Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon has a small but important feature that distinguishes it from its predecessors: unlike Sula and The Bluest Eye, its protagonist, Milkman, is male. While Sula and The Bluest Eye center on female characters, and locate themselves in domestic spheres, Song of Solomon focuses on a male character whose (apparent) journey out of the domestic sphere constitutes a heroic quest for identity. Morrison explores masculinity by taking it back to its roots: the epic narrative. She refers to Song of Solomon as “an overtly, stereotypically male narrative” that is “…very saga-like.” However, Morrison, never content with the “overt” and “stereotypical”, complicates her sage-like narrative by undermining its form. She wishes it to be “Old-school heroic, but with other meanings”(xii, forward). This “old-school heroic” narrative incorporates elements of classical mythology, specifically Homer's The Odyssey, with the personal myths of Milkman's past, and expands those myths to speak to the African-American experience. But Morrison further complicates her “masculine” narrative with questions about gender. Like the hero's quest in The Odyssey, Milkman's quest is a quest to reach his ancestral “home”, and thus reclaim his identity. Unlike The Odyssey, Song of Solomon also focuses on those left behind during the quest, and with the accretion that Pilate “without ever leaving the ground…could fly”(332) suggests that the epic narrative can be rooted in femininity and domesticity.
[...] Similarly, the Circe in Song of Solomon points Milkman's way to the cave where Pilate and Macon Sr. found gold (and Pilate later found the bones of her father). The cave is at once a metaphor for the underworld Odysseus journeys to, and a journey into the past. This episode shows how the text continually references The Odyssey, but takes the literal events of the original myth and molds them into a fresh narrative. Importantly, women in the text, such as Circe and Pilate, are treated differently from the women that Odysseus encounters. [...]
[...] By subtly referencing The Odyssey's opening lines, Morrison locates Song of Solomon in the epic realm. What is interesting about this that she invokes is that it seems related to her father, who had recently died: After his death, I deliberately sought his advice for writing the novel that continued to elude me He answered. Whatever it is called—muse, insight, dark finger that guides,” “bright angel”—it exists and, in many forms, I have trusted it ever since. (Forward, ii) Morrison's music speaks to her on a supernatural level—a mystical communion with her deceased father, but unlike Homer's supernatural muse, which is based in the Greek tradition, Morrison's muse is based in her own person history. [...]
[...] Song of Solomon reconceptualizes gender in its epic structure to far greater a degree than Awkward supposes. While having the potential to mirror characters like Calypso in The Odyssey, who is nothing more than a sexual pit-stop for Odyssey, Morrison presents Sweet as a more complicated character. Sweet and Milkman's relationship is characterized by its mutuality: put salve on his face. He washed her hair. She sprinkled talcum on his feet Likewise, the women in Shalimar, Milkman's epic homeland, are put on equal footing with the men: men looked very much like the women”(263). [...]
[...] The gold that Milkman thinks she keeps in her house (what is in fact his grandfather's bones) spurs his original quest for gold, which morphs into a more heroic quest for the past and his identity. Thus Pilate, like Athena, guides Milkman on his heroic quest towards home. Unlike Athena, Pilate is a complicated human woman who is intricately involved in Milkman's quest. Another character from The Odyssey, Circe, makes her appearance in Song of Solomon. At first glance, the Circe we encounter here seems identical to the Circe of The Odyssey. [...]
[...] Morrison uses her Odyssey references to connect Milkman's journey to an epic journey, but does quite a bit of reinventing in the process. For example, the legend of the flying Africans, although recalling Icarus' and Deadalus' flight from captivity, takes on a unique resonance. It is the story of slaves transcending captivity, and carries the emotional relevance that such a tale would. Rather than an Icarus-like parable of striving too high, the narrative invokes a complicated metaphor for escaping from slavery. [...]
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