Song of Solomon Project

Multigenre

CH. 5-8

Song of Solomon as an Epic

In chapters 5-8 of her novel Song of Solomon, Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison presents the story of the Dead family as an epic. Morrison establishes her novel as an epic by using the 6 elements, with Pilate as the hero ("I wouldn't have been able to save you except for Pilate" 124), her deed of superhuman strength ("I don't remeber my mother because she died before I was born" 141), the vast setting (Morrison's flashback to Pilate's life 141), supernatural forces ("She spoke often to the dead" 149), elevation of style (Morrison's writing is overly descriptive, to say the least), and an omniscient narrator (the entire novel is from a third person point of view). Up to this point in the novel, the story lacks characters of some type of moral stature, so in order to give the reader hope for a noble deed, Morrison presents Pilate as an admirable hero. Morrison's reassuring tone revealed through Pilate's sharing her life story with Ruth helps the reader to recognize that there is hope for redemption and victory, much like the epic heroe Gilgamesh, Odysseus, and even James Bond.

Pilate as the Maple Tree

In chapter 9 of her novel Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison implies that Pilate is indeed the "little maple" (212) that Milkman peed on. By comparing Pilate to "Louise Beaver and Butterfly McQueen all rolled up in one" (205), discussing how "short and pitiful" (205) she looked, changing her voice "when she whined to the policeman" (206), and showing the hatred that "was like heat shivering out of [Guitar's] skin" at Pilate's demeaning of herself to satisfy the white man, Morrison establishes Pilate as a mighty maple that, after being "pissed" upon, is slowly withering away and dying. Later on in the chapter, Magdalene called Lena loses her temper with Milkman and tells him how he has been metaphorically peeing on people his entire life, and Morrison's demonstration of how Milkman's carelessness has belittled Pilate furthers Lena's point: that Milkman is a "sad, pitiful, stupid, selfish, hateful man." (216) Morrison's malicious tone expressed through Lena's conversation with Milkman allows the reader to realize that Milkman has "messed over anybody" (214) who truly cares for him, even the one who cared for him the most---Pilate.
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Heritage Paper

Lauren Taylor. Such an average name. Lauren means “From the place of the Laurel leaves” or “Fierce” in the Irish version. I think both are very befitting for two reasons. First of all, I am as tall as a tree (which is apparent to anyone who has ever seen me in person). Secondly, I do consider myself an overly fierce person. Some may say a little too fierce, if you ask me, but hey, who asked them?! Honestly, I don’t know who I would be without my name, and I feel that it is important to acknowledge the people behind my name: my family.

JAMES ROUSE- Born 1938, Fayetteville, AK

My grandfather is one of the most important people in my life; he gave me my name, so I wouldn’t be who I am without him. “Pop,” as we all call him, was quite the handyman, and still is to this day. He was born in Fayetteville, Arkansas, but his family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin when he was 10 years old. Now, in Milwaukee, he became the neighborhood leaf raker, and he met quite a few characters during his tenure as the “leaf-raker.” His best childhood friend often accompanied him on his adventures, but little did Pop know that his friend would go on to be a renowned jazz artist. “James! Come on, man! Mrs. Meir is waiting on us to come clean her front yard, and I am NOT trying to miss out on my dollar because of you!” Little Al, as everyone in the neighborhood called him, was 2 years younger than Pop so he looked up to Pop as sort of a big brother figure. Pop let Al tag along, but because of his poor judgment they got into more mischief than they cared for. “Al, man get off me! I’m comin’, I’m comin. Mrs. Meir is lucky that anybody’s doing anything for her as mean as she is. Let’s just get this over with.” Mrs. Meir was one of the meanest ladies in the neighborhood. If a kid kicked their ball in her yard, they didn’t dare go retrieve it. That was an absolute no-no, so James was hesitant about going to clear her yard. After the long walk down Reservoir, James and Al approached the decrepit, ancient house nervously. “Go on in, Al. This was your idea in the first place.” They both knocked, and not even three seconds later, Mrs. Meir opened the door and ushered them in. “Sit. We have a lot to go over today. First you will rake the yard, then you will clean the attic. After that, I will pay you each a dollar, and you both will leave my house. Understood?” The boys nodded in unison, each too afraid to utter a sound. “Good. I will go get the rags and buckets. Just sit here, and DON’T TOUCH A THING!” Mrs. Meir left the two boys in the parlor. Al was a bit of a trouble maker. After all, he was an inquisitive 8 year old little boy, so rules didn’t really pertain to him. “Look, James. It’s a record player. Who’s Loo-eze Armstrong?” Al was still perfecting his reading. “That’s Louis Armstrong, fool! And don’t touch that! You heard Mrs. Meir. I’m not trying to jeopardize my dollar.” Al had never actually seen a real record player, just pictures in the Sears catalogs. “Well, who’s Louis Armstrong, Mr. Smart-ass?” Al might not have been able to read, but he could curse like a sailor. “Louis Armstrong is a jazz musician who traveled all over playing his songs. He’s world renowned, you know.” Pop loved jazz; it was something different, something innovative. Mrs. Meir sauntered back into the parlor with rags. “Well, boys, it looks like my buckets are no good. I’ll just walk down to the corner store real quick and buy two new ones. Now, I am trusting you to just sit in my house and behave. It should take me no longer than ten minutes to get the buckets. I left some juice and cookies on the kitchen table that you can help yourself to. Don’t bother ANYTHING!” With that, Mrs. Meir left the house. The boys went to the kitchen, ate a cookie, and returned to the parlor to sit. Al was mesmerized by the record player. “James? Jaaaaames? Can we turn on the player? Pleeeeeeease?” Al whined in his nasally little voice; Pop couldn’t stand it. “Fine! But we’re only gonna do this for a minute. She’ll be back soon.” Pop turned on the player and Louis Armstrong’s cover of “La Vie En Rose” played. Instantly, Little Al was rapt; he zoned out, and it seemed like he wouldn’t return when Pop kept snapping in his face. “Al! Al! Alwin L. Jarreau, snap out of it!” Al finally came back to reality. He had just experienced jazz for the first time, but little did he know that it would change his life. When Mrs. Meir returned with the buckets, the boys went to the front yard to rake the leaves. Al kept humming the tune that was wedged in his brain. He couldn’t get over the flow of Louis’ raspy voice on top of the captivating trumpet. It was remarkable.

Pop and Al remained good friends until Al went off to Ripon College, when the two lost touch. However, Al went on to become a famous jazz singer, winning 7 Grammys over the course of his career. Pop never forgot his friendship with Little Al. It was my grandfather, James Rouse, who introduced famous musician Al Jarreau to jazz when they were young boys. I’m sure back then that the two didn’t think anything of that day at Mrs. Meir’s house, but in actuality, had that day never happened , and my grandfather never turned on the record player, the world would not know who Al Jarreau was.

When we were first assigned this project, I thought, Man, my family is boring. Nothing happened. Nobody fought in the war, nobody was famous, nothing. Little did I know, that my grandfather was best friends with a world-famous musician, and is actually responsible for introducing him to jazz. We may not take the time to look back on our roots and our heritage, but after talking to my grandfather, I realized (not to sound cliché or anything) that it is important to know where you’ve been in order to know where you are going. Where are you going, Where have you been?

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Two Voice Poem

Two Voice Poem

Ruth

I am empty

Happiness is an emotion that has long escaped my heart

A life wasted

Nothing to show, but an angry husband, distant children, and a big house

I am alone

Who is there next to me but the oxygen I breathe

A father, my guiding light, gone too soon

A husband, my supposed life partner through the good and bad, who now can not bare to look at me

And a son, the apple of my eye, that is loved but cannot love

I am dead

Aimlessly walking this Earth without a purpose

Strength and power have never held my body

I was pressed small

I am Ruth Dead

More of a shadow than a person

Forever stuck in the past

Never had really lived


Pilate

I am filled

Happiness is an emotion that has een forever present in my life

A life fulfilled

Nothing to show but an ungrateful granddaughter and an awful brother

I am alone

What companion do I have besides my loving child

A father, my guiding light, gone too soon

No husband, a would-be life partner

Through the good and the bad, who can’t bear to see my navel-less body

And a granddaughter, the love of my life, that has but still wants more

I am alive

Walking upright on this Earth with a known purpose

My body full of vigor and life, so much that it overwhelms the world

I was invigorated

I am Pilate Dead

A live being, conscious of the past

But forever looking ahead

Never had really died



Explanation: This poem is a reflection of Ruth and Pilate Dead’s innermost thoughts. Both women were powerful entities in themselves, even if they weren’t always cognizant of their power. Pilate never let her name limit her in her life, whereas Ruth let her family name hinder her. We see Ruth really dreading life; she can’t seem to find the positive in her life. Pilate, Ruth’s antithesis, sees mostly the bright side, but there was a time where she questioned who she was because of her lack of a navel. Both women come to terms with who they think they are at the end of the poem.

Literary Analysis: The Importance of Names

The importance of names acts as a major theme in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. Each character has a distinct name that shapes his identity throughout the novel, but like in reality, there are many factors that shape each person’s identity. However, the major factor emphasized throughout the novel is one’s history. In Song of Solomon, the history of a person’s name is directly related to the person’s present as Macon Dead’s epithet of Milkman shape his inability to break free and become an independent man, as Ruth’s maiden name is a symbol of power [or lack of, rather], and as Pilate’s name is, ironically, symbolic of her best qualities: wisdom, perseverance, and “disregard for status and occupation”. (Smith)

Milkman acts as the novel’s protagonist with an ever changing identity shaped mainly from his name. When he was younger, his mother scarred him for life; she breast fed him well beyond the acceptable age. As an adult, he fails to maintain stable relations, be it with his family or the outside world. Throughout the novel, due to name, it seems that Milkman is “doomed to a life of alienation from himself and from others”, but with the discovery of family ties and links, this main character gains a new sense of self and emphasizes how important one’s past truly is. (Smith)

Ruth, born into a wealthy family with a renowned father, struggles to behold a concrete identity throughout the novel, even with a background so distinguished as hers. The love she shows to her father and son ultimately pushes them away which leaves her an empty shell of a woman. Also leaving her empty is her desire for acceptance concerning social class and material objects to show off. Her inability to fill her life with meaning or hold on to something of purpose causes Ruth to identify as a shadow, stemming from the background of her name.

With a non-superficial identity, Pilate Dead “provides a marked contrast to her family”. (Smith) Acting as the most enlightened character, Pilate’s identity is one formed by a history filled with triumphs and missteps that she experienced along the way, in spite of her awful name. Her name came from a place of darkness; her father named her that because he was mad at God for taking his wife, and what better way to get back at God than by naming your daughter after the person who betrayed Jesus, Pontius Pilate. Despite this horrendous name, with the love and warmth she experienced with Reba’s father, she learned happiness and acceptance. With this assured identity, Pilate “introduces a magical presence” that acts as a breath of fresh air to readers compared to her lifeless family members.

In each of these characters, readers see the effects that one’s name can have on one’s identity which makes it a major theme in the novel. Milkman’s lack of connection, Ruth’s desire to live through outside objects, and Pilate’s Christ-like demeanor can all be traced back to their names or the histories behind their names. Morrison incorporates this connection to show the importance of one’s name, and that in order to understand one’s self in the present, they must first look in the past.

Quality Personified: Dependency

He has never been able to let go. He leans on her like a crutch, stumbling through life unable to hold himself up. The difference between dependency and independency stems simply from a childhood experience. Dependency is unreliable, isolated, aloof. Independency is strong, cherished, essential. Dependency is a leech, draining others of their capability. The capability to take care of themselves, to take care of others, to satisfy their own needs. Dependency always makes itself known, never one to lurk in the shadows. He announces his arrival by letting everyone know what he needs. A selfish creature Dependency is. He never takes the time to consider what others need or how he can cater to their wants and desires. It is always about his satisfaction when he wants it; instant gratification is an understatement when discussing Dependency.

What's in a Name?

Who am I?

A being shaped

Only by his name

Or lack of, rather…

A selfish individual with

Complete disregard

For anyone else.

Not the woman who birthed him,

Not the man who named him,

And damn sure not the woman who saved his life.

Who am I?

I am Macon Dead III

I am Milkman.

A being unknowingly seeking his identity,

Seeking something he can call his own.

I seek independence and identity,

Yet I cannot find it. Where is it?

Where am I?

Who am I?

I am Dead.

Pilate's Earring

In Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison introduces the other protagonist, Pilate Dead, as a strong, fierce woman whose power stems from her name, or the brass box containing her name that she wears as an earring. Pilate's earring becomes symbolic of identity and the importance of one's name, the central theme of the novel. Pilate wears her name not only as a memento of her father but also to remind her of where she has been in a life full of love, pain, and struggle. The earring is connected to her as they have gone through these experiences together.

Pilate's earring is a symbol of connectivity. Her father first wrote her name after her mother died. He was illiterate but he insisted on writing her name. Pilate wears this name in a box on her earlobe to signify hey connectedness with her deceased father. The earring also shows how Pilate is connected to everyone else. From Pilate's pilgrimage across the country to her settling down in Michigan, that earring has been there. It keeps her connected to the many people she's met and experiences she's had throughout her unusual life.