What's Toni Morrison's purpose for writing "Song of Solomon"?
Morrison's novel conveys several themes which help us to understand what her purpose may have been for writing it. First, the book shows how important it is to understand one's heritage in order to develop and understand one's own identity. Milkman has lived a relatively sheltered existence in that he has never had to think about anyone besides himself. However, once he does begin to learn about "his people"—his family and ancestors—he begins to develop empathy and compassion for others and to better understand his own identity and position in the world. He stops "peeing on other people" as his sister, Lena, would say, and he begins to treat others with dignity (think of Sweet).
Milkman's journey also shows that separation from the familiar presents major opportunities for growth. To a certain extent, his routine at home had led him to be complacent; it was a kind of stagnating force that prevented him from undergoing any real growth. It is stepping out of his comfort zone, and going to places where he does not have the privilege associated with his family name, that enables him to both find himself and grow as a person from the somewhat selfish man he was to begin with.
Thirdly, Morrison also conveys the idea that desperation for love can be ruinous, especially for a woman; we cannot allow the love of another individual to determine our self-worth. We see this through Hagar's character. Hagar learned to rely on Milkman for her sense of self, and only seemed to love herself when he wanted her. When his desire ended, she began to question herself and came to believe that she was not good enough. Her desperation to be loved by him made her murderous and, in the end, severely depressed. She could not live without him, and she died tragically, leaving her mother and grandmother, especially, to grieve terribly.
Morrison says she writes in order to show her readers the viewpoint of African Americans. She thinks "black people have a story, and that story has to be heard." She categorizes her novels as "village literature" because they reflect "old values" and not "urban values". In her effort to restore the heritage of black culture, Morrison uses black oral history and myth. This novel begins on Morrison's birth date and mostly takes place in the 1950s and 1960s. She includes actual historical events in her novel that centers around racism, segregation, and the civil rights movement. The reader is able to witness these events through the characters Morrison creates. Regardless of the color of your skin, you can empathize with the characters in the novel. Anyone who isn't African American can understand to some degree what it was like during this historical time, and that is no small feat. Morrison has a gift for capturing the language and experience of African Americans that few other authors are able to do. Critics of Song of Solomon said that "the authors perceptions are human, rather than racist, and whites who read her will feel something--will live something--of what it means to be born black in America."
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