Song of Solomon MultiGenre Project

-Hasit Dewan

Symbol Explored

Song as a symbol in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon

A sense of escape, or “flying away” pervades throughout Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. From the ever-present protagonist Milkman to the briefly mentioned Robert Smith, characters in her world are always striving to escape the constraints of their lives for various reasons. Characters experience flight in both subtle and open ways. Solomon’s dramatic escape back to Africa and Pilate’s understated “flight” after her death both represent characters fleeing the troubles of day to day life. However, along with these intermittent instances of flight, Morrison also uses songs and the act of singing to represent characters breaking free of the shackles that bind them in their lives, even if just for a few moments.

Four pages into the novel, Morrison introduces the reader to one of many instances of a character singing; in this case, it is the motherly Pilate singing in response to Robert Smith’s attempt at flying. The song mirrors Smith’s attempt to escape from the sins of his past. By singing, Pilate is able to accomplish what none of the other bystanders can: freeing Robert Smith. She is the only character to openly acknowledge his actions, and she does so by staring at him and singing. Though indirect, the scene sets up singing as a means of escape or “flight” for the various characters.

For Macon Dead II., listening to his sister Pilate and her family sing while hiding under her windows allows him to forget his depression and rekindles his childhood happiness. The songs remind him of his home and transport him back to a happier time. His escape only lasts a few moments, but it rejuvenates him enough so that he can return to his otherwise unhappy life. The songs Pilate, Reba, and Hagar sing represent a means for Macon to escape his dreary life. Simply the act of listening to the songs transports him back in time.

To end the novel, Morrison uses another instance of singing. Ironically, it is Pilate who listens as Milkman sings for the very first time. In fact, he is described as having “no singing voice anybody would want to hear”. When he sings, he sets both Pilate and himself free. Pilate is able to finally “fly” through the bird and he is also able to fly as seen in his leap towards Guitar. The act of singing represents Milkman finally achieving what his ancestor Solomon did years and years before: flight.

By using singing and songs as a constant symbol throughout the novel, Morrison conveys the idea of flight and escape. Even characters such as Pilate could fly through song “without ever leaving the ground.” Solomon may have literally flown across the ocean, but his actions form the basis for the song that allows so many of his descendants to figuratively fly.

Symbol Explanation

Symbol in relation to theme of flight

Throughout the novel, characters use songs and singing as a means to escape. Macon II uses Pilate’s singing to briefly revert back to his childhood state of happiness, and forget his dreary life. In a more literal sense, the Dead family uses songs to maintain and pass down their family stories, such as Solomon’s flight. Solomon’s song literally represents his flight to Africa and is constantly sung by various characters. It serves as the focal point for Milkman’s journey into his past to discover more about his heritage and also allows Milkman to finally achieve flight at the end of the novel, just as his ancestor did.

Photograph


Over the past winter break, my family and I took a short vacation to Universal Studios and Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Above is a picture I took of the Incredible Hulk ride at Universal Studios, while we were walking in the park. Riding a roller coaster of this size essentially requires that people posses not only a sense of courage and confidence, but also faith in the ride’s builders and structural integrity. These feelings of self-assurance and faith mirror that which Milkman struggles to find throughout the course of the novel.

Milkman’s journey of self-discovery is the result of the general distrust he has for the people in his life. Until the very end, he is unable to completely surrender himself and let free. He constantly takes charge and acts condescendingly, such as when he told his father of Corinthians relationship with Henry Porter. In this case, he felt that both Henry and Corinthians were making mistake without taking in regard that Corinthians was an older adult who could be trusted. However, at the end of the novel, Milkman finally achieves the ability of truly letting go as he discovers himself and his heritage, symbolized by his literal leap towards Guitar.

Like Milkman, the people in the roller coaster must be able to let themselves go and trust in the ride makers. Granted, the trust required of Milkman and that of the people are on two completely different scales, but the idea remains the same. People must have full faith in themselves and others before they can be willing to release themselves to the mercy of a roller coaster or, in Milkman’s case, to the heavens.

Big image

Photograph Explanation

Flight in the photograph of the Incredible Hulk Ride

Many characters in the novel experience flight on a small or large scale. Before they can do so however, they must learn to not only trust in themselves but also in others around them. Similarly, the people on the roller coaster must possess both an innate confidence that they can handle the ride and also faith in the ride’s structure. Without either of these, a person will be unable to fully experience the experience of essentially flying through the air at high speeds. Similarly, Milkman is unable to truly fly until the very end of the novel, when he has fully realized his inner identity and heritage and is able to trust in himself and others. Only once Milkman achieved these qualities was he able to follow in the footsteps of his ancestor Solomon and achieve flight.

Quality Personified

Love expects nothing in return. She gives all she has to give, even though it is not much. Even to Bitterness, who absolutely detests her, she gives love. She understands that deep down, Bitterness does not really feel hate as much as he feels regret and loss. Yet, his bitterness defines him as it makes him angry and hateful, and so he came to be known as Bitterness.

At night, Love joins in with Luck and Passion to sing a chorus that brings happiness to those who hear it. Bitterness even stops to listen to just a few bars of their song. The song reminds him of a time, when he was known not as Bitterness, but as Industry. Someone who worked hard and immersed himself in the fruits of labor could not hate anyone. However, as the years went on, Industry was slowly hardened by the harsh realities of the real world, and his work ethic slowly devolved into bitterness.

When times are tough, people know they can count on Love. Even when Confused and Anger attempted to hurt her, she loved. She loved, because she could understand. She could see that Confused was simply trying to navigate his way through life and that Anger was simply trying to find a way to better his sour existence. She could see, that all Confused really needed was some guidance so that he could gain self-assurance and a purpose. Confused may have hurt Love, but that did not stop her from giving love back to him.

And that’s the great part about Love. She never expects any reward for all she does. She helps more than anyone else possibly could, yet never receives or wants reward. Hate may be richer in money, but Love is richer in the soul. Without Love, growth would not exist. Confused would not be able to finally lose the confusion that named him. Bitterness would be unable to relish the sparse moments in his day when he listens to the harmonious voices of Love and her family. Everyone needs Love, and she does not need herself

Quality Personified explanation

Flight in Quality Personified

In this piece, I assigned Love the character of Pilate. Love is the defining feature of Pilate; it is what allows her to live her life happily with no regret, unlike Macon II (Bitterness). She is able to give her love to anyone, regardless of how they act to her, as seen by how she bails out Milkman and Guitar from jail despite them robbing her. It is this unrequited love that allows her to soar above any of the characters in the novel; something that is highly ironic as she never truly achieves flight as do Milkman and Solomon before him.

Recipe

Recipe for a Pilate Pie

2 heaps of love

5 tsp. of butter

1 cup of loyalty

2 pinches of history

1 pint of music

1 generous dash of understanding

2 cups of wisdom

Before doing anything else, the heap of love must be slowly heated over a simple, handmade flame. While this is happening, mix together the 5 teaspoons of butter with the 2 cups of wisdom. A lot of butter must be used so as to render the pie heavy enough to not fly off. The cups of wisdom should slowly be added to the butter, so as to allow it to mature and grow well. Once the love has heated, mix it with the butter and wisdom in an inappropriately small and wooden bowl. Next, drop the two pinches of history, making sure that not a speck lands outside the bowl. Every experience is important to shaping the pie, so it is imperative not a drop of the history is lost. Now, transfer the mixture to a small pie plate. Quickly drop the pint of music in, almost as if it had always been there. Lastly, throw in the dash of understading, being sure to evenly disperse it throughout. Place the finished mixture in the oven, and slowly heat it until it rises, but stop before it rises too high, as if in flight. Now, you are ready to enjoy your Pilate Pie!

Explanation for Recipe

Flight in Pilate Pie Recipe

Like the airplane pilot that the townspeople refer her to as, Pilate serves as a guiding force, subtly helping Milkman navigate his life and discover himself. Through her love and guidance, Milkman is able to finally achieve flight at the end of the novel. Ironically then, Pilate never actually does fly. In the recipe, the butter is meant to provide weight to keep the pie grounded on Earth. The pie is also not allowed to rise too much either, again in reference to Pilate’s inability to literally lift up, or fly. Pilate never truly has a need to fly as Milkman and Solomon do, since she enjoys her life and has very few if any regrets. For her, escaping life would be meaningless. The heap of love is meant to represent her being grounded on land due to the immense love she has for everyone.

Arrest Warrant

Flight in the arrest warrant for Milkman

For any change to occur in a character, he must undergo a serious tribulation that makes him realize the error in his old ways. For Milkman, the turning point occurs when he is arrested for breaking into Pilate’s house. Throughout the robbery, he displays a hesitant manner for he feels remorse at stealing from the woman who helped him so much in the past. When Pilate bails him and Guitar out, his remorse only deepens. The arrest warrant is meant to cement the event as the lowest point in Milkman’s life. His arrest and subsequent release show him just how low he has fallen, and from that point on, he began his slow climb to redemption and discovering his own identity. If at the end, he is light as a feather as seen by his leap towards Guitar, then this arrest warrant represents him as heavy as a lead block.

Heritage Paper

Heritage Research Paper

Perhaps rather surprisingly, my roots trace back, not to India, but to Africa. My maternal grandfather, Suresh Desai, was born in what is today, the country of Tanzania. His father, my great-grandfather, Ghelabhai Desai had immigrated to Tanzania early in his life so he could pursue a Masters degree: an education level that was almost unheard of at the time in India. However, after the birth of my grandfather’s 7th and youngest sibling, the family moved back to India, specifically to the village of Amri, in the state of Gujurat.

At this time in India’s history, the country was still a relatively young nation. The people were still adjusting to the ramifications of total independence from the British Empire. Adjustments were fairly tough for the burgeoning government as the country had not been fully independent from another power in over 150 years. As a result, basic infrastructure such as household electricity was still relatively rare in many of the more rural parts. Much of the reason for this lack of early development can be attributed to factors both internal and external. There was much disagreement over the size, strength, and role of the government internally and on the international front, the country was embroiled in constant political tension with neighboring Pakistan during the initial independence years.

During this time of conflict and underdevelopment, my grandfather spent the formative years of his young life in the village of Amri. In regards to education, the norm of the village was to stop all education after the primary school level, due mainly in part, because the village only had a primary school. No one in the village at the time, had achieved a higher than primary level education. In fact, the closest middle and high schools available were 3.5 kilometers away in the nearby city of Navsari. However, this could not deter my grandfather and his siblings. With family support, he and his brothers attended the middle school and high school in the Navsari. As the family did not have a car, he and his siblings had to walk 3.5 kilometers in the morning to school, and 3.5 kilometers in the afternoon to return, for a total of 7 kilometers every day. Among the students in their class, they were the only ones who had to undertake such an arduous journey. The rest of the class was composed of kids who lived in the city itself, and so had access to some form of transportation, or only had to walk a few blocks. Furthermore, the village lacked the infrastructure necessary to produce electricity. As a result, all seven siblings had to study under the glow of the single lantern the family possessed at the time. Despite these deterrents, my grandfather still graduated his secondary school ranked first out of his entire class of 1000 students.

His emphasis on the importance of education and the attainment of the highest education possible, persisted even after secondary school. He continued to study hard and eventually attained a PhD in microbiology and a post as one of the youngest professors at Gujurat University. Shortly after attaining this position, he married my grandmother, Raksha Desai. In a time when women were expected to stop their education after marriage, my grandfather actually pushed for my grandmother to attain as a high education as possible. He fully supported her as she attended law school and ended up graduating near the top of her class. Even more unusual for the time, he supported her as she actively worked as one of the few female lawyers in the state of Gujarat. Concurrently, my grandfather’s youngest brother, my uncle, chose to immigrate to the U.S. for further study. In doing so, he became one of the first people on my maternal side to immigrate into the U.S. Here, he attended medical school and eventually became a surgeon at the University of Kentucky Medical School. Throughout their lives, the importance of an education and equality for all can be seen.

Tragedy struck when my grandfather was diagnosed with very early onset cancer in the late 1980’s. Now, India’s infrastructure and technology had improved greatly in the time between his childhood and his cancer diagnosis, however the medical treatments available were still fairly rudimentary. Rather than undergo treatment in India, which could potentially be unsuccessful due to the limitations inherent within the system, he traveled to the U.S. with full financial assistance from my uncle in Kentucky. My uncle paid all the expenses that my grandfather required for his treatment, thus allowing him to pursue the most advanced albeit expensive treatments available. No doubt, this feat allowed for my grandfather to successfully combat the cancer and be cancer free, a status he holds to this day. Despite having to travel to the U.S. and undergo chemotherapy, my grandfather continued writing papers and conducting research. In the interim months between treatment cycles, he returned to India where he resumed his work and research, unfazed by the cancer.

While all this does serve to reiterate the importance education and work have played in my family, it also shows just how tight knit and helpful my family has been towards each other. Even though my uncle and my grandfather had lived separately for well over a decade, the two maintained a very close relationship that can be seen by the immense support my uncle gave to my grandfather for his treatment. In the 1990’s, when my mom first came to the U.S. to pursue a college education, she stayed with my uncle and his family in Kentucky. He supported her both financially and otherwise, by helping her adjust to life in the U.S., a far cry from life in India. Over the years since then, he has helped numerous family members immigrate to the U.S., by lending both emotional and financial support.

My life has been shaped by the values that my family before me has set. Despite the vast distance between members, everyone remains as tight knit as ever. My parents instilled this importance of family in me to where I now would be willing to help a relative just as my uncle helped my grandfather almost three decades ago. Along with the importance of family, the significance of attaining as high an education as possible has also been passed down. Every generation in my family has worked hard to achieve as high an education as feasible. Barriers that would typically deter most students such as a long trek to and from school, no electricity, a foreign environment, etc. did not stop my grandparents, my mom, and several other members from obtaining high levels of education. Such accomplishments both humble and inspire me. Knowing that despite all their deterrents, my grandfather and his siblings were so successful inspires me to push myself as much as I can.

Literary Criticism

Literary Criticism Response

Since its release in 1977, Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon has captivated readers from all walks of life due to its inclusion of universal themes. Through Morrison’s colorful and vivid writing style, the numerous themes of the novel can not only be interpreted in various ways but also be analyzed using a variety of lenses. Literary critic Joyce M. Wegs chose to use analyze the thematic elements of Morrison’s novel by juxtaposing aspects of the novel with the structure and format of traditional blues music. Through her discussion, new avenues of thinking can be applied to the novel as well as its most pervasive theme: flight.

On the surface level, Wegs asserts that Morrison fully intended for the novel to be interpreted as an emulation of blues music through the names she gave her characters as well as many of the character’s thoughts and beliefs. Milkman’s best friend who also is one of the more outspoken characters in the novel has his namesake in a traditional blues instrument: Guitar. In fact, this assertion is most likely true. Guitar does indeed figure prominently throughout the novel and is very outspoken in regards to his views on white people and women. By doing so, he adheres to his namesake instrument, which generally is the primary instrument heard in most blues music. In addition to Guitar’s name, Milkman mentions a host of other names towards the end of the novel when he realizes the true importance of them. Of these names, a few are actually those of blues legends such as Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley. While not too signinificant in a symbolic way, the inclusion acts to simply further the connection between the novel and blues music. Milkman’s connection to blues music adds another dimension to the flight theme. Blues music inherently is based upon the concept that in times of trouble, men leave women to fend for themselves. Milkman’s actions reflect this notion as seen by his cold rejection of Hagar as well as his own mother. In a sense, he “flies” away, leaving Hagar and his mother Ruth alone in the world. By connecting Milkman to blues music, Morrison conveys to the reader the image of a troubled young man flying away and leaving his lovers to mourn and sing the blues.

Another trademark of blues music is its interconnectedness with the community at large. Blues music originated in the Deep South in the form of the work songs that the African American slave community sang. Over time, the music evolved to become much more than just a chorus of voices, but it retained its roots in community. Similarly, Wegs claims that Milkman’s journey in the novel results in him becoming a blues singer. However, before he can become one he must first “find his own identity and… sense of community.” Again, a parallel between Milkman’s quest and the themes of blues music can be seen. For Milkman to be able to truly achieve flight as Solomon did before him, he must learn to identify not only with himself but also with his heritage and community at large. Morrison illustrates this core concept through another lens by mirroring Milkman’s problems with the traits of blues music. She shows that Milkman seeks to achieve what blues music already does, which in turn, verifies the idea that for Milkman to achieve flight, he must also become a blues singer.

Milkman’s journey would have been impossible without the assistance of several other people in his family and community, perhaps the most important of whom, is Pilate Dead. As Wegs describes her, Pilate not only “rescues him from his brush with the police” but also “cures him of his illusion of lofty perfection.” Later in the novel, when Milkman returns to Pilate’s house to explain all that he learned from his journey, he is forced to “accept Pilate’s version of punishment.” Pilate serves as the grounding force that reminds Milkman that he cannot act solely based on his own will, as his actions have ramifications on those around him. Wegs states that through the lends of blues music, this can be seen as a means of reminding Milkman that, to become a real blues singer, he must accept his place within the community of blues musicians, all of whom are interconnected by way of the music. Blues music is based on the experiences of the community and so it is important that all members of it act in a way to benefit both themselves and the group as a whole. Milkman has to learn that he cannot learn to fly without the experiences of himself and others, an idea he struggles with until the novel’s end. Pilate’s admonitions ground him, and remind him that, as a blues man, he must add to and accept the collective experiences of the community before he can achieve flight.

By analyzing the novel through the lens of blues music, Joyce Wegs allows for the themes, especially flight, to be evaluated in different ways. The ending scene where Milkman hesitatingly sings for Pilate as she dies can be viewed both as a sign that he will finally achieve flight as well as the point at which he became a true blues man. Such a view differs from the more conventional ideas regarding the novel and adds a new dimension to an already complex novel. The complexity of her writing as seen by the multiple dimensions in the novel truly marks Toni Morrison deserving of her status “in the front rank of contemporary American writers.”

Flight in the Literary Criticism

Flight in the Literary Criticism

Joyce Wegs’ literary criticism discussed the themes of the novel in the context of a blues song. In doing so, Milkman’s struggle to achieve flight can be likened to his quest in becoming a blues singer. The connection enhances and illustrates Morrison’s original idea in a new light. Milkman can be compared to a blues singer who, only when he is able to finally sing a blues song as he does to Pilate, can achieve flight.

Polished Precis

Chapter 9: The Flight of First Corinthians

In chapter 9 of Song of Solomon, author Toni Morrison illustrates the somewhat ironic flight of the rather emotionally stunted First Corinthians Dead. To depict this evolution from a grounded state to full flight, Morrison emphasizes: the futility of her past attempts at seeking a husband: “She was pretty enough, pleasant enough and her father had the money they could rely on if needed, but she lacked drive.” (Morrison 188), the utter dejection and depression Corinthians felt at one point: “but when Corinthians woke up one day to find herself a forty-two-year-old maker of rose petals, she suffered a severe depression…” (Morrison 189), and the subsequent elation or sense of flight she achieved after attaining an ironically fulfilling job: “She flourished in a way, and exchanged arrogance for confidence… and the genuine lift which came of having her own money” (Morrison 191). Toni Morrison depicts the journey Corinthians embarks on as she transforms from a Bryn Mawr educated woman who lacked “drive” and was “probably not going to marry anyone” to a woman who could essentially fly as she became “Miss Graham’s amanuensis” with confidence- a far cry for someone who previously “was receiving an allowance like a child” and essentially flightless. Morrison employs a optimistic almost cheerful tone when describing Corinthian’s post as a maid which allows for the reader to discern a contrast between Corinthian’s previously “Dead” existence and her livened spirit as a maid.

Chapter 15: Milkman’s Transformation

In chapter 15 of Toni Morrison’s novel Song of Solomon, depicts Milkman’s final transformation as he finally accepts and becomes comfortable in not only his own identity but also his heritage and community. To illustrate this final change Morrison: utilizes baptism imagery- “Milkman took off his clothes…and dived into the water. He surfaced like a bullet iridescent, grinning, splashing water,” (Morrison 327), shows Milkman’s ultimate acceptance of his past heritage- “Yeah. That tribe. That flyin motherfuckin tribe…. He tried to take his baby boy with him. My grandfather. Wow! … and the whole damn town is named after him,” (Morrison 328), and finally portrays Milkman as leaping just as Solomon did many years previously- “Without wiping away the tears, taking a deep breath, or even bending his knees- he leaped. As fleet and bright as a lodestar he wheeled toward Guitar...” (Morrison 337). At last, Morrison has ended Milkman’s epic quest in which he finally achieved what his “great-grandaddy” could through his final acceptance of his heritage. The carefree and jubilant tone with which Morrison writes much of Milkman’s dialogue in this section serves to exemplify the joy and elation he feels as he finally accepts and boasts of his heritage, thus proving that he has accepted his place in the community.

Flight in Precis

Flight in the Precis

These two chosen précis very accurately depict Morrison’s pervasive theme of flight. Both deal with characters who at first are flightless and grounded due to a lack of self assurance and confidence in both themselves and the community. However, both are finally able to achieve flight through means rather unorthodox. Corinthians learns to take pride in herself and her work which in turn allows her to flourish, even though she works as a maid. Milkman learns to appreciate his heritage and accepts himself and his place within the community, thus enabling to leap towards Guitar, just as Solomon leaped across the ocean.

Two Voice Poem

Two-Voice Poem with Milkman and Guitar

Milkman Guitar

Why are you doing this

I must learn more about myself

The whites must pay for what they’ve done

But they’ve done nothing to you

How can you say that

They are our people!

Exactly! We all are the same inside

No, they hurt our people, we hurt them

That makes no sense,

how does that help anyone

It’s fair! It makes sure everything stays even

You’re my friend

I want to help you, stop doing this

You should be helping me!

No, I can’t support this.

You’re hurting innocent people

I do what I must. The whites must pay

This isn’t right

It’s plain wrong

It’s the best we can do

Flight in Two Voice Poem

Flight in the Two Voice Poem

The two-voice poem was meant to illustrate why exactly Milkman is able to achieve flight whereas Guitar never really can. Guitar’s insistence that white people are different from black people is what precludes him from truly being able to accept the community around him and achieve flight, just as Milkman does. For Guitar to fly like Milkman, he would have to learn to stop hating whites and accept the community and himself, like MIlkmand had to do at the end of the novel. However, as the poem shows, Guitar constantly fails to accept the entire community as a whole, choosing to hate certain groups