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.
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