Paul D, a character in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, is one of my favorite characters in literature, a model of hope, strength and resilience.
Still human, still capable of love, after years of wandering through a vicious world, Paul D finds Sethe, a woman he knows from their days at Sweet Home, a Kentucky plantation.
Sethe welcomes Paul D into her house outside Cincinnati, and the two survivors soon become lovers. It is not long before Paul D realizes the house is haunted by the ghost of Sethe’s baby. Learning of Sethe’s role in her baby’s long ago death, Paul D runs off, fearful for his life and sanity.
Ultimately, Paul D forgives Sethe for her tragic act.
Returning to Sethe’s home a second time, a prodigal lover, Paul D opens the front door and stands for a moment in the quiet. Thinking Sethe must be up in her bedroom, he turns and climbs “the luminous stairs.”
When I first read Beloved, I wished Morrison had ended the story with that beautiful image.
“Less is more,” I said to my wife as we lay in bed reading.
She slid her always cold feet under my legs.
I went on: “The last few pages put you to sleep – Paul D finds Sethe; he touches her face; he holds her hand; he tells her ‘you are the best thing.’ It’s all there in those luminous stairs. End of story. You have to leave some things unspoken.”
“Shut the fuck up,” said my wife.