Tiny Tobacco Box

One of my favorite examples of figurative language used in the novel is when Paul D describes his heart as a “tin tobacco box.” After his traumatizing experiences at Sweet Home and, especially, at the prison camp in Georgia, he locks away his feelings and horrors from his past in this box, which, by the time Paul D arrives at 124, “rusted” over completely.

This is a comment on trauma. This way of dealing with trauma is so different then how Sethe deals with trauma. I thought it was so interesting that Paul D has to completely cut off his past whereas Sethe can’t seem to escape her own past. I thought the metaphor of a box rusted over was a very thought out way to express Paul D’s emotions.

By hiding from his emotions, Paul D hopes to preserve himself from further psychological damage. Paul D sacrifices much of his humanity by letting go of his feelings and gives up much of his self by repressing his memories.

Trauma is unique for every person even when they share some similar situations. Toni Morrison does a wonderful job of representing how trauma is a completely personal experience.

8 thoughts on “Tiny Tobacco Box

  1. Connor D

    It almost reminds me of a common symptom of PTSD: dissociation. Basically, separating yourself from both the past and the present. I agree that it’s a beautiful motif that does a good job of showing another way that trauma can affect someone.

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  2. Simone P

    The contrast between Sethe’s and Paul’s responses to stressful memories is really interesting. I didn’t really think about that when I was reading the book.

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  3. MEENAH H

    This is very interesting. I really enjoyed how Toni Morrison differentiated Sethe and Paul D’s response/recovery to trauma, and it emphasizes how carefully Morrison dove into all of the characters in this novel. It made the novel much more interesting and dynamic that every character was so different from one another, even in the tiniest of details.

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  4. Josephine D

    I agree with you that Toni Morrison does a wonderful job of exploring the different ways different people deal with trauma, especially when contrasting Paul D and Sethe. However, I don’t agree that Paul D, “sacrifices much of his humanity” by repressing his past trauma. I’m not saying it’s healthy that he does that, but I don’t think it makes him less human. After all, on page 20, Morrison writes, “Not even trying, he [Paul D] 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. There was something blessed in his manner.” Throughout the novel, Paul D serves a primarily a supportive, comforting, caring presence in Sethe’s life. Even though he does leave her at one point, it’s not because he’s cruel–it’s just because he learned some information about her that would be a lot for anyone to handle. I think even though Paul D’s coping mechanism of pushing down the past is probably not the greatest, it doesn’t take away his ability to be a complete, loving, even sensitive person in the present.
    Also, interestingly, Paul D, who locks away his past, ends up in relatively better mental health by the end of the novel compared to Sethe, who is consumed by her past. I highly doubt Toni Morrison is trying to say people should try to repress their past trauma, but maybe she’s saying sometimes it is the only option possible in order to move on and be functional? I don’t know. That part is just interesting and a bit confusing to me, and I was wondering if you noticed that as well.

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    1. Finn G.

      The detail that Paul D ends up in a better mental state than Sethe by the end of the book grabbed my attention a little, because it reminds me of something from the very last chapter: “This is not a story to be passed down.” Storytelling is a major motif in Beloved, but it doesn’t seem to be a positive one, necessarily. Paul D and Sethe are comforted by sharing their stories with each other, but every other time Sethe is forced to bring up one of her painful memories, it only causes her to sink further into her grief and trauma. I do wonder if Morrison is saying that sometimes, the best option for dealing with trauma is to suppress it altogether so that it is never passed on.

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  5. Asta S

    I did not even think about how Paul D and Sethe both have different ways of handling their past trauma. After reading this I equally agree that the tiny tobacco box is very interesting and significant to the novel, especially in regards to Paul D and his trauma.

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  6. Ella B

    I also thought that this was a powerful metaphor. Putting memories away in his “tin box” seems to be a coping mechanism for Paul D. I think it is especially interesting because even though Beloved represents shared trauma and experiences, including perhaps the shared, multi-generational trauma of the middle passage, Paul D. and Sethe have very different coping processes.

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  7. SYDNEY G

    I agree with this post and I think that the contrast between the way Sethe and Paul D handle similar trauma is very interesting. Paul D submits to a stereotypical masculine approach to dealing with emotions, as he pushes them down and feels like he needs to be strong for those around him.

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