Toni Morrison is the author of Beloved, a novel about the past literally coming back to haunt the present. The past appeared in the physical and the mental realms as Beloved and memories of past life. Toni Morrison uses the symbol of “the tin tobacco box” heart to show how people repress memories. Paul D admits that he has a rusted over tin box in his chest, but he is not the only person who hides feelings. The community as a whole has buried feelings that do not surface until drastic measures are taken.
In the novel, Paul D describes his heart as a tin box. He has locked away his painful memories from Sweet Home and the prison camp. Paul D represses his feelings in hopes of avoiding further hurt. When Paul D witnesses the strong love Sethe has for Denver and the attachment she has to Beloved, he thinks Sethe is making a dangerous mistake:
Risky, thought Paul D, very risky. 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,… well maybe you’d have a little love left over for the next one. (54)
Paul D had fallen in love with Sethe, and because he had avoided hurt for so long, by not dealing with how he felt or holding on so tight, he wanted to protect Sethe from the hurt she would feel if – when—Denver left.
The tin tobacco box analogy can also be applied to the black community in the novel. When schoolteacher comes to take Sethe’s children to Sweet Home, the community fails to warn her and Baby Suggs. There are abolitionists and Underground Railroad workers scattered throughout Cincinnati in this novel, so why wasn’t Sethe warned? During the first twenty-eight days after her arrival in Cincinnati, Sethe feels a sense of belonging and acceptance into the community. Little does Sethe know, the community feels that Baby Suggs and Sethe are conceited women because they are independent of others and seem stronger. The community, though not directly, is responsible for the death of Sethe’s child, among other things. Their failure to warn Sethe heaps responsibility and guilt upon them. Instead of producing valid...