Masculinity In Beloved

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Men are expected to be masculine. Beloved by Toni Morrison describes the effects of slavery on bith genders and although it is mostly centered around its female characters it also shows a variety of masculinity and the road of understanding manhood. Beloved is a complex book that is written engangingly (White, 2011). It is natural for humans to categorize everything and it is motivated by the need to belong. Masculinity can be interpreted in many ways but in today’s society, a lot of women assume masculine men to be automatically very strong, muscular and brave thus often numerous males tend to not show their more emotional and sensitive side because they feel they will be seen as weak.

In Beloved we have the Sweet Home men; Paul A, Paul F, Paul D, Halle and Sixo. At Sweet Home, they were slaves and Paul D is mentioned to think about those times a few times throughout the book. All of the Sweet Home men had one thing in common, the lack of women and sex. “All in their twenties, minus women, fucking cows, dreaming of rape, thrashing on pallets, rubbing their thighs and waiting for the new girl—the one who took Baby Suggs’ place after Halle bought her with five years of Sundays,” (Morrison, 1987). This also plays into the stereotype that men only want and think about sex. Although, sex is part of life and is natural to all genders.

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In Beloved, Halle shows a positive and nurturing type of masculinity. Halle is as sharp as Sixo when it comes to his understanding of the slave system. Even while Sethe says that Garner is better than Schoolteacher and other slave masters, Halle replies that there is no difference among them (Dzregah, 2013). He is not always fooled by Garner’s alleged goodness in letting him buy back his mother. He let Sethe know that this type of an arrangement only profited Garner: ‘‘I pay him for her last years and in return he got you, me, and three more coming up,’’(Morrison, 1987). He learns to read and write, and his intelligence is shown when we learn that he is Garner’s bookkeeper. He is a loving son who hires out his time and falls deeply into debt to obtain his mother’s freedom. He is a strong loyal man both to the Garners and other Seet Home men. He is described as a compassionate man and father by his daughter Denver: “My daddy was an angel man. He could look at you and tell where you hurt and he could fix it too.”(Morrison, 1987) Furthermore, Sethe spoke about Halle being more of a family guy: “Halle was more like a brother than a husband. His care suggested a family relationship rather than a man’s laying claim.”(Morrison, 1987) He does not look down on Sethe but actually truly cherishes her. He dreams of freedom for his whole family but his plans are shattered whilst Schoolteacher forbids him from hiring himself out in order to buy his family back. After seeing Sethe’s violation at the hands of Schoolteacher’s nephews, he goes crazy. He is seen with clabber smeared all over his face (Dzregah, 2013).

Many men are afraid to express their feelings and emotions because they are scared of getting hurt. For example, Paul D, who went through so much pain and suffered both emotionally and physically at Seet Home. Because of this, he started to believe that he did not have a heart as it was stated in Beloved: “He would keep the rest where it belonged: in that tobacco tin buried in his chest where a red heart used to be.”(Morrison, 1987) This torture had made him feel that in order to survive, he could not let himself get attached to anyone. Although he was reserved and private about his own feelings and emotions, he seemed to be able to have women open up to him as it was stated in Beloved: “Not even trying, he had become the kind of man who could walk into a house and make the women cry. Because with him, in his presence, they could.”(Morrison, 1987) Sethe welcomed Paul D when he came to 124 and just like with other women, Sethe opened up to him and revealed how the Schoolteacher’s nephews took her milk. Soon after he became her lover. Moreover, his relationship with Sethe brought him some stability and allowed him to accept his past and his memories but he still continued to struggle with certain problems such as the source of his manhood.

Throughout Beloved, Paul D struggled with issues such as the source of his manhood: “Was that it? Is that where the manhood lay? In the naming done by a whiteman who was supposed to know,” (Morrison, 1987). Paul D’s denial that Sethe’s back scars are in the shape of a tree is a case of masking his insecurity about his own manhood. He believes that the scars on Sethe’s back are not in the shape of a tree, in Paul D believes trees to be inviting, which Sethe’s were not. Paul’s mind goes back to Sweet Home, where he sat under the comforting branches of a sycamore tree that was named Brother. For Paul D, the tree is connected to his experience of male bonding, with the other Sweet Home men, especially Sixo. Paul D’s preoccupation with trees and manhood works as a connotation in which the clash is played out between the values of the West and of Africa. What Paul D sees as inherent manhood may be connected to Sixo’s African upbringing. Sixo’s true manliness may be in the way he has respect for the living and the dead, the natural and the supernatural. For example, when he asks the Thirty-Mile Woman to meet up with him in a deserted stone shelter. Sixo requests for permission from the Redmen’s Presence to enter. When she does not manage to meet him there, Sixo asks the wind for help. The thing that makes Sixo different is his capability to live in harmony with the world of spirit and of nature. After Beloved takes him in hand, Paul D understands that Mr. Garner’s and schoolteacher’s views are essentially the same. Paul D had done a lot of commonly manly things. “He who had eaten raw meat barely dead, who under plum trees bursting with blossoms had crunched through a dove’s breast before its heart stopped beating. Because he was a man and a man could do what he would: be still for six hours in a dry well while night dropped; fight raccoon with his hands and win; watch another man, whom he loved better than his brothers, roast without a tear just so the roasters would know what a man was like. And it was he, that man, who had walked from Georgia to Delaware, who could not go or stay put where he wanted to in 124—shame,” (Morrison, 1987). However, these types of actions are no protection against Beloved, who can control him like a rag doll. Paul D does not believe that he is a man because he locates manhood in an objectified image of another. He responds to Beloved’s manipulations by asserting his manhood in a different but standard way: He wants to prove himself a man by being a father. Having a baby with Sethe will both proving his manhood and break Beloved’s spell (Sitter, 1992).

When speaking about masculinity, there are also female characters who have similarities to a way a man would act. Sethe is very fearless and her behavior can be related to a man’s actions. She has suffered a lot in her past, as a slave she was abused and raped, and thus has concealed those memories. With the return of Beloved, she started to accept those memories again. As Sethe believed: “the future was a matter of keeping the past at bay.”(Morrison, 1987) Furthermore, she does not only want to conceal her past from herself, but also from her daughter Denver. Moreover, mentally Sethe is very strong, for example, she never turned away when a man got trampled to death or when the baby’s spirit picked up their dog and slammed it against the wall. This kind of behavior is usual for a male character, so this shows that not only men can show this type of masculinity.

Men tend to have a strong friendship with the males they care about and know. Every man and woman need a close group of friends because although the lines between genders are getting blurrier each day, there are still many issues the other gender would not fully ever understand. Furthermore, having that type of a bond can go a really long way. For example, when Paul D thought back to the times he worked on a chain gang in Georgia. He was chained to 45 other men and although most men wanted to run away or just give up, no one did because they all relied on each other: “A man could risk his own life, but not his brother’s,”(Morrison, 1987). That type of brotherhood helped them all bear that torture and eventually lead them to escape that horrible place.

Slavery was horrible for both men and women, it brought harm upon families, where men and women had to suffer. In the awareness of many African-American women and men, during slavery and after, there implanted horrible images, constantly reminding them of that disgraceful submission. In Beloved, Toni Morrison shows the impact of slavery experiences on the memory of society and that of the individual, who is denied in the process any sense of a meaningful past. As a slave narrative, Beloved is written with the evident purpose of revealing that the black is a human capable of reasoning and judgment (Mohammed, 2018). Under slavery men could not marry, they were seen as taboo and unneeded. Men were basically only used for physical labor. This kind of torture created memories that haunted the black people for a long time.

In the book, Beloved represents a shedding of blood and ponders on the meaning of bloodshed, but it largely excludes black males. At the moment of crisis, Stamp Paid becomes a ‘crazy old nigger’ who stands by with an ax that he cannot (or does not) use, and mewls with ‘low, cat noises’ (Morrison, 1987). When Paul D hears about the murder, he breaks up with Sethe and resumes his unmoored lifestyle until the ending. Given these unflattering portrayals, masculinity must be drawn back into the field of iron and blood. To speak of iron is to think of a classical ideal of manhood, intimately linked to the notion of a master race. This is an image of a master group, the ideal of masculinity made by conquering either human and physical environments through violence (Kang, 2003).

In conclusion, although Beloved is a book that mostly focuses on the female characters it also shows the different meanings of masculinity and the road to understanding manhood. It shows both male and female characters in a masculine light. Furthermore, the book shows different types of being masculine, for example, Halle, who displays more of a nurturing type of masculinity. Morrison also describes what slavery can do to a man, the struggles of accepting the past and moving on. 


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