In Song of Solomon we see a young man undergo an odyssey toward finding himself and toward finding his people. All along the way, he struggles with the concept of community that compels him to forge his being in the context of collective identity, and struggles with the concept of individual identity, forged out of personal journey. He wrestles with the expectations of the black community and with the emptiness that haunts his interior self. Identity is both individually and collectively sought after throughout this novel.
In the world of Song of Solomon, identity is not given, it is forged.
A person’s identity is inextricably linked to his history.
Love is talked about tirelessly throughout Song of Solomon, and the lack of it repeatedly drives women insane with loss. It is often confused for possession and ownership. Many are deprived of it, others kill in the name of it, and still others don’t even know they have it. The Christ-figure’s (Pilate's) last words are about love and her desire to have known more people in order to have loved more people.
There is an absence of love in Song of Solomon.
Love is confused for ownership in Song of Solomon.
We see a troubled universe in Song of Solomon, where racism and inequality run rampant, touching and affecting every character’s life in significant ways. We are exposed to a society divided along racial lines, and we are given access to the black community, watching the effects of slavery and racism over four generations of American history. We witness America’s inability to see beyond race, and to honor Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. We see how racism is both socially, systematically, and economically perpetuated. Feeling that there is no solution, no way out, no means of achieving the inalienable rights Lincoln spoke of, a society within the black community is formed in order to kill white people.
In order to seek identity, Milkman must examine himself as an individual and in the context of the black community.
White people are unnatural in the world of Song of Solomon
Though Song spans nearly four generations of American history, we spend the most time in 1960s America, on the eve of the Civil Rights movement. We are immersed in the black experience in America, and watch countless acts of racism, hate, and intolerance unfold. Despite the fact that we are dwelling in an era that is nearly a century after Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation, we still see a broken, unjust society.
Urban America in Song of Solomon is a world of materialism and corruption.
Technology and modern tools of communication both unite and alienate the black community in Song of Solomon.
Homes symbolize status in the world of Song of Solomon and also indicate how a person copes, feels, and identifies materialistically with the world around him. We are presented with a spectrum of homes, from huge mansions, to two-room shacks, to improbably manicured dwellings carved out of wilderness, to cozy one-room cottages of mythical comfort. The larger and more affluent the home, the more diseased it becomes.
In Song of Solomon, homes are both womblike and tomblike.
Homes are agents of confinement throughout this novel.
The question of what is natural and what is unnatural is one that threads its way throughout Song. Therefore, the idea of the supernatural is extremely important, pointing to higher powers and greater beings. We are constantly presented with ghosts, magic, and seeming impossibilities.
Pilate’s lack of a belly button makes her a marginal being.
Ghosts are peaceful in Song of Solomon.
In this novel, women are those left behind. We see them trapped in their marriages and in their societal niches, crushed by the heavy burden of survival. While men are associated with flying and fleeing, women are associated with groundedness and earthliness. We see them brought to madness at the loss of their lovers and husbands, and we see the anguish that comes when they are denied sexual love and sexual expression. Women in Song of Solomon are obsessive in their love of the men in their lives, relying on these partners as representation of "home" or of a safe place. The only women capable of living independently, without men, are those who have been marginalized by society. Therefore, we understand the relationship between women and men in the novel as inextricably linked to the way in which we understand the society in which they live.
Women are left behind in Song of Solomon.
Women are peripheral in this novel.
We see our protagonist fight against the wilds of Virginia, unaccustomed to the problems it presents him. By contrast we see those people born in this wilderness navigate it effortlessly. The natural world in Song of Solomon represents a pastoral paradise, untainted by materialism and by corruption. At the same time, slavery and racism are present even in these rural pockets of society.
Milkman’s trek through nature reflects the trek through his internal self.
In Song, we see how nature forces a man to shed unnecessary materials and to use only his body and mind.
Song of Solomon's protagonist literally embarks upon a journey of exploration, the initial goal being the discovery of gold. But this quest eventually morphs into an exploration of identity, family, and name. We watch our protagonist struggle to reach both goals, realizing that shortcuts and haste only set him back further from his goals. The desire for self-knowledge is imbued in each character to some extent.
As Milkman explores Danville and Shalimar, he explores himself.
Exploration in Song of Solomon involves darkness and the inability to see.
We hear the characters of Song of Solomon constantly retell the same story, adding new detail and specifics with each recollection. In this way, we see the power the storyteller holds in choosing what details to include and in deciding how to present these details.
Memories are crucial to identity in this novel.
Remembering is a creative process in Song of Solomon.