Recovering Names Aug 1, 2007
Toni Morrison's 1977 epic masterwork is underpinned by a myth of flight, an image of transcendence, and a return to the ancestral homeland. Milkman Dead's journey to the South to recover his aunt Pilate's ancestral bones becomes one of self-definition and discovery, and the novel is an effort to recover the "real names of people, places and things. Names that had meaning." In its reclamation of a past expunged by slavery, Song of Solomon prefigures Beloved's exploration of that "peculiar institution." Among the novel's themes are race and class, sexual sorrow and predation, retributive violence and all-embracing love. Milkman has his opposite in the character Guitar, but they define each other as well, and represent the ideological conflicts that marked the fragmentation of the civil rights movement. Pilate (whose homonym is pilot) is the female ancestor-figure whose generous, loving spirit presides over the novel, guiding Milkman in his search for lineage and home. Rich with rose petals, a bag of bones, characters named Circe, First Corinthians and Hagar, Not Doctor Street, and a children's riddle-song, this is the most Marquezian of Morrison's oeuvre. Throughout Song of Solomon sings, and in the end surrenders to the mythic air. So will you.