Appropriateness of the Song of Solomon
Coming from a Christian background, my first thought receiving Song of Solomon as one the summer assignment books was panic because I had forgotten all of my Biblical lore. Then I saw that the author’s name was ‘Tony Morrison’, and I felt even more panicked. Beloved did not go over well with me.
Song of Solomon is a book in the bible that celebrates love between a man and woman; specifically that of sexual love. However, Morrison’s work does not celebrate sexual love, or faithfulness. Instead, one of the main themes she explores throughout the novel is the negative consequences of having women define themselves through and depend on the men around them. The majority of women in Song of Solomon suffers because of men in their lives, and as a result, has difficulties with love. Hagar is so steadfastly to Milkman that after he rejects her for other females after twenty years of what he thinks is fooling around, Hagar loses herself: “having spent another day without his presence, her heart beat like a gloved fist against her ribs” (Morrison 127). Hagar has devoted her life to Milkman to the point that if she cannot have Milkman, no one can. Hence, why she decides to assault him with an ice pick, swing a hammer at him, stab him with a knife but “[a]wed . . . by the very presence of her victim, she trembled violently and her knife thrusts and hammer swings and ice-pick jabs were clumsy” (129). Hagar ultimately dies because of Milkman; she catches a fever after she spends thousands of dollars buying accessories and clothing with which she hopes to catch Milkman’s eye.
Turning again to the recurring Biblical allusions, Milkman’s mother (Ruth)’s character does not match that of her Biblical counterpart. In the Bible, Ruth is renowned and upholds her reputation for her loyalty to Boaz, her husband. Meanwhile, Ruth is not loyal to her husband, Macon Dead. Although this seems to be an exemption to the thesis, Ruth does not cheat on her husband. Instead, she is not mentally loyal to Macon – she remains devoted to her father, the Doctor, even going as far as to having him act her midwife, and her son, Milkman, whom she continues to breastfeed past his teething stage (i.e. he is capable of chewing and eating solid food). Milkman one day follow Ruth out of the house, thinking she is having an affair behind her husband’s back, only to discover that she is visiting her now-dead father’s grave. In a sense, her loyalty to her father (and son) is her affair. She is not true to Macon, unlike her Biblical counterpart.
Now turning to the sole female who does not define or depend on men around her, Pilate Dead, sister of Macon Dead. Sticking with the comparison between the characters and their Biblical counterparts, we see that Pilate is the ‘bad guy’ of the New Testament. He is a thief who is released in order to be able to kill the (colloquial) sacrificial lamb, Jesus. However, Pilate Dead does not let her name’s history, or her history, define her. Instead, she rejects all social norms and is self-dependent. Pilate can even be said to be the savior to Milkman, contrary to the thief the Biblical Pilate is; Milkman’s weighty peacock tail is entirely gone with her death, resulting in his flight. Not only that, but because of her absence of a navel, her “stomach was as smooth and sturdy as her back” (27-28), she lacks the symbol that connects her to earth. In a sense, she is elevated because she is not tied down to just humanity. Oh, and she also regularly consorts with the dead.