What does it tell us literally about the characters and what they are experiencing?

Pgs. 52-59

"Risky, thought Paul D, very risky. For a used-to-be-slave woman to love anything that much was dangerous, especially if it was her children she had settled to love. The best thing, he knew, was to love just a little bit, so when they broke its back, or shoved it in a croaker sack, well, maybe you'd have enough love left over for the next one." (54) 

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This quote tells us that slave life was so brutal that one could not invest in love in even a child because that love could so easily be brutalized. They needed to save their love to spend after the eventual heartbreak when the first love is destroyed.