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Toni Morrison's "Beloved" Essay

1421 words - 6 pages

In Toni Morrison's Beloved, the characters struggle with accepting the horror of their pasts in the world of slavery and moving on with their lives. Despite their theoretical emancipation, Paul D and Sethe are still enslaved, not only by continuing societal prejudices, but also their own need for self-preservation. A major part of that self-preservation is maintaining their hard-sought emancipation, not just from slavery, but from any type of bondage. Paul D upsets that precarious sense of freedom in his need for Sethe's too-thick love; consequently, he wrestles with the knowledge that allowing himself to love her would mean risking what is left of his strength and risking his license to roam. Paul D searches throughout Morrison's novel to preserve his freedom and his red heart stored in a rusty tobacco tin, but he nevertheless reaches simultaneously for Sethe's love, and the conflict between the two--love and self-protection--leaves Paul D in a quandary until finally he discovers that love is the ultimate freedom.Paul D's need for freedom is easily understandable, particularly as a former slave, and yet his search for true freedom is not as simple as escaping the bonds of slavery. Fighting between protecting his "tobacco tin buried in his chest where a red heart used to be" and allowing himself to stay with and love Sethe, Paul D finds that both his wishes leave something to be desired. Paul D knows that entering into a relationship "might push them both to a place they couldn't get back from" and would let loose all the scary contents of the tobacco tin inside his chest. For Paul D, Sethe's scariest characteristic is her too-thick love. It threatens his very theory of existence, which is to love just a little; Sethe's love, particularly for her children, is very risky:For a used-to-be-slave woman to love anything that much [is] dangerous, especially if it [is] her children she had settled on to love. The best thing, he [knows], [is] to love just a little bit; everything, just a little bit, so when they broke its back, or [shove] it in a croaker sack, well, maybe you'd have a little love left over for the next one.Paul D is a victim of too much knowledge. Slavery gave every person who endured it a powerful sense of life's uncontrollable mutability. While Sethe responds to her knowledge of the transience of everything in this world except for hardship with a fierce love, Paul D cannot let himself risk what he feels is inevitable heartbreak. He has learned to "shut down a generous portion of his head, operating on the part that helped him walk, eat, sleep, sing," because it is the only way he can forget the pain of the past and avoid the pain of the future. Even before he discovers the lengths to which Sethe has gone in the name of love, Paul D fears being caught in her love, as if it were another form of slavery. For Paul D, the bonds of love, though certainly not the painful iron ones of slavery, are nevertheless bondage. While Paul D feels...

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