Song of Solomon Precis
Critical Analysis on Our Novel
Racial Division as a Formative Element of Character Differentiation
In chapter six of her novel Song of Solomon (1997), Toni Morrison actively defines characters through her depiction of a fractured political and racially divided landscape. The protagonist of the novel Milkman Dead protests in the face of his friend Guitar’s radical approach to dealing the racial violence that plagues the South. Guitar joins a black activist group called the “Seven Days” (131) in order to exact revenge upon those who torment blacks.
“Don’t you want to be better than they [white oppressors] are?” (133), Milkman says to Guitar when questioning his friend’s actions.
Although readers may initially mistake Milkman’s concern for rationality and pragmatism, it becomes clear that he resides in a primitive state of consciousness. While Guitar is passionate about the subjugation of his race, Milkman still likes to go “Wherever the party is” (92). In other words he remains a man – or rather a boy – devoid of greater purpose. In fact, Guitar’s passion amounts to a kind of religious fanaticism; “I’m the Sunday man,” he says, his duties likened to those of a priest or holy man.
Inevitably, while Guitar demonstrates the selflessness and regard for the greater good and his community, Milkman is driven by a low-functioning sense of self preservation. “Am I going to live any longer because you all read the newspaper and then ambush some poor old white man,” he says (135). Justice is a matter of self-promotion, not ethnic and class promotion. When Toni Morrison alludes to social concerns of the day, she depicts Milkman as isolated and separate from the greater community, in many ways “dead” – chauvinistic and uninspiring.
Using Confusion and Multiple Story lines to Prevent the Discovery of True Identity
In chapter nine of her acclaimed novel Song of Solomon (1997), Toni Morrison utilizes confusion and varying plot lines as a barrier to protagonist Milkman’s discovery of his true identity. Often throughout the novel Milkman is forced to hear multiple sides of a single story. He hears, for example, both Macon and Ruth’s version of events: his mother sucking her dead father’s fingers. In a similar fashion, Milkman is subject to others’ inferences in chapter nine. He is caught, for example, lugging around a bag of “dead man’s bones” rather than “a sack of gold” (173) because his father incorrectly deduces that Pilate stole gold during their past. “’Fifty years..You been thinking about that gold for fifty years,” MIlkman exclaims (173), highlighting the ridiculousness of his father’s mistaken life purpose. Just as his Milkman’s father’s life’s purpose is tied to the life force of events beyond his control, Milkman’s fate is chosen for him. His father enlisted Milkman in a search for the gold and “shut the door before his son could protest” (174). Morrison’s chaotic tern in these sections draws the reader into a plethora of juxtaposed perspectives to emphasize Milkman’s confusion. While, multiple perspectives generally result in freedom of choice, Milkman remains without liberation, unable to find his own identity.
Self-Actualizationas a Natural Evolution of Character Development
In Chapter 11 of her critically acclaimed novel Song of Solomon (1997), Toni Morrison effectively improves protagonist Milkman Dead’s dynamic growth in maturity. Readers see Milkman work effectively in a group for the first time. Unlike his previous undeveloped relationships with Lena and Corinthians, Milkman resolves tensions with the men of Shalimar, showing a deep sense of humor, even when jokes are at his own expense (281). For the first time he ventures into another man’s perspective, understanding “Guitar now” (278), granting him consideration beyond cursory scorn. Even Milkman’s limp, a physical manifestation of his impurity and flawed character gives way to his legs – “stalks, tree trunks, a part of his body that extended down down down into the rock and soil” (281). In this manner Milkman is rooted in the very earth he walks, for the first time capable of expressing emotion because of his comfort with himself. Morrison takes steps to move Milkman along to his path to self-actualization as his natural evolution warrants. Her tone, conciliatory, betrays no artificial unrealism, but rather suggests the natural development of character. Readers begin to look to Milkman for his intrepid quest for self-worth, appreciating for the first time, his obsessive introspection.