Milkman’s Search for Identity in Song of Solomon
Song of Solomon tells the story of Dead's unwitting search for identity. Milkman appears to be destined for a life of self-alienation and isolation because of his commitment to the materialism and the linear conception of time that are part of the legacy he receives from his father, Macon Dead. However, during a trip to his ancestral home, “Milkman comes to understand his place in a cultural and familial community and to appreciate the value of conceiving of time as a cyclical process”(Smith 58).
The Deads exemplify the patriarchal, nuclear family that has traditionally been a stable and critical feature not only of American society but of Western civilization in general. The primary institution for the reproduction and maintenance of children, ideally it provides individuals with the means for understanding their place in the world. The degeneration of the Dead family and the destructiveness of Macon's rugged individualism symbolize the invalidity of American, indeed Western, values. Morrison's depiction of this family demonstrates the incompatibility of received assumptions with the texture and demands of life in black American communities.
Pilate Dead, Macon's younger sister, provides a marked contrast to her brother and his family. While Macon's love of property and money determines the nature and quality of his relationships, Pilate's sheer disregard for status, occupation, hygiene, and manners is accompanied by an ability to affirm spiritual values such as compassion, respect, loyalty, and generosity.
Pilate introduces a quality of "enchantment" into the novel. The circumstances of her birth make her a character of supernatural proportions. She delivered herself at birth and was born without a navel. Her smooth stomach isolates her from society. Moreover, her physical condition symbolizes her lack of dependence on others. Her self-sufficiency and isolation prevent her from being trapped or destroyed by the extremely decaying values that threaten her brother's life.
Before Milkman leaves his home in Michigan, he perceives the world in...