Throughout the centuries many authors have attempted to capture the
individuals quest for self-authenticity. In the novel Song of Solomon, Toni
Morrison depicts the many aspects of self-actualization, as well as the
tormenting road that leads to the shaping of an individual. Through beautiful
language, with immense reality, she is able to describe young black mans journey
as he uncovers his personal history, myth, and essence.
The story revolves around generations, past and present, of a black family in the south. The character of Milkman (Macon Dead jr.) evolves through the descriptions, events, and experiences of others. His parents, Macon Dead sr., and Ruth Foster Dead, represent the wall-blocking Milkman from his true authentic identity. Many of Milkman's major problems are a direct result of his parents suffocating mistakes. Ruth breast-fed Milkman until he was six years old, hence the name Milkman. She was sexually repressed by her husband for twenty years, and used her young son as a substitute for sexual intimacy. Ruth believed that she possessed no authenticity, and that she was insignificant and isolated. 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 hoarded him into the world that she herself despised.
Milkman's father, Macon Dead sr., became a ruthless money hound after his father, Jake, was shot and killed for his property. This devastating event from his childhood made him miserly, insensitive, and stingy. Macon Dead sr. becomes a money hungry machine because he does not want to suffer the same fate as his father. Macon Dead sr. fails to tell Milkman the reasons behind his miserly attitude. Thus creating an insurmountable gap between their relationship. Milkman's mother and father both thrust their personal fears on him adding to the destruction of his personal identity. Only after Milkman uncovers these tribulations behind his parents' identities, can he begin his quest for self-authenticity.
By displacing the profound effect Milkman's parents have on his quest for self-actualization, Morrison is able to convey her theme of generational conflict. Without appropriate parental guidance, honesty, and explanation Milkman has trouble finding the authentic individual within himself. The inner turmoil within both Ruth and Macon Dear sr. reflects negatively upon Milkman, leaving him lost and unfocused. Morrison writes of this hole within Ruth, "…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. (p. 124)" Instead of accepting the problems with their own authenticity, both parents force their unauthentic values on Milkman. The overbearing needs of both parents result in Milkman's need to find his personal Identity in other places, other people.
The individual who first inspires Milkman to discover his own identity is Pilate, the forbidden sister of Macon Dead sr. She is a mysterious woman, large, masculine, and frightening. Her brother abandoned her after years of support because she began making wine. Macon Dead sr. this drunken profession, and subsequently forbid Milkman to encounter her. Despite his father's wishes Milkman is intrigued by Pilate and quickly becomes absorbed in her magical, spiritual, fulfilling world. This was the same world that once held his father in awe. Morrison writes, "surrendering to the sound, Macon moved closer. He wanted no conversation, no whiteness, only to listen and perhaps to see the three of them, the source of that music that made him think of fields and of wild turkey and calico. (P.29)" By entering into Pilate's' home Milkman begins to question why his father acts the way he does. Through Pilate, Milkman discovers a past that seems lost within his father. This realization begi!
ns Milkman's quest for self-authenticity.
Milkman's flight to identity takes him many places. He is fortunate to have a friend, Guitar, who is also lost, and hunting for his authentic identity. The two pursue adventures and their contrasting personalities leave them wit ha wide perspective on events and experiences. While Milkman seems quiet, poetic, almost stumbling on his authentic self. Guitar is eager, outgoing, and aware of his needs. Morrison creates Pilate as a metaphor for a pilot, guiding Milkman through his quest. The fact that she has no navel adds to the idea that she is a woman with no roots. This makes her a woman with no original, self-actualized identity, adding to her appeal for both Milkman and Guitar.
In his attempt to escape the world of his parents, Milkman stumbles upon there past. He visits Danville and Shalimar, both places of spiritual heritage. Here he learns from various characters, the events that shaped his parents past, and subsequently their parents before them. He is drawn to these stories as they feed him with information about his missing identity. He is especially drawn to Circe, the mysterious sorceress that saved his father and Pilate from ruthless white landowners. Morrison writes, "so when he saw the woman at the top of the stairs there was no way for him to resist climbing up toward her outreached hands, her fingers spread wide for him, her mouth gaping open for him, her eyes devouring him. (P.239)" 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 heritage. Anything absent from his upbringing is now substituted by eve!
nts from generations past. Life is essentially easier to understand, because his perspective is wider and more fulfilling.
In the end, Milkman is not completely happy with the information he has gained on his quest. However he had uncovered many mysteries and fears about his heritage, and past, and became comfortable with how he came to be. Milkman discovered things about his parent's relationships, and in the process discovered himself. By venturing into the unknown he became aware of many of the aspects that make up his own personal authenticity.
In the novel Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison explores the events that shape young mans life. She explores this quest for authenticity with social concerns, cultural emptiness, family heritage, racial tensions, greed, and love. By touching so many aspects of life, Morrison is able to create a novel of epic proportions. With mystical dreams and mystical characters she envelops the reader in a world intriguing and powerful, painting an irreducible picture of a time long past. Yet her themes are so universal and well actualized that her story seems to exist in a time neither past nor present. " For now he know what Shalimar knew: If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it. (P337)" Morrison writes an inspirational story and truly captures the essence of a quest for an authentic identity.
By Agatha Hawkings
Word Count: 1126