How does the past influence Ruth in "Song of Solomon" by Toni Morrison?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the novel "Song of Solomon," names describe characters' personalities and behaviors.  Thus, the Biblical names given to Morrison's characters tie them to the past as well as add a certain heroic and metaphorical quality to them.  In the Bible, Ruth is a foreign woman, an ancestor of King David, whose loyalty to Naomi is rewarded by marriage to a rich eligible bachelor, Boaz.

That there are parallels between this Biblical heroine, loyal and assertive and possessive of a certain ingenuity in a male-dominated society is evident in Morrison's Ruth Dead.   She, too, is tied to her past with her being the daughter of the first black doctor.  Her loyalty to this dead father compares to the loyalty of the Biblical Ruth who tells Naomi,

Entreat me not to leave you....Wherever you go, I will go

as Ruth Foster Dead defies her husband by continuing to visit her father's grave.  Like  the Biblical Ruth, her ingenuity propels the narrative. Describing her as "given to deviousness and ultra-fine manners," Morrison has her character collaborate with Pilate to ensure Milkman's safe birth against the wish of Macon to abort the fetus.  She evades Macon's will by using Pilate's potion and by only partially sticking the needles into herself when Macon orders her to abort.  Yet, when one of the workers sees her nursing Milkman when he is four, she is never to escape the ignominy of this past occurrence as well as the tale of her connection to her father.  For, Macon tells his son the sordid tale of Ruth's unnatural affection for her father as well as the doctor's insistence upon delivering Ruth's baby himself.  Thus, shame is forever attached to her and she remains repressed in the male-dominated society because of her past.