Precious Essay In the novel Beloved, Toni Morrison explores not just her characters’ unpleasant pasts, however likewise the unpleasant past of the oppression of slavery. Couple of authors can invoke the heart-wrenching imagery and sensations that Toni Morrison can in her books, and her novel Beloved is a prime example of this. Toni Morrison writes in such a way that her readers, in addition to her characters, discover themselves tangled and struggling in a web of history, pain, fact, suffering, and the past.
While much of Toni Morrison’s novels deal with aspects of her characters’ past lives and their battles with how to accept or decline their memories, Beloved is an unique in which the past plays an incredibly crucial function. Usually, it is Beloved’s main character Sethe whose relationship to the past is analyzed through her killed child Beloved. However, Paul D’s painful past and memories are intricately linked to both Sethe and Beloved and ought to be analyzed too.
Paul D’s very mindful struggles to suppress his past are represented through a prominent, reoccurring symbol in Morrison’s text, and are likewise moderated through his contact with Sethe’s life and past along with through story informing. The most specific method which Paul D’s relationship to the past is represented in the text is through the metaphor and sign of the tobacco tin in his chest. As readers, we are very first presented to this symbol on page 72, right away after Paul D finishes informing Sethe a story, and we are informed by the narrator that Paul D “? ould keep the rest where it belonged: because tobacco tin buried in his chest where a red heart used to be. Its cover rusted shut” (p 72-73). This intro to the tobacco tin in Paul D’s chest, in place of where his heart need to be, enables us to understand that Paul D seems to negotiate with his past through the sign of the tobacco tin. His negotiation is designed in such a method that he has enabled himself to hold on to all the various pieces of his past, yet not to think of the pieces or feel any of the discomfort and anguish related to the pieces.
We see this procedure and negotiation more clearly on page 113, where after learning of a number of sorrowful incidents in Paul D’s past, the storyteller informs us, It was some time before he could put Alfred, Georgia, Sixo, schoolteacher, Halle, his brothers, Sethe, Mister, the taste of iron, the sight of butter, the smell of hickory, note pad paper, one by one, into the tobacco tin lodged in his chest. By the time he got to 124 nothing in this world could pry it open (p 113).
For that reason, through the symbol and metaphor of the tobacco tin, we learn that Paul D has clearly made a conscious effort to control and form his past, as well as his present, and plans for the tobacco tin to consist of and repress every past memory that is significant or painful for him. For instance, further on in the novel, after Paul D’s tobacco tin has actually been opened, which I will go over later on, we find out simply how much the tobacco tin worked as a technique of mindful control and comfort for Paul D.
On page 218, we see Paul D sitting on church actions with his “wrist between his knees” because he has “absolutely nothing else to hold on to”. This is not just actual, however also metaphorical because at this point, Paul D’s tobacco tin has actually been “blown open,” and was spilling “contents that drifted freely and made him their play and prey”. In this minute, Paul D is no longer able to keep his past and keep it contained in his tobacco tin. He feels exposed, and for that reason feels that his inability to control his feelings and ideas about his past makes him susceptible, like victim.
Paul D’s sense of defeat and loss of control over his past is shown even more when we learn by means of the narrator, that when Paul D “was wandering, thinking only about the next meal and night’s sleep, when whatever was packed tight in his chest, he had no sense of failure? Now he questioned what all failed” (p 221). Through these scenes, we can infer that Paul D planned to negotiate with his past, through the symbol of the tobacco tin, in such a way that permitted him to control his past, and subsequently his present, by reducing his haunting memories of his past.
However, while Paul D may have planned for his past to stay suppressed within his metaphorical tobacco tin, it is clear to the reader, even before we are introduced to the symbol of the tobacco tin, that Paul D’s past and present self is not and can not be quelched. On the contrary, from the time that Paul D reaches 124 and sees Sethe, he seems gradually unlocking, and his past starts to leak out of his tobacco tin. It appears that anytime Paul D comes in contact with Sethe, or a part of Sethe’s past, a piece of him opens up or is pried open, whether he wants it to be or not.
Whether or not Paul D unconsciously desires his past to be released is something that we, as the readers, never find out. Nevertheless, we can observe that once Paul D arrives at 124, his past starts to permeate outside of his tobacco tin when he comes in contact with Sethe or Sethe’s past, and the ultimate opening of his tobacco tin, or acknowledgment of the discomfort connected with his past, brings Paul D a sense of defeat and failure. For example, when Paul D first arrives at 124, he has already “shut down a generous part of his head, running on the part that assisted him stroll, eat, sleep, sing”.
At this point in time, Paul D has actually currently started to shut off the parts of his body that feel the past, and remember the pain connected with the past. His attempt to close down the parts of his head that do anything but get him through the day is similar to his effort to negotiate with his past and keep it saved and reduced within his “tobacco tin”. Nevertheless, upon seeing Sethe alive and well at 124, something unusual takes place within Paul D. The narrator tells us that Paul D, “? could not account for the satisfaction in his surprise at seeing Halle’s other half alive?
The closed part of his head opened like a greased lock” (p 41). This is the very first circumstances in the book that Paul D sees Sethe, and right away a portion of his body that he shut in an effort to avoid seeing, feeling, and considering his past, has opened. At this moment, it is merely the sight of Sethe that triggers Paul D to open a part of himself, however; later on in the unique, Paul D when again opens himself to Sethe through storytelling. On page 71, after going over an unpleasant memory of Sethe’s past, Paul D begins to tell Sethe a piece of a painful memory from his past.
After some triggering from Sethe, Paul D tries to inform Sethe his story of feeling dehumanized while he had an iron bit in his mouth. He keeps in mind comparing himself to roosters, and sensation that the roosters were better, freer, and more in control than he was. Immediatley after Paul D decides to stop telling his story and speaking about his feelings, we discover of the tobacco tin within his chest where he conceals all the unpleasant memories of the past. However, if we analyze what has simply taken place through Sethe’s triggering and Paul D’s story informing, we discover that Paul D is not as effective at keeping his past reduced as he likes to believe.
On the contrary, Paul D’s negotiation with his past is mediated, and altered through his contact with Sethe and his storytelling. In telling Sethe his story about the iron bit, he not just released accurate details about his past, but he also recognized and talked about his sensations of insufficiency and insignificance regarding his past. Therefore, in re-examining Paul D’s relationship with the past, we can see that the tobacco tin sign, or Paul D’s mindful efforts to reduce his sensations about the past, seems to compromise in the existence of Sethe and her past, along with through storytelling.
Yet another instance in which Paul D’s relationship with his past is affected by can be found in contact with a piece of Sethe or Sethe’s past, takes place when Paul D has sexual intercourse with Precious. During this scene, Paul D appears to be pushed by Beloved into having sex. Although Paul D gives in to Beloved’s demand, he does so without sensation, “? he just took a look at the lard can, silvery in moonlight?” (116 ). However, as Paul D makes love with Precious, his rusted tin can starts to open. Still discovering through the storyteller’s voice, we learn that Paul D “? didn’t hear the whisper that the flakes of rust made? s they fell away from the seams of his tobacco tin. So when the cover gave he didn’t know it” (p 117). This scene ends with Paul D almost shrieking “Red heart. Red heart. Red heart.” Although it will never ever be totally clear to readers why Paul D’s rusted tobacco tin opened in this scene through intercourse with Beloved, there are some essential elements of this scene that may help us comprehend why it changed Paul D’s relationship with his past. First of all, the character Beloved is both a metaphor and a symbol of the agonizing past, as well as a living, breathing representation of Sethe’s past. In essence, she is the past incarnate.
For that reason, it might be that Beloved functions as a concrete culmination of all the discomfort of Sethe’s past, and therefore forces Paul D to face the pain and memories of his own past. The opening of his tobacco tin is a metaphor for Paul D’s possibly required recognition of his frustrating past and his sensations associated with this past. Paul D’s sexual encounter with Cherished caused a shift in his way of life, and triggered him to lose control of his effortful suppression of his past. For that reason, we when again see a piece of Sethe’s previous or a part of Sethe, this time her dead child Beloved, opening a part of Paul D.
In addition, it is very important to keep in mind that the scene in which Paul D’s tobacco tin is metaphorically “opened” through his encounter with Precious, is not just a typical interaction with Cherished, but is explicitly sexual. For that reason, in examining Paul D’s relationship with his past, we must question, why is it particularly through sex with Cherished that Paul D loses control of his past? Plainly, this sex scene is very different from those that Paul D has with Sethe, and is a lot more automated and emotionless.
One factor for this may be that Paul D’s sexual encounter with Precious advises him of when he needed to turn to having sex with calves at Sweet Home. This was a time when Paul D felt that he did not have control, and that he was forced into his actions because he had no other option. Paul D’s tip of this feeling and his freshly conjured memory of having sex with the claves, may have caused him to experience a comparable loss of control, and due to the fact that this sensation was experienced as a result of Beloved, a physical representation of the past, Paul D may have lost his negotiation with his past, and opened his tobacco tin.
While we may never ever actually understand or fully comprehend what Toni Morrison meant for us to gather from her disturbing, yet effective representations of the past, we do understand that her novel Beloved provides a powerful recollection of slavery, and the messages we can draw from Morrison’s representation of the past and her effective characters are numerous. One such character is Paul D, who invests the entire novel negotiating, battling, and lastly surrendering to his past.
Morrison depicts Paul D’s relationship with his past through the symbol and metaphor of the tobacco tin, and enables this relationship to alter through both interactions with Sethe and her past, along with through the powerful act of storytelling. It will be rather a long time prior to the characters of this novel, or any of Morrison’s unique, end up being a part of my past.