The Loss of Identity of Paul D. and Abundio
IB English A1 Higher Level
World Literature Paper 2A
Date Submitted: January 12th, 2011
Word Count: 1488
The idea of the loss of identity is portrayed both in Beloved by Toni Morrison, and in Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo by the characters of Paul D and Abundio Martinez. While both novels illustrate this theme, the two characters have different relationships with their identity. While Paul D continuously runs away from his identity and past, Abundio Martinez yearns to find it. Beloved, was written to expose the long lasting effects the evil institution of slavery have on slaves, even after they achieve freedom. A major consequence is the mental and emotional imprisonment by the slave??™s past that seems to continually haunt them. In the case of Paul D, the past has become his identity and he wants nothing to do with it. In Pedro Paramo, the town of Comola epitomizes the loss of identity as it is filled with ghosts who wander looking for closure and salvation. Abundio Martinez, one of Pedro Paramo??™s unclaimed sons, also wanders, but unlike Paul D who wanders to escape his past, Abundio seeks to find his identity. Both characters experience the loss of individualism as Paul D is simply another slave and Abundio is merely another son. With this, although both characters demonstrate this loss, both approach their identity differently with Paul D trying to escape, and Abundio trying to find it.
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In Morrison??™s Beloved, Paul D is a slave in Kentucky, working first at Sweet Home under the authority of Mr. and Mrs. Garner. Although he plans to escape with his other fellow slaves, he does not manage to make it, and instead gets caught. Thus, for eighteen years Paul D. continuously escapes, gets caught, escapes, and gets caught again. His past is filled with enmity and rancor towards the white men. After Sweet Home, he ends up in a chain-gang where he suffers many traumatic memories, contributing to his identity as a slave. He remembers this time when he was ???locked up and chained down, his hands shook so bad he couldn??™t smoke or even scratch properly??? (Morrison 21). Here, Morrison uses tactile imagery and vulgarity to convey the dirt of his past. This tone connotes Paul D??™s bitter feelings towards his past. Finally, he escapes one rainy day with the other slaves to a Cherokee Tribe who tell him to run North by following the blossoming flowers. He arrives in Cincinnati as a free but broken man, running away from his past, opening the novel.
Paul D, like many slaves at that time has been so traumatized to a point where individualism and value are forgotten. Even from the point that Paul D is given his name, he questions his identity as his brothers are distinguished only by a mere letter: Paul F and Paul A. With each further reference as ???the Pauls???, connotes that he slowly just becomes a Paul, nothing more. He begins to question his worth and then turns to his owners to find his value which is evident as he thinks, ???Schoolteacher would know. He knew the worth of everything??? (Morrison 269). One day, he overhears the men talking and ???for the first time learns his worth??? (Morrison 267). He overhears that ???this here one???, a reference to himself, was worth a total of nine hundred dollars ??“ ???the dollar value of his weight, his strength, his heart, his brain, his penis, and his future.??? (Morrison 267). Here this money symbolizes value, and Paul D??™s apparent lack of it.
When Paul D finally escapes to Cincinnati, he appears at the doorstep of 124 as a wanderer. His only identity and worth is what he learned he was in the past – $900 worth of flesh. When he arrives to begin his new life, it is evident that he tries to suppress his past and his only sense of identity. This idea is portrayed as Paul D locking his past away in his tin tobacco box. For instance, Sethe and Paul D are reminiscing about Sweet Home outside of 124. However, as Sethe continues to reminisce, Paul D cannot stand talking about the past and decided that ???He would keep the rest where it belonged: in that tobacco tin buried in his chest where a red heart used to be??? (Morrison 86). This red color symbolizes life and suggests his lack of it.
Paul D does not intend to open that tin box. In fact, he feels that this tin box is rusted shut. Morrison incorporates an olfactory motif when he claims he has no intention to ???pry it loose now in front of this sweet sturdy woman, for if she got a whiff of the contents it would shame him??? (Morrison 86), indicating the foulness of his past. This is how Paul D chooses to start his life, and intended on continuing to. However, with Beloved??™s appearance, Paul D is confronted with the past and as the novel progresses, Paul D??™s tin box begins to loosen and Paul D must embrace the past and his identity that he constantly runs away from. When Beloved lasciviously seduces Paul D to have sex with her, Paul D constantly says ?????™Red heart. Red heart. Red heart.??™??? (Morrison 138). This indicates that Beloved forced Paul D to face his past and open up that tobacco tin box, where he discovers his red heart, or in other words, his life and identity.
In Pedro Paramo, Abundio Martinez is one of the first characters introduced in the novel, guiding Juan Preciado into the dead town of Comala. In the beginning of this novel, readers find Juan travelling to Comala in search of his father. He encounters a man who offers to guide him to the town and engages in brief conversation with this man. This man, who is Abundio Martinez, answers with few words. Here, Abundio is described as a simple burro driver. To the reader, this character seems quite insignificant ??“ readers do not even learn his name until later. Furthermore, Abundio??™s disappearance for the rest of the novel only adds to his assumed unimportance. The only characteristic Juan remembers is that ???Pedro Paramo??™s my father, too??? (Rulfo 5). This connotes Abundio??™s loss of identity right from the beginning, as he is just another son.
When Juan enters the house of Eduviges Dyada, he explains to her his encounter with Abundio only for her to brush it off, saying that ???it can??™t have been him. Besides, Abundio died. I??™m sure he??™s dead. So you see It couldn??™t have been him??? (Rulfo 16). This reflects the ambiguity that surrounds Abundio and his identity. This is Juan??™s first encounter with the ghosts of Comola who remain in Comola because they haven??™t received closure due to the corruption of this town. In Abundio Martinez??™s case, he was still in search for identity.
Abundio Martinez isn??™t present for the rest of the novel until the death of Pedro Paramo. Although it seems that Abundio is living happily apart from his neglectful father, his bitterness is revealed in the murder of Pedro Paramo. Throughout his life, Abundio was never recognized by his father, hence the different last name, and never receives any of his father??™s land or money. After Abundio??™s wife dies, he is bitter and finds his father for financial aid to bury his wife saying to his father, ?????™I need money to bury my wife,??™ he said, ???can you help me??? In these times, a payment of money usually resulted to make up for the lack of a relationship and in this case, it would make sense for his father to pay him the money. So again, the symbol of money is used to demonstrate value and worth. This request essentially is also a request that his father would finally acknowledge him as his son, as Abundio had been longing for. He begs ironicly, ???I??™ve come to ask for a little charity to help bury my wife.??? (Rulfo 121). However, his father??™s refusal symbolizes his denial of Abundio??™s identity and Abundio after murdering his father in anger, dies physically as well but remains a spiritual wanderer, in search for his identity.
In recapitulation, both the novels of Beloved and Pedro Paramo feature the characters of Paul D. and Abundio Martinez that have differences but both share the similar loss of identity. When Paul D. arrives in Cincinnati, he arrives with the intention of leaving his past and his identity behind ??“ sealed away in his tin box. He spends his time running away from this identity, and beating down things in the present that may evoke memories of his past. Abundio also sees himself as just another insignificant being ??“ just another son of Pedro Paramo. So while Paul D. and Abundio share this loss of individualism and identity, they differ in their relationship to this identity: Paul D wanders around the town, trying to rid himself from identity that brings hurt while Abundio still wanders the streets of Comola, yearning to find his identity.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved: A Novel. New York: Knopf, 1987. Print.
Rulfo, Juan. Pedro Paramo. Trans. Margaret P. Sayers. New York: Grove Press, 1959.