Song of Solomon

A Musical Tribute

Heritage as My Harmony

Mary Malin on the Orphan Train

Did Mary ever talk about her past life in New York?

How did being an orphan show throughout Mary’s life?

Did Mary bring differences culturally to the family?

Were there ever memories or stories that Mary ever shared?

Why did the Hendersons choose to adopt from the Orphan Trains?

Was there ever tension between the adoptive daughter and her parents?

Did she ever express feelings of loneliness or loss of identity or origin?

Did she identify with Nebraska or NYC as her home?

Has the Orphan Train ever impacted your life or your family?

Did her lack of parental guidance influence your childhood? Were there familial habits in other families that you wished for your own?

Admittedly, of all the relationships with my extended family, my most puzzling – though cherished infinitely, truly – must be with my grandmother. We never get along, ever. She is headstrong, religious, and sometimes cranky, and for the longest time all I did was tolerate her. Honestly, who wants to put effort into such a stressful relationship? Well, since I have changed my mind (obviously, or this paper would be a lot shorter). That woman remains one of the strongest role models I have, and she never fails to amaze me. As a strong proponent of the nurturing aspect of morality, I believe that her mannerisms, if bizarre, sourced from her childhood, and decided to dig a little into her past.

Identity develops largely from childhood, and a painful or lacking one can damage identity for a lifetime. At the genesis for life, a nurturing environment can make a world of difference, as basic principles, morals, and habits form within the first years of life. Imagine having all of that ripped away – the motherly love and Sunday drives and late night games and words of wisdom in times of strife – without given reason. Incomprehensible, to me: that vast void of missing identity and upbringing seems so crucial that I cannot even begin to understand how one could operate from a life based from that pain, though assuredly people so, as one of my friends is adopted, as well as my great-grandmother. Mary Pauline Henderson Malin, born in 1899 according to the U.S. Social Security Index, lived in New York as an orphan for the first six years of her life.

Humanity has a natural gravitation to familial roles, but Mary Malin Henderson lacked that for the first six years of her existence. My own family has been involved with my development every step of the way: I cannot remember a day without a hug from my mother or a laugh with my father – and I still cannot even fathom it, even though it is quickly becoming a brusque reality for the fall. Although a small, close-knit community probably formed with her fellow orphans, the knowledge that something was missing was certainly prevalent from families walking down the street hand in hand and other children at school complaining about the sandwich with the abominable crust their mother packed that day. No reason was ever extolled or divulged from Mary as to whether she knew her parents or the circumstances as to her abandonment; in fact, according to my grandmother, her daughter, she was very quiet about the matter. My grandmother admitted she never knew her mother was adopted until she was twenty-one.

Throughout all of my studies of history – and believe me, there have been years upon years of repetitive studies – the subject I dread the most remains the Holocaust. Almost certainly, there will be pictures and videos and other media of the horrors and pain inflicted upon all the millions of men, women, and children, and almost certainly, that will include those on the subject of their travel. Packed into cars like sardines, all humanity squished out at the last stop, not knowing when they would get off – that would have been terrifying for me (even more so because I am claustrophobic, but that is beside the point). Mary Malin travelled from New York to Iowa on the Orphan Train, where a family from Nebraska adopted her. Although conditions were probably at least a small degree more humane than those of the Holocaust, the intentions were no less noble. In order to clean up the streets of New York from the booming orphan population and roaming “street urchins,” the trains shipped hundreds of thousands of children to the Midwest (DiPasquale). Most of them were not sent out there for a better future – Mary was just one of the lucky ones – but to work as cheap labor (“The Orphan Trains”). That experience would terrify me: it is more than just up and moving somewhere – at least one has a choice in the matter – it is the force to create an entirely new life with a new family and new friends and no foothold. One’s past – erased, gone forever.

I know now that my grandmother inherited her nerves of steel. Mary’s story of strength inspires me through my own struggles – which definitely pale in comparison to hers – because she never gave up. She went on to marry a man she loved dearly. My grandmother admired their relationship; both were intelligent and knew what they wanted to do. Mary’s adoptive family – complete with a little brother – ensured her protection, love, and support. (My grandmother defended that – my wording on my question about parental support, or lack thereof as I suggested – probably offended her a bit.) After her marriage, her adoptive parents lent her and her new husband Stanislaus money to start a farm, where she raised my grandmother and her two sisters with confidence.

The toughness inspired by the emotional journey of the Orphan Train was the only piece of her history that translated well between generations; Mary talked little of New York, and from what my grandmother described, considered Nebraska to be her home. It will forever amaze me how much strength and determination it takes in the face of absolute nothingness in both past and future, and how successfully she rose out of those ashes. I see it in my grandmother today – in the way she refuses to miss her water aerobics class, despite her knee injury and despite being advised against driving; in the way she continues to get up out of bed in her own home, makes a pot of coffee, bakes a fresh loaf of bread, and then invites her friends over for a card game in a foot of snow. I see that strength in my own mother – as stubborn as I am often, but with the same quick reasoning to reinforce her statements. In all sincerity, I hope to God that I have the same iron in my bones and the same will to use it in my own life.

DiPasquale, Connie. "A History of the Orphan Trains." A History of the Orphan Trains. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.

"The Orphan Trains." The Children's Aid Society. The Children's Aid Society, n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.


A Song of Life: Dedicated to Corinthians

At the debut of Morrison's heartfelt bildungsroman Song of Solomon (1977), First Corinthians remains in a fetus-like state of being -- silent, unsatisfied, lacking confidence, unwanted, constantly controlled by her father's wishes -- until she takes action for herself, when she writes her own song, and Morrison uses her journey of self to suggest that life is not fully utilized until one sings their own tune. Since Corinthian's status and education already lifted her above the masses, all eyes expected her life to "[culminate] in something more elegant" (Morrison 188) than a simple, repetitive work ditty, and she quickly realizes that something always stands as an obstacle to the coveted future, whether that she "lacked drive" (188) or "might not have the proper attitude," (189) but then when Henry Porter came along, stealing her away for midnight rendez-vous and introducing a passion worth singing about, she "felt a self-esteem that was quite new" (201) and didn't even stop to fix her hair on the way up the front porch steps, much like the brazen humming of one’s favorite song. Morrison pens Corinthian's transformation into herself not only to set the stage for Milkman's change, but also to support her idea that life starts when one establishes a song, or legacy for themselves. Using a shift from to a comfortable tone, much like those in songs, Morrison conveys Corinthian's metamorphosis.
Many regard songs as the life of the soul, and First Corinthians operates for so long as a machine, buzzing but not humming to the dull rhythm of life. Her purpose and hopes and dreams and accomplishments -- all culminate in a melody of her life resounding in her heart and those around her, telling the world that she finally has a purpose and a passion for life. Morrison uses song as a symbol of life and of understanding of identity, and Corinthians exhibits this entirely. The notes of her song -- written and belted by her after the encounter with Porter -- leave an impact on her family and community and create an entirely new, true character.

Milkman "Hamlet" Dead: A Reincarnate Personage

Toni Morrison implies that Milkman Dead III, the center of her eccentric novel Song of Solomon (1977), exhibits a Hamlet-like persona through his "fear of and eagerness for death" (Morrison 120) and with a "mood of lazy righteousness" (120). Amid the incestuous relationships, Milkman feels a "responsibility to that knowledge" (120) of his mother's choices as he endeavors, with his loyal friend, to usurp his "father" -- though both Shakespeare and Morrison distort the connotation of the status -- after believing Macon Dead II "was the biggest thing in the world" (50) until he, much like Hamlet, overcomes the psychological barrier between father figure and son. Morrison paints Milkman in the image of Hamlet in order to accentuate his wallowing and "softened" (50) conviction in the pursuit of his dreams and goals -- or lack thereof. Morrison's relaxed tone and choice of colloquial diction emphasizes Milkman as a part of his stagnant surroundings, just as Hamlet stands "like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of [his] cause" (Shakespeare II.ii. 540).
As a classic play read by millions across the globe, Shakespeare's Hamlet remains that famous ditty everyone hums along to and quotes in random situations throughout life. Milkman, as the son of a domineering profiteer, knows little more than the lifeless disillusionment of his father, and for the longest time, can only sing its praises. He searches for meaning to his own life, while the rest of his actions parallel the controversial literary character. In a beautiful interweaving of classical literature throughout Song of Solomon, Morrison has Milkman sing Hamlet's same song to evoke similar characterization and emphasize his words and actions.

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Quality Personified

Egocentric Milkman

Egocentric doesn’t set his alarm in the mornings, and when the bright morning sunlight illuminates his eyelids, he slumps out of bed and around the house in a robe with one side sliding off his shoulder and raggedy slippers scraping the ground with bright eyes and a straight back. Releasing steam and fumes into the damp morning air, the coffee sits like a Christmas morning gift, but he never marvels at its appearance because it always seems to spontaneously exist. He never feels the eyes boring into his back when he walks into church late with a rumpled shirt and doesn’t understand the piercing looks his family shoots from the first pew. He hums out of tune as he struts down the aisle, leaving a legacy of gaping faces and pained ears. Singing remains the only part of life that still excites Egocentric -- he still believes that his voice inspires the angels, as an old lady once told him years ago -- and he belts out his favorite songs while working, though vulgar, annoying, and entirely interruptive. Only twice was Egocentric nervous -- under the sharp gaze of his estranged Aunt and in the brightness of his cousin’s youthful eyes and seductive grin -- but once he pinned his own father against the radiator, it seemed as if the air itself solidified that he could do anything that night. Whether dancing to the latest jazz record with all the ladies or fraternizing with any persons, -- filthy rich in Honoré, or just scraping the rent that levels out at the clouds from their view on the ground -- Egocentric struts around the bars, barbershops, and streets of the city as if to a beat -- like a peacock with jewels so heavy and luminescent that any would be envious. Those jewels aren’t even his, though; his father pasted them on his thin feathers at birth, alongside his name.

Any sins that Egocentric commits never grace his conscience for long: why should he dwell on the past with a promising evening in store? The soft blue fabric, tainted by the finger-like strains of urine, remains burned into one twin’s memory, with the embers of heated embarrassment and resentment still crackling in the memory, but the scene draws no parallels to Egocentric’s fuzzy memory; he sees no reason for the hatred he receives. The other twin accuses him of swiping their lives right under their noses -- the price of a nickel, stolen and worn, but precious nonetheless -- but he feels no sympathy. Their glares have no effect on Egocentric; he is his own person, brilliant and individualistic, with no need for his family (though he inhabits the same house even after thirty candles blaze on his birthday cake). Their feelings are trivial; love is expected, a part of the job of association with him; funding for the parties, sex, and booze used to satiate his body’s desires are the only requirements of his family. Egocentric could otherwise care less, and leave, fly away on a whim in a jet-black Beemer with some rock and roll blaring, cutting through the thick summer air, gracing the highways with his feelings. He would be happy that way, even though everybody would miss him.

Milkman's legacy at the end of the novel sings of maculine domination and self-righteousenss, so he parallels a personified Egocentric. Always looking out for himself and never seeing the hurt he causes others, his song clashes with the quiet musak of his immediate family and with the strong, melodious voice of Pilate. Between the emotional scarring to his sisters and his harsh judgement of his rejected mother, his song contains very few words of kindness or appreciation. The self-involvement lacing his legacy hurts his song to the ears of the others around him -- no one wants to listen to him, except because his dad is the million-dollar-grossing record label paying the radio station to play it on repeat.

Literary Analysis

Music Permeates the Pages

Think of an older African-American man with a little gray stubble clinging to his chin, slouching on a wooden bar stool in a smoke-filled, half-empty bar with overturned glasses on vacant tables and crooning with a raspy voice to the moon, and that is the image the blues inspires in most. Joyce Weg’s literary criticism of Song of Solomon’s use of song bases off of this image for the bulk of the paper, and makes some strong points connecting blues music to Milkman’s bildungsroman. With common themes between blues music’s image and many plot and character elements, Weg comments on gender roles, references in names, as well as adaptations of the song seen throughout the novel, “The Fathers May Soar.”

As jazz and blues famously came from New Orleans, Louisiana, the typical image reflects the culture from which it bred and the themes it reflects. Alcohol, often associated with the many bars lining the French Quarter, remained an ever-present piece of Milkman’s life from a young age: he sneaks some drinks with Guitar until it became necessary to have booze at any party, and then he was sneaking alcohol into his father’s store under the back lid of the toilet (both guilty and unsanitary). Also associated regularly with blues are sin and unfaithfulness, and Song of Solomon presents its fair share of both, but relies on the gender roles established by blues with the "men [running] away from trouble and women complainingly [enduring]" (Wegs 167). The article analyzes Milkman’s best friend, Guitar, and his criticism of women – a reverse gender role in expectations for blues, where the men often are the subject of rebuke and the source of mourning. (Guitar's name, though, could go much deeper, in that he was an instrument of the Seven Days and thought he was "played" by Milkman, when Milkman did not return with his share of the promised gold.) Milkman, however, lives up to this infidelity and flagrancy associated with the blues men before their alcohol-induced crooning. The article does not mention, however, the women taking flight, and several do: Pilate, with her journey through Virginia; Ruth, with her midnight escapes to her father’s grave; even Hagar, if short-lived and supported by unfortunately misplaced hopes, flies when she takes action to fulfill her dead dream. Also, it lacks analysis of these women who sing the blues themselves – a contrast to the bitter complaining often associated with blues men’s lovers. The incredible span of character purpose and development ties with the concepts and themes presented by blues, but doesn’t necessarily support the gender role assertions.

Brotherly love, seen especially between Milkman and Guitar throughout the book, remains a prevalent theme throughout blues music. With the men flying away from problems together -- commonly through alcohol – the friendship always supports the other. (Well, in the end, as Milkman at first refused to listen to his “brother,” but in the last pages of the novel, Milkman proclaims that he will give everything – even his life – to Guitar.) The development of this bond, even though betrayal and heartbreak and anger riddle their relationship, represents the beauty of imperfect friendships often presented with the image of blues music. Wegs does an incredible job with communicating this with portraying Milkman’s childishness with “repeated urination in inappropriate contexts” (Wegs 176) to the sage advice Guitar gives Milkman about controlling oneself, but not others (Wegs 179).

Wegs recognizes the importance of the lyrical language, as well as the actual song lyrics thoughout Song of Solomon. Her analysis of the song as a purpose to life and a melody or proclamation of accomplishment. She mentions Milkman’s modification of "The Fathers May Soar" from "Solomon" to "sugargirl" represents his tranformation: now he can contribute with his life, building of of his ancestry and his aunt's teachings. As a connection to his paat, a proclamation of his present, and a foretelling of his future, the songs define Milkman’s story. Even unofficualky, some of the story us lyrical: Wegs presents the sty chomp this during Hagar death scene as a sing. Though not actually sung, the poetry it holds practically sings the purpose of Hagar life, as sad as it remains.

Although a Wegs successfully ties in other themes and motifs such as flight and the search for identity with the bird imagery (that both sings and flies, while still being a symbol for new birth) and allusions to the book of Solomon in the Bible, one crucial part missing is Macon II's secret observance of the Dead women singing at night. He works late and despises his family, and this stark contrast between silent work and joyous, song-filled labor stresses the fulfillment of life and understanding of purpose.

Weg's literary criticism on Song of Solomon focuses on the novel as a parallel to the blues genre of music. With a soulful sound accompanied by reverberating guitar and raspy, imperfect voices, the comparison to blues music adds another dimension to the bildungsroman: a melancholic, yet strangely alluring melody that soothes the soul. Between names and themes, Song of Solomon presents a core of blues identity with basic associations to the genre. As a blues song itself, the novel becomes a unique sound to add to the collection of voices calling for the need to love unconditionally and righteously.

Symbol Explored - Music, the Heart and Soul of Song of Solomon

"The Fathers May Soar"

A song can evoke so many emotions and memories and wishes and dreams that it tends to overwhelm the listener. Just as all art, songs remain subject to the observer, but still sound distinct truths from their creators. Throughout Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison’s eccentric novel, the folk song “The Fathers May Soar” resounds as an imperative vein to the Dead family history. The song echoes sorrow, loneliness, loss, passion, and love in a mere eight lines of colloquial lyrics. Solomon, the father of Jake Dead and great-grandfather of protagonist Milkman Dead, lived a repetitive, yoked life of slavery until one day he just took off into the air, leaving his legacy in this song. “The Fathers May Soar” symbolizes the ties between generations, as all children (and descendants of the renowned feed slave) in the town of Shalimar know this ditty by heart. Their mothers sing it to them, their friends dance in a circle to its beat, chanting the words in a bizarre little game, and their heart can hum the tune from the grave. As a connection between the whole family, it represents the importance of heritage and culture.

Another intriguing aspect presented in Song of Solomon is the prospect of adaptations of the original song. Every person possesses different potential and unique perspectives, and often this shines through both words and actions. Pilate Dead knows the song of her family – etched into her soul from her wanderings in Virginia – but not the original version; her adaptation of the song uses “Sugarman” instead of “Solomon.” Her straying from the original verse does not alter its intent, but it does adjust the meaning to her own perspective. This symbolizes the power of identity and self-understanding, as the original song represents a common hymn for all the community, but her voice, her shout into the void, is the harmony that broadens the purpose and meaning to not only her but the others who hear her – which is the true purpose of song. This song is Pilate’s legacy and the Dead family’s refrain, and it represents the achievement of a meaningful life. The song “The Fathers May Soar,” enables steadfast Pilate to express herself and leave an impact on the world, so she could die knowing that, if anything, she contributes a verse to the song of life.

While the folk song from the cotton fields peopled by slaves is, in fact, a song, the most poetic part of the melding of acceptance of tradition as well as inspired individuality. The novel places the two concepts at odds, like cacophonous harmonies and melodies, but in the end, both interlock with more beauty than ever before. Weaving the refrain of the original ditty with her own perspective on life, the song symbolizes the importance of individuality, while still coexisting with one's past. Music, associated with dancing and joy and freedom, can liberate those who intend to create the melody while still keeping with the beat.

Alternative Cover

The pursuit of this alternative cover for Song of Solomon (1977) by Toni Morrison was to embody the overlapping, imperfectly beautiful melodies and harmonies presented by the characters. Made from torn magazine clippings, pictures, and colorful paper, the rough edges symbolize the coarse approach to life and relationships, which are often abrasive and even abusive -- not only Milkman sings this song, but also Macon II. Milkman, the figure on top of Solomon's Leap, has wings of a different color because not only did he adopt the new outlook on life that lifted his spirit as an addition to his old body, but no one else but Pilate has attained these assets. A music staff flows from his wings, as the change in his approach to his life and the others in it -- or his song, his legacy -- has given him flight from his previous plight: the lifeless, dull, oppressive, painful song he previously sung.

Recipe for a Character

A Spicy Pan of Pilate

This is a very eccentric dish tho which very few can accustom themselves. With its revolutionary approach to its station -- heavy main courses -- it is surely a force for your mouth to reckon with! The chef recommends that the recipe isn't followed exactly, as that was the inspiration for the plate originally. It is an excellent opportunity to learn new skills and experience deeper the sensations you have only begun to adore.

Navel Oranges, as many as desired

A vine of grapes

A square of semisweet chocolate

3 cups of Independence

A pinch of garlic

1.45 gallons of Love

To begin with, remove the navels from the oranges. Add those, as well as the grapes, to a small bowl and press them to release the juices, adding pressure to the offensive intruders until they comply. (Do NOT crush these with the feet --that is a myth, and alters the taste.) The leaves and vine are good for texture; it gives something for the diner to chew on. Mix in the chopped garlic, which is the ingredient that surprises and often puts off chefs, but its spunk bring new personality to the dish. Melt the semi-sweet chocolate over a fire. This provides a sweeter undertone, and really is the heart of the platter. Mix ingredients roughly -- the dish's origins were not easy, with a dead father and betraying brother -- in a strong bowl, capable of holding and understanding its contents peacefully. Place the mixture in a pan on the stove and pour the Love over everything -- make sure everything feels the Love, because that is the hope of Pilate -- and let it simmer until the dish is a comforting warmth -- but not too soft that it becomes mushy. Pilate yields multiple servings and may even provide for multiple meals, as the dish is easily transferable and able to be reheated.

Just as different songs with similar melodies have differing titles, the chef recommends an adapted name if the recipe was modified in order to identify the differences in legacies between the different variations.

Pilate represents the most musically gifted character in Song of Solomon because she has contributed a verse. In living her life sans gender roles and in fulfillment of her own wishes, she creates her own harmony to the melody of her ancestor. The beautiful part is that life requires no one to compose an entirely new song, but to modify the existing one, as there are universal human experiences -- such as life and death. Pilate's song may not be the most beautiful, the most understandable, or even the catchiest, but she cries out to her own tune, which is what the recipe encourages with modifications to both the recipe and its name.

Original Poem

Milkman Dead, yes, ma’am I am.

That’s my name, and

I got it from unfavorable circumstances

That you’ll never know,

but it sure sounds cool, don’t ya think?

Who cares if you agree; I have coolest strut

and get all the ladies anyway

(whether I want them or not).

Take Hagar, my beautiful cousin.

She’s gorgeous, if rough around the edges,

and plays along when I want to.

She’s a bit…time-consuming though,

and it’s starting to become a problem.

She wants all of me,

but I just want the sex once in a while.

Can’t a brotha have a fling without

all the emotional strings tangling?

But sometimes she just makes me want to sing–

At the top of my lungs, like that Jeans guy.

I could be the black version, Milkman Kelly

Swaggering through the streets singing about

Hagar, sex, and money,

and I would be adored by all

because that’s what happens in Hollywood,

even if Hollywood is thousands of miles away.

The poem depicts Milkman's attitude toward his status and his relationships before his transformation. His melody is the barbarous, annoying, self-righteous rap blaring from the car stopped next to you at a stoplight. A colloquial tone gives the uneven, relaxed feel presenting a flagrant, dismissive attitude, and this careless approach to the beauty of his song of life remains disgusting. He references the movie Singing in the Rain because in its most famous scene, Gene Kelly, the actor, kicks up water and goes through life without caring who he's splashing on and what a beautiful dress it might ruin. He realizes he loves Hagar sometimes, but cannot stand her others (like that song on the radio you can't decide if you like). The only beautiful piece, though tragically so, is the wistful dream of something more than his routine, his boring city. Although admittedly, he dreams of Hollywood, which sings a song of sin and falsity.

Postcard from Shalimar

Sources of original photos, respectively:,

Milkman travels a long ways in order to find his identity in his past. Shalimar, the hometown of his flying ancestor Solomon, is a golden opportunity -- like the fields blaze in a golden fire -- to revolutionize his life. The fire of his time in Shalimar, or his limbo, burns away his sins through the pain and confusion of the night hunting, but he returns enlightened and illuminated. The "Find Yourself" is in blue to present the simplicity of the truth he realizes in himself, while Shalimar is in purple due to the mysetry and tradition residing in the little town. One can practically hear Milkman's excitement in his words to Pilate -- he's changed his song -- and tells her basically the information divulged when he returns home in the book. Pilate's address is at Memory Lane because all of the emotions and beliefs she held for so long finally resolve and the truth rings clear like a beautiful melody.