After Alfred he had shut down a generous portion of his head, operating on the part that helped him walk, eat, sleep, sing. If he could do those things—with a little work and a little sex thrown in—he asked for no more, for more required him to dwell on Halle’s face or Sixo laughing. To recall trembling in a box built into the ground. Grateful for the daylight spent doing mule work in a quarry because he did not tremble when he had a hammer in his hands. The box had done what Sweet Home had not, what working like an ass and living like a dog had not; drove him crazy so he would not lose his mind.
The narrator explains why and how Paul D walled himself off from other people: He once worked on a chain gang, and that experience broke him in a way that slavery never could. Since then, he has lived life on the road, tending only to physical needs and holding himself apart from anyone who would make him feel.
His strength had lain in knowing that schoolteacher was wrong. Now he wondered. There was Alfred, Georgia, there was Delaware, there was Sixo and still he wondered. If schoolteacher was right it explained how he had come to be a rag doll—picked up and put back down anywhere any time by a girl young enough to be his daughter. Fucking her when he was convinced he didn’t want to.
After Paul D participates in a sexual relationship with Beloved, one that he doesn’t want but which he can’t stop, he begins to question his own sense of self. Perhaps, he thinks, he really is an animal, like schoolteacher said. Before Beloved, he found strength to persevere in knowing he was a man. Now, however, Beloved’s power over him undercuts his very essence along with his confidence.
His tobacco tin, blown open, spilled contents that floated freely and made him their play and prey.
The narrator describes how Paul D can no longer keep his feelings bottled up inside his heart or “tobacco tin.” Reuniting with Sethe awakens his memories of the past, and Beloved appears as living proof of the impossibility of leaving the past unsettled. Now Paul D must confront his past and figure out how he can use those experiences to forge a new way forward.
His first earned purchase made him glow, never mind the turnips were withered dry. That was when he decided that to eat, walk and sleep anywhere was life as good as it got. And he did it for seven years till he found himself in southern Ohio, where an old woman and a girl he used to know had gone.
The narrator describes the effect working for money has on Paul D. For the first time since Sweet Home under Garner, Paul D feels pride in himself. He decides that being free and able to earn enough to sustain himself physically is all he needs. For Paul D, freedom and independence are enough for him. He doesn’t need to support himself emotionally with ties to other humans.
Her tenderness about his neck jewelry—its three wands, like attentive baby rattlers, curving two feet into the air. How she never mentioned or looked at it, so he did not have to feel the shame of being collared like a beast. Only this woman Sethe could have left him his manhood like that. He wants to put his story next to hers.
Here, the narrator explains that Paul D returns to Sethe because he realizes she has a special quality: She makes him feel better about himself. Sethe sees Paul D for who is, and just as importantly, helps him see the real Paul D, not the man debased by slavery. He believes that together, they can create a future that doesn’t ignore past heartaches but builds upon them and makes them tolerable.