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Paul D is one of the most touching men to be depicted in literature. He longs to love big, but is constrained by slavery and its emasculating effects. Although he is filled with passion and emotion, he has difficulty expressing his true feelings. Throughout his life, Paul D endures loss after loss of loved ones. He never even knows his parents. He longs for Sethe to be his wife during their days of slavery, but looses her to Halle. Then he watches as all of his friends perish after their escape from the plantation.
Throughout the novel, Paul D struggles with the problem of defining his manhood. As a slave, he was treated as property that could be bought and sold on a whim, much live livestock. Mr. Garner, however, told him that he was a man, giving him hope. As a result, he believed that he would be able to protect and provide for loved ones and to have self-determination. Then Schoolteacher arrived to be his slaveholder and stripped Paul D of all human dignity. When he escapes from Sweet Home, he has no idea how to be a man and, thus, wanders aimlessly for years.
Paul D finds models in slave men who found ways to express themselves in ways that the slave owners could not take away. He cherishes the lessons he learned from Sixo, who was fortunate enough to retain the healing rituals of his African culture, who never accepted the slave holder's truth as reality, who refused to speak even the slave holder's language, and who loved a woman who was a friend of his mind. One of his strongest memories is the picture of Sixo laughing in the faces of his captors as they burned him to death. Paul D also admires Halle, who worked his heart out to free his mother.
Through eighteen years of wandering, Paul D never finds himself or anyone to truly love. Seeking to come to terms with his past, he arrives unannounced at 124 Bluestone, seeking Sethe. He wins her heart by exorcising the infant ghost. As a result, she asks him to stay with her permanently. When Paul D learns about Sethe murdering her daughter, he cannot accept the truth. After Sethe confirms what she has done and tries to explain why, Paul D chooses to leave her. His decision makes him miserable, and he drinks away the pain. In the end, he hears about Sethe’s declining health and returns to help her. At the end of the novel, he convinces her that she is her own best thing. By loving and accepting her, he also heals himself.
Denver Suggs, Sethe’s younger daughter born in a boat between slavery and freedom, is a resilient character. Deprived of her mother's love and attention because Sethe was so wounded by the past, Denver lived the first eighteen years of her life alone and lonely. Ostracized by the community because of the actions of Sethe, she never had playmates; instead, she made friends with her ghost sister. She also lived in constant fear that her mother might murder her, just as she had Beloved. When her mother is nearly swallowed up by Beloved (the flesh and blood symbol of the past), Denver steps off the edge of the only world she has ever known. For the first time in her life, she goes out into the community alone and dares to ask for help for Sethe. In this act, Denver sets into motion the reunion of the fractured community and the healing of herself and her relationship with her mother.
Beloved becomes the symbol for the collective pain of the black community that has suffered the horrors and pain of slavery and racism and then been tossed aside and forgotten. Beloved, first an infant ghost and then a reincarnated young woman, comes back to haunt the mother who murdered her. Because she was deprived of nurturing as an infant and feels betrayed by her mother, she has a bottomless need for love. When she returns to live at 124 Bluestone, she attempts to possess Sethe for her very own and almost devours her in the process. She is so demanding of her mother’s emotions that Sethe has nothing left over for Denver or herself.
During the course of the novel, Beloved is something different to everyone who comes into contact with her. For Sethe, she represents a chance for her to redeem her past actions. For Denver, she provides friendship and a break from her lonely, isolated existence. For Paul D, she becomes a lover that opens his heart. For the community, she is an embodiment of all the infants and children who were cast away from the slave ships and from slave mothers who could not hold onto them.