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The Role of Women in Song of Solomon and Tar Baby

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In her third novel, ‘Song of Solomon’, Morrison uses the chorus as ritual dance, song and commentary, and thereby highlights the archetypal quality and extend her audience beyond the actual communities through which Milkman journeys and gains a greater knowledge of his past and himself as he travels south. The novel has several communities of women (who tend to be eccentric) and together help Milkman in gaining insight into his past. The first cluster of women is Ruth and her daughters, First Corinthians and Magdalene called Lena. These women have similarities with the women of Nel Wright’s house in ‘Sula’, in as much they conform to social conventions and norms. These women spend their time in making artificial flowers – a job that suggests their stagnant, hollow lives ‘Corinthians’ educational pursuits and her employment as a maid for a short period of time shows her desire for freedom. Lena also felt that Milkman had exploited her role as a male heir in the family. She tells him – “Our girlhood was spent like a found nickel on you” (Song of Solomon, 216). Like her plant on which he urinated, Lena also withers and dies in the gloomy house.

Another community of women, whose lives are equally complex are Pilate, her daughter, Reba and her granddaughter, Hagar. These women remind one of the women in Eva Peace’s house in ‘Sula’. Though they are not degraded in their home like Lena and Corinthians, Hagar and Reba do not even lead fulfilling lives. They never experience Pilate’s level of independence. Like Eva, Pilate and Reba are engrossed in their role as mothers, to protect and give a secured life to their children. When one of Reba’s lovers hits her, Pilate comes around in her defense and tells him – “Women are foolish….and mamas are the most foolish of all….mamas get hurt and nervous when somebody don’t like their children” (Song of Solomon, 94). Pilate and Reba, both are devoted mothers, trying to fulfill all the desires of their daughters. Pilate was not able to give Reba a stable home, as she wandered aimlessly after being abandoned by her husband and friends, as they feared the implications of the absence of her navel. Due to this reason, both of them decided to give Hagar everything she wanted. Reba tells Hagar – “We get you anything you want, baby. Anything”. (Song of Solomon, 48). Morrison explores in these cluster of women, the complex theme of motherhood – of woman as mother, woman as (wet) nurse and woman as nurturer. She points out that women is more than a maker of a child (like Pauline, Geraldine, Hannah, who seem to have no time for their children). On the contrary, Ruth, lives for her children, especially Milkman. She provides him with nourishment to sustain his life. Morrison explains- “Ruth played house with her son – taking him into little room and nursing him as though he were a doll, a toy”. (Shange, 50).If all the women, Pilate is the culture bearer, whose primary function is to sustain the durable values of the past, not to innovate new values or standards. Abandoned by her husband, and neighbors she overcomes rejection and makes out a satisfying life for herself, Reba and Hagar. She also protects herself and those she cares for. She helped Ruth to conceive and deliver Milkman.

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The scene where Milkman’s birth is described is an example of Choral dance and music, with the backdrop of Pilate’s song, which is basic to traditional African culture. In the scene, Robert Smith attempts to fly from the roof of Mercy Hospital. Smith is an insurance agent, who as a member of the militant Seven days group, has done much to insure an end to the lives of others. The community gathers as Smith flaps his blue wings before his suicidal leap, beneath him Ruth Foster goes into labour, while her daughters chase the red velvet roses they have so carefully sewn. The movements involving community of women, have a ritual quality, the dance of death with the blue wings on the tower contrasted with the chase of the rose petals, symbols of both love and blood against the white snow. The baby, later known as Milkman Dead, is born figuratively dead, cut off from the knowledge of his past, which he will not learn until he is an adult. Pilate again emerges as a guardian of cultural and familial lore as she provides Milkman with a sense of self in history and his incorporation into his ancestral community. Hence, the community of women play a significant role in the novel by introducing the novice to adult life, educating and nourishing him, providing him with instructions in traditions, and providing the revered ethical values of the community.

The community of women in ‘Tar Baby’, Morrison’s fourth novel appear at a time when Jadine and Son visit Else, Florida, after fleeing from New York. Due to moral reasons, since they are not married, they are dissuaded from spending night at Son’s father’s home. They went to Son’s Aunt, Rosa’s home. When Rosa discovers Jadine, nude in bed, she offers her a nightgown. Later, after Son falls asleep, the community of women of the past and present (here Morrison has intertwined the world of the living and the living dead), make a visitation. They crowd the dark bedroom, protruding their breasts – “Cheyenne got in, and then the rest. Rosa and Therese and Son’s dead mother and Sally Sarah Sadie Brown and Ondine and Soldier’s wife Ellen and Francine from the mental institution and her own dead mother and even the woman in yellow. All there crowding into the room…..spoiling her lovemaking, taking away her sex like succubi, but not his. He fell asleep and didn’t see the women in the room and she didn’t either but they were there crowding each.

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