Academic journal article IUP Journal of English Studies

The Politics of Gender in Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon

Academic journal article IUP Journal of English Studies

The Politics of Gender in Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon

Article excerpt

Toni Morrison's novels explore issues of African American female identity in stories that bring together elements of oral tradition, unique literary techniques, and the supernatural to give voice to the experiences of black women living on the margins of the American society. A Nobel Laureate and a bestselling African American female author, Morrison is an inspiration for several other black women novelists who are trying to make their mark in the mainstream publishing industry. Although Morrison's stories are deeply embedded in the African cultural heritage and engage in the complex examination of problems within the African American community, power dynamics of gender, and issues of racism, her primary interest lies with the experiences of African American women, whose quest for individual identity is integrally intertwined with their sense of community and cultural history. In fact, at times, the dominant tropes of oppression like class, race, colonialism, and slavery seem to be the metaphorical representation of the oppression of women (Pathak 2007, 104)

Grewal (1998, 80) expresses that Morrison's overarching thematic concern throughout her oeuvre is with issues of African American identity in the contemporary world: "African Americans must negotiate a place for themselves within a dominant culture; how they situate themselves with respect to their own history and culture is a pervasive theme of Morrison's novels." Song of Solomon (Morrison 1977) is one such mythical novel relating the story of Macon "Milkman" Dead, who is born in the North but journeys to the South in search of familial roots and personal identity. He discovers that he is a descendant of Solomon, a well-known figure among a mythical West African tribe whose members can fly. According to the myth, this talent of flight was mainly used by the enslaved Africans taken forcibly to America, in order to escape their bondage and fly back to their homeland.

Milkman's development is framed and illuminated by the sacrificial stories of three women important in his life, and the presence of these subplots in the tale of a male protagonist is a good indication of the importance of female contribution to a man's growth in Morrison's thought. In Morrison's novels, women's voice plays a huge role in reconstructing cultural memory and demonstrating the importance of the past to the male protagonist. Therefore, it is not surprising that women of color play prominent, strong, and powerful roles in her novels. Hove (2002, 254) observes, "Morrison's fictions repeatedly challenge cultural traditions defined by patriarchal, assimilationist, and totalizing standards. Ever since her first novel . . . she has set herself in opposition to the European American white mainstream by portraying and celebrating unique, powerful voices of the marginalized women from American history and contemporary American life."

The emotion of love is inseparable from the heart of women, and wherever there are women characters, there will be a parable of love. For Morrison it is no different, as she confesses, "Actually, I think, all the time that I write, I'm writing about love or its absence. Although I don't start out that way. . . . But I think that I still write about the same thing, which is how people relate to one another and miss it or hang on to it . . . or are tenacious about love" (quoted in Bakerman 1981, 541). Certainly, the theme of love is also evident in Song of Solomon, where the female characters are searching for love, for valid sexual encounters, and, above all, for a sense that they are worthy of or important to their male counterparts.

Although the novel's theme might be identified as an individual's search for the meaning and genuine value of life, for Pilate Dead, Hagar Dead, and First Corinthians Dead, as for many other female characters, such female aspiration is just a joke. In spite of the characters' having potential, female rebellion is not possible in such a world. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.