While walking to work, Paul D passes Denver as she leaves the Bodwins’ house and heads toward the shirt factory to apply for a job. More confident, sophisticated, and mature than Paul D remembers her, Denver is unable to answer questions about Beloved’s identity and sidesteps Paul D’s surmise. Again inside the door of 124, he confronts a mix of “ribbons, bows, bouquets.” Hearing Sethe humming in the keeping room, he finds her gravely disoriented and thinking of the days when she made ink for Sweet Home.
Paul D encourages Sethe to get up and take hold of her life. He challenges her to escape the type of withdrawal that Baby Suggs experienced in her waning days by suggesting a bath and foot massage. He listens to her anguish and recalls her courtesy in ignoring “his neck jewelry — its three wands, like attentive baby rattlers, curving two feet into the air.” Sethe preserved his shattered manhood on that last day at Sweet Home, and he returns the favor by rebuilding her self-esteem with affirmation that she is worthy.
Linked with water images, Beloved, who dwelled in water beneath the bridge during her tenure in the land of the dead, engulfed Paul D in an ocean wave of possessive emotion. On his return to the shed, he relives the powerlessness of being devoured by “a life hunger” that he could control no more than he could stop his lungs from gulping air. After the overwhelming passion ended, he realized that their coupling “wasn’t even fun.” Like a landed fish, he lay “beached and gobbling air,” safely returned from “some ocean-deep place he once belonged to.” As though reliving a prenatal experience, he views his release from Beloved as a kind of birthing.
The female/water images segue neatly into Paul D’s wartime experiences. He perceived the land as a breast and “fingered its earth for food, clung to its banks to lap water and tried not to love it.” Toiling first in a Confederate body reclamation squad and then in foundry work, he wandered in Alabama from Selma to Mobile and then took a skiff from Mobile Bay to a Union gunboat, which carried him to Wheeling, West Virginia. On his own, he journeyed to Trenton, New Jersey, and remained seven years before wandering west toward southern Ohio and Sethe.
In contrast to Paul D, Sethe’s tie with womanhood pushes her dangerously toward death. Her body is depleted, her will expired, and her maternal breasts — the ones that nourished four children — symbolically exhausted. Paul D — himself wearied, but grateful to be back with his woman — recalls Sixo’s definition of love: “The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.” In a touching role reversal, Paul D takes on the task of massaging Sethe’s body and soul. Sethe leans on Paul D and confesses her stunning loss: “She was my best thing.” Paul D, the patient, maternal, Christ-like confessor, strikes the fitting chord with his reminder, “You your best thing, Sethe. You are.”
Oberlin a coeducational liberal arts college in Oberlin, Ohio, which in 1835 became the first in the nation to integrate.
you sure ‘nough knew her In the biblical sense, Paul D had sexual knowledge of Beloved, who apparently was pregnant with his child.
battlefields of Alabama The Union army captured the Tennessee Valley in 1862; Montgomery fell to Union troops in 1865.