Song of Solomon
The Emotional Burden of Identity in Song of Solomon
Was Milkman destined to fly? Possibly he was just bound to the existence of flight? This is the choice that Toni Morrison has offered to the readers. From the very beginning Milkman is brought into the world under a confusing cloud and he lives a life seems to be one that’s destined for strife. By the end of the story Toni Morrison sort of leaves us with a “choose your own ending” kind of situation. Which may feel the reader feeling sort of empty inside but it actually enhances the joy of the story because it allows the reader to become involved in some sort of way. Proof of the impact of Zora Neale Hurston (prominent African American author in the late 19th and early 20th century) is sprinkled generously all throughout the story. Not just about folklore and mythology, Song of Solomon is overflowing with the cool, hard actualities of the real world. The question however still remains. Did Milkman really end up airborne or would he say he was just a man, attempting to escape reality?
Song Of Solomon was actually influenced by a folktale called All God’s Chillun Had Wings. According to this story long ago all Africans could fly. Through wrongdoing eventually they had lost that mighty power. However, sometimes some people could shake off the heaviness of their sins and be able to take flight once again. Whether or not Africans could really fly is a decision that is left to the readers but the real message that Toni Morrison is trying to portray inside of Song Of Solomon is that you have to learn to overcome your mistakes to really know how to “fly”.
Denise Heinz says in her book what she calls the “Double Conciouness” of Toni Morrison, as an “endeavour to understand how self and identity are affected by society” (Heinze 14). It’s not only Milkman who is searching for an identity, it’s also the people that are around who are just as confused as he is. The meaning of having an identity seems to be something that not a lot of people are able to grasp inside the novel because they aren’t being true to themselves and always have an ulterior motive. The people that do try to find it are to afraid of the consequences that may arise once the truth is revealed about themselves. Instead they choose to be content with the life there currently living and carry on in an unexplored world.
Song Of Solomon is basically a massive game to find oneself. As Milkman uncovers signs that will eventually lead to the big prize. Set inside the depths of black culture, the story starts in 1931 and moves rapidly to the exceedingly unpredictable sixties. As he continued looking for prize, Milkman reveals the genuine fortune, his past. This information opens the mystery of his own personality. The phantoms of the past, clarify the general population of the present. Right then and there, the mystery of life turns out to be obvious to him.
As mentioned before, even preceding his conception into the world there was evidence that Milkman was going to have this emotional burden on his shoulders which would follow him around till the day he finally found the answer. He was born into a family as disbanded and fake as the velvet flower petals his mom dropped with her first labor pains. As the velvet petals drop to the ground, the Robert Smith spreads his wings and flies from Mercy. The flight proves to be a failure despite the fact that Pilate attempts to ‘sing’ him into the air. The demise of Mr. Smith, and the disarray at Mercy (called No Mercy) Hospital enables Macon III to be the colored child inside those segregated white halls.
Macon III (Milkman) is born into the fittingly named Dead family. The reason why the name is perfect is because everyone that resides inside of that household might as well be dead, due to the inability of living their own independent lives. Due to the total lack of communication all the Dead residence as their name implies has no atmosphere and everyone inside the house is in a sort of a standstill. They refuse to talk about the past, refuse to acknowledge there current situation, and also refuse to think about what’s next in life. All together this leads all of them isolated from the outside world in there own unique ways.
Ruth is, in all regards a widow. Her significant other won’t touch her, holds her in hatred, and also rarely recognizes her existence. Magdalene also called Lena has her very own issues and makes flowers to distract herself from falling into despair. First Corinthians receives letters that validate herelf. Milkman receives a nickname that becomes oddly due to the fact that he sucked on his mother’s breast after an appropriate age. A connection from that can be made to his behavior around other people as he is quite immature and doesn’t understand that it isn’t appropriate to act like that. The main reason behind such despair in the Dead household is the man of the house Macon Jr. He cuts not only himself but his entire family from the outside world all because he wants to be the one who controls everything in his own little world.
The only person that bears the last name Dead who’s genuinely living their life to the fullest is Pilates. On first glance she looks as very shabby and what most would consider “low class”. Once you get to know the character her image is completely reversed. We learn that she cares little about physical appearance and that she is a kind hearted women who always the “voice of reason” who was a lot of wisdom to pass onto the younger generation. Even Milkman who is oblivious to most people around describes Pilates “as poor as everyone said she was, something was missing from her eyes that should have confirmed it. Nor was she dirty; unkempt, yes, but not dirty” (38). When Milkman looked at her in the eyes he knew this wasn’t just any ordinary person. The truth was instead of ignoring the situation going on around her like most people, Pilate decided to tackle the issue head on without any fear thus giving her not only a sense of identity, but access to everything life has to offer.
This something that only draws Milkman but many people towards Pilates, because they too want to possess similar abilities. Macon Jr as her younger brother knows all too well about this power. He describes Pilates as ‘a snake, and can charm you like a snake, but still a snake’. Macon Jr dislikes his sister as he does not approve of her way of living life. In contrast to Pilate, who has earned her way on the planet by buckling down and continuing on, Macon acquired his underlying riches through Ruth. Two characters that blindly live for other people are the mother daughter pairing of Reba and Hagar. Reba who had only lived to make her daughter happy and spoiled her to no end is not only upset and shocked by her daughters passing, it’s as though she herself doesn’t exist anymore. Even during the funeral she made no claim of being Hagar’s mother. She left everything to Pilate and silently faded into the background.
Hagar on the other hand, only lived for Milkman. When Milkman eventually got tired of Hagar she tried everything to win him back even trying to become a whole new person. Hagar losing Milkman is actually similar to another piece of literature in Hamlet where the heroine Ophelia lost Hamlet. Another similarity is also found inside the Bible where the woman in question is also named Hagar. She’s a servant who birthed Abraham’s son and was then subsequently thrown out of the house. All these characters have one thing in common thought, after being used they were abandoned to try and couldn’t recover due to the fact they were fully immersed into their significant other and unfortunately couldn’t step back into a “normal” life.
A character who went from sensible to a man who people who knew him before could barely recognize is Guitar. He appears to have completely lost his humanity,what once was a sweet boy who cared about his friends well being is no more. He is now motivated by rage, greed and revenge and according to Pilates he has a “jeweled hatred in his eyes” (210). Guitar doesn’t realize how far he has gone for the sake of “Justice” and that’s the scary part. At the point when compelled to stand up to his own madness, he can’t do it and decides to embrace the madness instead. What he fails to understand is what how far into madness he has gone which would end being the reason behind why he lost himself.
Part II of Morrison’s novel is inspired by Homer’s ancient Greek epic the Odyssey. Much like the Odyssey, in which Odysseus makes his way home after twenty years of warring and traveling, Part II of Song of Solomon describes the hero’s quest to come home. As we learn, even though Milkman was born and grew up in Michigan, his home lies elsewhere—in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Nevertheless, Milkman’s journey follows Odysseus’s and at times Morrison alerts us to this parallel with obvious references. In Homer’s epic, Circe is the enchantress who keeps Odysseus on her island for a year but then helps him on his journey home. Likewise, in Morrison’s novel, Circe points Milkman to Macon Dead I’s birthplace and tells him his grandparents’ original names, thus helping Milkman reach his ancestral home. Critic Sandra Adell gives an alternative explanation of Circe’s role in Song of Solomon. She offers that Circe is also the ancient Greek goddess of the omphalos, or navel. Consequently, argues Adell, Circe acts out her mythical role, her help serving as an umbilical cord that reconnects Milkman with a forgotten past. With Milkman’s past and present now presented to him. His whole view on the world changes and he can finally function in normal society. This is finally the thing he needed to open up his wings and truly start learning how to fly.
The Role of Women in Song of Solomon and Tar Baby
In her third novel, ‘Song of Solomon’, Morrison uses the chorus as ritual dance, song and commentary, and thereby highlights the archetypal quality and extend her audience beyond the actual communities through which Milkman journeys and gains a greater knowledge of his past and himself as he travels south. The novel has several communities of women (who tend to be eccentric) and together help Milkman in gaining insight into his past. The first cluster of women is Ruth and her daughters, First Corinthians and Magdalene called Lena. These women have similarities with the women of Nel Wright’s house in ‘Sula’, in as much they conform to social conventions and norms. These women spend their time in making artificial flowers – a job that suggests their stagnant, hollow lives ‘Corinthians’ educational pursuits and her employment as a maid for a short period of time shows her desire for freedom. Lena also felt that Milkman had exploited her role as a male heir in the family. She tells him – “Our girlhood was spent like a found nickel on you” (Song of Solomon, 216). Like her plant on which he urinated, Lena also withers and dies in the gloomy house.
Another community of women, whose lives are equally complex are Pilate, her daughter, Reba and her granddaughter, Hagar. These women remind one of the women in Eva Peace’s house in ‘Sula’. Though they are not degraded in their home like Lena and Corinthians, Hagar and Reba do not even lead fulfilling lives. They never experience Pilate’s level of independence. Like Eva, Pilate and Reba are engrossed in their role as mothers, to protect and give a secured life to their children. When one of Reba’s lovers hits her, Pilate comes around in her defense and tells him – “Women are foolish….and mamas are the most foolish of all….mamas get hurt and nervous when somebody don’t like their children” (Song of Solomon, 94). Pilate and Reba, both are devoted mothers, trying to fulfill all the desires of their daughters. Pilate was not able to give Reba a stable home, as she wandered aimlessly after being abandoned by her husband and friends, as they feared the implications of the absence of her navel. Due to this reason, both of them decided to give Hagar everything she wanted. Reba tells Hagar – “We get you anything you want, baby. Anything”. (Song of Solomon, 48). Morrison explores in these cluster of women, the complex theme of motherhood – of woman as mother, woman as (wet) nurse and woman as nurturer. She points out that women is more than a maker of a child (like Pauline, Geraldine, Hannah, who seem to have no time for their children). On the contrary, Ruth, lives for her children, especially Milkman. She provides him with nourishment to sustain his life. Morrison explains- “Ruth played house with her son – taking him into little room and nursing him as though he were a doll, a toy”. (Shange, 50).If all the women, Pilate is the culture bearer, whose primary function is to sustain the durable values of the past, not to innovate new values or standards. Abandoned by her husband, and neighbors she overcomes rejection and makes out a satisfying life for herself, Reba and Hagar. She also protects herself and those she cares for. She helped Ruth to conceive and deliver Milkman.
The scene where Milkman’s birth is described is an example of Choral dance and music, with the backdrop of Pilate’s song, which is basic to traditional African culture. In the scene, Robert Smith attempts to fly from the roof of Mercy Hospital. Smith is an insurance agent, who as a member of the militant Seven days group, has done much to insure an end to the lives of others. The community gathers as Smith flaps his blue wings before his suicidal leap, beneath him Ruth Foster goes into labour, while her daughters chase the red velvet roses they have so carefully sewn. The movements involving community of women, have a ritual quality, the dance of death with the blue wings on the tower contrasted with the chase of the rose petals, symbols of both love and blood against the white snow. The baby, later known as Milkman Dead, is born figuratively dead, cut off from the knowledge of his past, which he will not learn until he is an adult. Pilate again emerges as a guardian of cultural and familial lore as she provides Milkman with a sense of self in history and his incorporation into his ancestral community. Hence, the community of women play a significant role in the novel by introducing the novice to adult life, educating and nourishing him, providing him with instructions in traditions, and providing the revered ethical values of the community.
The community of women in ‘Tar Baby’, Morrison’s fourth novel appear at a time when Jadine and Son visit Else, Florida, after fleeing from New York. Due to moral reasons, since they are not married, they are dissuaded from spending night at Son’s father’s home. They went to Son’s Aunt, Rosa’s home. When Rosa discovers Jadine, nude in bed, she offers her a nightgown. Later, after Son falls asleep, the community of women of the past and present (here Morrison has intertwined the world of the living and the living dead), make a visitation. They crowd the dark bedroom, protruding their breasts – “Cheyenne got in, and then the rest. Rosa and Therese and Son’s dead mother and Sally Sarah Sadie Brown and Ondine and Soldier’s wife Ellen and Francine from the mental institution and her own dead mother and even the woman in yellow. All there crowding into the room…..spoiling her lovemaking, taking away her sex like succubi, but not his. He fell asleep and didn’t see the women in the room and she didn’t either but they were there crowding each.
The Main Themes Present in Morrison’s Song of Solomon
Macon Dead II, the father of Milkman and husband to Ruth Foster, has been traumatized by watching his father be mistreated and eventually murdered during a brawl over the family farm. “Your father was a slave?” “What kind of foolish question is that? Course he was. Who hadn’t been in 1869? They all had to register. Free and not free. Free and used-to-be-slaves. Papa was in his teens and went to sign up, but the man behind the desk was drunk. He asked Papa where he was born. Papa said Macon. Then he asked him who his father was. Papa said, ‘He’s dead.’ Asked him who owned him, Papa said, ‘I’m free.’ Well, the Yankee wrote it all down, but in the wrong spaces” (Morrison 99).
The way that Macon responds to Milkman at the beginning is probably due to how much this situation has scared him. He has had to see his father go through so much pain and suffering even after slavery had been abolished. The amount of disrespect that they must have had towards the entire African-American community to make both free and used-to-be-slaves register. What was the purpose of them registering? This kind of disrespectful behavior is what resulted in the misnaming of Macon which caused him to have the wrong last name, “Dead”. The word Yankee is often used to describe the good guy in American History. The soldiers that served during the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and World War II are often referred to as heroes and rightfully so. However, the fact that this Yankee soldier is drunk, being very disrespectful and not caring about the information that he is putting onto Macon’s forms, shows the side of the United States history that is not told to the public.
Guitar Bains, Milkman’s best friend, has had a lifelong hatred for white people. He sees them as the main cause for all of the evil in the world. Bain has a hatred for Macon Dead II, Milkman’s father for charging them too much rent and causing a great deal of pain for him and his family. “Since I was little. Since my father got sliced up in a sawmill and his boss came by and gave us kids some candy. Divinity. A big sack of divinity. His wife made it special for us. It’s sweet, divinity is. Sweeter than syrup. Real sweet. Sweeter than…” He stopped walking and wiped from his forehead the beads of sweat that were collecting there. His eyes paled and wavered. He spit on the sidewalk. “Ho—hold it,” he whispered, and stepped into a space between a fried-fish restaurant and Lilly’s Beauty Parlor” (Morrison 112).
Guitar is explaining to to Milkman why he despises sweet foods so much. Those childhood memories have made an enormous impact on Bains behaviors. Despite the abolishment of slavery in 1865, African-American workers were still not being treated right even though they had now been given the same rights as white men. What surprised me is how so many employers were actually able to get away with it and how little the government really cared. It was pretty obvious that African-Americans were not being treated equally as they promised, but there was still nothing being done about it. Like when Bain’s father was killed. The white employer really had no remorse over what had happened. He basically just shrugged his shoulders and said oh well. It should not have taken nearly one-hundred years for the government to finally take action and give the African American community the rights they so promised.
Guitar explains to Milkman that violence that is caused without any consequences is not an accident, but rather intentional. The deaths of countless of African-Americans at the hands of these white people, he argues, makes the world unequal.“There is a society. It’s made up of a few men who are willing to take some risks. They don’t initiate anything; they don’t even choose. They are as indifferent as rain. But when a Negro child, Negro woman, or Negro man is killed by whites and nothing is done about it by their law and their courts, this society selects a similar victim at random, and they execute him or her in a similar manner if they can.
If the Negro was hanged, they hang; if a Negro was burnt, they burn; raped and murdered, they rape and murder” (Morrison 259). At the time African-Americans were falling victim to multiple hate crimes and those who were committing them did not receive any sort of discipline. It is similar to what happened in Birmingham Alabama from May 2 to May 10, 1963 during a battle for civil rights. These African-Americans were legally allowed to hold their peaceful protest under their first amendment right, however, the police decided to stray them down with high powered water hoses and let their police dogs loose on some of the protesters. The police used these tactics on men, women and even children alike without any remorse leaving multiple people with injuries. The police also arrested many of the protesters just for wanting to be treated the same as white Americans. You can understand why Guitar despises white people so much based on their actions and blames them for all of the evil that goes on around the world.
Guitar Bains has grown tired of the white community killing and using African-Americans for their own personal purposes. “Look. It’s the condition our condition is in. Everybody wants the life of a black man. Everybody. White men want us dead or quiet—which is the same thing as dead. White women, same thing. They want us, you know, ‘universal,’ human, no ‘race consciousness.’ Tame, except in bed. They like a little racial loincloth in the bed. But outside the bed they want us to be individuals. You tell them, ‘But they lynched my papa,’ and they say, ‘Yeah, but you’re better than the lynchers are, so forget it.’ And black women, they want your whole self. Love, they call it, and understanding” (Morrison 363). Slavery had no longer been a thing at that point for nearly one-hundred, however, the white community still continued to take advantage of African-Americans. These actions sort of remind me of the Harlem Hellfighters from the First World War. Over 400,000 African-Americans were drafted under the 1917 draft. They spent more time overseas than any other American unit during the war as well as suffering more casualties than any other unit with 1,500 in just the first 191 days on the front lines. Their bravely won them France’s highest honor. Despite their bravery and their sacrifices they made for their country, the Harlem Hellfighters returned home to racism and segregation for their fellow Americans. The United States Military had more or less used them as cannon fodder. At times they would not even let them serve under a U.S. commander. They would just give them to their French allies and let them use them as they pleased. Their French counterparts end up treating these men better than their own country would.
After Guitar kills Pilate, Milkman holds her in his arms. He can barely make out Guitar Banes, but he knows that his time may have come. “Milkman stopped waving and narrowed his eyes. He could just make out Guitar’s head and shoulders in the dark. “You want my life?” Milkman was not shouting now. “You need it? Here.” Without wiping away the tears, taking a deep breath, or even bending his knees—he leaped. As fleet and bright as a lodestar he wheeled toward Guitar and it did not matter which one of them would give up his ghost in the killing arms of his brother. For now he knew what Shalimar knew: If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it” (Morrison 544). Milkman at this point does not seem afraid of death. As a child he was upset because he could not “fly”. By this he meant that he was stuck in his community and with his family. He finally learns to fly and how to ride the air by just letting it take full control. Once he jumps at Guitar we get the feeling that he no longer cares for himself. He has become selfless like Pilate was. He is showing mercy and forgiveness to Guitar. He knows all about what he has gone through and understands it. Part of his pain comes from what his own father did to his family. However, the fact that Milkman decided to jump at Guitar Banes leaves the question of whether or not Milkman will try to avenge Pilate unanswered. Or maybe Milkman will just forgive him and remember all of the times Guitar had helped him and showed compassion.
Toni Morrison’s novel, Song of Solomon, has many underlying themes that are present throughout the novel. The main ones being The Power of Names, Racism, Memory and Storytelling, Masculinity and Femininity and Mercy and Forgiveness. Names have power. They write history. They build communities and tell stories. Racism was big of the time era the novel took place in. It was during the time of the civil rights. There are almost no white characters in Toni Morrison’s novel. Racism is mainly directed towards the African-Americans in the novel. The characters’ actions in the novel are main controlled by some of their past memories. The way that they act and the events that occur in the novel are heavily influenced by them. Morrison dramatize the relationship between men and women in her novel. Obviously, the white men are cruel to their African-American counterparts, however, some of the black men in the novel are very cruel to black women. It shows black women as being less black during a time when black were not even considered much. The novel from a state of mercy to one of no mercy as well as from forgiveness to no forgiveness. Macons cruelty in terms of collecting rent leads to Milkman getting cruelly later on. When Guitar does not shoot at Milkmans there seems to be at least some sort of forgiveness, but it seems to be lost once Milkman jumps at Guitar. Toni Morrison’s novel has been considered such a powerful piece of literature because it dives deeper into the black experience in America. The novel discussed many ideas and concepts that affect every individual person. Toni Morrison wants the reader to be immersed in her work and she succeeds in doing so in the creation of this novel.
The Song of Solomon and the Great Gatsby: Representations of the American Dream
Monetary Wealth and Materialism
Monetary Wealth and materialism are two elements that both, The Song of Solomon and The Great Gatsby share. These novels interpret “The American Dream” and as a result emphasize the significance of the role that money plays in each of their character’s lives. Within each of these novels, the presence of a yearning for wealth within the characters and their decisions exists as a means of social criticism that exemplifies the corruption that coincides with materialism. The characters buy into the notion that money will provide happiness and therefore a sense of fulfillment. However, in many cases, an excessive amount of money can cause one to become distressed and empty. Money can provide luxury and convenience but it does not have the ability to alleviate all problems. Toni Morrison and F. Scott Fitzgerald reveal this concept in The Great Gatsby and The Song of Solomon through focus on their character’s attention to money and status which leads to their overall corruption.
The Great Gatsby emphasized monetary wealthy through multiple character and themes throughout the novel. Money is a huge motivator in the character’s relationships and drive. The character’s reveal themselves to be highly materialistic, specifically when making decisions. Tom and Daisy’s relationship is supported by their money. They are able to be part of the upper-class elite due to their high socioeconomic standing. They take advantage of what they have which has negative effects on the lives of other people. The narrator, Nick, is uncomfortable due to the way Tom and Daisy poorly handled their disruptive acts. He doesn’t even want to shake Tom’s hand after running into him because he is entirely disgusted.
“I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money on their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they made. . . .” (Fitzgerald, 179)
Tom and Daisy stay together because of Tom’s wealth that Daisy is attracted to. They perform despicable acts and get away with it because they are rich. They believe that because they have money they are superior to others who do not have as much as them. They do not adhere to morality because their money is blinding. Nick observes that while Myrtle, George, and Gatsby have all died, Tom and Daisy are not punished at all for their actions or behavior. The couple uses their money as a shield to avoid responsibility. While they technically have caused three deaths, they are still able to live how they would like because they have the means to do so. They use money to run away from their problems but ultimately money cannot bring people back after they are dead. Tom and Daisy subconsciously are aware of this, which is why they choose to run away. Nick sees past their outward expression of their wealth and is unhappy with who they are beneath their money shield. He cannot forgive what they have done to Myrtle, George, and Gatsby. Their actions are not tolerated by Nick which proves that money cannot buy forgiveness.
Fitzgerald carries out the idea of corruption due to wealth though Daisy. She is a character who has prioritized wealth but has come to realize that she isn’t happy. Her money has not allowed her to find happiness.
“You see I think everything’s terrible anyhow,” she went on in a convinced way. “Everybody thinks so—the most advanced people. And I know. I’ve been everywhere and done everything.” Her eyes flashed around her in a defiant way, rather like Tom’s, and she laughed with thrilling scorn. “Sophisticated—God, I’m sophisticated!”(Fitzgerald, 17)
Daisy has led a life supported by monetary wealth. She has traveled the world and had access to the unimaginable. Yet, she still thinks her life is terrible. She thinks this because money cannot buy one’s happiness. She believes she has already seen all that the world has to offer, but in reality, she has only seen what money can buy. She is left unfulfilled by the life she has chosen to live because it has been built on materialism. She is sparking from a place of arrogance. Fitzgerald emphasizes this when referring to her eyes. They “flashed around her in a defiant way, rather like Tom’s.” Daisy, like her husband, speaks from a privileged perspective. She is aware that she is privileged. She remains certain in her word but is insincere. She is pretentious and carries herself as such. She uses her status as a way to hide who she really is. She is in fact a miserable person who is left empty on the inside but she surrounds herself with material items that failed to make her feel better about herself.
Toni Morrison carries out the theme surrounding the desperation to have access to money though Milkman Dead’s character. Milkman embarks on his own quest for success which he initially believes is Pilate’s gold. Milkman shares his father’s materialistic values. He has no empathy for those whom he perceives as being inferior to him economically. The gold is blinds Milkman’s sense of morality as he wants to steal Pilate’s gold for himself in order to gain freedom. His father has always expressed that money is the key to one’s freedom. Macon Dead says to his son, “You’ll own it all. All of it. You’ll be free. Money is freedom, Macon. The only real freedom there is.”(163) Macon emphasizes the importance of money to his son. He believes that the only way to be free, is to have enough money to support yourself. Milkman believes this as well which leads him to behave in ways that he wouldn’t if money was not the priority. Macon Dead wants his son to “take back” what he believes Pilate stole from him. Macon Dead wants his son to essentially steal this money back. He says, “Macon, get it and you can have half of it; go wherever you want. Get it. For both of us. Please get it, son. Get the gold.”(172) Milkman wants to get out of the town he has grown up in and believes his father when he says that money is the key to being free. Therefore, he agrees to stealing back the gold from Pilate. Milkman’s father manipulates him into thinking that the money will alleviate what has been causing him stress. Milkman thinks that this gold will solve all of the problems that he believes he has due to the fact that he has no money. His father pressures him into getting the money by pointing out what he will be able to do with it. Although Milkman knows that stealing is wrong, he is desperate to be free.
Milkman believes the money will bring salvation and happiness.
Milkman wanted boats, cars, airplanes, and the command of a large crew. He would be whimsical, generous, mysterious with his money. But all the time he was laughing and going on about what he would do and how he planned to live, he was aware of a falseness in his voice. He wanted the money—desperately, he believed—but other than making tracks out of the city, far away from Not Doctor Street and Sonny’s Shop, and Mary’s Place and Hagar, he could not visualize a life that much different from the one he had.(179-180)
Milkman wants all the material items that money can buy. He fantasizes about the grass being greener on the other side. He wants to live a lavish life full of luxurious items that he believes will bring him joy and happiness. He believes that access to a large amount of money will carry him away from the world that he has known his entire life. However, he is aware of the “falseness in his voice.” Milkman knows that this imagined life is idealistic and deep down he knows that it may not bring him exactly what he needs because money can only provide material things. It cannot provide one with emotional support. Milkman is looking for emotional support but the money will only get him so far. He cannot envision a different life because he has known the same one his entire life. His environment hasn’t changed, therefore his mindset hasn’t changed. He can’t see what he has never been exposed to, which leaves him longing for the money more. Milkman wants to break away from parents and the life they have built for themselves. However, he doesn’t realize that by prioritizing monetary wealth, he will end up just like the person he wants to run from—his father. Even after Milkman gains access to gold, it is not guaranteed that the problems caused by his childhood will just disappear.
Monetary wealth is a concept that is prioritized in both The Great Gatsby and Song of Solomon. The characters that make money an important part of their life are the ones that are the most lost because money does not provide emotional stability. Money can only do so much before one realizes it is not enough. Fitzgerald and Morrison both emphasize this point by allowing the reader to gain insight on each of the character’s lives and how money does not improve their overall happiness. Money can present certain conveniences but cannot eliminate all issues that one may face. Money can only do so much before one realizes that money cannot buy happiness in the grand scheme of things. Fitzgerald and Morrison make an effort to show this through use of their character’s journey to figuring out this theme for themselves.
The Role of Parental Enmeshment in Song of Solomon
Response to Critical Essay: “Anaconda Love”: Parental Enmeshment in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon
The critical essay by Gary Storhoff discusses the origins of the psychological issues of Macon, Pilate and Ruth which leads to the parental enmeshment towards their children. The essay is separated into three parts, each section focusing on Macon and Pilate, Ruth, and Milkman, respectively. The arguments he sought to make made Macon not the villain that the novel characterizes him as and erases innocence that has been created for Ruth. The explanation behind Pilate and Macon’s enmeshment is because they seek to recreate their lost paradise, Lincoln’s Heaven. They also have acquired traits from their murdered father. One sibling attains one half while the other acquires the rest, also explaining their sibling rivalry. Macon’s trait of self-aggrandizement creates his need for authority over others; Pilate’s trait of self-denial creates her showering of love for her daughter and granddaughter. Ruth’s section discusses her realization of power in her submissiveness. Her ability to control Macon and Milkman’s actions by playing the role of an ignorant, helpless woman, she can make Macon lose his violent temper, Milkman jump to her rescue, and make the reader feel sympathy for her. Milkman’s section discusses his acceptance of his parent’s psychological underdevelopment and finding a balance between pleasing them and finding the freedom he desired throughout the novel.
I feel that the essay was convincing and was thoroughly applicable to some of the discrepancies and ambiguity in the text. It offers a psychological view of the text that changes the perspective of the reader. Rather than accepting Macon as the villain, it makes me feel Ruth is the true villain in the novel. She denied Macon of his recreated Lincoln’s Heaven, manipulates the feelings of her husband, sister in law, daughters and son, and cons the reader into thinking she is the victim. Macon is still a violent oppressor; however, he is given a background further than what is told in the novel. There is no focus on Macon’s past except when he describes Lincoln’s Heaven to Milkman. The psychological perspective of Lincoln’s Heaven on Macon does not excuse Macon’s behavior, but helps to create a bit of pity for him by the reader. My perspective of Pilate has not shifted. I still believe that she has the better understanding of what love is. Her trait of self-denial allows her to concentrate on others more than herself and doesn’t need the gratification of material items or property to assist her in recreating Lincoln’s Heaven.
The critical essay has added to my understanding of the novel. Some of the scenes that seemed insignificant or petty to me have been given meaning to the plot and conflicts, such as Macon’s act of violence on Ruth as she describes her incident at a wedding. Also, the ending of the novel has been given more meaning, rather than just Milkman surrendering to society. I now view it as him being connected to his family and past so that he further understands and loves his present.
How Milkman Dead Found His Identity in Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Milkman Gone Splat! An Analysis of the Final Scene in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon
Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon follows the life of Milkman Dead and his odyssey towards finding his true identity and discovering the history of his ancestors. The search for identity is one of the key themes in Song of Solomon, as it becomes extremely important for Milkman to go through a complicated journey in order to find himself. Along with the search for identity, flight as a means of escape is also a recurring theme throughout the novel. Through the use of magic realism, Morrison creates a world that parallels reality, but at the same time, adds magic elements to the world, making the flight of humans seem natural. In the story, Milkman learns that his great-grandfather Solomon flew back to Africa to escape the plight of slavery and attain liberty, which inspires Milkman to do the same at the end of the book. After realizing his quest for his identity is complete, Milkman decides to leap and “fly” through the air. In the final scene of Song of Solomon, Milkman triumphs in terms of finding his authentic self and achieving freedom, but ultimately dies. Morrison provides the story with significant passages that not only foreshadow Milkman’s death, but also structures her novel in a way that makes Milkman’s death the most logical ending.
Toni Morrison ends Song of Solomon with a scene where Milkman asks his friend and enemy Guitar whether he wants his life, which ties back to a conversation that Milkman and Guitar had in Chapter 10 about life and death. This conversation between Milkman and Guitar, which could be taken for granted, actually offers a lot of foreshadowing to the events that follow the conversation. In chapter 10, Guitar tells Milkman that “everybody wants the life of a black man,” but believes that every man can chose something to die for (Morrison 223). Milkman initially disagrees with Guitar, believing that “nobody can choose what to die for,” but, in the last scene, Milkman submits to Guitar’s theory by letting Guitar have his life and choosing what to die for (223). By making Milkman’s last words be an offer for Guitar to take his life, Morrison shows how the two parts of the book are connected. Through this connection, Morrison implies that Milkman dies at the end with his attempt to fly, but certainly chooses what to die for and does so willingly, as he dies with a feeling of fulfillment after realizing his odyssey is complete.
In the last scene of the novel, Toni Morrison describes Pilate’s death as a process of liberation as she “flies” away, which suggests that Milkman also achieves freedom through his death. In the final scene at Solomon’s Leap, when Milkman and his aunt Pilate bury Pilate’s father’s bones, Guitar shows up to kill both of them. The last scene involves Guitar killing Pilate, but instead of describing her death in a devastating manner, Morrison compares her death to the process of liberation and flight. For comparison, in Chapter 13, Morrison describes Hagar’s death in a much more disastrous way than the death of Pilate. Morrison chooses to describe Pilate’s death in a rather comforting manner that offers hope and relief. When describing Pilate’s death, Morrison claims that “without ever leaving the ground, [Pilate] could fly,” as some bird “scooped something shiny in its beak before it flew away” (336). As a symbol for her soul flying away when she dies, Morrison shows how Pilate achieves personal freedom through her death. Milkman’s flight in the end can be interpreted the same way. With Milkman’s search for his real identity complete, similar to Pilate, he achieves his personal through death. Milkman does attempt to fly, but only achieves personal freedom when he dies in the final chapter.
In Chapter 12, when Milkman has his dream about flying, Toni Morrison describes his dream in a way that not only foreshadows the ending, but also suggests that Milkman’s “flight” is more similar to death than literal flight. In one of the final chapters of the book, Milkman has a “warm dreamy sleep all about flying,” where he “float[s], “cruis[es], in the relaxed position of a man lying on a couch reading a newspaper.” Milkman feels as though he is “alone in the sky, but somebody [is] applauding him,” which shows strong similarity to the final scene (298). Morrison establishes this connection in order to foreshadow Milkman’s flight, but to also indicate what actually happens in the final scene. Morrison’s diction in describing Milkman’s dream proves that his flight at the end most resembles death. She uses words such as “floating” and “cruising,” which are not usually words that characterize literal flight, but rather, something more spiritual. Similar to how Morrison describes Pilate’s death, Morrison’s description of the dream shows that Milkman’s flight should be perceived figuratively, as though his soul is “flying away.” Through Morrison’s diction in describing Milkman’s dream, she not only prefigures the events that occur in the final scene, but also proves that Milkman’s flight should be interpreted as an achievement of freedom through figurative flight, which Morrison makes symbolic for his ultimate death.
Although, many might argue that Milkman’s flight in the last chapter of the book is a possibility because the book is written in the genre of magic realism; however, the structure of the book and the plot development indicate that Milkman’s death is the most logical outcome. Toni Morrison begins the novel with an incident that involves an insurance agent, Mr. Smith, who decided to attempt to fly one day but falls over and dies. On the next day, Milkman Dead is born, and thus, the novel proceeds to follow his quest to find himself. Even in a world where everyone perceives Mr. Smith’s attempt to fly as a common occurrence and people believe in the story of Solomon who flew back to Africa, Morrison still begins the novel with a failed attempt to fly. This clearly suggests that Milkman’s attempt to fly at the end also ends fatally. In terms of structure, Milkman’s death seems to be the most logical ending even if it is a mystical world. Morrison begins and ends the novel with a failed attempt to fly, except the ending is not only about Milkman’s death. After all the struggle that Milkman goes through trying to find out who he truly is, he finally succeeds in the end and has this feeling of fulfillment. Morrison structures the novel as a life cycle, by beginning with Mr. Smith’s failed attempt to fly, following it with Milkman’s prolonged quest to find himself, and finally, his success with finding himself at the end. Morrison shows that the most logical ending to this life cycle of Milkman would be his eventual death. Even in a world where flight is possible for human beings, the structure of the novel suggests that in the final scene of Song of Solomon, Milkman completes his rite of passage into adulthood, but dies, making the novel begin and end with a failed attempt to fly.
By purposely leaving the finale of Song Solomon unclear, Toni Morrison creates a number of different possibilities for what actually happens. Although, some people will argue that Milkman does fly in the end, and some will claim that he died; in the end, it does not matter. Morrison makes the ending ambiguous to demonstrate that the journey matters more than the end-result, as it is irrelevant whether Milkman dies or not. Morrison does not want the focus of the novel to be the ending scene, as she believes that Milkman’s endless struggle to find his real identity, which leads him to the feeling of fulfillment at the end of the novel, is the most important aspect of the book. In Wilfred D. Samuels’s essay Toni Morrison, he addresses the meaning of flight in Song Solomon, even quoting Morrison about what she has to say about the controversial final scene. In his essay, he mentions how Morrison herself claims that regardless of whether Milkman flew and the triumph or tragedy that follow his flight, what matters the most is how Milkman came to that stage. According to Morrison, Milkman’s “willingness to become exceptional [and] to take the leap” is the most important characteristic of the ending (Samuels 70). By keeping the ending ambiguous and making Song of Solomon concentrate more on the Milkman’s quest rather than his flight, Toni Morrison demonstrates that for any type of bildungsroman, the rite of passage matters more than the outcome.
The Primary Protagonist Milkman Dead In “Song Of Solomon” By Toni Morrison
In America there is a systematic structure that is portrayed by the White Male patriarchy that authorizes black males to transact the way they act, speak, think and live like men. Nonetheless, the actuality of race and the absence of racial diversity hinders a black male’s capability to progress into manhood. Being so the black male is left to continuously battle for an identity, for apprehending who he is rather than who he is being visualized as. “Song Of Solomon” by Toni Morrison is a coming of age story that focus on the primary protagonist Milkman Dead and his journey from birth to adulthood.
A major theme within Song Of Solomon is milkman’s quest for identity as a black man and his journey also act like a key for his spiritual identity, connecting him to his past while incorporating the present and emerging him to self discovery.Song Of Solomon in a multitude of ways traces the coming of age of Milkman Dead, it begins with a civilian named Robert Smith jumping off the roof of Mercy Hospital. “When the little boy discovered, at four….”
After the fall of Robert Smith milkman dead is born, however just like robert smith milkman’s desire is to escape his life through flight.“ But it lacked coherence, a coming together of the features into a total self ”. Milkman at a young age was characterized as an odd and dead (emotionally) child who seemed to lack when it came to personality, he grows up not knowing who he is when he looks at himself in the mirror, all he sees is an incomplete being. Milkman adult hood was backtracked and as the only son of an upper-middle-class family, milkman also resists the sense of interconnection and devotion to others that are required of adults.
Milkman is a mirrored image of his father Macon Dead, he persistently tries to manage milkman, and prevents him from becoming independent not noticing that milkman is in a flux and is trapped within the context of his own life. In the novel the white peacock is mentioned the white peacock symbolizes milkman and how he cannot take flight in the beginning and is weighed down by jewelry, that jewelry represents how milkman is privileged and has the wealth of a white man which is all because of his father and because of that it impedes milkman from being able to fly and understand himself.“ I don’t want to be my old man’s office boy no more…”.
Milkman values materialistic things like his father, he becomes very arrogant and has the mentality that money is the gateway to freedom and power, however he felt as if everyone was using him, making him the subject of their own needs. Milkman slowly starts to understand this and realizes that he needs to be his own man, he needs to be an independent man.“ Who are you to approve or disapprove anybody or anything…”.
After years of an unreleased antipathy Magdalena confronts Milkman to look out the window at a dying maple tree, lena speaks to him about all of his flaws. This symbolizes how milkman has never done a thing for anyone in his entire life and yet people have sacrificed so much for him and the peeing escapade has completely ruined his sister’s lives, which then makes milkman’s personality/identity shift and he realizes that he needs to change within himself. Milkman has been reborn and an important aspect to his rebirth is the responsibility he took for hagar’s death, milkman has only taken advantage of women during his youth and has seen them as nothing but objects and taking that responsibility is unlike his old self which symbolizes how he has let his old self go.
Upon arriving to the Shalimar, it was a different experience in a social/racial aspect, “ By the time he bought the car, his moral had soard and he was….” (260). This focuses on milkmans perspective on people from the south and how they differentiate from the people in virginia. Everything that milkman has ever represented in the north was obsolete in the south,” There was nothing here to help him….”. The reality is that all his wealth doesn’t necessarily mean anything in the south, it does not benefit him but slowly milkman starts to divest his old self including his gold watch, fancy expensive suit, and money. Milkman desired the gold, he thought that finding the gold would reveal his inner true self and realize who he is. However it is not the gold that would truly change who he really is, it’s the journey to the gold while unraveling the truth about his ancestor’s.
The quest for gold had amended him and had proved how much of a man he had become, milkman acknowledges what empathy, and disclosure means because of this journey. For the first moment in milkman’s life he has cared about something other than himself, even though he did not find the gold in Danville he was intrigued by his family’s history and being in Shalimar where his grandfather was born and that gave milkman the reality check he needed. The broader point is that financial independence isn’t “flight” it is more of a psychological form of imprisonment
Cherry Symbolism in Morrison’s Novel
Toni Morrison’s novel Song of Solomon tells the story of Macon “Milkman” Dead, a character completely alienated from his community, family and heritage. In the novel, readers follow his journey to the fictional town of Shalimar that he takes in order to fully understand the cultural heritage which has been left for him. He begins his travels as a person without a home or strong ties to family, but in the end, finds the place where he finally feels he belongs. The image of home in the book is often associated with the motif of cherries, which evokes nostalgia for different people in Milkman’s immediate family throughout the book.
Morrison develops a theme of the importance of home and belonging by using cherries to symbolize the ancestry of the Dead family.First, Morrison uses cherry trees to represent a loss of home. After Macon and Pilate, then teen-aged, flee the site of their father’s murder and stay the night at Circe’s home Pilate is immediately reminded of cherry trees. Macon and Pilate run to Circe’s home for refuge, but Pilate regrets what she will miss. “[Pilate] wanted her own cherries, from her own cherry tree, with stems and seeds; not some too-sweet mashed mush” (167). Morrison portrays the tragedy of twelve-year-old Pilate’s sudden loss of a home by showing Pilate as critical of Circe’s jam, which is said to not have “stems and seeds” and to be “too sweet”. While Circe is considered a close confidant for the children, they do not accept her place as “home”, which Pilate’s unenthusiastic opinion of Circe’s cherry jam shows.
While cherry trees represent a loss of home, cherry pies represent an attempt to re-establish familial connection. Macon tries to keep Pilate from Milkman while he could, “forbidding him to go near” (40) her and forces her to leave his son and his home and not to come back until she could “show some respect for herself” (20). This forced separation prevents them from forming a bond. Therefore, when Pilate invites Milkman into her home, she begins by extending a metaphorical olive branch. “Your father…he couldn’t cook worth poot. Once I made a cherry pie for him, or tried to…Our papa was dead, you see. They blew him five feet up into the air” (40-41). By beginning her tale with a cherry pie, and further expressing her willingness to provide information on a story from her point of view, she attempts to reclaim her relationship with her brother’s side of the family, one that knows less of the sordid history between Pilate and Macon. Her gamble works out in the long run, as by the end of the book, Macon helps Pilate bury the bones of her dead father and sings during her flight from life. She has finally reforged a link with her remaining family.
Later in the novel, Morrison uses artificial cherry flavoring to symbolize a lack of belonging. When Milkman’s car breaks down in Shalimar and he goes into a bar to recover, he buys a “Cherry Smash” soda from the bartender. Unlike Milkman and Pilate, Milkman does not understand the cherries’ symbolic value from the beginning, simply referring to it as a “red liquid” or “sweet soda water”. His indifference towards the artificial taste of his drink starkly contrasts with an earlier episode in the novel, in which Pilate tearfully rejects Circe’s cherry jam because it is artificial. While Milkman shows no particular emotion in regards to the flavor of his soda, Pilate “began to cry the day Circe brought her white toast and cherry jam for breakfast” (167). Pilate’s rejection of artificial cherry flavoring reveals her own recognition of what a real home is, whereas Milkman’s failure to react to the flavoring connects to his upbringing, which mirrors his disconnection to his family and community.
Toni Morrison uses cherries to symbolize nostalgia in her novel, Song of Solomon, in order to develop a theme of home and belonging. She introduces it as a means to initiate family ties in the midst of a dysfunctional sibling relationship and further uses it to establish the idea of home and Milkman’s ensuing search for a home of his own. It is a small fruit with a large pit, making it difficult to eat – similar to how finding a home for oneself is hard to do. Furthermore, processed cherries don’t have the seeds (such as the jam Circe gives Pilate and the cherry soda Milkman drinks) reflecting how an inauthentic home is easier to find, yet unfulfilling, but finding a real home and building family requires more work and dedication.
Song of Solomon and Gold’s Metaphor
Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison, explores how each character searches for something, and the novel examines the ways in which they cope when they cannot find it. In the novel, many of the characters are trapped by their materialistic desires. The need to fulfill those desires erodes their souls, making them bitter. For some of these characters, their wants and needs are in the form of gold. Song of Solomon examines the human condition of being physically, spiritually, and financially trapped through the classic symbol of desire, gold.
The protagonist, Milkman, is trapped physically and mentally. He feels as though his life has no meaning, and that if he could leave his situation on Not Doctor Street, he could be happy. From the time he was little, Milkman wanted freedom and escape from his life, or to “fly away.” He becomes sad and isolated from his friends and later, isolated from his family. He feels as though his future is defined by the events of his past and is constantly troubled by other people’s problems. He believes that he has done nothing to deserve the burden of the knowledge that people have given him and is too far inside himself to appreciate the love that his family members provide him. His desire to escape his life is shown when Morrison says “He wanted the money – desperately, he believed – but other than making tracks out of the city, far away from Not Doctor Street, Sonny’s Shop, and Mary’s Place, and Hagar, he could not visualize a life that much different from the one he had. New People. New Places. Command. That was all he wanted in his life” (179, 180). Milkman finally finds an opportunity to escape his life through his aunt Pilate’s gold.
For Milkman, the gold represents what he has always desired, freedom and flight. This is shown when Morrison describes Milkman and Guitar’s first encounter with what they thought was gold: “They both saw it [the sack of gold] at the same time. It hung heavy, hung green like the green of Easter eggs left too long in the dye. And like Easter, it promised everything: the Risen Son and the heart’s lone desire” (185). The idea of fulfilling this craving and achieving happiness makes Milkman selfish and cruel, causing him to betray his loving aunt by robbing her. When he discovers that Pilate does not have the gold, he goes on a journey to find it where he finds himself along the way. After gaining a sense of identity, the journey becomes more about freeing himself mentally than finding the gold and escaping physically. He has an epiphany where he is overcome with happiness and realizes that he no longer desires escape from his family’s problems or his life, and in the same way, gives up on finding the gold. This is described by Morrison’s quote, “[H]e felt a sudden rush of affection for them all… Apparently he thought he deserved only to be loved – from a distance, though – and given what he wanted… Maybe all he was really saying was: I am not responsible for your pain, share your happiness with me but not your unhappiness” (278). At the end of the novel, Milkman never finds the gold, but gains a new identity when he realizes that the freedom gold can bring him is not worth the betrayal required to gain it. Milkman’s experience supports gold’s symbolism for a worldly desires because his want for gold disappears just as his search for happiness ends. When he gives up what weighs him down, he finally is able to fly. However, other characters are not as fortunate as Milkman is in abandoning the worldly desires that trap them.
Guitar, Milkman’s best friend growing up, is strapped financially. He lives in poverty in the South Side of the city and wants so badly to escape and to live a more affluent life. He compares himself to wealthy white people who murder innocent African-Americans, and cannot understand how his situation is fair. He says “[E]verybody wants the life of a black man… Fair is one more thing I’ve given up” (Morrison 222, 224). These internal and external conflicts eat away at him, and he sees no other way to cope than to become a murderer. Like Milkman, he sees gold as an opportunity to free himself through the wealth it can bring him. This is shown when Morrison writes “…he [Milkman] wondered if Guitar simply could not resist the lure of something he had never had-money” (180). He speaks to Milkman about all the things gold can buy him, not knowing that the gold will lead him to attack his best friend. His perspective is ironic because once, while giving Milkman advice, he says ”[A]ll that jewelry weighs it [the peacock[ down… Can’t nobody fly with all that shit. Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down” (179). His viewpoint shows that, like the peacock’s tail, materialistic desires weigh down your soul, and you must give them up in order to be free. This contradicts his obsession with wealth, which ultimately weighs him down to the point of committing murder and betrayal. When Milkman gives up on finding the gold, Guitar continues. In the end, Guitar remains trapped by his greed and obsession with bettering his life financially through the gold, which comes to a head when he kills Pilate.
Macon Dead, Milkman’s father, is a slave to his desire for property and power, making him spiritually trapped. A humble farm boy turned-wealthy realtor, he is bitter about his past. After witnessing his father’s murder as a boy, he runs away where he finds gold, beginning his desire for wealth and power that last for the rest of his life. “Gold… Life, safety, and luxury fanned out before him like the tail-spread of a peacock, and as he stood there trying to distinguish each delicious color, he saw the dusty boots of his father standing just on the other side of the shallow pit… Pilate darted around the cave calling him, looking for him, while Macon piled the sacks of gold into the tarpaulin” (170, 171), describes his transformation from a humble farm boy to a money-hungry man trapped by his craving for property and prosperity. As the quote describes, Macon is indifferent to the ghost of his father whom he claimed to care so much about. While he believes that wealth will be the solution to all of his problems, it actually isolates him from his family and the people who love him. The traumatic event of his father’s murder changed him, as Morrison describes what she writes “[T]he numbness that had settled on him when he saw the man he loved and admired fall off the fence; something wild ran through him when he watched the body twitching in the dirt” (50, 51). This, combined with his desire for money, rejection by his wife’s father, and later, witnessing his wife kiss her father’s dead fingers, turns Macon into a cold, heartless, and broken man. He is trapped by his sadness, anger, and hunger for power, making him spiritually disconnected from love, his family, and immaterial things in life. When the possibility of obtaining gold resurfaces, he is naturally drawn in and gets behind the scheme of robbing his own sister, Pilate. The prosperity that gold could bring him is just another form of psychological imprisonment for Macon, pushing him farther from his sister and from love. His want for gold is stronger than his want for love, family, and loyalty, showing gold’s symbolism for desire.
In Song of Solomon, the main characters are trapped by their materialistic desires, which are symbolized by gold. Milkman, Guitar, and Macon, each see gold as a way to fulfil aspects of their lives that are missing. Gold’s symbolism for worldly desires is consistent with the fact that Pilate had no interest in the gold when she in Macon found it. Instead, she took her father’s bones with her, showing that she cares more about spiritual value than she does about materialistic value. This reinforces gold’s symbolism for acquisitive desires because Pilate does not chase the gold; the three men each have different materialistic desires, so they do pursue the gold. The wealth that comes from the gold is a temptation for the men because it seems like a solution each of their problems and an end to their longings. However, their attempts to retrieve the gold push them closer into deception and farther away from their loved ones, until Guitar becomes a murderer and Macon becomes cold and dead (hence his last name). In the end, Milkman is the only one of the three that abandons his need for “gold” and realizes the true value of the people in his life and of himself.
Presentation of Racial Domination: A Comparison between Translations and Song of Soloman
In ‘Song of Soloman’ and ‘Translations’ Morrison and Friel present racial domination through the viewpoint of the oppressed minority group, respectively African-Americans and Irish nationalists. The concept of racial domination can be defined as the political act of dominating people through the belief in the superiority and inferiority of particular races. Both Friel and Morrison communicate that racial domination is all about power, the level of which determines whether a race is the oppressor or the oppressed in a particular society.
In ‘Translations’, the Irish are ruled by the English who assume the right to rule Ireland and dictate what is and is not acceptable behaviour. Through creating a “new map” of the “whole” of Ireland, the English oppressors impose their own domination on Ireland by ‘rewriting’ the country into cultural submission through the imposition of English as the language of ‘high culture’. However, it is only Manus who understands at first the political implications of such a, what he perceives to be, “military operation” would eventually mean for the longevity of the Irish culture and its national identity. Already Friel presents the act of translating as a form of racial domination and a clear division between the two cultures as ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ is established through Owen who outlines his role as the “go-between” translating the “King’s good English” into the Irish “quaint archaic tongue”. By doing so, Friel describes that Owen is rejecting his own identity by rejecting his links to Ireland both in language and culture. This further reinforces the devastation of English Oppression for the culture of Ireland, as it will undoubtedly destroy its identity as it has done with “Owen” who has become “Roland” as a result of mis-translation and “standardised” English. Friel identifies the quick process of cultural imperialism through the geographical metaphor of erosion, which ironically is first identified by the antithetical English Oppressor “Yolland” when he poignantly declares, “something is being eroded”. The idea of erosion as a geographical metaphor suggests layers’ being relentless worn away until nothing remains. This underlines the significance of language in holding culture and memories that would otherwise be completely lost “beyond recognition” if the language were to be “anglicised” as demonstrated through the example of “Tobair Vree”. The concept of not being able to translate a memory or a culture into a different language is fundamental in ‘Translations’ and it is the Irish culture that gets lost in translation; Friel seems to communicate that the only way the Irish can exist in a modern World is through translation, Friel argues that the concept of translation is a metaphor for the Irish. Indeed, Friel’s act of writing ‘Translations’ is in itself an act of translation, since he writes an Irish play in English, so as to demonstrate the only possibility for the Irish language and culture to exist is through the language of the oppressor.
To a varying degree, Morrison also presents racial domination through the use of language but not as a method of oppression used by the dominating race in the sense of translation, but to give the black community a powerful tool to subvert white authority. In ‘Song of Soloman’ the African American community in Michigan rename places names to reflect reality such as in the case of “No Mercy Hospital” where black expectant mothers were denied entry and had to “give birth” “on its steps” and thus given “no mercy”. It is this act of renaming place names that is almost doing the opposite of what Friel describes as cultural imperialism in ‘Translations’; the black community are giving meaning to place names rather than “eroding” it. This ownership of language is the only power the black community have in their oppressed condition and the renaming of place names becomes a political act as the community are attempting to take some control over their language. Furthermore, Morrison highlights the power of language in carrying meaning and having the ability to shape identity through the eponymous “Song of Soloman”. The significance of language in defining identity is shown through the original mistranslation of “Soloman” as “sugarman”. Morrison shows how one mis-translation can completely wipe out a whole family’s identity and remove a part of history. The discovery of Milkman’s heritage through the connection with the name “Soloman” gives him an identity and means that at death he is never more alive as his journey of self-discovery is complete. It is impossible not to link the importance of naming with the example of “Tobair Vree”, the meaning of the name would be lost in translation and would no longer exist if the language were to change. Through the name “Dead” Morrison shows how language can act as a tool to “wipe out the past” through Sing’s insistence on keeping the incorrect name instead of inheriting the name of the slave owner and thus hoping to disconnect future generations from the crippling legacy of slavery that is at the root of African American oppression in an American society. The name “Dead” holds the signification of being also metaphorically dead and unable to progress; the “Dead” family are a metaphor for the entire African American race that suffer under the racial domination of the racist white community.
In ‘Translations’ Friel tries to find hope in a racially divided society in the unity of the two cultures through the relationship of Marie and Yolland using the act of “leaping” across a “ditch” to metaphorically suggest the possibility of daring to leap and crossing between the two camps. Friel seems to say that although Yolland may have been killed, the love between the two characters is not defeated and shows a sort of hope that the two different cultures do not have to be defined as racially separate. Friel’s play is radically against the laying of these colonial borders and the grouping of individuals into categories called ‘British’ and ‘Irish which admits no traffic or crossing between them. ‘Translation’ as an act of crossing between borders may offer a way out of colonial conflict of hatred and division via love Friel seems to suggest, but it remains a dangerous act and likely to be resisted by those who would divide us into groups and put borders between us hence the “ditch”. Through the construction of “Yolland” as an antithetical “soldier by accident”, although ironically a Hibernophile and the first one to identify that “something is being lost” in the process of cultural imperialism, Friel challenges the pre-determined racial stereotypes that he describes are an inevitable side effect of any racially divided community as Yolland can only ever be identified by his English racial identity in the eyes of the oppressed Irish nationalists. The hatred between the two races is to such an extent that individualism is neglected and only Yolland’s identity as a British Army Officer is considered. This concept is particularly apt for Friel’s play which, although set in the 19th century, was written in the ethno-nationalist conflict ‘The Troubles’ in 1960s Northern Ireland where racial hatred and IRA violence divided and made a battle ground of Ireland. However, the inextricable link between culture and identity and how the former defines the latter is the essential principle behind racial stereotypes and understanding why Yolland will always be “an outsider” in the Irish community and why Owen can never separate himself from his Irish heritage. Ultimately the Irish culture is “all [they] have” and by denying the community of its mother language and thus culture is to remove their identity which is shown at the end of the play when Sarah, who symbolises Irish oppression (metaphorically and literally without a voice) is silenced in the concluding scenes showing the death of Irish language and culture and thus the end of the Irish identity.
However in ‘Song of Soloman’ Morrison presents racial domination as an unfixable part of American society, which can never be truly racially equal until the legacy of slavery is completely removed from memory. White Americans are able to racially dominate the black community by controlling the law. Morrison communicates the corruption of the American justice system through the example of the police force who will “stop anyone” if they are black, suggesting the widely held belief that all of the black community were inherently suspicious. Moreover, the lack of criminal justice that is brought to the “Butlers” after they “shot” Jake “five feet in the air” further reinstates how the white race dominated the law in American society. Ultimately, Morrison evaluates that the black community are trapped in a white racially dominated society and a black American dream is unattainable shown in the example of Ruth who is literally pressed “small” by the oppression imposed on her by the white community to such an extent that her name defines her as she is metaphorically “dead”. The inherently unjust social power of the black community is represented in the case of Corinthians Dead whom after a college degree and studying in France could only find a job as a “maid” and even then the job was only rewarded to her because her employee “liked” her “name”, again showing the importance of naming. Morrison presents racial domination as a limitation and barrier for the oppressed community, preventing them from entering into any position that allows them to gain social power in a white dominated society and be at almost equal status to the ‘superior’ race. Morrison considers that although the black community can distance themselves from their slave past, it is impossible to truly eliminate the past from history and start anew, as Sing hoped by keeping the incorrect surname “Dead” in place of the slave owner’s surname. This is perhaps the reason for Solomon’s and Milkman’s eventual flight at the end of his journey of self-discovery as Morrison suggests that the only way to progress and truly be “free” from an oppressed society is to “surrender to the air” and “ride it”.
Morrison and Friel both present how the condition of oppression creates radicalised recipients of oppression that would otherwise not exist in a racially equal society. However, Morrison and Friel present the radicalised groups “The Days” and “the Donnelley Twins” through different perspectives. Through Morrison’s presentation of “The Days” she shows and the reader understands Guitar’s journey from an oppressed individual whose life is destroyed by the harsh realities of racism in the Deep South to a radical black extremist. Guitar is unable to fly because he has not given up his psychological hatred of whites and his racist belief that “there are no innocent white people” which weighs him down by allowing his hatred and grief to control and define his identity as a psychopath that “could kill would kill” and “has killed’. On the other hand, the “Donnelley Twins” are a non-communicative force and not named as separate individuals with no physical presence, only existing in threats to the English oppressors. Much like today’s extremists in Ireland, the Donnelly twins are not outspoken but rather they let their actions speak for them and Friel uses this fierce Irish nationalism to serve as avatars of the modern IRA connecting a larger political tragedy of colonial oppression and Irish resistance with the personal tragedy of individual lives. Their actions (the theft of the horses, the burning of the army’s headquarters and, supposedly, the murder of Lieutenant Yolland) only engender a powerful colonial reaction. The play ends with the further threat of racial violence as Lancey “promises” to kill all the livestock in the area, which Friel suggests will only lead to counter terror by the forces that the Donnelly twins represent. Although presented differently, Friel and Morrison both argue in their texts that individualism is impossible under nationalism and oppression can divide any community on the basis of race. In conclusion, Morrison and Friel present racial domination through the viewpoint of the oppressed minorities and their lack of power in defining their identity as their culture is rewritten for them through mistranslation and racial oppression.