who “helped him to pretend he was making love to her and not her bed linen” (Morrison 154). There is no evidence of a heart connection between him and this woman because, at that time, his heart is still jammed shut in its tobacco tin. In his presently fractured connection with Sethe, Paul D is ashamed for leaving the only woman who ever made him want to stay. “When he looks at himself through Garner’s eyes, he sees one thing. Through Sixo’s another. One makes him feel righteous. One makes him feel ashamed” (Morrison 315). Paul D’s perception of himself through Garner’s eyes doesn’t allow for the abnormality of the situation. Sethe, in saving her children from the fate of schoolteacher by way of murder, feels that taking them “through the veil” is the most loving and protective act she can perform as a mother. Paul D, initially seeing this act through a white lens, insists Sethe’s love is too thick and that there must have been an alternative to killing her daughter. With utter disapproval, Paul D counts Sethe’s feet telling her she has “two, not four,” reminding her how schoolteacher categorized her as animal in his lesson plan. Until Paul D is willing to accept the new terms of Sethe’s womanhood as it exists, through her strong and protective mother love as it battles the hell of slavery, the two cannot merge. Sitter also takes this stance saying, “The dialogue between their two stories constructs the context in which Morrison conducts a deeper dialogue with the social meanings of words which have the power to liberate or enslave” (Sitter 17). This struggle requires alternate thinking and acceptance that white standards don?t apply to them. Through Sixo’s eyes, rather than Garner’s, Paul D knows what he must to in order to redeem himself fully, finally freeing himself from the white language that binds his manhood.
Paul D leaves the church basement and returns to Sethe after recalling 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). When Paul D offers this kind of reconstruction to Sethe, after Beloved has broken her will to live, she wonders, “If he bathes her in parts will the parts hold?” In those places where both have become so fractured, like their families and their shattered hearts, it takes one to piece the other together. Carden argues that while:
In some ways, Paul D’s rescue bespeaks a return to patriarchal scripts. In other ways, however, we can see in this ending the potential for unconventional romance: Paul D’s expression of openness to alternative models of manhood gains credence when Sethe connects his proposal to “take care” of her to Baby Sugg’s care for her. (Carden 421)
Because her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, was able to nurse Sethe back to health after her escape from slavery, perhaps Paul D can nurse her back from the sickness caused by Beloved, her parasitic past. He can now return the grace Sethe offered him when schoolteacher punished his attempted escape with a collar: “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, unlike its characterization by white men or ghosts of the past, 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. It also resides in his ability to return this ever important gesture.
This connection between Paul D and Sethe is an integral part of their discovery of a new identity. Individually searching for the meaning of manhood and womanhood, Paul D and Sethe only find balance in their exploration together. One story cannot be validated without the other. By opening to the past, living in the present, and searching for a future, a person experiences life as a whole individual. To deny any part of that experience means a part of that person dies with each lost memory or hope. 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) because together they allow for the full experience of life. Helping each other to digest the past, one holds the pain of the other when it is too much to bear. Through their reciprocal and intimate love, honor, respect and new understanding, Paul D discovers his true sense of manhood. He simply cannot recognize it until Sethe shows him how to look beyond binding language. Through Sethe’s love and acceptance, Paul D has the strength to face all parts of himself as both a whole man and his own man, and he is that man because he offers the same to Sethe in return. Morrison tells their stories along side one another because when both stories are read as one, the struggle of an entire culture is revealed.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Random House, 2004.
Carden, Mary Paniccia. “Models of Memory and Romance: The Dual Endings of Toni Morrison’s Beloved.” Twentieth Century Literature. 45.4 (1999): 401-427.
Sitter, Deborah Ayer. “The Making of a Man: Dialogic Meaning in Beloved.” African American Review. 26.1 Women Writers Issue (1992): 17-29