Essays and Criticism
Morrison's Depictions of the Male Characters in Song of Solomon
In Toni Morrison, Cynthia A. Davis writes that the narrative trajectories of Toni Morrison's novels are driven by "the Black characters' choices within the context of oppression." In Song of Solomon, as Jill Matus notes in her Toni Morrison, Morrison investigates "how Black men in America survive and how they position themselves in relation to dominant social and political structures" as well as to their own families and communities. Morrison presents the limited array of choices available to Black men through her portrayals of three living Black men, Milkman and Macon Dead and Guitar Bains, and through her mythic evocation of Dead ancestors, the first Macon Dead and his father, Solomon. As Matus notes, each man must either choose between "fight" and "flight" or find some way to combine the two alternatives. In this essay, I will examine each of the "choices within the context of oppression" that the Black male characters make as a way of illuminating Morrison's concerns in Song of Solomon.
Though Morrison's novel is a coming-of-age story, it follows the coming-of-age of a character, Milkman Dead, who is thirty-two years old and has been able to avoid making any choices about his life. Milkman is trapped by the circumstances of his life: within his family and the Black community, he is privileged and pampered, but in the larger world, he is limited by his race. He is separated from the Black community by his class, and hindered...
(The entire section is 1555 words.)
Song of Solomon: Raising Dead Fathers
Song of Solomon (1977) is a novel about fathers, or more specifically, the loss of fathers. At its heart are two revelatory incidents of traumatic loss which govern the novel's investigation of the history and future of African American men in relation to society and their own families. A brother and sister, Pilate and Macon Dead (the second), witness their father being shot to death by greedy white neighbours who resent his prosperity and covet his land. But this father himself experienced the traumatic loss of his father, who, legend has it, decided to fly away from America and his condition of enslavement. He attempted to take his baby son Jake with him, but dropped the child a few moments after he took off in flight back to Africa. His bereft wife lost her mind through grief and the child was reared by others. Knowledge of the second of these traumas, withheld almost to the close of the novel, explains not only the riddle on which the novel turns, but reveals the generational transmission of traumatic effects that hampers all the Dead men, descendants of Jake, who is also known as the first Macon Dead. The multivalent meanings of Solomon's flight in the novel allow Morrison to celebrate an early and marvellous escape from slavery, while also registering the trauma of those who must function without the father. Though Solomon's flight may offer inspiration as a version of the celebratory legend of the Flying African, the novel also emphasises the grief and...
(The entire section is 3581 words.)
Myth as Structure in Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon
In Song of Solomon Toni Morrison has faced the tale-spinner's recurring problem—making contemporary, localized events and characters speak to those who cannot share her characters' background or experiences. Morrison's solution in this dilemma is not new. She turns to myth to underpin her narrative, but does so without transforming her novel into pure fantasy or overloading her story with literary allusions. Morrison's success in making one black man's struggle for identity universal is partly explained by her structural use of myth to show man's constant search for reassurance in myths.
According to Mircea Eliade, myth is sacred history, the breakthrough of the supernatural or divine into the human to explain the origins, destiny, and cultural concerns of a people. Man, then, has always turned to myth to explain the inexplicable and to tie narratives into a larger cultural and perceptual framework. We would expect our modern predilection for scientific fact, psychological speculation, and historical verification to have supplanted the role of myth in explaining reality. In fact, genuine myth, living myth, has traditionally been associated with primitive societies in which the myth presupposes not "a tale told but a reality lived." Even our sophistication, however, does not preclude our depending on myth for more than entertainment. If we no longer look to myth for reality, we are still drawn to mythopoesis, where gods, heroes, and supernatural...
(The entire section is 3475 words.)