The Tragedy of Paul D from "Beloved"

In Toni Morrison’s Beloved Paul D, as a character, struggles with his masculinity constantly throughout the story. He is constantly assaulted with thoughts of his “past” life and does not see himself as a man worthy of anyone else’s admiration. This is mostly shown in his interactions with Sethe and Beloved. Most of his insecurities are shown to the reader through his flashback to his time as a slave, in which we see Paul D at his lowest. In these pages, Paul D submits to his “masters” to save his life even though he does not know if he wants to stay alive.

Throughout this story we also see Paul D compare himself to other men as he tries to become more masculine for his own pride. Paul D meets two men in this story whom he sees as some sort of idols. The two men , Halle and Sixo, are Paul D’s ideal form of masculinity. In his eyes, these men are unquestionably a symbol of manhood and masculinity.

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Because of this, Paul D sees himself as inferior to them while also feeling a great sense of shame while being around them. Paul D’s image of himself as less of a man may have something to do with family as well. Throughout the story we see how Halle and Sixo have started their own families while Paul D has yet to establish a life of his own. We also know that Paul D never knew who his parents were and, without some kind of way to validate his masculinity, he struggled with self identity until meeting Sethe at 124.

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After reconnecting with Sethe, Paul D was welcomed into 124 with open arms, and immediately established himself as “the man of the house” by challenging Beloved’s power over the house and taking Sethe to bed. Having established himself within the household, Paul D felt affirmation of his masculinity.

At this point Paul D sees himself as a true man by the societal standard using Halle and Sixo as his reference. After Beloved reenters the house and demonstrates her power over Sethe, Paul D is confronted with the realization that his dominance was never established. Although Paul D is a part of the house, Beloved is the undisputed matriarchal ruler of the household. As Paul D begins to realize that he does not have power over Sethe or Beloved he starts to understand that, sleeping with Sethe hasn’t changed him. He is still the same person as before he met Beloved and slowly begins to recognize that, in order to be with Sethe, he needs to recognize his faults and grow as a person. Beloved, throughout these events, begins to feel threatened by Paul D’s confident presence in the household and begins to act upon these feelings.

At first it starts with moving him around after his argument with Sethe and then moves him completely outside into the shed. While Paul D is in the shed Beloved attempts to show her dominance over Paul D by raping him, and succeeds. By overpowering Paul D, Beloved showed him just how powerless and insignificant he really is. This was also a learning experience for Paul D as well as shown through the tin heart analogy. When Beloved rapes Paul D, the analogy of his heart being made out of tin and rusting away in this moment shows that this experience changes him. His heart sheds its container and shows itself, hence the “red heart” saying in this scene. By Beloved doing this Paul D realizes how much he needs and loves Sethe as well as how he should appreciate her more. Although this moment may have traumatized Paul D, it made him understand how he can become a man.

The psychology behind the male perception of masculinity is a big part of Paul D’s character ark in Beloved. Male role norms play a role in today’s society just as they did hundreds of years ago. It is a stigma that has affected humans as a whole for a long time. This stereotypical male role is the breadwinner of the family and the “man” of the house, treating the house as a place of his patriarchal ruling. With this also comes the stigma of women being docile and not having minds of their own.

The typical male archetype can be found even in today’s society and a lot of these ideas are put into the heads of males at a young age without even knowing it. The media portrayal of masculinity does not help the situation either. Carl Jung is a psychologist that philosophied the inner workings of the male brain and the reasoning behind masculinity as a whole. Carl Jung brought to light the inner workings of male and female brains and compared the two. Jung theorized that there is a female part of the male brain and a male part of the female brain named anima and animus respectively. Jung has also done multiple studies of archetypes of males and females as well as the personas that typically come with those archetypes. The way that the media portrays male masculinity only helps to further the stigma and stereotype of male toxicity. In the book Men, Masculinity, and the Media, by Steve Craig it states “Therefore, for mens studies, masculinity becomes a focus of inquiry.

Masculinity is what a culture expects of its men. In modern american culture part of this expectation is that men will participate in and support patriarchy, and the traditional characteristics of masculinity are made to seem so correct and natural that men find the domination and exploitation of women and other men to be not only expected but actually demanded. Men who find it difficult or objectionable to fit into the patterns of traditional masculinity often find themselves castigated and alienated.” This passage from the book fits Paul D’s character very well. Paul D often feels alone and alienated because of the way he feels about his own masculinity. Even going as far as comparing himself to Halle and Sixo who represent his ideal male through stereotypes.

Throughout the entirety of Beloved we see Paul D progress not only as a character, but also as a man. He finds that in order to be his idea of a “man” he had to let go of the stereotypes and role models that were his idea of masculinity. Instead of focusing on being the man of the house or being able to control Sethe he focuses on bettering himself as a person and treating the woman he loves with respect and understanding. He overcame the social stigma and archetype of typical male masculinity in order to be with Sethe and to help his mental turmoil. We can see in the story Paul D’s transformation from a man enslaved by the white man, to a man enslaved by his own fragile masculinity, to a truly free man by the end of the book.

Beloved while being a commentary on race and society as a whole, also tells the story of a man struggling with social archetypes of what he is supposed to be as a man all while suffering from the trauma of his past and self identity all at once. Paul D by the end of the book has embraced his anima instead of forcing it away as he always did which is a symbol of him embracing femininity along with masculinity. However Paul D overcomes all of these faults and stereotypes to be a real “man” and own up to his mistakes as well as make the one he loves happy.

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The Tragedy of Paul D from "Beloved". (2021, Sep 09). Retrieved from

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