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Song of Solomon: Myth and Motif

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Lauren Downie

on 23 January 2015

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Transcript of Song of Solomon: Myth and Motif

Morrison's novel incorporates mythos from many cultures, and from them creates a story that resonates with the both the reader's imagination and memory.
Song of Solomon: Myth and Motif
Death and the
Dead Family
"Names in
Song of Solomon
are deeply implicated in issues of narrativity: this is a story
naming, and its characters frequently bear names which denote their narrative function [...]" (Fletcher, 405).

African-American Naming
"Macon Dead never knew how it came about-how his only son acquired the nickname that stuck in spite of his own refusal to use it or acknowledge it. It was a matter that concerned him a good deal, for the giving of names in his family was always surrounded by what he believed to be monumental foolishness" (Morrison, 15).
"Even while he was screaming he wondered why he was suddenly so defensive-so possessive about his name. He had always hated that name, all of it, and until he and Guitar became friends, he hated his nickname too" (Morrison, 38).
Biblical References
“He had cooperated as a young father with the blind selection of names from the Bible for every child other than the first male. And abided by whatever the finger pointed to, for he knew every configuration of the naming of his sister. How his father, confused and melancholy over his wife’s death in childbirth, had thumbed through the Bilbe, and since he could not read a word, chose a group of letters that seemed to him strong and handsome; saw in them a large figure that looked like a tree hanging in some princely but protective way over a row of smaller trees. How he had copied the group of letters out on a piece of brown paper; copied, as illiterate people do, every curlicue, arch, and bend in the letters, and presented it to the midwife” (Morrison, 18).

Rebecca (Reba)
First Corinthians
Magdalene (Lena)
Jacob (Jake)
“Milkman struggled for a clear thought, so hard to come by in a dream: Perhaps this woman is Circe. But Circe is dead. This woman is alive. That was as far as he got, because although the woman was talking to him, she might in any case still be dead-as a matter of fact, she had to be dead. Not because of the wrinkles, and the face so old it could not be alive, but because out of the toothless mouth came the strong, mellifluent voice of a twenty-year-old girl” (Morrison, 240).

"Milkman's quest for knowledge and true identity, then, is a gradual movement toward a more decent relationship with women, and a value system more in line with that of Pilate rather than her father. The figure at the threshold of his development is Circe" (Fletcher, 412).
"It is Circe to whom Odysseus returns after his visit to the Underworld, so in a sense she too functions as a midwife in his rebirth" (Fletcher, 413).
Song of Solomon
"[...] students can begin to establish the novel's identity as a series of 'love poems written in dialogue'" (Imbrie, 474).
"We might, then, be content to say that the title of the novel points us not only to the 'song of Solomon' we finally hear at the end of the book, but also to the themes of sexual and familial love, even as it complicates those themes through a dialogue aesthetic. I suggest, however, that the Biblical reference in the novel's title identifies other issues that define the book's form, as well as the political implications of that form for the African-American writer" (Imbrie, 475).
"What Shalminar Knew" by Ann Imbrie
"The Fathers May Soar" by Naomi Van Tol
Death has a significant presence in "The Song of Solomon", in the life of Milkman Dead.
The Dead Influence the Living
Jake -> Macon
materialistic world view
driving need to better oneself
Jake-> Pilate
sense of home
White Man-> Pilate
guilt, "ownership" of murder
Doctor-> Ruth
consolation, remembered love
Ryna's Legacy
Abandons her obligations to her children
Jake raised by another family
No strong ties to family in Shalimar
Loss of traditional name
Inconsolable after her husband's departure
Hagar's desolation
Ryna's Gulch heard by Milkman
Ryna, the wife of Solomon, is a little-described character in Toni Morrison's Book. However, her choices are critical to the story, and the consequences strongly effect her descendants.
The Consequences of Murder
White Man-> Pilate
carrying burden
White Man-> Macon
dismissal, greed
The Seven Days-> Guitar
destabilized conscience
perverted good intentions
Hagar-> Milkman
Greek Legends
Dust to Dust
Pilate the Shaman
The Odyssey
journey home
Icarus and Daedalus
flight with constructed wings
death for one, life for another
reckless death
Three Women
The Fates
The Gorgons
The Graeae
Milkman's moment of revelation comes when he finally accepts his place on the earth, and he becomes in tune with the world around him. This echos creationist stories where man emerged from the earth, and should be a part of nature.
Pilate displays many characteristics of a traditional shaman...
Socially connected yet set apart
Communication to the dead
Bones and Feathers
Living day-to-day
The Presence of the Myth
Showcases their faith in their ability to "transcend their subjugation."
Flight: a reward for knowing the true names
Weaves the African and Western literature together.
Serves Two Purposes in
Song of Solomon
Mode of Escape
"My name is Macon, remember?
I'm already Dead
-"Song of Solomon" Page 118
O Sugarman don't leave me here
Cotton balls to choke me
O Sugarman don't leave me here
Buckra's arms to yoke me. . . .
Sugarman done fly away
Sugarman done gone
Sugarman cut across the sky
Sugarman gone home.
(Morrison 49)
Flying Myth
Igbo people
At. St. Simons, they "committed suicide."
Some say they "flew off."
Introduce Each Section by Connecting to Myth & Motif
Discussing Myth & Motif in Song of Solomon and discovered an underlying theme of finding identity through the past.

- meanings connect to myth, used to convey larger message

- myth

- knowing roots through flight. Blend of African and Western myth

- way of conveying stories and history

Song of Solomon

- love and absence of love prominent

- Represents severed relationships and conveys connection to heritage

Large Scale
Small Scale
Relationship between African-American community and Caucasian community:
Generational transfer of ideas (p9)
Racism caused familial tension within Solomon and Ryna
Cause of violent transformations in Guitar and other characters
1) Husband and Wife
2) Parent and Child
Dr. Foster and Ruth, effects on Ruth's role as a mothering figure
Macom Jr.'s disgust for children (p16)
Ryna caring for multitude of children
Ruth and Milkman, compensating for a lack of love from Macom Jr.
Connection to history and other people
Encourages Milkman's search for heritage
Songs are more dynamic and culturally rich, stemming from days of slavery
Source of healing
Blues culture
Abandonment and lack of love

Solomon and Ryna
Ruth and Macom Jr. (p10)

Skewed idea of gender roles as a fault in society

Create set of ideas of love, passed onto next generation
Connecting with Heritage
"Arms of His Brother"
Flight also marks the completion of Milkman's education
Articles of Interest
"Now he knew why he loved her so. Without ever leaving the ground, she could fly."
Morrison 336
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