Song of Solomon Precis

By Leigh Johnson

The Woman Without a Navel

In one of her most well-known novels, Song of Solomon (1977), Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison uses the character of Pilate, the woman born with a "belly that looked like a back" (Morrison 148), to illustrate the ways that factors outside of human control contribute to the formation of personal identity. At the core of Morrison's symbolic argument is an examination of race relations. The one square of centimeter of Pilate that appears to be different from other people causes her to be labeled as "some kinda mermaid" (Morrison 148); this one blemish demotes her to a status that is apparently subhuman. As the reader marvels at characters' unfair treatment of Pilate, he is forced, by an obvious progression, to examine the concept of racial prejudice and see it as equally ridiculous. Just as Pilate could not control the circumstances of her birth, no person can choose the race into which she is born. The discrimination that Pilate faces, of men who shrink away from her naked body and entire communities who migrate to another place to avoid her, reflects upon the evils of racial prejudice, showing the lack of logic behind such senseless prejudice. However, at the same time, Morrison's Pilate embraces the ways in which her lack of a navel define who she is. Morrison states, "After a while, [Pilate] stopped worrying about her stomach, and stopped trying to hide it" (Morrison 148). Though Pilate's physical defect does not create in her the inherent evil that characters seem to sense, it does imbue her with a certain confidence and an unwillingness to apologize for who she is. In this way, Morrison addresses a sensitive topic, that of how race plays a defining role in the formation of identity. While race should never be a cause for prejudice, it does form an important part of who a person is, and it should be celebrated, not hidden from view.