Stamp Paid in Beloved by anna moffat

One of the prominent characters in Beloved by Toni Morrison was that of Stamp Paid, who was essentially the neighborhood busybody. He was a man with some serious connections in the community, and also some serious ties to Baby Suggs and Sethe. Why, then, did he leave her to be ostracized and shunned for over eighteen years? He claims he leaves the situation alone because of Beloved's murder, but he also has blood on his hand, and from a far more malicious cause. Why is he so able to let his hypocrisy be?

"I also thought she might stop [the affair], but it went right on. Till one morning Vashti came in and . . . she said 'I'm back, Josh.' . . . She had a real small neck. I decided to break it. You know, like a twig - just snap it" (Morrison 275).

The reason Stamp Paid (formerly Joshua) allows the ostracism of Sethe and her family is because Sethe tried to kill her children, rather than allow them to be taken back to slavery. However, when he was a slave Stamp Paid also killed a family member: his wife. His reason is far more inexcusable, as he kills her out of jealousy of a relationship she probably did not willingly enter into. She is a slave, and her lover is the master's son; she literally can not say no. Stamp Paid kills out of viciousness and selfishness, while Sethe kills out of selflessness. This gives Stamp Paid incredible guilt, which he channels into apathy and revenge.

Stamp Paid was the first person in Cleveland to see Sethe, and even helped with the after effects of Denver's birth. He feels a protectiveness towards her at first, and picks buckets of raspberries for them. After Beloved's death, however, this relationship changes greatly: Sethe asserts her own right to life when she kills the life she created, and this impacts not just the white men but all men in her life. Morrison has already tied a man's sense of masculinity and self-worth to violence (talking about "Men who knew their manhood lay in their guns and were not even embarrassed by the knowledge" (Morrison 191).) Here Sethe rejects the inherent masculinity of killing, thereby wounding their psyche, and instead turns the purpose of men's violence into just that: violence for the sake of hurting. This is part of what causes Stamp Paid's extreme guilt.

"I took and put my babies where they'd be safe" (Morrison 193).
"I should have killed him [the man who was having an affair with my wife] . . . . [Vashti] had a real small neck. I decided to break it" (Morrison 274-275)

Sethe's terrible act is out of courage and fear, while Stamp Paid's is out of jealousy and anger over a crushed ego. His inability to prove his manhood against the man his wife was unfaithful with made him feel the need to strike out in other ways, and he ended the relationship in the only way he could think of.

Stamp Paid's refusal to make amends after he drives Paul D. out of the house is also due to cowardice and a sense of threatened importance: in the first place, he can't make himself knock on the door of their house because it would damage the sense he has built up that everyone in the community loves and trusts him so much he can just walk in unannounced. Also, when he does knock, he is not answered, which hurts his ego so much he never tries again. Instead he finds comfort in the male presence of Paul D.

"Stamp Paid raised his fist to knock on the door he had never knocked on . . . and could not do it. Dispensing with that formality was all the payment he expected from Negroes in his debt. once Stamp Paid brought you a coat, got a message to you, saved your life or fixed the cistern he took the liberty of walking in your door as though it were his own" (Morrison 203).
"the coldness of [knocking] . . . overwhelmed him" (Morrison 203).
"Having wrestled with the question of whether or not to tell a man about his woman, and having convinced him he should, he began to worry about Sethe" (Morrison 203).

Stamp Paid routinely dismisses the needs and wants of women, which explains how he so casually destroys Sethe's second chance at happiness.

"Maybe he should have left it alone . . . maybe he was not the high-minded soldier of Christ her thought he was, but an ordinary, plain meddler" (Morrison 200).

One of the reasons he feel such guilt and such maliciousness is because the dilemma he created has also created self-doubt.

Stamp Paid leaves Sethe to be abandoned by the community even after pulling her from the water because of wounded pride and masculinity, and yet despite his incredible guilt and the self-doubt created by this he is unwilling to sacrifice his pride and separate his malicious murder of his wife from Sethe's attempt to protect her children. He judges her with the criteria he should have judged himself with.

"I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being good all the time. That would be hypocrisy." (Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest)
“If men could see us as we really are, they would be a little amazed; but the cleverest, the acutest men are often under an illusion about women: they do not read them in a true light: they misapprehend them, both for good and evil: their good woman is a queer thing, half doll, half angel; their bad woman almost always a fiend.” (Charlotte Brontë, Shirley)


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