What is the relevance of Pilate having no navel in Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison?

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Morrison created several unique and complex characters in her novel Song of Solomon , but one that stands out from the others is the character of Pilate. Pilate's lack of a physical navel represents the rare kind of person she is. Indeed, Pilate subverts seemingly every norm for the time...

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Morrison created several unique and complex characters in her novel Song of Solomon, but one that stands out from the others is the character of Pilate. Pilate's lack of a physical navel represents the rare kind of person she is. Indeed, Pilate subverts seemingly every norm for the time associated with culture, race, or sex. She is financially independent; she raises her daughter and granddaughter alone; she is a bootlegger; she dabbles in occult practices; and she has traveled by herself to several places around the country. Those life experiences, in many ways, shaped her into a character who has developed her own sense of right and wrong and who has created her own private community with her daughter and granddaughter.

In addition to representing a strong being in her own right, Pilate also acts as a character foil for her brother, Macon, in the novel. Macon, although he is unlikeable, is also a very realistic father figure to the main character, "Milkman." The conventionality in Macon, when paired with his sister's departure from convention, is rather shocking to the reader and helps to develop a sense of the crossroads at which Milkman finds himself at several points in the novel.

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Adam, of the book of Genesis, is believed not to have possessed a navel because he was not created in the physical way that requires the use of an umbilical connection between mother and child. It stands to reason that Eve would not have a belly button either, for the same reason. These two are, in Christian theology, the originals: the couple from which everyone else on the earth comes.

Pilate's lack of naval, to me, signals that she is another such original person. She did, after all, crawl out of the birth canal unaided, after her mother died in childbirth (and she was believed to be dead as well), and her father was murdered when she was very young. There was a great deal of pain that preceded Pilate's life, or occurred during its earliest stages, and yet Pilate seems to have found a life, and a way of living, with which she is happy.

She does things in a new way—traveling around, doing pretty much what she wants when she wants including how and when she chose to love, to eat, to have children, and so on—and, more than any of these details, Pilate loves in a way that no one else around her seems to do. The example that she sets, of how to love so completely, seems to be what sets Milkman on his better path toward identity and self-expression, and though she is not his mother, he learns far more from her than he does his own mother.

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On the literal level, it is supposed to indicate that she wasn't born of woman, but that doesn't work—even a baby who is born after the mother dies would have a belly button. Therefore, we must look to symbolism. All humans have belly buttons; it is part of our lineage, ever since humans were descended from Adam and Eve. (There is an ongoing debate about whether Adam had a navel; see the some of the websites below for details.)

If Pilate lacks this, she would not be fully human. This would be one reason she might have magical powers, and would align well with the way she seems to stand outside normal human relationships.

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