Study Guide

Beloved Men and Masculinity

By Toni Morrison

Men and Masculinity

Chapter 1

And so they were: Paul D Garner, Paul F Garner, Paul A Garner, Halle Suggs and Sixo, the wild man. All in their twenties, minus women, f***ing cows, dreaming of rape, thrashing on pallets, rubbing their thighs and waiting for the new girl—the one who took Baby Suggs' place after Halle bought her with five years of Sundays. (1.85)

All the Sweet Home men have one thing that ties them together: the lack of women and sex. It's like a guy's locker room, only on a Southern plantation.

Mr. and Mrs. Garner

"Y'all got boys," he told them. "Young boys, old boys, picky boys, stroppin boys. Now at Sweet Home, my n*****s is men every one of em. Bought em thataway, raised em thataway. Men every one."

"Beg to differ, Garner. Ain't no n***** men."

"Not if you scared, they ain't." Garner's smile was wide. "But if you a man yourself, you'll want your n*****s to be men too."

"I wouldn't have no n***** men round my wife."

It was the reaction Garner loved and waited for. "Neither would I," he said. "Neither would I," and there was always a pause before the neighbor, or stranger, or peddler, or brother-in-law or whoever it was got the meaning. Then a fierce argument, sometimes a fight, and Garner came home bruised and please, having demonstrated one more time what a real Kentuckian was: one tough enough and smart enough to make and call his own n*****s men. (1.80-84)

On the one hand, Garner seems like a pretty cool guy. He's willing to go against the grain—publicly—and call "his own n*****s men." On the other hand, we're a little disturbed by Garner. For starters, he still owns these men; plus, it's almost like he's bragging about his ability to manage his "n*****s" like "men" in order to show how masculine and tough he is. So he's using his slaves to showcase his identity. We're definitely nowhere near equality with Garner.

Denver

They were a twosome, saying "Your daddy" and "Sweet Home" in a way that made it clear both belonged to them and not to her. That her own father's absence was not hers. Once the absence had belonged to Grandma Baby—a son, deeply mourned because he was the one who had bought her out of there. Then it was her mother's husband. Now it was this hazelnut stranger's absent friend. Only those who knew him ("knew him well") could claim his absence for themselves. (1.102)

Denver feels left out of Sethe and Paul D's conversation about Halle. Sad, isn't it? Denver was fatherless and lonely before—now it's even worse. Which is why it's so promising that she and Paul D get along at the carnival a few chapters later.

Chapter 2

Sprawled near Brother, his flame-red tongue hidden from them, his indigo face closed, Sixo slept through dinner like a corpse. Now there was a man, and that was a tree. Himself lying in the bed and the "tree" lying next to him didn't compare. (2.5)

If memories of a bromance are more enjoyable than cuddling with your S.O., you might have a few things to think about. What is it about Paul D's relationship with Sixo that's so meaningful?

Halle was more like a brother than a husband. His care suggested a family relationship rather than a man's laying claim. (2.16)

So Sethe would rather be in a Harlequin romance than in a solid relationship with a family guy. Hey, we're all for true love, but it doesn't seem like Sethe truly appreciates how rare a guy like Halle is—a guy who isn't all about "claiming."

Baby Suggs

But he too, as it turned out, was nothing but a man.

"A man ain't nothing but a man," said Baby Suggs. "But a son? Well now, that's somebody." (2.8-9)

Hmmm, this one's tricky. How can Baby Suggs be both completely disgusted by and proud of Halle? That's motherhood, we guess. He might be a great son and ensure his mother's freedom, but that doesn't mean he isn't completely forgetful of her once she's out of the picture. (How bad would Baby Suggs have felt if she found out the real reason why Halle couldn't escape Sweet Home?)

Chapter 10

"Breakfast? Want some breakfast, n*****?"

"Yes, sir."

"Hungry, n*****?"

"Yes, sir."

"Here you go."

Occasionally, a kneeling man chose gunshot in his head as the price, maybe, of taking a bit of foreskin with him to Jesus. (10.5-10)

If you don't understand this quote, you're probably too young to understand this quote. So let's keep it that way.

A man could risk his own life, but not his brother's. (10.14)

That's the bond of brotherhood for you. But it's also practical. If you're on a chain gang you really can't act out or everyone suffers.

Chapter 13
Paul D

The last of the Sweet Home men, so named and called by one who would know, believed it…. Was that it? Is that where manhood lay? In the naming done by a whiteman who was supposed to know? Who gave them the privilege not of working but of deciding how to? No. In their relationship with Garner was true metal: they were believed and trusted, but most of all they were listened to. (13.1-2)

Paul D's making a case for Garner as a good guy. "No," manhood isn't in Garner's "naming" of them as men; it's not that superficial. It lies in the way they were able to experience their manhood under Garner.

Because he was a man and a man could do what he would: be still for six hours in a dry well while night dropped; fight raccoon with his hands and win; watch another man, whom he loved better than his brothers, roast without a tear just so the roasters would know what a man was like. And it was he, that man, who had walked from Georgia to Delaware, who could not go or stay put where he wanted to in 124—shame. (13.3)

Paul D's feeling pretty bad about getting (literally) pushed around by a teenaged girl. Granted, Beloved's a lot more than a teenager, but Paul D doesn't know that. All he knows is that it isn't particularly manly to be done in by a girl when men are supposed to be defined by their physical toughness.