In Song of Solomon Toni Morrison tells a story of one black man’s journey toward an understanding of his own identity and his African American roots. This black man, Macon “Milkman” Dead III, transforms throughout the novel from a naive, egocentric, young man to a self-assured adult with an understanding of the importance of morals and family values. Milkman is born into the burdens of the materialistic values of his father and the weight of a racist society.
Over the course of his journey into his family’s past he discovers his family’s values and ancestry, rids himself of the weight of his father’s expectations and society’s limitations, and literally learns to fly.
Morrison sets the stage with many explanations for Milkman’s unlikable qualities. Milkman’s father, Macon Dead Jr. , is an aristocratic black businessman. Macon Dead prides himself on his money and his land, believing that it is his wealth that earns him respect and power.
Macon Dead is a cold and unfeeling person, having no regard or respect for women or the poor black folk that live in the town that he owns a large part of. Because Macon has no respect for the poor black people of the town he and his family naturally are disconnected from the ongoing racial issues affecting the black society. Where the Dead’s live they are more white than they are black. Now that Morrison has explained the background that Milkman comes from the reader can now understand why Milkman has such personality flaws.
Milkman is presented to the reader as someone who has much to learn about life and his personality can now be developed throughout the story. Because of his family Milkman grows into a materialistic young man who has many personality traits in common with his father. He becomes very arrogant, he uses women, and he believes that money will eventually lead him to power and freedom. Ironically, due to his family’s wealth and status, he is very disconnected with the black oppression that the rest of his culture feels even though he himself is much like a slave to his father.
All that Milkman knows of his family’s roots are the facts that they originated in Virginia and his grandfather was killed on his farm in Pennsylvania. He knows nothing of his ancestor’s struggles with oppression and slavery. Therefore he does not understand or appreciate his African American heritage. When Milkman is in his thirties he does, however, learn of a story of the possibility of gold being hid in a cave in where his father grew up. Milkman believes that if he finds this gold that he will have the wealth and power that he needs to be free of his father’s rule.
What Milkman doesn’t realize is that not only is he about to embark on a “gold hunt” for gold he is also on a “gold hunt” for his identity. Milkman’s journey starts in a town called Danville. Danville is the town where his father grew up and his grandfather was shot by white land owners. In Danville Milkman learns a lesson about hospitality by the revered who takes him in for no reason other than to help him. In Danville he also meets Circe who was his father’s caretaker after the death of his grandfather. Circe fills in some of the gap in Milkman’s heritage by telling him the story of the murder of his grandfather.
She explains to him that his grandfather died protecting his land because he loved it and he was proud of his accomplishments. This is important because this shows that his grandfather did not care about the materialistic aspect of the land. His grandfather died because he was so proud of what he had accomplished that he would have rather died than let the white people take it away from him. This gives Milkman an insight into the values that his people had, and the injustices that his grandfather endured because he was black.
In the house of the white land owner that took his grandfather’s land Circe also makes an important point to Milkman about people with wealth and power. She says to him, “… she (the white land owner) saw the work I did all her days and died, you here me, died rather than live like me. ” The woman ran out of wealth and killed herself because she didn’t want to live the life that her black servant led. This shows Milkman that people who live on wealth and power have nothing else to their life if the wealth is gone, they are basically dead already.
Milkman does not find the gold in Danville, but is intrigued by the information about his family that he received from Circe, so he continues his journey to Shalimar, VA. Shalimar is where his grandfather was born, where his great grandfather was a slave. Milkman receives a reality check in this town when he is beaten up and stripped of fancy clothes. In Shalimar his money did not earn him any respect with the town’s people, money was of no importance to them. Milkman is now dressed as an ordinary person, no different from anyone else in the town.
This is a very humbling experience for him forcing him, for the first time, to be nothing but an ordinary black man. For the first time he feels connected to his black culture. “Back home he had never felt this way, as though he belonged to any place or anybody. ” In Shalimar he pieces together the remaining mystery of his ancestors. He learns that his great grandfather, Solomon, was “one of those flying Africans”. Legend had it that his great grandfather Solomon jumped off of what is now Solomon’s Leap and flew back to Africa to escape slavery, leaving behind his wife and 21 children.
With all of the knowledge that Milkman acquires in Shalimar he returns home with a sense of belonging and a true understanding of the morals and values of his family and of his culture. He goes back to Michigan closing out the chapter on his past and looking on to his future. Back in Michigan he learns of the death Hagar, a woman whom he took advantage of, she symbolically died of a broken heart because Milkman left her. For the first time Milkman understands what he did to Hagar and takes responsibility for her death, he does this by accepting a piece of her hair from his Aunt Pilate, the only woman Milkman ever respected.
He tells Pilate what he has learned about their family’s history on his journey and they both head back to Shalimar to bury the bones of Pilate’s father that she was unknowingly carrying around with her for many years. Back in Shalimar, Morrison paints a very peaceful picture as Pilate and Milkman bury the first Macon Dead on Solomon’s Leap. Putting Macon Dead to rest is symbolic of putting their past to rest. It is also the last chapter in Pilate’s life because she is then shot by Milkman’s best friend.
Morrison does not make her death seem like a tragedy because Pilate seems ready to accept death. Pilate was more like a mother to Milkman than an aunt. Milkman watched the only woman that he ever cared about die by the hand of his best and only friend. To Milkman there was now nothing else to live for. So by relinquishing his greed and his neuroticism Milkman gave up “all the shit” that weighed him down and, following the legacy of his great grandfather, jumped off of Solomon’s Leap. In the end maybe Milkman actually did fly because, “if you surrender to the air, you can ride it. “
Cite this Song of Solomon Milkman Character Analysis
Song of Solomon Milkman Character Analysis. (2016, Dec 20). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/song-of-solomon-milkman-character-analysis/