Manhood, Masculinity, Self-Worth. Paul D in Beloved

"He could not say to this woman who did not squint in the wind, 'I am not a man" (Morrison 151).


Noun: the state or period of being a man rather than a child (or child-like individual); men, especially those of a country, regarded collectively.

“The restraint they had exercised possible only because they were Sweet Home men - the ones Mr. Garner bragged about while other farmers shook their heads in warning at the phrase. ‘Y’all got boys,’ he told them. ‘Young boys, old boys, picky boys, stroppin boys. Now at Sweet Home, my niggers is men every one of them. Bought em thataway, raised em thataway. Men every one.’ ‘Beg to differ Garner. Ain’t no nigger men.’ ‘Not if you scared, they ain’t.’ Garner’s smile was wide. ‘But if you a man yourself, you’ll want niggers to be men too" (Morrison 12).
“The last of the Sweet Home men, so named and called by one who would know, believed it. The other four believed it too, once, but they were long gone. The sold one never returned, the lost one never found. One, he knew, was dead for sure; one he hoped was, because butter and clabber was no life or reason to live it. He grew up thinking that, of all the Blacks in Kentucky, only the five of them were men. Allowed, encouraged to correct Garner, even defy him. To invent ways of doing things; to see what was needed and attack it without permission. To buy a mother, choose a horse of a wife, handle guns, even learn reading if they wanted to - but they didn’t want to since nothing important to them could be put down on paper” (Morrison 147).
  • While Gardner boasts about his civil treatment of his "Sweet Home" men, he treats his slaves in this manner in order to feel more manly himself. He sees his good treatment of African Americans as a way to elevate himself above other slaves owners, who he believes are too "afraid" to treat their slaves as such.
  • Schoolteacher, seeing Garner's approach as too docile, implements rigid rules on the plantation and studies each slave like a scientist testing out an experiment: he categorizes their personality traits, outbursts, and remarks and separates them into animalistic characteristics or marginally more humanistic ones. In this way, schoolteacher diminishes the human value of the Sweet Home men and their perceived worth under Garner.
“Was that it? Is that where the manhood lay? In the naming done by a whiteman who was supposed to know? Who gave them the privilege not of working but of deciding how to? No. In their relationship with Garner was true metal: they were believed and trusted, but most of all they were listened to" (Morrison 148).
"He thought what they said had merit, and what they felt was serious. Deferring to his slaves’ opinions did not deprive him of authority or power. It was schoolteacher who taught them otherwise. A truth that waved like a scarecrow in rye; they were only Sweet Home men at Sweet Home. One step off that ground and they were trespassers among the human race” (Morrison 148).

The Dehumanization of Paul D's Manhood


Noun: the psychological process of demonizing the enemy, making them seem less than human and hence not worthy of humane treatment; the process of undermining individuality and human attributes.

“Mister, he looked so… free. Better than me. Stronger, tougher. Son a bitch couldn’t even get out of the shell by hisself but he was still king and I was…’ Paul D stopped and squeezed his left hand with his right. He held it that way long enough for it and the world to quiet down and let him go on. ‘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. Schoolteacher changed me. I was something else and that something was less than a chicken sitting in the sun on a tub” (Morrison 86).
  • Paul D's vision of "manhood" depends largely on a sense of freedom and possession. He sees a rooster, an animal with less intellectual capacity than himself, take his freedom for granted. For Paul D, it's shocking that even a rooster can possess more than he can. Mister will always have a name and the power to roam the land and admire its beauty. On the other hand, Paul D, even his name, will always be owned by something, be it his past, his future, his owner, or even his vision of himself and his identity.
“His strength had lain in knowing that schoolteacher was wrong. Now he wondered… If schoolteacher was right it explained how he had come to be a rag doll - picked up and pack back down anywhere any time by a girl young enough to be his daughter” (Morrison 148).
  • This quote enforces the idea that in order for Paul D to feel like a man, he needs to possess some control over his existence. He fears attachment because he's never been allowed to love anything for too long. Paul D is inclined to protect the very few things he has and neglects to love the things that could leave him stranded.


Noun: having qualities traditionally associated with men such as courage, strength, boldness, determination, vigor, aggressiveness, and sexual potency; habits or traits that society considers to be appropriate for a MAN.

Male Stereotype

The Division Between Man and Boy

Protective Nature and Family

“Hearing the three of them laughing at something he wasn’t in on. The code they used among themselves that he could not break. Maybe even the time spent on their needs and not his. They were a family somehow and he was not the head of it” (Morrison 155).
“The roaring in Paul D’s head did not prevent him from hearing the pat she gave to the last word, and it occurred to him that what she wanted for her children was exactly what was missing in 124: safety…. He thought he had made it safe, had gotten rid of the danger; beat the shit out of it; run it off the place and showed it and everybody else the difference between a mule and a plow…. He was wrong” (Morrison 193).
“He watched them with awe and envy, and each time he discovered large families of black people he made them identify over and over who each was, what relation, who, in fact, belonged to who… Nothing like that had ever been his” (Morrison 258).

As a man, Paul D is expected to be the leader of his family, the one who doesn't blink even in the worst of times despite everything that has happened. However, Paul D has never had a family to call his own. Because slave life involves been sold and resold, Paul D has never felt what it means to belong. How is he expected to make others feel safe when he has never felt assured in his position? Paul D constantly questions his manhood in the presence of other men, like Halle, Sixo, and Stamp Paid, men who have people and causes they can count on. He feels the need to possess a family, rather than have a rotating group of people continually making claims to him.

Besides his own self-doubt, Sethe keeps Paul D from feeling included in her family, a sign of her own fears of letting people in. While both individuals could use the support of one another, they both recognize the unstable nature of their lives and the uncertainty in relying on others.

Conceal, Don't Feel.

“There’s a way to put it in there...

... and there's a way to take it out. I know em both and I haven't figured out yet which is worse" (Morrison 84).

“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 the world could pry it open” (Morrison 133).

  • Another male stereotype illustrates that instead of talking about their emotions and letting them be known, men suppress their feelings and "bottle them up." Paul D accomplishes this by encasing all of his past memories into a tobacco tin heart. In a way, this is one of the only parts of Paul D's life he manages to control. With his feelings secured, he finally possess something that no one can take away from him (that is, until Beloved draws him back into the past and reopens the tin).


Noun: confidence in one's own worth, value, or abilities; self-respect; opinions of one's value.

“Voices remind schoolteacher about the spoiling these particular slaves have had at Garner’s hands…. Now it faced greater ruin than what Garner left for it, because of the loss of two niggers, at the least, and maybe three because he is not sure they will find the one called Halle…. He would have to trade this here one for $900 if he could get it, and set out to secure the breeding one, her foal and the other one, if he found him. With the money from ‘this here one’ he could get two young ones, twelve or fifteen years old” (Morrison 267).
“Remembering his own price, down to the cent, that schoolteacher was able to get for him, he wondered what Sethe’s would’ve 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? Schoolteacher would know. He knew the worth of everything” (Morrison 269).
  • One of Paul D's most defining moments is when he finds out about his monetary value according to schoolteacher. This seems to affirm his opinions on his lack of success and abilities as a man. Money is an objective, tangible way to declare the overall value of something. This example is yet another way that Paul D is dehumanized throughout the narrative and forced to adhere to the white man's view of black slaves as intellectually inferior.
“They had been isolated in a wonderful lie… protected and convinced they were special” (Morrison 260).



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