Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon” is a masterful example of the tradition of American mythical literature as developed by the giants Hawthorne, Melville, Twain, and Faulkner. Like other Faulkner-influenced authors such as William Gass and Cormac McCarthy, Morrison combines an impressionistic writing style with a special folklore, which she accents with portentous and often eerie moments of magical realism and individualizes with an original voice of the American black experience.
The subject of the novel is the morbidly named Dead family who, like Faulkner’s Compsons and Bundrens, are entangled in a web of dynastic secrets that are revealed gradually throughout the story; their realm is not in the South but an unspecified city in Michigan. The father, Macon, is a landlord whose prosperity is due to his inflexibility with his tenants but whose failure as a family man is due to his strictness and cruelty to his wife Ruth and their three children. His son, who has acquired the humiliating nickname of Milkman as a result of being nursed by his mother long past the normal age, grows up to take over the family business and becomes the central character in the story.
Macon has a sister named Pilate who, after years of wandering around the country as a vagrant, has finally settled in a seedy neighborhood in Macon’s city with her daughter and granddaughter and makes bootleg wine for a living. Possessing several mythical attributes, Pilate is like a figure out of folk legend: Her navel disappeared at birth, she has visions of her dead father, she keeps a dead man’s bones in a sack in her house and her father’s only written word in a small box hanging from her earlobe, and she seems able to alter her size at will. Macon sternly warns Milkman to keep away from her, which only adds to her mystique.
Through the use of third person point of view and elaborate, repetitive foreshadowing, William Faulkner describes how numerous elements contributed to Miss Emily's deranged behavior in the short story, "A Rose for Emily." Not only does Faulkner imply paternal oppression, but there is also a clear indication of insanity that is an inherent pattern in the Grierson family. The shocking conclusion of ...
The plot thickens when Milkman, who has been kept under his father’s wing all his life and seeks to escape, learns about some gold hidden in a cave near his father’s boyhood farm in central Pennsylvania. His adventure to retrieve this treasure brings him to a fascinating woman named Circe who seems as mythical as Pilate — not only are her name, indeterminate age, witchlike aura, and her pack of golden-eyed dogs allusions to the Homeric sorceress who turns men into swine; her appearance as a lonely and disgraced matron dwelling in an abandoned decaying mansion evokes images of Miss Havisham in “Great Expectations.”
The novel’s title is not just a Biblical allusion but a clue to Milkman’s obscure ancestry, and the story becomes his quest to uncover the mystery of his family’s identity. I was surprised and pleased by the ending, which seemed to be heading for emotional closure but instead builds into a crescendo of dramatic intensity and leaves the outcome ambiguous. Such uncompromising writing makes “Song of Solomon” a modern classic — on every page it refuses to conform to any standard except that of true literary quality.