Beloved – Let Bygones Be Bygones Essay
In her novel Beloved, Toni Morrison sets up several characters who both love and are beloved. Among them, Paul D stands out through his timidity toward love and the meaning behind love, freedom. Because of the bitter and miserable experiences suffered by him and people around him, he has learned to love just a little and escape from the reality, and is a prisoner of his past. However, throughout the novel, Paul D rescues himself by persuading Sethe to live for tomorrow, which as a whole, illustrates the final success of former slaves to pass through the desperation and towards a brighter future.
In contrast to Sethe, who “knew Paul D was adding something to her life- something she wanted to count on but was scared to” (Morrison 112) and still dares to “love too thick”, Paul D loves just “a little bit”. As a slave, he witnessed too many separations between families. He thinks that if he just loves small, he will not get hurt when the object of his love is sent away, and he chooses a tree, Brother, which cannot be taken away from him.
He chooses to leave Sethe after he learns that Sethe killed her child; “he was wrong. This here Sethe was new. The ghost in her house didn’t bother her for the very same reason a room-and –board witch with new shoes was welcome. This here Sethe talked about love like any other woman; talked about baby clothes like any other woman, but what she meant could cleave the bone… Suddenly he saw what Stamp Paid wanted him to see: more important than what Sethe had done was what she claimed.
It scared him” (Morrison 193). After going through all the difficulties, Sethe still loves deeply, but Paul D thinks that it is too risky because “for a used-to-be-slave woman to love anything that much was dangerous, especially if it was her children she had settled on to love. The best thing, he knew, was to love just a little bit; everything, just a little bit, so when they broke its back, or shoved it in a croaker sack, well, maybe you’d have a little bit love left over for the next one” (Morrison 55).
Nevertheless, love is not something that can be used up; if we never allow ourselves to love someone deeply, we will not really love anyone; Sethe says, “Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all” (Morrison 194). Morrison here describes love as an absolute thing, without hierarchy; to love is to love without restraint. In this book, love is tightly related to freedom; Sethe’s theory about love is also applicable to freedom: there is no half freedom.
Paul D tries to escape several times hroughout the novel; “Every one of his escapes (from Sweet Home, from Brandywine, from Alfred, Georgia, from Wilmington, from Northpoint) had been frustrated. Alone, undisguised, with visible skin, memorable hair and no whiteman to protect him, he never stayed uncaught” (Morrison 316). Paul D’s physically unsuccessful escapes indicate his incapability of gaining freedom. Without freedom, both physical and mental, Paul D is not secure enough to deeply love. Morrison builds a comparison between Paul D and the other main characters.
Unlike Sethe, who escapes from Sweet Home and then kills her baby to keep her from being slave, unlike Beloved, who uses her whole self to love Sethe and disappears at last, unlike Sixo who walks thirty miles to see the “Thirty-mile woman” and dies laughing, unlike Stamp Paid who escapes from slavery and helps others do the same, unlike Halle, who works to free his mother, Paul D, the only Sweet Home man who survived from all predicaments, is still spiritually imprisoned. All Paul D has done is physically escaped slavery.
He “believed schoolteacher broke into children what Garner had raised into men. And it was that what made them run off” (Morrison 260). But he doesn’t know that what separates a man from a child is that a man knows what he wants and is able to love others. So every escape he makes has failed because he forgets about why he wants freedom, which to him means “to get to a place where you could love anything you chose- not to need permission for desire” (Morrison 191). His habit of escaping continues after he lives in 124.
He originally plans to tell Sethe what has happened between Beloved and him, but he fails because he has grown used to escaping. Also after finding out Sethe killed her baby, Paul D escapes from 124, “First he fingered it, deciding how his going would be, how to make it an exit not an escape” (Morrison 194). Paul D is not only strongly influenced by the past, but he is also a representation of the past. His arrival in 124 brings Sethe the unbearable memory in the Sweet Home because “Not even trying, he had become the kind of man who could walk into a house and make the women cry.
Because with him, in his presence, they could. There was something blessed in his manner” (Morrison 20). Paul D causes Sethe to readily reveal her story and the “tree” on her back, which at first we think might be a bad thing for Sethe because she doesn’t want to look back. But surprisingly, 124 begins to change, “Things became what they were: drabness looked drab; hear was hot. Windows suddenly had view” (Morrison 48). By kicking out the ghost, who is a reminder of Sethe’s painful experience, Paul D tries to make a life with Sethe. So, he is the past which let the bygones be bygones.
Paul D’s affection toward Sethe at the beginning is questionable because it seems that the woman he really feels attractive to is a younger Sethe from Sweet home. He always compares Sethe with the her past, “and though her face was eighteen years older than when last he saw her, it was softer now… in that still face, used to make him think of a mask with mercifully punched-out eyes” ( Morrison 10). Paul may not behave emotionally toward Sethe, but he has spent years dreaming of her. That explains why Paul D treats the tree in Sweet Home as brother while showing fear to the one on Sethe’s back; “not a tree, as she said.
Maybe shaped like one, but nothing like any tree he knew because trees were inviting; things you could trust and be near; talk to if you wanted to as he frequently did since way back when he took the midday meal in the fields of Sweet Home” (Morrison 25). Also, he repeats again and again “This ain’t her mouth. I know her mouth and this ain’t it” (Morrison 183) when Stamp Paid shows him the picture of the woman who kills her baby. He wants the woman who has iron eyes in the Sweet home and he thinks Sethe is always that girl.
Thus, he leaves Sethe, saying “I knew her when she was a girl. She scares me and I knew her when she was a girl” (Morrison 276). Although the passive attitude to love is inveterately settled in his mind, we can also see some changes inside Paul D. When Paul D asks Stamp Paid, “‘tell me something, Stamp…tell me this one thing. How much is a nigger supposed to take? Tell me. How much? ’ ‘All he can,’ said Stamp Paid. ‘All he can’. ‘Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? ’” (Morrison 277), we can feel Paul D’s discontentment toward the unfortunate fate of slaves.
By knowing and realizing what has happened on Sethe, Paul D understands that the repulsion Sethe feels about slavery is so thick that she chooses to kill Beloved rather than allow slavery to destroy her baby. And at first, it’s ironic for Paul D to say that “We can make a life, girl. ” (Morrison 55), because he is the one who doesn’t forget the past or move on to a new life. He wants a family while he does not dare to love anyone a lot. And after Beloved returns to 124, Paul D “looked like he was moving himself. Imperceptibly, downright reasonably, he was moving out of 124” (Morrison 134).
He moves himself because he realizes that there is something between Sethe and Beloved that he can’t compete with and that is thick love. Family can only be built among those who love each other, and that is the reason why he doesn’t make a life with Sethe and Denver. Nonetheless, at the end of the novel, Paul D comes back to 124. This time, he tries to love someone and starts a new life with Sethe, “me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow” (Morrison 322). Paul D thinks people who have suffered deserve a better future, but only those who are willing to face the past can actually have a bright future.
By showing the eventual change in Paul D, Toni Morrison gives us a hope that African Americans will not stuck in their tortuous yesterday, and will instead make their life better with their passion and love. It is the harsh past that prevents Paul D from loving others, but it is also the past that helps him to understand that love and freedom are important to everyone. Beloved teaches us in order to beloved, we should love ourselves and others in the past, present and future. Regardless what have happened in our life, we need to face them and look forward to our future.