Literary Analysis Response
Song of Solomon
Within the novel Song of Solomon one may be pleasantly surprised by the general lack of difficulty presented when searching for any form of mythological or religious referencing. Pilate the Christ figure, Milkman the semi-Siddhartha allegory, and Circe who is a theoretical representative of the mythological character Circe. These among other, obvious reference, named characters present the audience with a string of narrative akin to that of an old wives tale, fable, or myth. Each of these lend themselves to the wholeness of the story in different ways and show a sort of “amalgamation tale” wherein characters of other tales are used to explain the culture of the African American community, and the contrasting and ever-present white culture that has been thrust upon them.
Morrison refers to her own work as “village literature” according to sources by Wilentz, and that really does line up with the characters presented inside the tale. We find that Pilate, an all loving, caring, sacrificial force whom carries around the burdens and sins of her brother, who may be interpreted as all fellow mankind. Yet, she isn't simply the bland slate “this is christ worship it” type character we are often presented with in literature. Wilentz is exactly on point in her opinion that Morrison is creating a tale which “overturns Western biblical and cultural notions” simply by having the Christ figure also be a back alley booze-dealer (138). Naturally all characters follow along that route in some way shape or form, taking the idea of a traditionally 'x' role character and flipping it on it's backside to support the idea of the “civilization that existed underneath the white civilization” (139). This leaves us with the almost oddly named characters such as Solomon, the supposedly main protagonist's, great grand father. Solomon isn't exactly representative of King Solomon from the bible in any real way outside of his name and that he was apparently capable of the great feat of flying, which at times seems like the santa-claus-esque explanation of suicide but I digress. Solomon is the representation of what it means to escape unfortunate and tight circumstances, and that supports once more the idea already stated. This however isn't the solely for the purpose of overturning racio-literary stereotypes, it is simply a subtext for highlighting cultural issues, Wilentz writes on this idea rather well, “a group missing from the dedication whose presence is overpowering... the mothers” (142).
Thus, we find several of the names of people within the book rather entertaining in their irony. Pilate is named after the man who authorized the crucifixtion of Christ which in part is ironic being that she is a Christ figure, but also doubles in another way. This idea touches on the disconnect between where things and characters represent what they are called, and when they do not. The previously mentioned character Solomon being a fine example in that there isn't any real connection between him and the character he exists to reference but exists to show the overarching allusions not to biblical/mythos, but to the racial struggles of the times. Hardly any African Americans were literate and so their concepts of the bible was more solidified by the stories given by women to their children. Thus the body of culture contained in the community is “encapsulated in the orature of women” such as Pilate.
This leads to the secondary type mythos-reference in characters like Circe, who is much like Circe in that she guides the main protagonist on his journey through her knowledge. This examines another angle which Wilentz touches on in her writing in that women are often the sources of knowledge, “left out of recorded history-to fill in what is missing” (143). This means that Morrison is using these allusions in different ways than most literature may take pride in doing. Morrison seeks to display the cultural heritage of her people, by taking bits and pieces of the culture being forced on hers. Where Circe was the 'insert ease of sealing plot' device for white-greek-muscle man-child Odysseus in Eurocentric culture; within the confines of this tale she is a knowledge bank, easily angered by the Milkman and his obtuse understanding of human emotions and rational. This poses a sort of difference in characters, Morrison says this “demands participatory reading” and she's right on target. If a reader based their comprehension of a character purely on their name, they would inherently fail to grasp the book. People are not their names, their names come to embody their person.
This begs the question of the actual allusions in the book. Well, as narrowed out in my last paragraph Morrison breaks the mold of name=nature, and rather the names themselves become place holders, unrepresentative of the people they are attached to for the most part. Milkman displays all the qualities of Siddhartha Gautama; he lives a life isolated from the realities of others, he is cold and uncaring. When he does finally venture outside of the “palace” he is greeted by a world of suffering and despair. His quest for material possessions turns rapidly into a quest to know more of his family. Yet, that is easily dropped as Milkman gains “enlightenment” by finally learning of himself. Milkman then returns after his self-explorative journey; finding the world he left less than what it used to be. He no longer sees quite the value of his father's material gain as it leaves the soul hollow. Thus rather than Morrison simply handing the reader a character named “Buddha” and allowing the reader to piece together the symbolism; she orchestrates a bit of literary ingenuity in that she has the characters go through life free of the constraints of label-like names. Instead she shows us characters rather than telling us them. There is no need to state Pilate is a Christ figure as anyone literate enough to comprehend her actions will understand the parallels, and this is the embodiment of Morrison's allusionary style.
In a sense Morrison's writing is exactly as it was described in that it holds up well in the “story” sense and in the “community culture” sense. She writes using context that was forced onto the black community. Christianity and Mythology float around in name, but the actual allegorical characters remain undenominated in what they are called. Morrison highlights the characters through their own merits, they aren't living up to an ideal, they simply are allowed to embody them. Thus, Morrison is able to depict not caricatures of humans based on an ideology, but humans who embody an ideology in action.