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Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

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 In the Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison has to face a recurring problem for a tale-spinner, making localized, contemporary characters and events speak to people who cannot even share their characters, experiences, and background.

Her solution to this dilemma has already been done by others as she uses myths to strengthen her narrative; however, she does it without turning her novel into a pure fantasy or overloading her novel with literary illusions. Her success in making the struggle of a black man for universal identity is partially explained by structurally using myth to illustrate man’s constant search for assurance and belief in myth.

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In her book, Morrison creates both a dreamlike and realistic world with people of endearing, amusing, frightening, and quirky characters. Her skillful handling of low comedy, high drama, and dialogue is very much commended.

However, her structure has not been so widely appreciated. The Song of Solomon is unquestionably episodic. If we follow Milkman, the main character in Morrison’s novel, we might find that the Song of Solomon is cohesive.

This mythic chronology only emphasizes Milkman’s rejection and assimilation into his own society.

  As Milkman grows up and rejects the restrictions and limitations in his Southside life, he undergoes not only the physical and psychological maturation but also the estimation of a true hero’s development, so that by the last part of the novel, Milkman knows himself as well as his obligations to both the past and the present, to his world and to himself.Western man has always treated childhood as a mythic time and Morrison was able to show this on the opening of her novel. She describes Milkman’s birth according to portents, signs, and omens, and by presenting the hero’s childhood in a quickly-passed-over sequence of narrative events booming with archetypal and symbolic significance. The second stage in Milkman’s maturation and Morrison’s structure is the alienation period, where Milkman, resentful and thirtyish, yet very much dependent on his father, wishes to leave home; however, he doesn’t have enough resolution and resources to do so.

His Southside home is both reassuringly confining and familiar, like his comfortable but wasted and loitering life. His recognizes that he is drifting and that he lacks both the internal and external rationality in life. This recognition directs him towards a quest, the third stage in his development.The search for the gold Milkman’s father and aunt had found in a hidden cave in Pennsylvania becomes less significant for him than unscrambling his family’s confusing and tangled genealogy, meeting those who still remember his father and aunt as children, and eventually realizing that the Song of Solomon, the song Pilate sang, is a mythologizing, and children’s retelling of his very own heritage.

In Milkman’s journey to Pennsylvania and Virginia, he rediscovers himself, yet he cannot complete this final stage into a heroic stature until he fully defeats his enemy, Guitar. Guitar is Milkman’s boyhood friend and adult opponent who objectify the denial and despair experienced by Milkman. Milkman’s confrontation with his enemy in the Pennsylvania woods fully represents his complete triumph and reintegration. The Song of Solomon is not ended with a cliff-hanger as the final battle is both a confirmation and a confrontation, marking the emergence of Milkman as a champion who fully understands that he should defend his world.

The opening passages of the Song of Solomon give the readers the pattern on how Morrison creates her own myths by creating Milkman with a mythic heritage. Milkman is born after a long period of infertility, and deception is often involved in his conception and delivery. Milkman’s father was seduced by his mother, who had not been touched by her husband for thirteen years. Milkman’s mother uses the potion Pilate gave her.

She also saves her unborn child later through Pilate’s intervention. Pilate, a social outcast and a moonshiner, is certainly qualified as one of those humbler orders. This trickery and interference make the baby the center of his father’s hostility which was supposed to be for his wife.The mythic parallel mentioned above is just the basis for the highly allusive narrative structure of Morrison.

When Milkman was born, he was the very first black baby ever admitted to the Southside’s Mercy Hospital. He was born on the day after Mr. Smith, a life insurance agent, jumped from Mercy’s roof. However later, it was revealed in the novel that Mr.

Smith belongs to a secret black society called the Seven Days that pledged to take revenge to any black’s murder through the random slaying of white. Mr. Smith tumbles down the roof to his death which signals the birth of Milkman. Milkman’s birth also comes with a ritualized celebration with his aunt singing on the streets and Milkman’s elder sisters or the virgins strewing some rose petals as Mr.

Smith dies. However, another person to consider is Guitar, Milkman’s boyhood friend who has turned into the Sunday man of the society Seven Days and punishes any black slain on Sunday, until one day, he resorts from murdering whites to killing Milkman.  Morrison makes up for the Seven Days by matching her Icarus theme of failure as well as death with relation to Lindbergh, combining two popular soarers but with the suggestion that the doomed escape of Mr. Smith must also be balanced by Guitar’s success.

Milkman as a child yearned to fly and lose all the interest for himself when he found the thing Mr. Smith learned earlier and that is only airplanes and birds could fly. The Song of Solomon follows Milkman’s attempts to prevail over this disaffection and try learning to fly again.Through Morrison’s Icarus-theme, the opening of the novel puts together all the thematic concerns of a book; however, the second stage in Milkman’s growth, the time of explanation and alienation, displays one of the continuing concerns of a myth, the necessity to create order at the same time bring comprehension out of the apparent chaos.

The heritage of Milkman is very well explained in his family histories which he resentfully tries to set aside. For Milkman, his family’s past is already dead and he feels stifled by the anger, frustration, and greed of his home. He also remains alienated and isolated from his culture and from Hagar, Milkman’s cousin who loves him very much since he was 17 (eNotes, 2009). One morning, as Milkman stood and glanced at himself before his mirror, he was unimpressed with the reflection.

He had a fine face but he could not see coherence. It was very tentative like a man looking at the corner of something he isn’t supposed to be. It was as if he was trying to choose whether to go forward or go back. The decision he would be making is very important but his way of making decision is haphazard, careless, and uninformed.

Indeed, Milkman’s decisions at this period are uninformed and haphazard as he strikes his father because he slapped his mother. He also tries to break up the love affair of his sister and is decided to send a Christmas present and a farewell letter to Hagar all at once. Rather than acting from any commitment or belief to another, he only reacts and for him, each event is only a rejection of family ties, parental authority, and of love. He also realizes that his life was aimless, pointless and that he didn’t have any concern about other people.

All he wanted was bad enough to risk anything to place himself in inconvenience. In addition, he constantly thinks of escape, of slamming and shutting himself out of his father’s house and of running away and never returning. He also tells Guitar that He increasingly feels disaffected and off-centered by his society and family, and detached from the racial tension increasingly controlling Guitar, who is completely moving more into the restricted world surrounded by the Seven Days. This single moment in Milkman’s life best illustrates his yearnings and indecisiveness when he and Guitar saw a white peacock hovering on the roof of a junked Buick car in Southside (Block et al.

84). The bird was at once absurd and beautiful and cannot fly because of its tail, just like Guitar said. It jewelry simply weighs the peacock down. Because of vanity, the peacock could not fly and it has to give up the vanity that’s weighing it down.

For Guitar, it means family, society, and friends’ abandonment; thereby, channeling himself into Seven Days’ vengeance completely. Milkman even accuses Guitar that he is mad at every black man who isn’t picking cotton and scrubbing floors. Guitar responds:”You’re right, Milkman. You have never in your life said a truer word.

This is definitely not Montgomery, Alabama. Tell me. What would you do if it was? If this turned out to be another Montgomery?” (Morrison, 72)Milkman laughingly agrees to Guitar’s mocking interpretation; however, he is gearing towards a more positive importance for the peacock and that is to escape into an adventure yet he does not really realize that the strange combination of the used car and the peacock suggests how the exotically beautiful appears out of the ordinary unexpectedly, just as his journey rises out of his town and his family. For Milkman, the only way to escape from Southside is money, which was the gold his father and Aunt Pilate discovered in the Pennsylvania cave.

This leads him to Pennsylvania and to Virginia, where he tries to discover his father’s and aunt’s youthful wanderings. There, he meets his father’s childhood friends who still remember Macon Dead as a virtually superhuman image and accept the success of his father in the Southside real estate as a foreseeable extension of his exploits and talents as a youth. Milkman munches in their stories of Lincoln’s Heaven or the Edenic Pennsylvania farm that represents to the old men an ideal, rich, and flourishing farm sliced out from the woods by a previous slave, Milkman’s grandfather. Thus, Milkman sees himself as a person continuing the myth and spinning out to the delight and wonder of his audience.

Milkman next visits the defunct plantation where his aunt and father had been hidden and kept by a house servant named Circe, after their father, Milkman’s grandfather was killed by whites who were jealous of a successful black man and greedy to get the Lincoln’s Heaven. The story narrative becomes even progressively eerier when he discovers that the ancient servant is still alive and is still presiding over the remains of the estate. Circe initiates Milkman to go back to his past, showing his heritage’s power and destructiveness, as well as the leads his rebelliousness to a quest towards his own identity. He could not fulfill his journey and quest to Virginia, without having direct contact with the world of the dead and the past.

The old plantation, Lincoln’s Heaven, and Circe are all representation of the past which tries to influence Milkman. Milkman has to look into his people’s and family’s past before he can move on to the future. Circe informs Milkman where to find the cave, how his father and Pilate argued and opened gap that lasted for decades, where his grandfather came from, and where Pilate wandered – Shalimar, Virginia.Just as the contact with the world of the dead has traditionally meant wisdom and knowledge for those alive, so are Circe’s revelations turned Milkman south heading to Virginia where he rejects his search for the gold just to regain his confidence and self-esteem.

At this point, Shalimar offers him new skills to measure his self-worth – fighting, hunting, and surviving, the only ability the Virginians acknowledge. Milkman adapts to the Virginians’ codes and participates in the midnight cougar hunt; however, he suddenly realizes that Guitar is hunting him. Guitar thinks that Milkman has already found the gold and only refuses to share it with him.The hero’s antagonist, Guitar, threatens the particular values and virtues of the world as well as the past that Milkman has been slowly learning to accept.

Guitar is not an extension of the negations Milkman has learnt and practiced. Guitar has abandoned both his family and his Southern heritage. More importantly, Guitar has abandoned and rejected the ties and love just as Milkman has rejected Hagar and his family. The only brotherhood and family Guitar recognizes is the Seven Days.

Guitar’s name pertains to a childhood love of music and creativity which has ever since denied while Milkman’s name pertains to the life and fertility which he has been continuously running from. Milkman suddenly understands himself and Guitar (Zamora et al. 245). The total dedication and commitment of Guitar to death is the only logical and rational extension of his constant attempts and efforts to fly away (Roh et al.

43).        Works Cited:Harris, L. Toni Morrison: Song of Solomon’s Myth as a Structure. 1980.

MELUS 7. pp.69-76.eNotes.

Song of Solomon Study Guide. 2009. 17 May 2009. <http://www.

enotes.com/song-solomon>Block, N. et al. The Nature of Consciousness.

Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997.Morrison, T. Song of Solomon. London: Chatto & Windus, 1978.

Zamora, L. et al. Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995.

Roh, F. Magic Realism: Post-Expressionism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995. 

Cite this Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. (2017, Mar 06). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/song-of-solomon-by-toni-morrison/

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