Beloved

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Paul D Character Analysis

Paul D was a slave at Sweet Home along with Halle, Sixo, and two other Pauls (Paul A and Paul F). He suffered greatly under Schoolteacher and also as a prisoner on a chain gang in Georgia. After the Civil War, Paul D spent years wandering around, unable to feel at home anywhere. This changes when he arrives at 124 and tries to settle down with Sethe, but he is forced out of the household by Beloved. He tries to repress his painful memories by keeping them in what he calls the tobacco tin where his heart once was, but Sethe and Beloved force him to confront his troubled past. Ultimately, he returns to care for Sethe, even after she seems to have lost her mind.

Paul D Quotes in Beloved

The Beloved quotes below are all either spoken by Paul D or refer to Paul D. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Slavery Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of Beloved published in 2004.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

“How come everybody run off from Sweet Home can’t stop talking about it? Look like if it was so sweet you would have stayed.”
[...]
Paul D laughed. “True, true. [Denver’s] right, Sethe. It wasn’t sweet and it sure wasn’t home.” He shook his head.
“But it’s where we were,” said Sethe. “All together. Comes back whether we want it to or not.”

Related Characters: Sethe (speaker), Denver (speaker), Paul D (speaker)
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

Denver is perturbed by Paul D's arrival and his conversations with Sethe. She interrogates them about their discussion of Sweet Home, to which they respond that the place continues to exert powerful control over their lives.

This exchange establishes the fraught relationship these characters have to the plantation from which they have escaped. Although the location signifies cruel memories, it is also part of Sethe’s personal history, as well as the communal history created among all the slaves who worked there. Her simple constructions—“it’s where we were” and “all together”—make the incontestable argument that the plantation functioned much like a home does. It played the same narrative and psychological role for these characters, whether they want it to or not, and thus it returns consistently in their interactions and lives.

As an outsider, Denver is unable to make sense of this pattern. Her distanced viewpoint allows her to notice, for instance, the irony in the plantation’s name itself. She thus stands for the role of a second generation of ex-slaves, as well as for the contemporary reader, who might be confused about why the plantation serves to connect Sethe and Paul D. Morrison thus points to a disjoint between these two generational perspectives: one that feels a continued link to the plantation and one that cannot make sense of that very link.

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Part 1, Chapter 7 Quotes

Mister, he looked so...free. Better than me. Stronger, tougher. ...Mister was allowed to be and stay what he was. But I wasn’t allowed to be and stay what I was. Even if you cooked him you’d be cooking a rooster named Mister. But wasn’t no way I’d ever be Paul D again, living or dead.

Related Characters: Paul D (speaker), Paul D
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

Sethe agrees to listen to Paul D’s stories about the past. He recounts, here, the despair he felt when he saw a rooster named Mister.

By juxtaposing the liberty of an animal with his own lack of liberty, Paul D shows the true destitution experienced in slavery. He considers the rooster to epitomize manlike qualities of “Stronger and tougher,” and to have more agency in determining his place in the world. In contrast to Mister’s ability to “stay what he was,” Paul D feels himself to be at the whims of others. This comparison functions in two ways: retroactively, it shows the misery of Paul D’s enslavement, and in the moment it caused him to understand just how powerless he was. His interaction with the rooster allowed and allows him to articulate the horror of slavery.

Bestowed with an honorary title—“Mister”—the rooster is presented to have a human identity and sense of control. Thus even if he were to be treated as an animal by being “cooked,” he would still have the honorific title that made him somehow more human and free. Paul D, on the other hand, trivializes his own name and, by extension, his own identity. Regardless of whether he is “living or dead,” he believes he will not be recognized. Morrison renders humanity, then, not an intrinsic quality, but rather a question of how one’s identity is constructed by others.

Part 1, Chapter 10 Quotes

They chain-danced over the fields... They sang it out and beat it up, garbling the words so they could not be understood; tricking the words so their syllables yielded up other meanings.

Related Characters: Paul D
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

Paul D remembers the time that he spent on a Georgia chain gang. He reflects specifically on the way they used music as a way to connect to each other.

This passage speaks to the way that artistic expression allowed the slaves a limited amount of agency and mobility within their lives. Though they were unable to alter their work conditions, the slaves could still control their use of language. Thus “garbling the words” becomes an expression of personal control in that they can scramble language to their whims. “Tricking the words” presents their behavior as subversive, for the chain gang members can bend the language itself to their own purposes. That manipulation functions as a small rebellion, too, against white oppressors who otherwise maintained harsh control of language. Here, the slaveowners would not have been able to make sense of their songs.

This transformation also takes place in the language of Morrison’s novel itself. For instance the term “chain-danced” is formed in a similar compound-word structure as “chain gang,” but turns a noun that underlines entrapment into an expression of liberty. And this linguistic play is characteristic of her work: Morrison often uses unexpected syntax and unconventional images to disrupt our readerly expectations. She makes use of vernacular phrases and colloquial expressions—in particular those drawn from black communities—to counter the idea that literary language need not be made of a traditional form associated with white culture. Her work is thus a novelistic form of “tricking the words” so as to innovate storytelling and provide a space for literary black emancipation.

The chain that held them would save all or none, and Hi Man was the Delivery. They talked through that chain like Sam Morse and, Great God, they all came up. Like the unshriven dead, zombies on the loose, holding the chains in their hands, they trusted the rain and the dark, yes, but mostly Hi Man and each other.

Related Characters: Paul D
Page Number: 130
Explanation and Analysis:

While Paul D is working on the chain gang, a terrible storm threatens his group but also offers a route to escape. He observes that the instrument of their oppression could also serve as a route to salvation.

“The chain” becomes, in this description, far more than a physical object, but rather a way for the men attached to communicate and connect to each other. Morrison positions it as an active agent when she makes it the subject of the sentence that “would save all or none.” In comparison, the slaves are “unshriven dead, zombies,” language that emphasizes how dehumanized they have become in their current occupation. Thus the chain gains in agency just as the humans are deprived of it: indeed, the chain becomes the arbiter of their destiny.

At the same time, however, the cruel chain also becomes a route to escape. In connecting the slaves to each other, it gives them an opportunity to communicate without language—and to use the storm to access their freedom. In this way, Morrison transforms a symbol of slavery into a potential symbol of liberty; the slaves can use exactly what entraps them to flee entrapment.

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, notebook 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.

Related Characters: Sethe, Paul D, Sixo
Related Symbols: Paul D’s Tobacco Tin
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:

Paul D describes his journey after escaping from the chain gang. He imagines placing memories into a tobacco tin in his chest, leaving them stored away and inaccessible.

This passage offers one example of how ex-slaves sought to confront their harrowing pasts. Here, Paul D’s strategy is to firmly seal off those memories in a metaphorical tobacco tin. He applies this process indiscriminately—to the cruel “schoolteacher” just as to his lover “Sethe” and to sensory images like butter and hickory. In contrast to the passage in which Sethe railed against how memory’s involuntary nature could easily overwhelm her, Paul D seems to maintain an impressive mastery over his mind.

Yet at the same time, Morrison hints at the fickle and uncontrollable nature of memory. In seeking to control his memories, Paul D must also sever himself from the positive ones. We should pause, similarly, at the image of the “tobacco tin.” Tobacco was one of the original crops grown by slave plantations in the United States, so the tin also serves as an implicit reference to the institution imprisoning Paul D. While this passage might seem to praise Paul D for his precise control over his past, the text both foreshadows that the tin will indeed be someday "pried open" and hints that Paul D's procedure of gaining this control may itself be deeply troubling.

Part 2, Chapter 24 Quotes

For years Paul D believed schoolteacher broke into children what Garner had raised into men. And it was that that made them run off. Now, plagued by the contents of his tobacco tin, he wondered how much difference there really was between before schoolteacher and after.

Related Characters: Paul D, Schoolteacher
Related Symbols: Paul D’s Tobacco Tin
Page Number: 260
Explanation and Analysis:

Now fully immersed in memories, Paul D questions the way he separated Garner and Schoolteacher. He thinks perhaps they were not as different as he had once thought.

This passages criticizes the way both whites and blacks would sometimes form hierarchies between slaveowners. It was and is a common practice to describe certain slaveowners as kinder than others. Here, Paul D has always believed Garner is kinder: His practices are applied to “men” instead of “children,” and they are “raised”—a relatively kind and nurturing verb—compared to the expression “broke into” used for Schoolteacher. Yet when Paul D revisits the actual content of the his memories, he realizes that this division may not actually be a significant as he had previously believed.

That “he wondered how much difference there really was” speaks to the flaws in viewing any behavior of a slaveowner in even relatively positive terms. Whether a slaveowner treated his slaves kindly or cruelly was secondary to the fact that he owned slaves at all, dehumanizing other people as "possessions" without identities other than those the slaveowner forces upon them. That this conclusion derives from Paul D having opened his “tobacco tin” speaks to the more positive results of revisiting one’s history. Though he may be “plagued” by these memories, they also give him greater clarity into his personal past—allowing him to realize the flaws in his more positive memories of Garner.

Remembering his own price, down to the cent, that schoolteacher was able to get for him, [Paul D] wondered what Sethe’s would have been. What had Baby Suggs’ been? How much did Halle owe, still, besides his labor? What did Mrs. Garner get for Paul F? More than nine hundred dollars? How much more? Ten dollars? Twenty?

Related Characters: Sethe, Paul D, Halle
Page Number: 269
Explanation and Analysis:

Still consumed by memories of Sweet Home, Paul D wonders about the economics of slavery. He starts to brainstorm the costs that might have been paid for other slaves on the plantation.

This description emphasizes once more the dehumanizing way that slaveowners interacted with their slaves. Whereas earlier descriptions pointed out how slaves were likened to animals, this passages views them as commodities for sale. That each person can be affixed with a certain price point condenses their identity into a single interchangeable number. Even more insidiously, this mindset seems to have infiltrated Paul D. He takes on the language and perspective of the slaveowners here—indeed, applying it to his closest family and friends. Thus Morrison not only portrays the existence of this horrifying economic mindset, but also shows how easily it can infiltrate the minds of even the slaves it oppresses, so that they develop inferiority complexes and think of themselves as commodities to be priced.

Part 3, Chapter 26 Quotes

Yet [Denver] knew Sethe’s greatest fear was...that Beloved might leave.... Leave before Sethe could make her realize that far worse than [death]...was what Baby Suggs died of, what Ella knew, what Stamp saw and what made Paul D tremble. That anybody white could take your whole self for anything that came to mind. Not just work, kill, or maim you, but dirty you. Dirty you so bad you couldn’t like yourself anymore. Dirty you so bad you forgot who you were and couldn’t think it up.

Related Characters: Sethe, Denver, Baby Suggs, Paul D, Beloved, Stamp Paid, Ella
Page Number: 295
Explanation and Analysis:

As life at 124 grows ever worse, Denver reflects on what is motivating Sethe to acquiesce to Beloved’s wishes. Sethe, she explains, wants to prove to Beloved that her infanticide offered her a better end than she would have had alive under slavery.

This passage casts Sethe’s relationship with Beloved in a somewhat different light than before. Whereas earlier sections justified her actions as derived from pure affection, this passage presents them as seeking some kind of repentance or justice. That Sethe wants Beloved to “realize” that another fate (slavery) was “far worse” reveals a wish for acceptance and forgiveness on Beloved’s part. She wants her, in a bizarre way, to understand the horror of an alternative past that she never experienced—in order that Sethe's decision will be deemed merciful and the result of love.

Denver’s focus on the loss of identity is intriguing here. She presents the worst end of slavery as that one “forgot who you were and couldn’t think it up,” which speaks to how mentally fractured Sethe had become by the time she fled Sweet Home. Yet if Sethe had sought to save Beloved from this fate, she also has caused it to come true: if Beloved is indeed the ghost of her child, she lost her identity and came blindly to Sethe without a clear sense of self. Morrison thus presents the murder less as a real escape from the institution of slavery, but rather as a reproduction of its horrifying ends.

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Paul D Character Timeline in Beloved

The timeline below shows where the character Paul D appears in Beloved. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Sethe goes outside and is surprised to find Paul D, an ex-slave who also worked on Sweet Home, sitting on her porch. He asks... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Upon entering the house, Paul D feels some kind of presence and asks, “What kind of evil you got in... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Community Theme Icon
Sethe tells Paul D that the sad presence he feels in the house is from her daughter. She... (full context)
Motherhood Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Denver meets Paul D and is shy around him, since she is not used to friendly acquaintances or... (full context)
Home Theme Icon
As Sethe and Denver start to prepare dinner, Denver makes a rude remark to Paul D and then begins to cry. She says that she can’t live any longer in... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Sethe makes reference to having a tree on her back. Paul D asks her what she means and she explains: on Sweet Home, when she was... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
Alone in the kitchen with Paul D, Sethe puts biscuits into the oven. Paul D comes up behind her and embraces... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
...house settles down, Denver takes the biscuits onto the porch and eats, while Sethe and Paul D go upstairs. Alone, she thinks of her brothers and remembers her young childhood with... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 2
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Sethe and Paul go upstairs and enter her bedroom. After brief sex, they are too shy to talk... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Paul D thinks of how he had fantasized about Sethe on Sweet Home and how the... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Sethe and Paul D each separately remember when Sethe and Halle had sex out in the cornfield on... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 3
Home Theme Icon
Paul D has moved into 124, disturbing the house’s arrangement that Denver had grown used to.... (full context)
Home Theme Icon
...Sethe remembers is the pink from part of her dead child’s tombstone. But now that Paul D has moved in, Sethe is suddenly aware of how colorless the house is. (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
Paul D sings as he mends things around the house, but none of the songs he... (full context)
Motherhood Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Paul D tells Sethe that he can look for work around 124 and she tells him... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 4
Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
At dinner one night, Denver asks Paul D how long he’s going to “hang around”, which upsets Sethe. Paul asks if he... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
Paul D tells Sethe that he will stay at 124 and help her, but she has... (full context)
Home Theme Icon
...who attend. Denver buys candy and lemonade and begins to warm to the idea of Paul D living with her and Sethe. As they walk home from the carnival, their shadows... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 5
Motherhood Theme Icon
...“new skin”. She sits down on a stump outside of 124, where Sethe, Denver, and Paul D find her upon returning from the carnival. Immediately upon seeing the woman, Sethe feels... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
...strange woman eats nothing but drinks lots of water. She says her name is Beloved. Paul D decides not to ask her who she is or where she’s from, thinking of... (full context)
Home Theme Icon
Sethe and Paul D think Beloved is sick with cholera, but Denver defiantly says that she isn’t. For... (full context)
Motherhood Theme Icon
...know where she came from. Sethe guesses that her fever robbed her of her memory. Paul D is suspicious of the mysterious woman and asks Sethe if she plans to continue... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 6
Motherhood Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
...meet her on her way back from work at night. Time passes with Sethe, Denver, Paul D, and Beloved all living at 124. (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 7
Home Theme Icon
Paul D feels uneasy around Beloved and is still suspicious of her, since he still does... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Paul D still feels suspicious of Beloved, even though he has known many “Negroes so stunned,... (full context)
Home Theme Icon
Just as Paul D thinks of trying to get rid of Beloved, Beloved chokes on a raisin and... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
As Sethe and Paul D argue, the conversation shifts to Halle. Paul D tells her that Halle actually saw... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
...She is upset that Halle saw the whole thing and didn’t try to stop it. Paul D says that the event “broke” Halle. The last time Paul D saw him, he... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Sethe offers to listen if Paul D should want to talk about having the bit in his mouth. Paul D says... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Paul D doesn’t tell Sethe anything more about the experience of having the bit. He keeps... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 9
Home Theme Icon
Upon returning to 124, Sethe finds Paul D bathing. Realizing how much she wants him in her life, she embraces him. Beloved... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 10
Slavery Theme Icon
Community Theme Icon
Paul D recalls his time working on a chain gang in Georgia: he is chained together... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Community Theme Icon
...rain continues, the ground floods and dirt turns to mud. Someone yanks the chain and Paul D falls to the ground. Somehow, all the prisoners understand. They dive through the mud... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
The Cherokee bring out axes and cut the prisoners’ chains. The slaves gradually leave, until Paul D is the last one left. He goes north and doesn’t stop until he gets... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 11
Home Theme Icon
Beloved gradually forces Paul D out of 124. He feels restless and uncomfortable everywhere, and doesn’t know how to... (full context)
Home Theme Icon
One evening, Paul D switches to Baby Suggs’ old room. Then, he moves to the storeroom. He recognizes... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Beloved enters the cold house one night and asks Paul D to sleep with her. He refuses but she eventually seduces him. As she approaches... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 13
Slavery Theme Icon
Paul D thinks about his time at Sweet Home. Mr. Garner let his slaves correct him,... (full context)
Home Theme Icon
Paul D resolves to tell Sethe about what’s been happening and goes to meet her at... (full context)
Home Theme Icon
Sethe and Paul D walk back to 124. It begins to snow and they start to run, Paul... (full context)
Motherhood Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
One night, Sethe finally says something about Paul D sleeping in the cold house and tells him to come upstairs at night, upsetting... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 14
Home Theme Icon
That night, after Paul D and Sethe leave the dinner table and go upstairs, Denver and Beloved talk. Denver... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 17
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Back in the present, at the slaughterhouse where Stamp Paid and Paul D both work, Stamp Paid shows Paul D a news clipping about Sethe killing her... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Stamp Paid plans to tell Paul D about the day Sethe killed her child, how the four horseman arrived and she... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 18
Motherhood Theme Icon
When he gets back to 124, Paul D confronts Sethe about the news clipping. Sethe avoids the subject, telling him about her... (full context)
Motherhood Theme Icon
Sethe tells Paul D about her escape from Sweet Home, and how she did it by herself, without... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
Finally, Sethe tells Paul D that she stopped Schoolteacher from taking her children, saying, “I took and put my... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 19
Community Theme Icon
Stamp Paid approaches 124, feeling bad that he has caused Paul D to leave the house. He realizes that the last time he went to 124... (full context)
Motherhood Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
Meanwhile, Sethe is trying to move on without Paul D, who she feels has abandoned her like all the other townspeople. Beloved finds a... (full context)
Community Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
...thinks that the hand-holding shadows she saw on the day of the carnival were not Paul D, Denver, and her, but rather Beloved, Denver, and her. She thinks that Paul D... (full context)
Community Theme Icon
...He tells Ella that there is a strange woman at 124 and decides to ask Paul D about it. He learns that Paul D is sleeping in the cellar of the... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 24
Slavery Theme Icon
Paul D, Sixo, and Sixo’s Thirty-Mile Woman try to escape Sweet Home, but are caught. The... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
Paul D is brought back to Sweet Home in chains, where he sees Sethe. Sethe got... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 25
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
Stamp Paid arrives at the Church and meets with Paul D, who is attempting to drink away his sorrows. He apologizes for Paul D having... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Stamp Paid says he wants to make up for showing Paul D the news clipping about Sethe. He then tells Paul D about how he changed... (full context)
Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
Stamp Paid tells Paul D that he was at 124 on the day Sethe killed her child. He tells... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 27
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
Paul D and Stamp Paid discuss the day when the singing women came to the house... (full context)
Motherhood Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Paul D asks Denver if Beloved was her sister. Denver says that she thinks so, but... (full context)
Home Theme Icon
Paul D thinks about his past, and the various unsuccessful escapes he has attempted throughout his... (full context)
Storytelling, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Paul D goes to 124. He senses that Beloved is truly gone. He enters the house... (full context)