Song of Solomon, a novel written by Toni Morrison, tackles several themes. While the main theme is actually finding one’s identity by tracing one’s ancestral roots, interrelated themes like gender issues run throughout the story. Song of Solomon discusses issues of gender through the dialogues and scenes acted out by the characters. Women are portrayed as meek individuals who were mostly concerned with sprucing the home and themselves, and whose main duties are to run the household and nurse their children to grow up strong and robust.
Men, on the other hand, are the breadwinners or family providers. As Song of Solomon mentions in its first chapter, “men were at work; and most of the women were fastening their corsets and getting ready to go see what tails or entrails the butcher might be giving away. (Morrison 3-4). The story revolves around the protagonist Macon Dead III, who gains the nickname “Milkman” and epitomizes an African-American who, through his family members and constant companion, sets out to discover the people, circumstances, and heritage that played a crucial role in shaping his past, present and future.
As Milkman is presented in the story interacting with many different characters, readers glean the several gendered expectations and representations of manhood/masculinity as well as womanhood/femininity. Because he grows up in a family with traditional beliefs in the roles of men and women, Milkman himself shows biased views in how he sees them. For example, he considers his older male friend “wise and kind and fearless” (Morrison 47).
On the other hand, his first impression and description of his aunt and female cousins is shown in the following phrase: “he was surrounded by women who seemed to enjoy him and who laughed out loud” (Morrison 47). As the story progresses, readers also see how Milkman deals with women in the story. AT the last chapter when he travels to Shalimar, he is shown entering Sweet’s house, where he is welcomed with a smile and an offer to be bathed (Morrison 326) and she immediately follows his orders to take a romp, frolic and bathe in the sea.
The novel in effect shows that because women depend on the men for their sustenance and for their physical as well as needs, they never really evolve and develop into strongly independent individuals. Gender issues are likewise shown by the contemptuous way Milkman’s father regards his sister Pilate. Milkman’s father, though, has been molded by other events that took place in his past.
In his determination to survive, Milkman’s father becomes very materialistic to the point of acting like an arrogant white man who oppresses even his fellow blacks who fall beneath his station in life. When Macon Dead II is introduced in the beginning of the story, he is shown lending no compassion for a woman with grandsons in tow requesting for special consideration in the overdue rent. He ends up embodying what the woman generalizes, “A nigger in business is a terrible thing to see” (Morrison 22).
Indeed, Milkman’s father illustrates the case of the hardened black man who, in his desire to rise above difficult circumstances in life and hold his place in a society that puts a premium on wealth and stature, ends up making no concessions even with people of his color, much less with women whom he perceives as weak or of little value. With his `white culture’ mindset, Milkman’s father rears his only son in the way he deems the best. He introduces him to learning “the business of life, which was to own things” (Morrison 69).
Milkman’s father ingrains in him early on that if he owns things, and lets the things he owns own other things, he’ll own himself and other people, too (Morrison 55). When Milkman’s dad tries to ingrain in his son what he should do to survive in this world (Morrison 55), he in effect is instilling his masculine view that men should be strong and independent. Song of Solomon may be summarized as the main character Milkman’s journey towards self-discovery .
From his childhood and early adolescent stirrings of love & lust — as shown by his sexual liaison with his Aunt Pilate’s granddaughter Hagar which borders on incest – to his discovery of the radical organization called Seven Days which adopts an `eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ policy in exterminating white people as an act of vengeance against innocent black deaths, to his journey to Virginia which was his grandfather’s ancestral home, to his visit with Pilate to Shalimar, Milkman pieces together the pieces of the puzzle comprising his own unique identity.
Milkman gradually discovers his African roots, along with the mythical characteristics and the inescapable family background of slavery.