December 1, 2010
Often in literature, an author will use a character's presence in order to display the central themes of the novel, while also having the character play a significant role in the novel's plot. In Toni Morrison's Beloved, the character of Paul D does have a strong significance in the development of the novel's plot, but he is also an essential character in displaying the important themes that Morrison emphasizes on. By characterizing Paul D the way she does, Morrison is able to display the themes of the burden the past can have on an individual's sense of self, as well as the importance of living with emotions, and not keeping them suppressed inside, all of which makes Paul D's character not only paramount to the novel's development, but to its meaning as a whole.
Throughout the novel, Morrison explores the physical, emotional, and spiritual devastation wrought by slavery, a devastation that continues to haunt those characters who are former slaves even in freedom, and this often leads them to question their sense of self. There is evidence of this concept in a handful of characters, such as Sethe, Baby Suggs, and Stamp Paid, but it exists in Paul D arguably more so than in any other character. Paul D was affected by slavery in an incredibly negative fashion, as he was treated more like an animal than a human being during his bondage. This is displayed when he was forced to wear an iron bit when performing his slave duties, and he said, "who'd had the bit always looked wild after that." (84). This quote from Paul D shows directly that wearing the iron bit made him feel less like a human, and more like a wild animal, and this thought has stuck with him throughout his life, causing him to question his value as a person years after he has been freed from slavery. Further, when wearing the bit, he specifically remembers seeing the rooster at Sweet Home, who "looked so…free. Better than me. Stronger, tougher", "he was still king and I was…" (86). In remembering this small detail, it is clear that Paul D is bothered by the fact that while this rooster is free, he is a slave, subservient to another human, and this causes him to question his sense of self, which is one of the major themes that Morrison emphasizes throughout the novel. Another case where Morrison uses Paul D in order to show her emphasis about the importance of humanity, and slavery's assault on it, is when Paul D is seen inhabiting animal like conditions, as Morrison explains how they lived, slept, and urinated in the same area. Then, Morrison goes on to write, "Paul D thought he was screaming; his mouth was open and there was this loud throat-splitting sound--but it may have been somebody else. Then he thought he was crying. Something was running down his cheeks. He lifted his hands to wipe away the tears and saw dark brown...