The Tobacco Tin Box in Beloved
There are many symbols woven throughout Beloved, by Toni Morrison. Among those is Paul D’s tobacco tin box, which is a figurative replacement for his heart. Being a slave at Sweet Home and a prisoner at a camp in Alfred, Georgia, Paul D certainly faces traumatizing events. These traumatizing events are figuratively manifested in Paul D’s tobacco tin box. In more abstract terms, the tobacco tin box represents the loss of connection between memories and emotional function. With a tobacco tin box as a figurative replacement for a heart for Paul D, Morrison highlights slavery’s destruction of identity.
Paul D’s traumatizing experience under the burden of an iron bit in his mouth cause him to lose his voice, and adopt of a feeling of uselessness. The iron bit is a manifestation of slavery’s destruction of identity because Paul D is restricted of his ability to talk. Most of our personality is displayed by what we say or do, and by being severely limited in those areas, Paul D ends up with a reduced personality. Paul D is naturally a kind and caring person, but when “Paul D saw [Halle] and could not save or comfort him because the iron bit was in his mouth”, his caring nature is destroyed (Morrison, 83). The iron bit is a critical piece to Paul D’s tobacco tin box because “it put a wildness where before there wasn’t any” (Morrison, 84). The tin symbolically represents all harsh emotional changes that occur as a result of the horrors of slavery. For Paul D, that change was a wildness that would remain for a while.
Paul D arrives at 124 and begins to become more of the masculine character that he aspires to be. After being treated as sub-human for the last several years, spending quality time with Sethe and Denver change him for the better. Although once Paul D learns about Sethe’s questionable past, there is no looking beyond that. Having a tobacco tin box as a heart, Paul D cannot comprehend the kind of “thick love” that Sethe believes in for her children. Being abused, humiliated, and tortured, Paul D is left immune to any feelings of love. This is part of of the emotional dysfunction that Paul D suffers on a daily basis. Paul D says, “You got two feet, Sethe, not four” (Morrison, 194). The knowledge of Sethe’s brutal actions is yet another item added to the tobacco tin.
Paul D as a character is naturally inclined to be kind and feel sympathy for those he loves, but his tobacco tin deprives him of that. Scraping away all that was left of his original identity, all he can do is part with Sethe, “locking the distance between them, giving it shape and heft” (Morrison, 194). The work as a whole places great emphasis on the trials of abandonment and desperation that Paul D goes through. His parting with Sethe is stacked up with all the rest, lying in his tobacco tin box. The opening of Paul D’s tobacco tin represents how past horrors can always return to haunt us. With Beloved breaching an increasing threat on Paul D’s sanity, an emotional revolution was imminent for Paul D. Beloved’s sexual pressure and Paul D’s uncontrollable impulse for connection disrupts his emotional stagnation, and pries open the lid of his tobacco tin. Paul D is left repeating, “Red heart. Red heart” (Morrison, 138). It was a deep, haunting, and emotional connection which provoked such change in heart for Paul D, which closely aligns with slavery’s long-lasting detriments to the heart. Paul D’s encounter with Beloved represents more than just a physical event. Beloved, a figure from the past, stimulates Paul D’s heart painfully, just as when he reflects about traumatizing experiences. The opening of his tobacco tin is critical to the work as a whole because it reinforces the idea that even something so dull and stagnant can be victimized by slavery.
With a tobacco tin box as a figurative replacement for a heart for Paul D, Morrison highlights slavery’s destruction of identity. Paul D is a prime example for a man who had their own true identity taken away involuntarily. With no way of showing a hint of emotion that used to be there, the tobacco tin box becomes a symbolic location in the heart where all connections, emotions, hope, and desperations lay to rest. The symbol is a powerful manifestation of all things terrifying in slavery, and most importantly, the harsh destruction of one’s identity.
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There are many symbols woven throughout Beloved, by Toni Morrison. Among those is Paul D’s tobacco tin box, which is a figurative replacement for his heart. Being a slave at […]