Beloved By Toni Morrison Summary and Analysis Part 1: Chapter 11

Summary

Even as Paul D finds himself falling in love with Sethe, he feels inexplicably compelled to distance himself from her. Without knowing why, he stops sleeping in Sethe's bed — moving first to a rocking chair for a few nights, then to Baby Suggs's double bed, and then to the storeroom. Finally, he stops sleeping in the house completely and creates a meager nest for himself in the cold house behind the main house. During this time, he and Sethe continue to have sex and maintain their deepening relationship. However, Paul D believes that Beloved is somehow preventing him from being able to sleep in Sethe's bed. One autumn night, Beloved seeks him out and demands that he "touch [her] on the inside part and call me my name." Although she promises to leave after he repeats her name, she instead forces herself on him.


Analysis

In this brief but crucial interlude, Morrison reveals the ghost's strength by proving her ability to overpower a reluctant adult male. The biblical allusion to Lot's wife, who instantly stiffens into a column of salt for her sin of disobedience, indicates that Paul D realizes the immorality that he contemplates: coupling with a willful, unstable girl whom Sethe loves "as much as her own daughter." By giving in to temptation, he not only betrays his relationship with Sethe but also dissolves the bond between himself, Sethe, and Denver, whose shadows appeared to link hands on the day of the carnival.

Paul D initially appeared to be a normalizing force in Sethe and Denver's lives. His entrance into their lives signaled the beginning of a healthy relationship for Sethe and the introduction of a father figure for Denver. Paul D exorcised the house of its unnatural ghostly presence, rendering it calm and stable for the first time since Sethe's oldest daughter died. At the carnival, Paul D bridged the gap between Sethe and the townspeople, conversing with them in a friendly, easy-going manner. As he, Sethe, and Denver walked home, their joined shadows seemed to signify that Sethe and Denver had accepted him and the normalcy he offered.

However, Beloved's appearance halted the positive changes Paul D had initiated, and in this chapter, the balance of power in the household shifts. Beloved has grown strong enough to force Paul D from the house, just as he once forced her spirit from the house. She then drains the remaining power he possesses by forcing him to have sex with her, which not only undercuts his relationship with Sethe but also destroys the emotional safeguards he had established to protect himself from further suffering.

Like the mating turtles that Beloved observes in Chapter 9, Paul D is encumbered by his shell. He is so out of touch with his motivations that Beloved deceives him into believing that he chooses to abandon Sethe's bed. His body still demands twice daily sexual release, but his subconscious forces him further from warmth and intimacy to the cold, paper-lined shed. Despite his effort to counter Beloved's appeal by fixing his gaze on the false silver idol of the lard can, he yields to "some womanish need to see the nature of the sin behind him." The extended metaphor of the tobacco tin pictures his heart as freed of corrosion; as he penetrates her body, she pierces the core of his heart. The energy expended in the act obscures his sense of sound and the removal of the tin lid, yet the vocal repetition of his release at discovering his "red heart" awakens Denver and ultimately "Paul D himself."

Glossary

prima donna a temperamental, vain, or arrogant person.

Lot's wife in Genesis 19:24-26, the woman who disobeys God, looks back to see the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and is turned into a pillar of salt.

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