Saturday, October 8, 2011

Song of Solomon

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In the novel The Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, Milkman (Macon III Dead) gradually progresses in the process of self-actualization. Throughout the course of the novel, Milkman is constantly absorbed in himself. By the conclusion of the novel we find that he has finally realized the heritage and culture to which he is a part of. It is through various experiences and meetings that Milkman finally “awakens” in closing of the novel. Morrison used the techniques of diction and realism to portray Milkman’s journey to discover himself and his family roots. The culmination of these literary techniques and the experiences that Milkman goes through, Morrison was successful in freeing Milkman of avarice and replacing it with an appreciation for his cultural and familial roots.

Milkman’s road to awareness begins with his parents; Macon Dead and Ruth Foster Dead. His parents served as an impediment, as they hindered his ability to figure out his true authentic identity. So the first “stepping stone” that Milkman had to climb and surpass was that of escaping the suppressed world that his parents subjected him to. Ruth breast-fed Macon III (Milkman) until he was six years old. Milkman would be forced to oblige under his mother’s commands. As Morrison wrote, “…he was old enough to be bored by the flat taste of mother’s milk, so he came reluctantly, as to a chore…”(1). Morrison portrayed the scene through the use of both diction and realism. Through her word choice (diction), Morrison portrayed the reluctant behavior of Milkman in relation to being breast-fed at such an old age. Realism was used to portray the feelings Ruth felt. She was at a point in her life where things were meaningless and no one expressed any love towards her. By breast-feeding Milkman, she experienced a sense of pleasure. “She had the distinct impression that his lips were pulling from her a thread of light”(1). This light referred to the daily pleasure she needed to sustain her life. This situation of Ruth was important in the development of Milkman’s personality and character. Ruth believed that she possessed no authenticity, and that she was insignificant and secluded from the world. By passing these negative attributes and emotions to Milkman, she disturbed his natural process for growth, and ultimately left him feeling lost and insecure. Instead of encouraging Milkman to grow and mature, Ruth forced him into the world that she herself despised. Through the use of diction and realism, Morrison depicted the situation that Milkman was in at the start of the novel.

Morrison portrays Milkman’s first step towards self-actualization indirectly through the use of realism and diction, as stated earlier. The lack of proper support and motivation, Milkman was a disadvantage growing up. He lacked guidance, honesty, and most importantly, an identity. There was within him an inner turmoil that disappeared only after he freed himself from his restraining parents. Milkman is going through the same experience his mother had and went through her entire life. Morrison wrote, “…because the fact is that I am a small woman. I don’t mean little; I mean small, and I’m small because I was pressed small”(14). In the same way that Ruth was pressed small, Milkman was restrained and was not able to live with his true identity. This feeling is what later led Milkman to search for his own identity in other places and in other people.

Following the stage of parental impediment, Milkman was on his next stage of self-awareness. The individual who first inspired Milkman to discover his own true identity was Pilate. Pilate was one of the most unique, influential, and independent characters in the novel. Pilate sparked in Milkman, what no other person had before. She intrigued him. For the first time in his life, Milkman began to question things and felt curiosity and wonder. He began to feel in him, a desire to find out more, about himself and his family. With Pilate, came another influential woman in Milkman’s life Hagar. Ever since he first met her, Milkman was enchanted and very attracted to Hagar. She opened his mind and heart to something that he had never felt before. It was Pilate and Hagar’s lyrical nature that helped Morrison express Macon III next step towards self-awareness/actualization. Her singing was triggered by what she believed was a message from her father (Macon Dead I). It was his familial background that was indirectly luring him into searching for his own true identity. “Surrendering to the sound, Macon moved closer. He wanted no conversation, no witness, only to listen and perhaps to see the three of them, the source of that music that made him think of fields and wild turkey and calico”(). This sense of magical realism led Milkman to advance to the next stage in his gradual process. “As Macon felt himself softening under the weight of memory and music, the song died down. The air was quiet and yet Macon Dead could not leave”(0). Through the use of diction in this case, Morrison expressed Milkman’s ongoing fascination for Pilate. As Pilate is part of his family, he is slowly uncovering pieces of what would later shape his identity. Once again, through the use of diction and realism, Morrison represented the gradual awakening that Milkman is experiencing.

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Once Milkman had developed the initiative to search for his true self, he grew rapidly as a person. An influential agent in this case was Guitar, one of the few friends Milkman had. Guitar completed Milkman in a way that no other character could. Milkman was quiet, poetic, and not firm on his beliefs, while Guitar was enthusiastic, outgoing, and sentient of his needs. Guitar is the true foil of Milkman. It is through Guitar, that Milkman reaches another stage in his life. The most significant stage in the relationship between Milkman and Guitar was when Guitar spoke of the Seven Days. The Seven Days represented life for Guitar. He had found something he emphatically believed in. He told Milkman, “It’s not about you living longer. It’s about how you live and why. It’s about whether your children can make other children”(160). Through diction, Morrison symbolized the effect that a goal, a purpose, and love can have on a person. When Milkman saw that Guitar was more interested in what he would die for, rather when how or when he died, it made him wonder. It even made him afraid that it was wrong. He told Guitar, “I’m scared for you man”(161), when in reality, it was himself that scared him the most. The necessity for purpose and love overcame Milkman’s emotions leading him on to the most important stage in his life. Once again, Morrison portrayed Milkman’s gradual awakening and awareness to his true purpose and identity through the use of diction. The diction, as minute and insignificant as it may have seemed, actually led to an array of mixed emotions and conflicts within Milkman, further deepening his cultural identity.

In his attempt to escape the suppressed world of his parents, Milkman stumbled upon their past. He visited Danville and Shalimar, both places of spiritual and familial heritage. For the first time in his life, he was in a place that he felt meant something. It was the land of his ancestors, primarily Macon Dead I. He learned from various characters, the events that shaped his parents past. It was these very experiences that had shaped his grandparents past. These various stories filled pieces to the puzzle that Milkman was trying to solve. His missing identity was forming itself as each story unfolded and as he met various different people. Milkman is especially drawn to Circe. This attraction is a part of the quest that Milkman has been trying to complete. Circe was like a part of their family, as she had helped Macon Dead II and Pilate escape from white landowners. So an attraction where there was vulnerability from Milkman on the subject of family was inevitable. Morrison wrote, “So when he saw the woman at the top of the stairs there was no way for him to resist climbing up toward her outstretched hands, her fingers spread wide for him, her mouth gaping open for him, her eyes devouring him”(). Circe, Pilate, and the men from his fathers past, provide Milkman with the necessary support, comfort and identity missing from his childhood. He begins to understand and appreciate his old, but newly found heritage. All that was absent from his upbringing is now substituted by events from generations past. Life, as Milkman had never experienced before, was easier to understand. This was primarily due to his new perspective, which proved to be more fulfilling. In this case, diction and realism played minor but nonetheless very important roles. The realism was presented through the diction when the dream of Circe is delineated. This intermingling of diction and realism produces the effect of awareness within Milkman. He begins to understand and complete his new, independent identity. Milkman discovered things about his parents relationships, and in the process discovered his own identity. By venturing into the unknown, he became aware of many of the characteristics that make up his own personal authenticity.

After a thorough examination of diction and realism within the context of the novel Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, it is found that Milkman completes his quest of discovering himself. Milkman realized his true identity, and was finally freed from what had burdened and suppressed him as a child. Through gradual change, Milkman’s various experiences shaped not only his personality, but also his identity. As Morrison wrote, “For now he knew what Shalimar knew If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it”(7).

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