Research Proposal: Paul D’s Manhood

Research Proposal: Paul D’s Manhood

BelovedMy thesis states that Paul D, in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, must define what “manhood” is for himself by exploring meaning as deduced from situations he experiences as a man, as well as analyzing definitions supplied by the people in his life. His best understanding comes from the combination of remembering his fellow “Sweet Home Men,” and recognizing where he and Sethe fit together in the face of slavery and racism.

By contrasting white Mr. Garner’s meaning of a man with that of Schoolteacher’s, as does Paul D, conflict arises in the definition. Is he Garner’s man, one with the freedom to think, speak and argue his point? Is he Schoolteacher’s slave, not even a man, a slave with lesser value than one who can reproduce freely? Paul D is trapped within both arenas and yet fully believes neither. Slavery removes any normalcy from the lives of slaves, not allowing them to fit within the white meaning, and standing in the way of the creation of their own. Mary Carden, in “Models of Memory and Romance: The Dual Endings of Toni Morrison’s Beloved” discusses the ways in which white definitions prevent Paul D from being head of his house or protector of his family, which I would like to use to expand the scope of my original paper.

In my close reading of Paul D’s observance of Sixo and Halle, false layers of white manhood are peeled away. Respect for life and caring for another without ownership is at the heart of true manhood. This is supported by Deborah Sitter’s essay “The Making of a Man: Dialogic Meaning in Beloved” when she addresses Sixo’s superior African manhood, as embodied in a man with darker skin, thicker language, and the propensity to dance among trees versus that of oppressive white plantation owners finding manhood in their guns. Sixo wants connection of family with the Thirty-Mile Woman because she puts him back together. Halle too is a man to Paul D, supportive to his wife without owning her. There is evidence of what manhood should be at Sweet Home, a reflection in the abnormal environment of the plantation.

It is also important to understand why Paul D’s story is told along side Sethe’s in the novel. What trees mean to Paul D and Sethe are inherent to the argument of what a man is as described by Sitter. Seth?’s tree scar from white Schoolteacher and Paul D’s tree friend “Brother” where he bonded with his brothers represent very different interpretations. The images cannot merge. As Paul D defines what it means for him to be a man, Sethe is defining for herself what it means to be a woman. How does one story validate the other? Can they discover for themselves the meaning of “manhood” or “womanhood,” or is it necessary for them to function together to reveal that identity? I believe this is a joint effort, the goal realized when they understand how manhood and womanhood “fit.” Carden supports this theory by saying romance transforms “the unspeakable” into normative family and community.

I choose this topic because Paul D’s story is “put next to” Sethe’s by Morrison, just as Paul D wants it in the end. While Sethe’s story is central to the novel, Paul D is no less important. His and Sethe’s discovery of self is not only a personal journey, but a joint discovery dependant upon one another. When they finally come together, there is evidence of connection, understanding and recognition of one by, in and of the other.

Annotated Bibliography

Sitter, Deborah Ayer. ?The Making of a Man: Dialogic Meaning in Beloved.? African American Review. 26.1 Women Writers Issue (1992): 17-29

  • Summary: The thesis of Sitter’s work is “What goes on in the ghostly subtext of Beloved is an intense debate over the meaning of manhood and the possibility for enduring heterosexual love.” She supports this thesis by comparing the dialogue of Paul D’s story with that of Sethe?s, comparing and contrasting what trees mean for each of them and how, when they disagree and disconnect, a forest springs up between them. For Paul D, trees symbolize his feelings toward his manhood depending upon his situation while Sethe’s tree/scar symbolizes a different type of manhood. Sixo’s version of manhood comes from respect for all life versus the definition of “men” by white overseers of Sweet Home, pitting an African version of manhood against a white version. The white version is what enslaves rather than frees Paul D and Sethe from experiencing “normalcy.” They must cast off the chains of language that bind them and realize their own meaning while suffering the effects of slavery. This is the only way they can deal with the killing of Sethe’s daughter without Paul D seeing Sethe as an animal like Schoolteacher, and for Sethe to see Paul D as a man regardless of Schoolteacher’s collar and chains.
  • Reflection: I plan to use this source to support my thoughts on Paul D learning the true meaning of the word from his fellow “Sweet Home Men.” This also supports my belief that Paul D and Sethe must tell their story together, comparing and contrasting their assigned and discovered meanings of “manhood” and “womanhood.” Sitter’s work seems firmly rooted in the text and quotes from Morrison, countering Stanley Crouch’s accusations that Morrison is a “literary conjure woman.” Sitter’s approach is to defend Morrison’s credibility as Morrison questions the “nether regions of language.”

Carden, Mary Paniccia.”Models of Memory and Romance: The Dual Endings of Toni Morrison?s Beloved.” Twentieth Century Literature. 45.4 (1999): 401-427.

  • Summary: Carden’s thesis: “While much of the criticism on Beloved approaches it primarily as a story of the consequences of slavery and only secondarily as a romance story, I will argue that the novel demands to be read with both narrative lines in the foreground, and that this double sidedness produces contradictions and oppositions that are never more powerfully problematic than in Morrison?s choices for narrative outcome.” She supports this by arguing that romance plot defines normalcy through a heterosexual relationship. As a result of slavery, Paul D and Sethe haven’t the luxury of this setting. Paul D is unable to be ‘man’ of his house and must ‘borrow’ manhood from his master.” (Carden 405). By traveling, Paul D gains power over “place” and when he settles in with Sethe in an effort to exert his authority, this fails because Sethe is not accustomed to giving up that role herself. Just as the family begins to “coalesce,” Beloved arrives to fracture the family with her own fractured story. She briefly leads Paul D back to the manhood definition he learned at Sweet Home but still, there is no normalcy allowed any of these characters. Infanticide fractures family and identity further by bringing to light Paul D?s entrenchment in white definitions of manhood, motherhood and judgment in white terms. He must adjust his ideal of what is normal as Sethe insists it was the only option. Paul D’s image of Sethe depends upon her ability to recognize him as a man. In the first ending, Paul D can either be commended for loving big and coming back or seen as a “return to patriarchal scripts.” The second ending depicts Beloved as pregnant history of loss, and yet “not a story to pass on.” (Carden 422)
  • Reflection: Carden’s explanation of a lack of normalcy, family, home, etc. helps explain Paul D’s questioning of his manhood and offers hope when he and Sethe join together. While she offers one interpretation of the ending to read as though Paul D should be commended for breaking the barrier of white man’s language and definition, she also offers that Paul D can be representative of traditional male dominance as he rescues a weak Sethe from her memories. I can see this point of view as well, although it doesn’t fit in my shorter essay. Carden’s angle is that the novel must be read as a narrative about the effects of slavery and as a romance together. The problem with this is that, as Morrison has stated in interviews, this is not a novel about Slavery. It is about people who are unable to realize their place and identity because of white definitions. The shift in focus here is subtle but it matters.
Beloved: Paul D’s Definition of Manhood

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.