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Paul D.


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In Toni Morrison's Beloved (1987), Paul D is one of six male slaves on Mr. Garner's Kentucky plantation, ironically named Sweet Home. Paul D is described as a man with “peachstone skin; straight-backed. For a man with an immobile face it was amazing how ready it was to smile, or blaze or be sorry with you.” Under Mr. Garner, a somewhat humane master, slavery had been bearable; but when he dies, his brother and heir, schoolteacher, is brutal and inhumane. After Paul D's attempted escape is foiled, he is reduced to chattel, has his feet shackled, has a three-spoked collar placed on his neck and a bit placed in his mouth, and is tethered to a buckboard. Later sold, he spends eighty-six days on a chain gang after attempting to kill his new owner. He escapes during a torrential rain and eventually makes his way to Ohio.

When Paul D enters “124”—home of former Sweet Home slave Sethe Suggs and her child Denver, and tormented by the ghost of baby Beloved, whom Sethe killed rather than see remanded to slavery—he immediately recognizes the ghost's presence and drives it out, only to have an older Beloved physically return and seduce him. Paul D falls in love with Sethe and becomes a support for her, but he abandons her and takes refuge in a church cellar when someone shows him the newspaper accounts of Sethe killing Beloved. He insults Sethe by implying she has acted as an animal—with four feet instead of two. Once the women of the community exorcise Beloved, he becomes sensitized to Sethe's plight and realizes that he had no right to judge her as he did, and he returns to 124 and once again becomes a comfort to her. The life of Paul D represents the continuing effort of African American men to overcome the malevolence of the slave past and a racist society.

Wilfred D. Samuels and Clenora Hudson Weems, Toni Morrison, 1990.Trudier Harris, Fiction and Folklore: The Novels of Toni Morrison, 1991.Deborah Ayer Sitter, “The Making of a Man: Dialogic Meaning in Beloved,” African American Review 26 (1992): 17–29.Trudier Harris, “Escaping Slavery but Not Its Images,” in Toni Morrison: Critical Perspectives Past and Present, ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and K. A. Appiah, 1993, pp. 330–341.Molly Abel Travis, “Beloved and Middle Passage: Race, Narrative and the Critic's Essentialism,” Narrative 2.3 (Oct. 1994): 179–200.

Betty Taylor-Thompson

Subjects: Literature.


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