In Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon, the transformation Milkman undergoes when he visits Shalimar to learn about his family history is a critical part of the book which I found difficult to understand and relate to at first. Milkman, the main character, is superficially very different from me, being from a different age group, a different ethnicity, and a different time period. Yet, Milkman’s unspoken quest of self-identity is not one foreign to me. When I lived with my grandparents in China, my grandfather’s devotion to science help me find my own identity and my own goals in life. When I realized that Milkman sees in his family history a sense of identity, I understood why he makes such effort to learn his family’s past and Morrison’s reasoning behind leaving the novel’s ending open to the reader.
On my first reading, I saw only the plot points of the novel. At age 31, Milkman ventures into a cave in search of the lost gold of an old man whom his father killed, motivated by the greed that characterizes his personality. However, when the gold is nowhere to be found, Milkman’s greed seems to have suddenly vanishes and he embarks on a strenuous journey to find out his family history. Milkman’s character seemed fake to me. He makes such an effort to discover his past, which his distant and cold personality has no reason to value. This personality is exemplified when Milkman chooses to focus on his own problems rather than the dangers of racism after the lynching of Emmett Till. During Milkman’s stay in Shalimar, Morrison includes in the plot multiple minor events seemingly unrelated to the ending, including the introduction of the character Sweet, a prostitute who Milkman befriends. Aside from providing Milkman with clues regarding his family history, Sweet’s purpose seemed questionable. The two swim naked in a lake, portraying a naive and intimate relationship that Milkman wouldn’t want. What befuddled me even more was the ending of the novel. At the very end, Milkman leaps off a cliff at his assassin Guitar, but Morrison tells us nothing more about what happens next. Whether Milkman or Guitar dies is left open to the reader. Why would Morrison leave such an important plot point outside of her narration? Finally Milkman’s choice to try to fly off the cliff also seemed unrealistic. Why does he suddenly believe he can fly?
When rereading the Song of Solomon, I noticed how childish Milkman was until the very end of the novel. Milkman, even at age 31, is living with his parents, working for his father, and foreign to intimate relationships. The first time he leaves the protection of his family, he makes rash decisions, getting into bar fights and going hunting without any prior experience with shooting a gun. It is clear that Milkman is not an independent adult despite his age and lacks purpose in his life. He didn’t know what defines him, a key part of growing up.
Unlike Milkman, the first time I faced the question of my goal in life was when I was...