Debby a journey to find his inner self

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Debby van de Wetering

Student number: 2616556

2017

 

Song of Solomon is
a story about Macon “Milkman” Dead, a young man alienated from himself and
estranged from his family, his community and his cultural and historical roots.
Milkman is looking for his true self while being mentally enslaved. He gets
help from his aunt, Pilate, and his friend, Guitar Bains, who he has a rather
difficult relationship with. He goes on a journey to find his inner self and to
reconnect with his own history and culture. In a Song of Solomon there are many
people who are left behind due to other people taking ‘flight’.

The title of the
book is based on one of the characters, a character who set an example for
other characters to leave people behind for their own happiness. One of the main
themes in Song of Solomon is flying. Some characters take it quite literally,
for example jumping of buildings, while others are on more of a journey and spiritual
flight. (Morrison, 1977) Solomon’s
flight was his escape from slavery in the cotton fields of Virginia. However ‘flying
away’ also meant abandoning his wife and children. Milkman’s flight from his
hometown Michigan frees him from his suffocating environment but is also a
direct reason for the death of Hagar, his former lover. There is a thin line
between flying away and abandoning someone for your own happiness, sometimes they might even be two sides of the same
coin. “Back to Africa. Tell Guitar he went back to Africa.” “Who’d he leave
behind?” “everybody! He left everybody down on the ground and he sailed on off
like a black eagle. ‘O-o-o-o-o-o Solomon done fly, Solomon done gone /Solomon
cut across the sky, Solomon gone home!” (Morrison, p. 409).

The
men in this novel repeatedly abandon their spouses and it shows the enormous
burden these women have to suffer. (Morrison, 1977) Numerous
characters get left behind, for example Ruth and Hagar. They not only suffer
from abandonment but they are also oppressed by racism and have to pay the
price for their men’s flight to freedom. (Azizmohammadi Fatemeh, Kohzadi Hamedreza, 2011) In this novel flight itself does not discuss how those
peoples fly but focuses on the individuals who are left behind. For instance
the freedom that Solomon and Milkman achieve for themselves comes at a great
price for the women they leave behind. These women who are in some cases to
weak to stand up for themselves in the hardened times they were living. Most of
the action within the novel take place between 1931 and 1963, a time in which a
great depression was taking place and African-American people were still seen
as lesser. (Gale, 2001. U.S. History in Context)

The men in Song of
Solomon drew from the way other men surrounding them ‘used’ women and this
resulted in some of their questionable behaviour towards women. Most men in Song
of Solomon learned about society and their role within it from other male
characters. These biased and sexist ways of teaching give a foundation in which
it seems tolerable for a systematic abuse and oppression of the women around them.
These male forbears pass the ideology onto their sons. This was also the case
with Milkman himself who was raised in a rather absurd way with questionable
views on life. Raised by a father who he himself missed parental love in his
life. (Morrison, 1977) Milkman
turned his life around after he went on a quest where he found his true self and
established his manhood.

One of the
characters realizes to some extend that the way he left behind the people in
his life. Was wrongdoing, he shows remorse. Milkman’s maturity and change in
behaviour allows him to appreciate women sexually and as intellectual equals.
First Milkman had to develop himself as a respectful man and loose the
questionable ideas that were put in his head by the people raising him. Later
on in the book Milkman eventually sees women as more than just a sexual object
and forms meaningful connections with them. His perception of women has changed
and he realizes that he himself is at least partly to blame for Hagar’s dead.
He realizes what sort of impact he has had on Hagar. “What difference did it make?
He had hurt her, left her, and now she was dead-he was certain of it. He had
left her. While he dreamt of flying, Hagar was dying. (Morrison, p. 413) Although Hagar’s death might not be entirely Milkman’s
fault he accepts the blame he placed upon himself. This is a confirmation of
his changed views on women. He finally acknowledges the effect his treatment has
had on Hagar and the terrible result it led to, was his own doing. He realizes
that he should shed these ideas and fully accept the women as own individuals
with their own needs and desires.

Getting left behind by the men in their lives is a normality for the
women in Song of Solomon, for years and years the women have been treated and raised
a certain way, a way in which they have less value than the men and can be
abandoned and discarded. This resulted in most of them accepting the way life
works for them. They accepted their faith and believed that they truly were
lesser. They changed themselves for the men in their lives. They pretended that
they had to be different and that they should be ashamed of themselves. “Beauty
shops always had curtains or shades up. Barbershops didn’t. The women didn’t
want anybody on the street to be able to see them getting their hair done. They
were ashamed.” (Morrison, p. 76). An exception to this unspoken rule, of women
accepting the way they are treated, is Pilate, a different minded character in
the novel. Milkman notes, that Pilate is able to fly without ever lifting her
feet off the ground, she has mastered flight, managing to be free of
subjugation without leaving anyone behind, a woman who does not follow the rules and lives
her life the way she wants to. (Morrison, 1977)  Most of the other women in Song of Solomon
seem to depend on the men in their lives, they let them rule their lives and
point them in directions they do not want to go. They seem to ‘belong’ to the
men, “It’s a bad word, ‘belong’. Especially when you put it with somebody you
love…. You can’t own a human being.” (Morrison, p. 382) Pilate has a different
view on life and seems to be a moral compass for different characters. Pilate
is a contrasting character because she ‘flies’ but does not harm others while
doing it. She does not leave anyone behind but rather takes them with her own a
different journey. In a way she breaks free from the status quo.

Toni Morrison ridicules the way the male characters dominate the women, completely
blind to their own ignorant conduct, all the while creating empathy for the
women who must endure all sorts of abuse and abandonment. (Bollen Christopher, Toni Morrison interview, 2012) Morrison satirically empowers the male
characters and blinds them from their ignorant conduct while emphasizing the
extreme abuse the women have to suffer day after day. The normalization, by the
society they live in, of the way these women are treated goes hand in hand with
the way men seem to discard them so easily, because in Song of Solomon the
women are the ones who get left behind. Morrison tries to break the
stereotypical characterization of the women’s dependency on men, for instance
by creating characters like Pilate who are more than capable to break free.

In the novel it is noticeable that some of the women are those who seem
to be unable to fly and suffer the most at the hand of the characters who are
able. They are trapped in their marriages, crushed by heavy burdens and try to
survive day by day. (Morrison, 1977) Some women seem to be grounded and trapped
on earth. They are obsessive and rely on the safe and familiar places they have
known their whole lives , for instance Ruth Foster Dead, she is milkman’s
mother and the daughter of the first negro doctor in town. (Morrison, 1977) Ruth
has been mentally abused by her husband and lives a loveless existence, against
one’s better judgment, Ruth stays married to Macon Dead II. She knows that she
is in fact together but still alone. She is ‘stunned into silence’ by her
abusive husband. This can all happen because Ruth believes that she is ‘small’
to small to truly stand up for herself.

First Corinthians Dead also shows that she goes to great lengths to not
be left behind she is even eager to embarrass herself. The extent these women
go trough to be accepted by men who should be their equals but instead behave
themselves as superiors. This all happens because everyone takes back from the
‘this is how society works’ unspoken rule. First is kicked out of her lovers
car and walks several blocks home but cannot bring herself to go inside. She
willingly wants to hang on the hood of a car even though the car can drive
hundred miles an hour only to make sure that he does not leave her. (Morrison,
1977)

Solomon’s wife and Milkman’s great-grandmother, Ryna, is left behind
with twenty-one children in her care. “He just took off; got fed up. All the
way up! No more cotton! No more bales! No more orders! No more shit! He flew,
baby.” (Morrison, p. 409). For many years she used to wail after her long-lost
husband and cannot cope with him leaving her behind. She is broken and thinks
that she has been left completely alone. “They say she screamed and screamed,
lost her mind completely.” (Morrison, p. 402).

Hagar is a former lover of Milkman and granddaughter of Pilate’s. Hagar
begins an affair with Milkman in her twenties and keeps on being obsessed with him
long after the affair ended. She wants to win back Milkman after he leaves. She
is unable to speak and could not care less about her appearance for three days.
(Morrison, 1977)  It seems that him
leaving put a stop to her living. But she did not want to give up, she wanted
to fight until the bitter end. She starts to believe that his leaving is
somehow her fault, like most of the women in the novel do, she believes that he
left because of her unattractive presence. Hagar wanted to change, make herself
beautiful again. However, Milkman gave up on her for good and after she
realizes that, Hagar goes mad with grief after the constant rejections of
Milkman, which finally results in her own death. (Morrison, 1977)

Morrison uses the
symbol of flight to represents black people’s desire to transcend problems.
This desire dates back to the ancestral past of black people. (Leonard John,
1977) Morrison believed that black men have a desire which results into
negativity, “I will take off from Mercy and fly away on my own wings. Please
forgive me. I loved you all. (signed) Robert Smith, Ins. Agent” (Morrison, p. 3). Robert had such
a desire for flying that he was willing to accept the fact that he could die in
the process, not thinking about the people who will be left behind after his
flight would ultimately fail. Those people left behind are mostly women;
mothers, daughters, friends and family. They live in a society in which they
are oppressed, discriminated and used. (Azizmohammadi Fatemeh, Kohzadi
Hamedreza, 2011) , all for the reason that it has never been any
different. These women who believed that they had to accept the way they have
been owned for centuries. In Song of Solomon, Morrison shines a light on these
women, women who have sacrificed so much for the men in their lives, they
followed them blindly and stayed with them until the end and more than once
even beyond, those women who are scarred beyond recognition and broken beyond repair,
for they have been relying on the men in their lives. The men who have only
thought about flying away and finding that paradise which they believed was not
at home. Numerous of these women wanted to fly themselves. Nevertheless deeply
inside they have known that a better life was not only reserved for males. They
have learned from women like Pilate that change is possible but are so
emotionally scarred that they are not capable of ‘flying’ away. (Morrison, 1977)

They just needed
to learn one thing and that was that depending on the people that will leave
them behind kept them grounded. “”How come it can’t fly no better than a
chicken?” “Too much tail. All that jewellery weighs it down. Like vanity. Can’t
nobody fly with all that shit. Wanna fly. You got to give up the shit that
weighs you down.”” (Morrison, p. 222
) In this novel ‘the shit that weighs you down’ for the women seems to be the
men who never regarded their needs but only thought about their own.   

 

2017 D. van de Wetering

 

Sources

Azizmohammadi
Fatemeh, Kohzadi Hamedreza, A study of racism in Toni Morrison’s the Song of Solomon,
2011

Bhattacharya Rima,
The politics of gender in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon

Bollen
Christopher, Toni Morrison interview, 2012

Gale,
2001. U.S. History in Context 10
december,http://ic.galegroup.com/ic/uhic/ReferenceDetailsPage/ReferenceDetailsWindow?displayGroupName=Reference&zid=f650d58a1576fdd18fbb94c1d4352391&p=UHIC%3AWHIC&action=2&catId=&documentId=GALE%7CCX3468301229&source=Bookmark&u=nysl_ro_rush&jsid=621aa65cb8b5200e6a9d6944d43bc69f

Grauer Andrew,
Course hero, 2006

Leonard John, The New
York Times – To ride the air of Africa, 1977

Morrison Tony,
Song of Solomon,  1977

Oxford Dictionary
of English, 3rd revised edition, 2010

Price Reynolds,
The New York Times – The adventures of Macon Dead, 1977