Song of Solomon: Milkman Dead - Respecting and Listening to Women


In Toni Morrison\'s Song of Solomon, Milkman Dead becomes a man by
learning to respect and to listen to women. In the first part of the novel, he
emulates his father, by being deaf to women\'s wisdom and women\'s needs, and
casually disrespecting the women he should most respect. He chooses to stray
from his father\'s example and leaves town to obtain his inheritance and to
become a self-defined man. From Circe, a witch figure, he is inspired to be
reciprocal, and through his struggle for equality with men and then with women,
he begins to find his inheritance, which is knowing what it is to fly, not gold.
At the end, he acts with kindness and reciprocity with Pilate, learning from her
wisdom and accepting his responsibilities to women at last. By accepting his
true inheritance from women, he becomes a man, who loves and respects women, who
knows he can fly but also knows his responsibilties.
In the first part of the novel, Milkman is his father\'s son, a child
taught to ignore the wisdom of women. Even when he is 31, he still needs "both
his father and his aunt to get him off" the scrapes he gets into. Milkman
considers himself Macon, Jr., calling himself by that name, and believing that
he cannot act independently (120). The first lesson his father teaches him is
that ownership is everything, and that women\'s knowledge (specifically, Pilate\'s
knowledge) is not useful "in this world" (55). He is blind to the Pilate\'s
wisdom. When Pilate tell Reba\'s lover that women\'s love is to be respected, he
learns nothing (94).
In the same episode, he begins his incestuous affair with Hagar, leaving
her 14 years later when his desire for her wanes. Milkman\'s experience with
Hagar is analogous to his experience with his mother, and serves to "[stretch]
his carefree boyhood out for thrifty-one years" (98). Hagar calls him into a
room, unbuttons her blouse and smiles (92), just as his mother did (13).
Milkman\'s desire for his mother\'s milk disappears before she stops milking him,
and when Freddie discovers the situation and notes the inappropriateness, she is
left without this comfort. Similarly, Milkman ends the affair with Hagar when he
loses the desire for her and recognizes that this affair with his cousin is not
socially approved, leaving Hagar coldly and consciously, with money and a letter
of gratitude. He is as deaf to the needs of women and as imperiously self-
righteous as his father, who abandons his wife when he believes she loves her
father too much.
Macon teaches his son well the art of "pissing" on women. As Pilate
attempts to awaken Macon to the inappropriateness of taking a dead man\'s gold
and to their father\'s ghostly message, he urinates, enjoying the idea of "life,
safety, and luxury" resulting from the gold (170). In his unnatural act, taking
a man\'s life, he has become deaf to his past and to Pilate. Though Milkman
urinates on his sister by accident, his act has the same implications as his
father\'s. By inertia, he assumes his father\'s attitude toward women, placing
them in the periphery of his mind, though they are the center and the source of
his life. Pilate and Ruth saved him from his father\'s attempts at abortion, and
his female relatives have done all of the work of raising him. He spies on his
mother, he feels the same "lazy righteousness" as that which leads him to
disrespect Hagar\'s claim to her rights in their relationship (120). He attempts
to steal from Pilate, his aunt, in order to follow his father\'s instructions and
to obtain the inheritance he feels will make him a man. At the end of part 1,
his sister Magalene attempts to awaken his sensibilities to this through her
diatribe on the effects of his blindness to his sisters\' autonomy and their
contributions to his well-being (215). He follows her advice, and leaves, not
only her room, but the town and the identity he has been molded into by his
father.
Milkman leaves to get the gold which he believes is his inheritance,
feeling that this will allow him freedom from his family, which he equates with
the freedom to at last become a man. He tells Guitar, "I don\'t want to be my old
man\'s office boy no more" (221-2). His fruitless attempt to gain his inheritance
as his father advises him, by stealing from Pilate, inspires him to try his own
way of finding his inheritance, and therefore, his