by Toni Morrison
Character Role Analysis
Stamp Paid and Paul D
Well, we've only got two men who show up on a regular basis in this novel. And you know that that means: we're bound to compare them.
We like to think of Stamp Paid and Paul D as two men moving along the same path. Sure, Stamp Paid's about twenty years older, which makes him a bit wiser. But Paul D's catching up fast. Both men care a great deal about the people around them, especially the women in 124. Both view Beloved as some serious badness. And both leave 124 at various points in the novel.
Actually, now that we think about it, they sorta sound like the same person, right?
Well, not quite. See, for all of Paul D's self-reflection, he hasn't yet gotten to the place where he can feel like he owns himself. Stamp Paid bought his own soul on the day that he renamed himself and found his way to Cincinnati. Stamp's just the kind of man Paul D needs to help him along his path to self-recovery—and that's exactly what Stamp does. He shows us what Paul D lacks (whether it's information or a solid home and a loving community) and how much more development Paul D still has left.
Beloved and Denver
Anytime there are sisters in a novel, chances are that they're going to be foils for one another. After all, they have lots of things in common: they grow up in the same house, share the same mother and father, and have the same experiences.
Well, almost. In this case, there are a few differences.
Beloved appears to be the sister Denver never knew, come back from the dead. Beloved doesn't care about Denver much at all—she wants Sethe. Denver, on the other hand, has come back from a state of paralysis (when she couldn't hear or speak), and all she wants is Beloved.
But what we really get from their relationship is how much Beloved is, well, loved—by Sethe especially. Because Denver lacks all that attention from Sethe, she becomes a foil to Beloved by contrast. We learn so much about the relationship between Sethe and Beloved precisely through the lack of a relationship between Denver and Sethe.
But what we also understand is how lucky Denver actually is; all the attention Beloved garners—both positive and negative—doesn't get her very far from 124. Meanwhile, because Denver, unlike Beloved, is forced to fend for herself, she gets to grow up, leave 124, and have a life.
Sethe and Baby Suggs
Sethe and Baby Suggs may not seem like obvious parallels in this novel. After all, Baby Suggs is dead when the novel starts. It's sort of hard to draw comparisons with a dead person. (Unless, of course, that dead person has a bad habit of coming back to life.)
Here's why we think this comparison works, though: motherhood is a pretty central theme in Beloved. Good mothers, absent mothers, bad mothers, substitute mothers, and mothers of all other shapes and sizes fill up the pages of the text.
Baby Suggs and Sethe have very, very different philosophies on motherhood. Baby Suggs lost all of her children except Halle. More importantly, though, she let all her children go. Sure, she wonders about them and even tries to track them down (or, in the case of Halle, waits for him to escape), but she knows that she'll never see them again.
Despite all that, Baby Suggs ends up being a pretty amazing woman. Sure, she's a little bitter and depressed after Sethe kills the baby, but she doesn't push Sethe out of 124. And more importantly, we realize how significant she was to Cincinnati's fledgling community of free blacks.
As a minor character in the novel, Baby Suggs totally shows up Sethe, who, on the other hand, turns out to be—let's be honest—an awful mother. First, Sethe tries to kill her kids so that they won't get taken back into slavery. Then, after successfully killing one of them, Sethe just can't let her dead baby go. She loves her so hard that the dead baby reappears in human form. She lets Howard and Buglar run off. And then she totally ignores Denver, the one child who is legitimately alive, kicking, and at 124.
Through Baby Suggs's life, we get to see just how immature and selfish Sethe is as a mother and how obsessed she is with the past.