My 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. Sethe’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.
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 fro 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.
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