Song of Solomon is a social commentary on racism and its negative effects in the society, abandonment and a journey of self discovery. Morrison, through the journey that Milkman undertakes, is able to make her audience examine racial relations in the American society. Song of Solomon is a tale of racial injustices and an epic journey by Milkman to find his roots and ends up finding himself. Milkman is a selfish African American male brought up in a life of privilege and oblivious of racisms that engulfs his community. He goes through most of his life without even thinking about the suffering of his community and suffering he causes to those who relates to. Until a quest to find gold that his father and sister once saw in cave turns into a self discovery journey. His journey takes him through the suffering of his parents and grandparents as well as those experienced by his community.
Songs of Solomon is a statement on powers of traditional songs and stories and its power to preserve history, especially where written form does not exist. Folklore, traditional songs and stories were used by the African America to preserve and pass on their rich history from one generation to the next. Milkman is able to trace his family history from stories and songs and in the process he discovers his roots and gets reattached to his community. Morrison uses Milkman’s journey to communicate the power of stories, folk songs and folklore as they become a compass that helps Milkman find way in his epic journey. Songs of Solomon is also a social commentary against racism in the 1960s, in America, and women oppression. She takes her audience to Milkman’s journey of self discovery and uses an old folksong to aid him in tracing his past.
Morrison gives her audience a unique look into the social issues of the American society in early years of the slave emancipation and their illusion of freedom all the way to the 1960s. She uses flight as a way for people to escape their suffering and their problems. The story begins with an attempt of an insurance sales man to fly from a hospital’s rooftop. His audience in the ground comprising of socially stratified African Americans looks on without trying to stop him. Most of people in the watching crowd reject the belief from traditional stories, songs and folklore that it is possible for an individual to fly to escape from suffering. His flight turned him into a folks’ hero from one generation to the next even though he had abandoned his wife and twenty one children. His escape from slavery was admired while putting his family into great suffering.
Flight is one of the strongest themes in Morrison’s book. It is depicted as a means of escaping constricting circumstance in the life. Solomon Milkman’s great grandfather had flown to Africa to escape from slavery. His story of escape was passed on from one generation to the next in the folksongs and stories. To his community, Solomon is a hero; although, he abandoned his large family of twenty one children and left it in the hands of his weak wife. On the other hand, she is unable to come to terms with the abandonment and dies in despair. In her community, her escape from her predicament through death is seen as a sign of weakness. Milkman’s escape from his desperate directionless privilege life is also perceived as a flight from the desperate circumstances (White). His flight turns into a blessing in disguise for a man who at one point is unable to figure out who he is. In his quest to find gold, Milkman finds something more precious than this metal; himself and his true name. Macon "Milkman" Dead III, as his name suggests, is able then to escape from the “dead” or his dead existence through flight. He is also able to figure out that his aunt Pilate is able to fly without leaving the ground. She is able to do this through her love of live expressed through her helpful attitudes toward those surrounding her. Additionally, she is able to live her life without relying on anyone, despite having a rich brother. This makes her one of the strongest characters in the novel. She does not let her appearance divine her or the perceptions of those surrounding her rule her life. Milkman, on the other hand, is trapped by how the society perceives him. He walks with a strut to hide his short leg so as the society cannot see his flaws and instead he gets more alienated. His struggle to get accepted by his society blinds him from perceiving the reality they live in.
Abandonment is the other strong theme in this novel. The heroic Solomon takes his flight and leaves behind his family to suffer while he gains his freedom. This causes his wife’s death as she cannot come to terms with his abandonment. This implies that to gain his freedom Solomon has to abandon his large family. His wife through death abandons her children and suffering. Milkman has to abandon his life of privileges to discovery himself. This means to leave behind all his comforts in order to become free. Morrison is able to show the double suffering through abandonment that women in African American communities were exposed to. Solomon’s wife, Ryan, was abandoned by her husband as he escaped through his flight to Africa to drop the bondages of slavery. His wife, however, has been left not only a slave but with a large family to feed and when she dies out of despair, the society perceives it as failure while Solomon is revered (White). Guitars’ mother undergoes the same kind of predicament, she is left ill with kids to feed and care for, when her husband dies, she is therefore left without a helper. Milkman’s leaves his adoring girlfriend to suffer when he embarks on his self discovery journey, she eventually dies because of his rejection.
In this novel, racism is the cause of most of the suffering and problems, experienced in this society. It is, therefore, another strong theme in the novel. In this book, racism changes the lives of characters in different ways. Solomon, for instance, is bound by the bondages of slavery and racism. The African American race is perceived to be less equal in the society and can, therefore, be owned by their fellow men and put to backbreaking chores. After being freed by Lincoln in 1963, slaves were disillusioned by their new status as free human beings. They were not immediately accepted as equal despite the spirit of emancipation of slaves being that all human were equal. Today there are those who are yet to accept that all men are equal. Macon Dead II and his sister Pilate experienced the evils of slavery at a very early age; that of their father’s murder. This event turns Milkman’s father into a shell of man whose only pursuit in life is wealth to escape from racism. He sees wealth as the only factor that would make him equal to the white members of the society. He, therefore, mistreats his fellow African American as he pursues riches and passes on his uncaring quality to his son.
Therefore, we can argue that in his bid to escape racism his relationship with his son is turned into a shallow father- son relationship. This implies that they are unable to enjoy the father son activity that brings joy and humanity in the society. All he wants to teach his son is how to make as much money as possible. Indeed, he is the one who advised him to steal from his sister thinking that she hoarded the gold that they had found in the cave. Racism thus blinds him into perceiving life as a pursuit of material wealth regardless of who is left suffering in such pursuits. Guitar, Milkman’s best friend, turns into a killer because of racism (White). He has no remorse committing murder, as long as he is killing the whites for their mistreatment of the black community. He joins a revenge group that avenges every perceived murder of African American exactly on the same day, a week later with the killing of white members of the society (Morrison). Therefore, this alienates him not only from his community, but also the wider society, for humanity is taken away from him.
Analysis of characters and their relationships
Milkman |Dead is the protagonist in the book. He is depicted as a selfish immature man whose life of privilege has sheltered him from the realities of life of an African American in his era. He is oblivious of the equality and the struggle of his community. He treats those who love him with disdain and it is oblivious due to the fact that racism is a reality within his community. Although Morrison treated his character as a shallow self- obsessed character in the first chapters of her novel, she nevertheless painted him as a man who cared little about anyone’s skin color. Thus, his obvious qualities make him a complex character and set the stage for his self discover journey in which he emerges as a better man.
From the onset of her book, Morrison paints Milkman as a man who is always looking behind (White). He urinates on his sister as a child when he is distracted by the thought of someone being behind him. She, therefore, sets the stage for his journey into his family history in bid to discover himself. In other words, Milkman has to journey back into his ancestors past in order to emerge a free man who truly understands his position in the world and learns the true meaning of his life and in the process he makes himself better. She also paints him as a very lucky character surrounded by people whose love he does not re-quite, yet they continue to love him despite his flaws. In a way Morrison is telling us that despite his shallow character those around him can unconsciously see a man with more character that he is aware of, but lacks purpose in his life (Morrison). She, therefore, sets the stage of his transformation early in her book. Milkman is also an outcast in his community; he has very visible flaws such as his unequal legs. His privileged up bring also sets him apart from the mostly poor African Americans in his community.
In addition, his father is an intensely disliked ruthless landlord. So despite having a rich background amidst a poor community, Milkman is more alienated for their wealth. He, however, perceives himself as a better person than those around him. His father’s wealth thus turns Milkman into a selfish arrogant man who is oblivious of the fact that most of his neighbors have to struggle for their daily necessities. Thus, his privileged background turns him into a man unaware of his environment. Milkman’s selfish nature is also evident in the way he treats his friend, Guitar. While he can easily unburden his troubling thoughts and emotions to his friend, he is incapable of returning this favor. Their relationship, however, reveals a positive quality in Milkman. Though privileged, he is still capable of relating with a person from a lower social background. But their relationship can be argued to be a one way street, where Guitar does most of the giving. Morrison is able to help her audience perceive Milkman’s selfishness through the eyes of his friend.
In the novel, Pilate is depicted as a strong willed poor woman. She is the sister to milkman’s father Macon Dead II. But unlike her brother she cares less about material possession and treats everyone with love and care. In the songs of Solomon Pilate represents the truly independent women. She does not let her appearance define her; she is the wine maker whose vacation in wine making enables her to survive without relying on men. This is in contrast to the other female characters in Morrison’s book. In this novel most female characters are casted as helpless creatures that have to rely on men for their survival. They fall helpless in love with men who refuse to return their unrequited love. Pilate seems to have escaped this trap.
Morrison also painted Pilate as the moral compass in the songs of Solomon. She is a woman who is beyond reproach; she treats all people as equals and is incapable of doing any evil. Yet, there are times when she had to result into what would seem as cruel acts to stand up for others. For instance, she used a voodoo ragdoll to scare her brother into allowing Ruth to give birth to Milkman instead of undergoing an abortion (Morrison). This is in contrast to her evil incapable character that Morrison wants us to assume. In that she is not afraid to scare others through mystical beliefs for someone else’s benefit. She also defends her daughter against an abuser by scaring him with a knife. But these acts depict her as the person who is capable of hurting others. These facts bring out her strength. This implies that she is capable of being a bit ruthless in order to protect others. Her strength thus, is implied by her commitment in standing up for the seemingly weak in her community. She also stands out from most women in this community. Her unkempt appearance defies the traditional convections, which seem to dictate that women should be obsessed with their appearances, in order to be admired. Her own brother treats her with contempt, out of her defiance of such widely held values at the time.
Other members of their community treat her as if she is crazy for her refusal to conform to their perception of the values that women should represent. Yet, she appears more comfortable with herself despite what others think of her. These qualities are responsible for strength and the final revelation to Milkman that Pilate was flying even when on ground. Her relationship with Milkman begins when he was young, even though he was prohibited by his father to visit her. He falls in love with her daughter, Hagar, and later mistreats her after using her to gratify his sexual needs. He steals gold from her as his father has told him and it is his first reason to start his journey. After undertaking his journey, he returns a transformed man. Milkman’s relationship with his aunt turns into one of admiration. He is able to see her true nature; an independent, generous, and moral woman.
Morrison’s depiction of this character is that of an immoral man who uses his racial hatred to justify his actions. Guitar hatred for white people begins at an early age with his father’s death. He holds the racism against the African American community responsible for his family’s predicament. He is, therefore, able to commit murders as a member of the seven days without remorse. Guitar is portrayed as deeply disturbed character in the novel, he is not even afraid to kill his friend, Milkman for his perceived betray. His relationship with Milkman is complicated. For instance, they two are completely opposite of each other. While Milkman is depicted as a selfish individual obvious of predicaments of the African American community in their time, Guitar is completely aware of his standing in the society as a black man (Price). He goes out of his way to punish the whites for the perceived racial injustices committed against the blacks.
Morrison used Guitar to bring out the indifference that Milkman portrayed towards racism. He perceives himself as a slave while his friend’s perception is that of a free man with a slave name. He is also responsible for Milkman’s seemingly symbolic transformation by trying to murder him. The author is, therefore, able to infer the death of the old Milkman when Guitar tries to choke the life out of his friend. His secretive activities as a member of the vigilant group do little to help the racial injustices in the society. Although, in the novel his acts are justified by author as those of a man frustrated by the wrong treatment of his race, he actually ends up looking more racist that those he ought to stop.
In the end, Guitar fulfills the foresight of his friend, Milkman, who had foreseen him to turn into nothing more than a killer for his lack of remorse and thus murdering even the black people. His attempt to kill Milkman is, therefore, a fulfillment of his friend’s foresight. His relationship with Milkman also helps the author portray the perception and contempt in which the authority was held by the African Americans at that time. Milkman had never had a running with the police until they were stopped and searched when they had stolen gold from Pilate. Yet, Milkman was well aware of the murders that his Friend and his vigilant groups were committing against the whites. But he never felt compelled to report these crimes to the police, nor did he feel of withholding such knowledge. Through the criminal acts of Guitar and his fellow group members and the reaction of those who knew of their activities, Morrison is able to communicate the relationship between the African Americans and police. To them, they were tools of oppression and did not deserve their help just as they provided none to the community. Having information that could aid them resolve crimes, therefore, did not invoke any feelings of responsibility.
Macon Dead II
Macon Dead II was a ruthless man who placed material wealth above anything else in his life. To him money was the answer to all the troubles that he underwent as a child and an answer to being perceived as a lesser man in the society. Macon Dead II was brought up in a family that practiced sharecropping. In his childhood, he witnessed the brutal murder of his father by white men. Morrison infers that he saw poverty as the cause of his father’s death and racism. This is why he decided to peruse material wealth at all cost. In his pursuit of material wealth Macon Dead II lost all his humanity thus, mistreated his family. He failed his son to teach how to enjoy life. Hence despite all their wealth, his family was unhappy, especially his son.
Morrison was able to make her audience examine racism and its negative effects in the society through her book. The book has also a strong abandonment theme and is a tale of a journey of self discovery. Morrison manages to make her audience examine racial relations in the American society showing the journey undertaken by her main hero, Milkman. Song of Solomon is a tale of racial injustices and an epic journey by Milkman to find his roots and in the process ends up finding himself. Milkman emerges a better man through his quest to find his roots.