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The Emotional Burden of Identity in Song of Solomon

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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”.

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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.

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