The Effects of Gender Roles

Miranda Espinosa- 4th Block

Heritage Paper

Often times, the past lives of relatives act as defining factors for future generations to come. Whether a family continues on a legacy, establishes a business, or just develops a sense of character from an array of experiences, future children and future grandchildren will come to realize the strong impact that family history has on the new family generations. In the end, a family’s heritage acts as a foundation, and when a person is prompted to either go with the flow of familial expectations or overcome the hardships at hand, that is when history is created.

During the early 1900s, the South was heavily based on agriculture. Slaves helped families make money by tending to their fields on the plantations. However, my maternal grandparents were a bit different. The owned no slaves, but instead tended to the farms themselves. My grandfather grew up in Sumter, South Carolina and my grandmother grew up in Nicholson, Georgia. Both from extremely poor families, their lives mainly consisted of going to school and then coming home to help the family tend to the fields and make money off of the crops. While they were from two different states, both of my grandparents’ family farms had tobacco, cotton, corn, potatoes, and several other cash crops. My grandpa says that life was extremely different then than it is for him now, as his family had no running water, no telephone, no television, and he even remembers a time when they didn’t have electricity. Additionally, if a person wanted to deliver a message to someone, he would have to physically deliver it. This communication was often done at church on Sundays. While today everything is so “expensive, yet quick and efficient,” he admits that he learned a sense of virtue from his past. His parents taught him the value of humility, obedience, and prioritizing. My grandmother amorously recalls her past, yet at the same acknowledges the fact that she didn’t have anyone to help her or motivate her so she had to push herself to succeed in school. She gained recognition for her hard work from time to time, such as when she won the spelling bee at her school.

Following laborious lives and rewarding, but challenging, school days, my grandparents found the strength to break out of their hometowns. While it is occasionally difficult for teenagers of today’s society to move far away from their families, it was even more difficult for my grandparents in the late 1950s. Neither one of them could afford school following high school, but they made their best attempts to find success in other ways. My grandfather found inspiration from his 9th grade Language Arts teacher, Mrs. Truedales, who was a college graduate and encouraged her students to travel the world. It was this push that guided my grandfather toward joining the Navy, an opportunity to work, learn, and experience. My grandmother was pushed forward by her older sister, Shirley, who had already moved to Atlanta for a job. My grandmother started working in business underwriting in Atlanta, while she lived in a church home for business girls. Both of my grandparents claim that there was really nothing to offer them in their hometowns. For my grandfather, it was always about venturing out and having a new scenery, and for my grandmother it was about making a name for herself and creating a support system.

My grandparents went on to raise their children with similar morals to how their parents raised them. Both are confident that they provided a better and more reliable home for their children than their home lives in the 1940s. My grandmother says that her goal as a mother was to make sure her children never had to go without. She always made sure her children had enough to eat, warm clothes to wear, and did well in school because those were issues she struggled with growing up. Understanding my grandparents’ lives growing up helps me to understand why they are the way they are today. Both have always greatly pushed for education because neither of them were ever able to fully live out their adult dreams in that aspect. Additionally, my grandmother always asks me if I’ve had enough to eat because she doesn’t want me to ever have to go hungry like she did sometimes when they couldn’t afford to keep enough of their crops. As I’ve grown older, I’ve become more appreciative of their concern because I know it is done with the best intentions.

Through pushing themselves through even the most difficult of experiences, my grandparents have made a difference in my life. They instilled their motivation in my mother who instilled that sense of urgency in me. Today, young people tend to take for granted all of the different opportunities we have at hand. Instead of appreciating how easy it is for most people to find success, we question every little thing. I think back on my grandparents’ lives and see that there was never any time for them to question why they needed to do a chore. It was understood that they helped out. While I can admit that I experience moments of laziness where I lack motivation, I would like to think that their strong qualities are present in my personality and override my weaknesses. I find myself constantly wanting to make them proud because I know they want the best for me. My grandparents have established the foundation for a driven and hardworking family, and they expect nothing less because they know that we are all capable.

Although my grandparents say that at the time of their transition for childhood to adulthood they felt the pressures of needing to become even more independent than they already were, all of the hard work paid off. When there is a family history of success and perseverance, it makes for a strong heritage. I can only hope that I will leave behind a legacy as inspiring as theirs. In the future, I know I will only grow to admire their strength even more because I will be facing similar struggles as they faced when they lived on their own. In Song of Solomon, Milkman discovers himself through discovering his family’s history. For me, I do not feel that I am uncovering any sort of mystery. However, listening to my grandparents’ stories and how they overcame obstacles in their lives grants me a sense of pride to have them as my relatives. Instead of discovering who I am through their stories, I learn more about them and gain more respect for what they have done with their lives and in turn my life.

Works Cited

Zainaldin, Jamil S. "Great Depression." New Georgia Encyclopedia. 10 January 2014. Web. 14 April 2014.

Marotous, George. "To Kill a Mockingbird: Historical Context." To Kill a Mockingbird: Historical Context. Melbourne High School, 2006. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.

Heritage Interview Questions

1. What is your earliest memory?

2. How do you feel your past experiences have influenced your life?

3. How is your life today different from what it was like when you were younger?

4. What jobs did your parents have? Did you ever help them with their jobs?

5. What from your childhood defines who you are as a person today?

6. What inspired you to break away from your hometown?

7. Do you have any unfulfilled childhood dreams you wish you would have pursued?

8. Do you think your childhood was significantly different than your childrens’? How and why?

9. Who from your past most inspired you to break away and become the person you are?

10. What obstacles from your past do you feel you have overcome as an adult?

Unruly and Let Loose

"Unruly and Let Loose" by Michael Awkward proposes the prominence of the theme of gender roles in Song of Solomon. However, more than that, it acknowledges the idea that gender roles are somewhat of an umbrella term for a variety of other correlated themes. Through referencing specific parts of the novel and exemplifying the impacts gender roles have on the characters in Song of Solomon, Awkward presents a compelling criticism of Morrison’s tendency to pin men and women against each other until the genders are able to reach some sort of common ground and then progress.

The beginning of the criticism focuses greatly on Morrison’s approach to writing novels and the different things that inspire her to write. Morrison uses a great deal of mythological references in her writing to further enhance the meaning. Through this, however, Awkward points out that Morrison tends to reconstruct myths to help them fit her text. Morrison offers not only an author’s approach when she uses myths, but also a woman’s approach. Whether or not it is intentionally done, she plays up specific parts of the myths--such as the fact that Solomon abandoned his family and left his wife screaming--because it comes from her point of view and interpretation. Rosemarie K. Lester, a woman referenced in “Unruly and Let Loose,” comments that women approach certain situations from different angles than men ever could and that a “woman’s imagination brings more to the surface.”

Through the presence of gender roles, the reader can see the additional presence of the theme, flight vs. flightlessness. Much of Milkman’s course throughout the novel concentrates on his relationships with the women in his life. From his mother, to his sisters, to Hagar, Milkman must overcome the barrier that gender roles create in order to fulfill his journey. In fact, it is not really until he comes to terms with how inspirational and powerful Pilate is that Milkman can truly find his purpose and take flight. She teaches him to be selfless and willing to let himself go to the wind. Joseph Campbell, another reference in the criticism, helps support this idea by stating that a woman’s role in a plot is to balance out the “defeminized male hero.”

Additionally, the idea of gender roles in the novel helps explain certain characters’ struggles with inner strength and inner peace. Specifically, the reader can see the contrasting elements of Pilate’s and Hagar’s childhoods with and without men and how that impacted them. Pilate grew up strongly influenced by her father and her brother. Hagar, on the other hand, never really had a man in her life while she was growing up. As a result we see two completely different personalities and types of women. Whether or not their personal qualities can be attributed to the impact of men (or lack thereof) in their lives is debatable, but the assertion that gender roles had an impact on defining who they have become is not. Unfortunately, Hagar carries her personality trait into her romantic life and quickly allows herself to be viewed as just a sexual object simply because she wants to feel loved. She feels the need to overanalyze every bit of the relationship because there is a great amount of genuity and respect lacking. Morrison finds great purpose in writing in a fashion that will move women away from being viewed as just objects, which is why she writes of Milkman’s revelations and realizations of his treatment of Hagar.

Awkward manages to fuse the many different ideas together by presenting different angles to each idea. While he recognizes that gender roles tend to possess a negative connotation, he allows the reader to also see how they could be beneficial to writing. Still, from a feminist point of view, Morrison presents an understandable point of view in suggesting that men get off easily and they couldn’t do all that they do without the assistance of a woman. Awkward sums up the ideas perfectly when he says, “Song of Solomon is a record both of transcendent (male) flight and of the immeasurable pain that results for the female who, because of her lack of access to knowledge, cannot participate.” For whatever reason, gender roles will always pose a hindrance for certain people, especially women, who are unable to overcome the barriers of them, and both Morrison and Awkward understand this to be true.

Hagar's Beauty Products

From the start of the novel the reader can see Hagar for all of her insecurity. This quality goes on to be a defining point for her character and eventually leads to her demise. Hagar epitomizes the typical stereotypes placed on women-- insecurity, self-consciousness, materialism. She allows herself to be taken down by the unrealistic expectations that are put into place by gender roles in society. Towards the end of the novel, Hagar appears to be extremely down on herself. This is when her beauty products come into play. She convinces herself that if she looks better Milkman will love her. Even though Pilate tries her best to soothe her and reassure her of her true beauty, Pilate realizes that she can’t change her mind.

This incident presents Hagar as a woman who has given into the pressures of gender roles. Women are expected to look a certain way or act a certain way to please men. However, many women find the courage to speak out against that ideal. Unfortunately, when Hagar succumbs to the social norm of doing whatever it takes to please her man, she weakens herself and diminishes her self-respect. The materialism ultimately is what draws in Hagar’s attention. Her life has been dedicated to being her best, but in reality she was trying to better a part of herself that is of less importance--her physical appearance. Instead of working all of these years to improve her sense of self-worth or confidence, she focused on what she could do to make others think she is pretty and even perfect.

Hagar represents an extreme case in women, but unfortunately women like her are not uncommon. In fact, it is not unusual to see a woman making herself sick over satisfying her male partner. Morrison utilizes Hagar in an attempt to reveal the extremity of going to these measures just to impact an outward appearance. In the end, even looking more aesthetically pleasing doesn’t help Hagar. She still feels poorly about herself. Through this, the reader can understand the importance of not succumbing to the degrading expectations of gender roles and, instead, improving one’s well-being.

Flight vs. Flightlessness

In chapter 15 of Song of Solomon (1977), Toni Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize,

focuses on the contrasting ideas of flight and flightlessness as a way to juxtapose the effects of both ideas on people's lives. Morrison develops this concept by creating a parallel between the freedom of flight present in Milkman's past versus a stationary feeling in Michigan, by addressing the irony of Milkman's "[dream] of flying, [while] Hagar was dying"(Morrison 332), and by noting both the positive and negative consequences of taking flight-- especially when it is used to escape problems. Using many examples of flight--literally and figuratively-- in the Dead family's past, such as when Macon I flew back to Africa with "no airplane"(328), in conjunction with Milkman's abilities to understand the impact his "flight" has had on his family and friends back home, Morrison establishes in her reader not only a sense of magic and the power to release oneself from troubles, but also an opportunity to see a more cognizant and considerate side of Milkman. Morrison's epiphanic and excited tone spoken through Milkman allows the reader to understand how the presence of flight--or lack thereof--in life creates a new way of understanding the purpose of living and the importance of distinguishing the difference between things that weigh us down and things that allow us to break free from the reigns of fate.

Connection to Theme

Throughout the novel, Morrison utilizes the idea of gender roles to display how being a specific gender either allows a character to take flight or forces him to remain grounded. However, at the same time, she incorporates the idea that overcoming gender stereotypes allows a person to fly. For example, Milkman can't fly until he realizes his shortcomings and, more importantly, realizes how poorly he treats the women in his life. Through learning about his family's past and the harsh impact male abandonment has on a community, Milkman gains yet another bit of insight to support his need to change his ways in treating the women in his life.

Milkman's Maturity

In chapter 9 of Song of Solomon (1977), Toni Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize, depicts Milkman's newfound feeling of shame for his childlike behavior about stealing Pilate's sack as a way to illustrate his developing sense of maturity. Morrison furthers this idea by providing insight into Milkman's interpretation of the shame "[sticking] to his skin"(Morrison 209), by presenting a more appreciative attitude toward Pilate, the woman who "brought him into the world when only a miracle could have"(110), and by revealing Milkman's matured, less materialistic perspective on living life. Morrison utilizes images of Milkman witnessing "dawn's eclipse"(206) and a "cheery sun"(206) to create a parallel between the start of a new day or a new beginning with Milkman's realizations of his shameful ways and his new focus on the people who truly matter in life.

Connection to Theme

As Milkman matures throughout the novel, the reader can see his ability to overcome the gender roles that are present. Initially, he tends to view the women in his life as inferior and subject to his control; however, as he grows, he understands their vital roles in his life. More specifically, with Pilate, he appreciates her and later sees her as his rock instead of just a woman and his father's enemy.
In order to elaborate on my theme of gender roles, I decided to work with typical gender stereotypes of today's society. Today, it is not uncommon for women to become subject to the idea that they are inferior or are only capable of doing certain things such as working in the kitchen or taking care of the family. However, women have every right and every capability of succeeding at tasks usually considered to be "tasks for men." This picture illustrates my mom pouring oil into her car. I chose to use her as my subject, as she is a single mother and, therefore, often has to fulfill the roles of both the mother and father in our household. According to the stereotypes of gender roles, my mom would not be able to properly raise her children alone. In reality, however, I have learned more from my mom than any other man could have taught me. From studying techniques, to baking, to maintaining my car, my mom is the perfect example of overcoming the barriers of gender roles and taking flight.

Recipe for Hagar Dead


2 cups insecurity

1 cup passion

1 tbsp anaconda love

2 tsp incest

3 tbsp Milkman Dead

1 cup rain

3 cups Pilate Dead

1 dash Mercy

Use one large mixing bowl to hold ingredients and a wooden spoon to mix ingredients. Begin by pouring in 3 cups of Pilate Dead to create a thick and creamy base at the bottom of the mixing bowl. This will hold the rest of the ingredients. (Tip: If at any point during the recipe problems occur, add in Pilate Dead in amounts as needed to solve the issue.) Next, pour in 2 cups of insecurity. There should be enough that Pilate Dead is able to soak it in and turn to a weak yellow color. Next, mix together 3 tbsp of Milkman Dead, 1 cup of passion, 1 tbsp of anaconda love, and 2 tsp of incest in separate bowl. Let stand for 2 minutes until a reaction is present and visible. Pour this mixture in with the rest of the ingredients. Large bubbles will likely form due to the intensity of the newly added mixture, but gently stir in 1 cup of rain to calm the arousal. Finally, add one dash of mercy. While there is no such thing as too much mercy in this recipe, one dash should suffice. This final ingredient will give Hagar Dead the forgiving sweet taste once it is baked.

Bake in oven on 350 degrees for 50 minutes. Then, let stand until cool. Enjoy!

Connection to Theme

Hagar is the prime example of the presence of gender roles in Song of Solomon. Due to her extreme self-consciousness, she puts herself in situations that nearly guarantee she will be hurt. Because Hagar possesses so many qualities that make her easily susceptible to being used for a man's temporary pleasure, she makes it easy for an inferiority status for women to continue.

Connection to Theme

Milkman and Hagar did not have a mutual respect in their relationship. Hagar always yearned for Milkman's love, while Milkman's love faded out. Nonetheless, he does not have the right to ever treat a woman the way he treated Hagar during their relationship. It is toward the end of Milkman's quest that Milkman discovers his wrongdoings to the women in his life, especially Hagar. Unfortunately, however, by the time Milkman thinks about his mistakes and realizes that he should have treated her right, Hagar is already dead. This post card would have been sent before Milkman heard about Hagar's death.


Though loyal and adoring,

Passion’s love comes on too strong.

She drives away her deepest desires

By clinging on for too long.

Still, Passion never lets go of love.

The fire, she keeps burning.

But forcefulness won’t often work

If the partner is undeserving.

Passion allows her love to overbear.

Through her anaconda ways, she strangles herself.

But she refuses to see any other way

And substitutes love for health.

With Selfish she tangles in the sheets,

Only to be abandoned.

The spark burns out, as expected,

And Passion doesn't receive the attention she demanded.

Unstable on the inside,

Passion shields herself with outbursts.

But a short-lived existence filled with unfulfilled desires

Proves unrequited love can only lead to hurt.

Connection to Theme

Hagar represents the idea of passion. Ironically, passionate emotions are usually associated with women. This poem touches on Passion's inability to break out of the cycle of letting her heart control her actions. According to many female stereotypes, women are often accused of letting their emotions control their actions, which is why Hagar is the perfect representation of a gender role not only in Song of Solomon, but also in real life. In the end, her lust for a man takes control of her life and she dies over the idea that she is not good enough.
When creating my alternative cover for Song of Solomon, I decided to incorporate ideas from the novel in addition to color symbolism. In the bottom right corner, there is a white peacock. This is an extremely important part of the novel as it symbolizes arguably the most crucial theme of the story-- the importance of letting go of material things that weigh you down in order to discover the true meaning of your life. At the top of the page there is a sun with two clouds. This is not directly associated with a part from the book. However, I added it to my cover because I feel that much of what Morrison discusses in Song of Solomon is about revival and stepping out of the darkness and into life. When I think of a concept such as this one, I tend to think of the sun coming out from behind the clouds and getting rid of the shadows. As for the colorful title, each letter's color has a significance. The orange on "So" represents the materialism and selfishness that exists in the beginning of the novel, especially with Milkman and Guitar. In association with this idea, the "ng" is yellow to symbolize the initial concentration on stealing Pilate's gold. "Of" is pink in representation of Pilate's unconditional support and love for her family, even when they do not deserve it. The "Solo" is indigo to illustrate Milkman's transition as he begins to transform into a more intuitive and ambitious man (without selfish intent). "Mon" is blue (in substitute of turquoise) to symbolize the final point where Milkman has reached clarity and is a new person with a new outlook on life. Finally, in the top right hand corner of the page is the phrase, "Sometimes you take flight without even leaving the ground." This is in reference to page 337 where Milkman realizes, "Now he knew why he loved [Pilate] so. Without ever leaving the ground, she could fly." Pilate is such a crucial part to both Milkman's journey and the entire novel that it makes sense to incorporate her inspirational ways with the cover of the book. Much of Milkman's journey is fueled by the presence of gender roles or gender stereotypes. He doesn't find success until he is able to realize the equality among people and the importance of not "flying off" and leaving everyone behind, just as Solomon did to his people.