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Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series)

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Toni Morrison was awarded the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature, and Song of Solomon, her third novel, is one of her best works. Young adult protagonists coming to terms with their African American culture are common to all of her novels, but especially The Bluest Eye (1972) and Beloved (1988). Similar themes can be found in works by other African American writers. The gothic use of family history to explore generations appears in Gayl Jones’s Corregidora (1975) and Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills (1985) and Mama Day (1988). Critiques of African American class systems and black landlords also appear in Linden Hills, as well as in Richard Wright’s The Long Dream (1958). In its historiographical reassembling of a dislocated past—as a cultural detective story—Song of Solomon resembles Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo (1972). If one interprets Milkman’s journey to self-knowledge as a growing connection with his extended family and the larger African American community, his story is the converse of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952), in which the protagonist severs all ties with society. Morrison’s use of Magical Realism to narrate a family history disrupted by slavery and racism has much in common with such postcolonial fiction as Gabriel García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad (1967; One-Hundred Years of Solitude, 1970) and Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (1981).

Song of Solomon is taught primarily in college literature classes, but it would also be appropriate for mature high school readers and in African American culture classes.