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The Dehumanizing of Paul in Toni Morrisons Novel Beloved

  • Updated August 30, 2022
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The tragedy of demoralizing a human being by making him work in harsh conditions all day until he no longer has any enduring hope nor pride left within himself is not only heartbreaking to envision, but it was once a routine way of life. It is incomprehensible that such behavior was once practiced within the heart of America, Ithe land of the freel, for many decades. Even through education, written books, and documentations, not a living person today can possibly comprehend even a fraction of what took place in the mid 19th century. In Toni Morison’s Beloved, Paul D Garner, a slave, experiences all the dismay and ghastly actions that were imposed upon him, and a good number of his fellow countrymen during this time period. As a result, all the horrors that he experiences during this time are stored next to his heart, inside his “tobacco tin”. The shut tobacco tin results in the disallowance of his heart to open up to anyone. The audience eventually learns that it is literally impossible for his tobacco tin to be released through mortal means. However, through means of affectionate love-making and the gentle touch of Sethe’s dead daughter, Beloved–who has come back to life–, Paul D’s tobacco tin is released, allowing him to begin the process of recuperation. Up until then, the act of intercourse is unpleasant and distasteful to Paul D, but after the release of his tobacco tin Paul D enjoys it for the affection that it provides him with and the tenderness that it truly represents.

Through the years of the Idehumanization processo, Paul D begins to associate sex with being gruesome and repugnant, scarring him from exhibiting true intimacy. During his tenure as a slave, he is forced to give oral sex to the guards of Alfred, Georgia, as “occasionally a kneeling man chose gunshot in his head as the price, maybe, of taking a bit of foreskin with him to Jesus” (148). As it can obviously be seen here, sex is not the beautiful and precious experience that it should be with the guards. There is no mutuality between the two, as the guards gain a sense of power over the slaves by forcing them to do something they obviously do not want to do. At the same time, Paul D and the other slaves lose any sense of pride they may once have owned. Situations like these prove that “…when everything was packed tight in his chest, he had no sense of failure” (221). The tobacco tin contains all of his suffering, all of his pain, and all of his agony within himself that he is unable to unleash. This is why he doesnát feel a Isense of failurel, as his connection to human emotions is just about gone, and he canit figure out what is missing in his life. This is evident when he does find the remedy to his troubles in Sethe, yet does not even realize it and becomes laccustomed to sex with Sethe just about every daydı (115). He clearly cannot love with the tin can packed tight in his chest, blocking the valve in his heart that keeps him from releasing his inner most deep emotions. Sex with Sethe clearly should be something special, yet it is no more special than what he experiences with the cows and the prison guards.

While Paul D is desperate for the ability to crack apart his tobacco tin, he is too blind to actually see that he needs help. He is so blind in fact, that he does not open it up to the woman he dreams about for nearly two decades, as when he finally does get his chance with Sethe, “it is over before they could get their clothes off” (20). While working on the unbearable fields day after day for almost twenty years, the only thing that keeps him going is the hope that he can one day reunite with Sethe. He dreams of their togetherness as being a very intimate and passionate action, and allegedly the longer one waits for something, the better it turns out to be. But unfortunately for Paul D, this proves not to be the case while everything leading up to it shows that it ought to have been. Moreover, Sethe has endured the pain and torment Paul D experiences as a slave; which one assumes should bring them even closer. Yet this isnot the case, and shows that Inothing from this earthi could possibly dig toward his heart. Even when someone makes an effort to do so, such as the time Beloved tries to seduce him, Paul D obliges and believes that, “as long as his eyes were locked on the silver of the lard can he was safe” (116). While Belovedis motives at the time appear to be that she wants Paul D to depart leaving herself and Sethe by themselves, ultimately she proves otherwise. Paul D does not know this at the time, and instead of laccepting) her offer, he tries to Ideclinel her offer. Little does he realize that Beloved has within herself, exactly what he needs.

The last straw in Paul Dis healing results in the miraculous touch and doings of Beloved that unites the body of Paul D with his soul. Beloved had seen the power of touch, and the effects it possesses when she watches the turtles with Denver, and sees “the embracing necks–hers stretching up toward bending down, the pat pat pat of their touching heads” (105). The statement shows that even coldblooded reptiles can make beautiful affectionate love. The Ipat pat pati is gentle, tender, and calm, and is what bond the two creatures together. When Beloved gets the chance with Paul D, “She hoisted her skirts and turned her head over her shoulder the way the turtles had…” (116). It is the soft, mild touch that Paul D yearns for. That is what separates sex like what he went through with the guards and cows, and true intimacy. As the scene goes on Beloved completes what she starts, as “She moved closer with a footfall he didn’t hear and he didn’t hear the whisper that the flakes of rust made either as they fell away from the seams of his tobacco tin” (117). The diction is obviously gentle, with la footfall he didn’t hearl and the Oflakes of rusti directing the description. In addition to her gentle touch, Beloved has something that Sethe lacks most of all. While Sethe does go through some of what Paul D goes through, the reader eventually learns that Beloved is a collective spirit, with all the hardships the slaves went through, the 160 million and morel as Morrison describes. She understands the destitution suffered by Paul D, and she absorbs and soaks up the pain, all the pain stored within Paul Dis tobacco tin. At this point, Paul D has nothing more to hide or conceal, the hollow of his heart is filled, and his spirit is alive.

To exhibit a little bit of pain in life is insignificant, and to go through a phase of hurting is nothing worth complaining about. Even to go through a lot of pain for an extended amount of time is unpleasant at worst; but to go through a large portion of life only to experience anguish day after day can actually damage a human being, as it does to Paul D. Up until the time period of Beloved, Paul D epitomizes what slavery does to a man. Although he no longer suffers from the agonizing physical pain from the work he used to do, emotionally his scars run just as deep from the effects as he is unable to love or feel true affection for another human being. Only when Beloved and her Ispecial abilitiesi step into his life is he able to heal. As a result he is able to go back into the light, back into reality, and become a man, a man that is able to pursue love once again.

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The Dehumanizing of Paul in Toni Morrisons Novel Beloved. (2022, Aug 30). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-dehumanizing-of-paul-in-toni-morrisons-novel-beloved/

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