Summary and Analysis
Paul D relives the savage treatment that he endured while shackled to ten other slaves and transported to a brutal prison for the crime of threatening to kill Brandywine, the man who bought him from schoolteacher after the attempted escape from Sweet Home. From Kentucky through Virginia and on to Alfred, Georgia, to the underground cell that housed him, Paul D struggled against the despair and dehumanization that accompany forced labor. For example, each morning, the white guards forced the chained row of black men down on their knees, and a few men were chosen to perform oral sex on the guards before beginning the grueling day. Chained in one long line of 46 convicts, Paul D learned the nuances of wordless gestures and expressions and mourned his captivity in song.
Eighty-six days into his sentence, Paul D and the other prisoners, chained together and threatened with suffocation under a mudslide, dived beneath their cells' restraining bars and escaped. The prisoners fled to a Cherokee camp, where Native Americans fed them mush and released them from their leg irons. The scent of their trail was drowned in mud, preventing dogs from tracking them. Secure for the moment, the survivors discussed alternatives. Paul D was the last to make a move. A month after his escape, he headed north and was taken in by a Delaware weaver lady.
Morrison, drawing parallels with epic journeys of classical literature, presents a sharp contrast between Paul D's and Sethe's breaks with slavery. Recall that Sethe, her body impelling her toward a nursing baby, moved directly through the forest, crawling to spare her sore, swollen feet, pausing to give birth in a canoe, and ignoring cold, damp, and hunger in her obsessive urge to reunite with Beloved and her boys. Focused solely on her family, Sethe lacked Paul D's drive to put the past behind him, including "Halle, his brothers, Sethe", and the other reminders of Sweet Home.
After his sale to Brandywine and incarceration on a chain gang for attempted murder, Paul D follows the examples of Odysseus, Aeneas, and Jason from Greek mythology by making a meandering tour of escape. The threat of his burial in a mudslide is reminiscent of the forays that Odysseus, Aeneas, and Orpheus made into the underworld. Paul D is rejuvenated by his brief sojourn with Native Americans, who suffered their own share of the white man's hell. Then — like Odysseus's Circe, Jason's Medea, and Aeneas's Dido — an accommodating female weaver took Paul D to bed.
While Sethe enjoyed 28 days of freedom with her family, Paul D, supported by the brotherhood of the pox-ridden Cherokee, had no responsibility, no direction, and no blood ties calling to him. Whereas Sethe was welcomed to freedom by armfuls of babies, kisses, tender strokes on her boys' flesh, and Baby Suggs's healing baths, Paul D had no salve for his lingering psychic pain. The masculine image of the tobacco tin, which he carries in a shirt pocket, becomes the hardened heart that wards off feelings and permanent attachments. Like the box that nearly became his tomb in the convict camp, the tobacco tin entombs his emotions.
Morrison's hasty but touching gesture toward Cherokee sufferings underscores the careful network of details that underlie the story. The history of the Cherokee, replicated throughout white-Indian relations, delineates European greed and racism. The Cherokee, like their black brothers, knew the suffering generated by contact with whites and willingly shared mush, tools, and information about the trail of blossoms that led Paul D to freedom.
coffle a group of animals or slaves fastened together in a line, or driven along together.
taking a bit of foreskin with him to Jesus biting the guard's penis during fellatio before being shot.
bay or eat my own mess go mad and howl or eat excrement.
talked through that chain like Sam Morse communicated through the chain by wordless jerks similar to Morse code.
Georgia took up all of Alabama and Mississippi the taint of slavery made one Deep South state indistinguishable from another.
Alfred possibly Alpharetta, a small Georgia community north of Atlanta.
Sea Islands islands sheltering black communities that cling to African language, customs, and worship.
the river that slid down from the Blue Ridge Mountains the Oconee River.
Oklahoma the destination of 14,000 Cherokee, who in 1838, following the discovery of gold on their lands, were forced to resettle on reservations after a long march named the Trail of Tears. Over 4,000 Cherokee died along the way.
George III King of England during the American Revolution, with whom the Cherokee sided.
published a newspaper Sequoyah's Cherokee Phoenix, founded in 1828.
led Oglethorpe through forests native guides helped General James Oglethorpe colonize Georgia in 1733, the same year that he founded Savannah.
helped Andrew Jackson fight Creek the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, March 17, 1814.
King of Spain Charles IV.
been experimented on by Dartmouth refers to the use of blacks and Indians as test animals. These unsuspecting people were infected with syphilis so that health officials could study the progress of the disease.
wrote their language In 1820, Sequoyah invented a phonetic alphabet which enabled Cherokees to become literate after only a few days' study. Very quickly, they established a mail system with distant Cherokees.
established asylums created places where runaway slaves would be safe and secure.
buffalo men men with wiry hair; Negroes.