Thursday, May 5, 2016

Theme in Song of Solomon

Philip Weinstein in the article I mentioned in the last post--Faulkner 101: Toni Morrison and William Faulkner--states:
"Song of Solomon (1977) pits Macon Dead (a propertied man, with middle-class aspirations, full of disgust for his own race) against Pilate Dead (Macon's repudiated blood sister, yet a compelling figure radiating tribal values) and asks a question Faulkner's work never poses: Where are the missing black parents whose courage and character might guide us today? Song of Solomon (appearing at the same time as Alex Haley's Roots) is a song in search of Solomon, a lament for absent ancestors, and an attempt to imagine them nevertheless."
This perfectly encapsulates the main idea of the novel for me, an idea which I hadn't yet gotten to. Pilate does indeed represent that tribal culture, that culture that her brother Macon has forgotten and/or rejected. She doesn't worry about personal possessions, money, food. She figures that all of these things will be provided for her; that the world will figure it out. She lives simply without the trappings of society. On the other hand, Macon wants to be white. He sees how the other side of society lives and has embraced it. He talks about how important it is to own things--harking back to the era of slavery when his people were considered possessions. Macon owns property, but one could also go so far to say that he also owns people. He treats his wife and children as property. He beats his wife, Ruth, and there is a nice passage, one that I quoted in another blog post, that describes how Macon treats his children. 

And I agree with Weinstein that Song of Solomon is a search for ancestors. Milkman seems to be the primary character engaged in this search. But their fore-fathers are absent, even the one thing that their ancestors would have passed down--their last name--is gone, changed during the Civil War. There is no wisdom being passed down from previous generations. Milkman struggles to understand his place in the world and has no one to guide him.

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