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Plum returns from the First World War a broken man. Toni Morrison uses the character to explore how the United States abandoned black veterans of that war, not only offering them nothing in return for their service but subjecting them to a second-class status as well as the threat of...

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Plum returns from the First World War a broken man. Toni Morrison uses the character to explore how the United States abandoned black veterans of that war, not only offering them nothing in return for their service but subjecting them to a second-class status as well as the threat of lynching. To cope with returning to a country that treats him like an enemy after fighting the country's enemies, if Americans bother to see him at all, Plum becomes a heroin addict. His spirit becomes lost in drugs. To free that spirit, Eva sets Plum on fire. Her description of her act as "some kind of baptism" characterizes the fire within the context of rebirth. Morrison may be making a subtle reference to the phoenix, which is reborn through incineration.

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After Plum returns from WWI, he moves back into his mother's house. After a warm welcome, the family begins to notice that Plum is stealing from them, disappearing for days at a time, and spending his days sleeping. When Hannah finds the bent and blackened spoon from Plum's drug use, Eva realizes that her child who "floated in a constant swaddle of love and affection" no longer exists. Eva sees her act of burning Plum as "some kind of baptism, some kind of blessing" that will deliver her son from his addiction. 

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