SONG OF SOLOMON-TONI MORRISON

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison is a song for the ages. This is the first Toni Morrison book that I discovered, and for over two decades I have repeatedly gone back to it. It is has cast a magical spell on me since, and has been my best introduction to modern works of literature. Its narrative never ceases to invigorate and enthral. The language is rich, apt, deliberate, uninhibited, and beguiling

The novel is a reflection on family, community and nationhood. It is about the torment of dispossession, power without bounds, and the ugly face of bigotry. It is also about survival, about human resilience and the indestructible quest for identity. The narrative is carefully crafted and wonderfully lyrical-a song with almost no equal

We journey with the story’s main protagonist, Macon (Milkman) Dead Jr, from birth, through the vacuous, stultifying, and even lurid terrain of his adolescent life. We finally witness his life-and-death encounter with a world, a repellant landscape, which sought to drown him when he desired was to find purpose to his life. His history, his metamorphosis and his flight are the foundations of the song.

Milkman is the son of Macon Dead Sr,-a rapacious, irascible, but successful entrepreneur. The father suffocates and poisons his family, and his son, with his rage, his contempt, and his disappointments. His tormented spirit becomes the swamp in which the Dead family daily wades in. His success is no balm to his bitterness. His wife, Ruth (Forster) Dead, the main object of his outrage is reduced to a pathetic creature that exists only in the shadows-daily reproached, maligned, despised, and humiliated by the husband that she loves.

His daughters’ Magdalena Dead and First Corinthians Dead shrivel from the isolation that their closeted life bestows upon them. Their father’s wealth, stained with his scorn and pomposity, begets them a life of loneliness and disappointment. Their friends are scared even to touch their silk stockings and expensive dresses. Like their mother, Ruth, their souls are emptied of all emotion-rendering them incapable of loving or being loved. They are frustrated and querulous spinsters whose fury for their father rages like a flooded river. Their contempt for their selfish brother, Milkman, is irrepressible.

You’ve have been laughing at us all your life, Corinthians. Mama. Me. Using us, ordering us, and judging us: How we cook your food; how we keep your house. ….Who are you to approve or disapprove anybody or anything?….When you wanted to play we entertained you, and when you got grown enough to know the difference between a woman and a tow-toned Ford, everything in this house stopped for you.’

The world that Toni Morrison describes is grim. In Dante’s Inferno the gates of Hell are flung open, and in Song of Solomon the reader is immersed in a world that has a disturbing odour of slavery, with depravity hovering menacingly in the background. It is a pernicious domain that produced men and women whose souls were deformed by loss and suffering. Milkman Dead’s narcissism is juxtaposed to the nihilism of his friend Guitar.

Guitar responds to the mayhem around him with rage. Throughout the book he sizzles, like a piece of bacon burning in its own fat. It is with violence that he tries to reclaim his own freedom. Guitar possesses all the destructive sentiments that an organically dysfunctional society imposes on its denizens. However, Milkman, in order to go beyond his father’s drive for more wealth embarks on an odyssey to his ancestral home of Shalimar. It is the discovery of these roots that finally leads him to discover his inner self.

Professor Morrison once again raises the bar very high with this novel. The reader is enchanted by the story’s characters, and is besotted even with the minor ones. There are long passages of dialogue in the vernacular unique to the epoch and people she describes, and it is mostly written with simple and yet jarring language. This book is a portrait of the world, a time which may be hidden but not forgotten, through her gaze-and that of her clan.

Song of Solomon is a work of extra-ordinary beauty and integrity…a true masterpiece.

 

GOD HELP THE CHILD-TONI MORRISON

B1This book is another insightful Toni Morrison masterpiece. From the beginning, the reader is entranced by the narrative. The novel is a symphony, a poem and a thesis wrapped in one. It is a book about lives-young lives-and the chaotic and painful history behind them. It is about dislocation, torment, and mending-about endings and beginnings. Once gain the terrain of Professor Morrison’s story is strewn with the bodies of children.

God Help The Child, is about two young beings wading through the swamp of their childhood misadventures. Lula Ann Bridewell, the main protagonist, was an unlovable child to her mother, Sweetness, because of how dark she was. Midnight Black, Sudanese Black, is how the mother saw her. Sweetness was so enraged at her daughter’s color that once she held a blanket over her face and pressed. She even thought of giving her away to an orphanage.

Sweetness’s obsession with color was brought about by the world around her. In it color accorded one respect, priviledge and bestowed a decent life. The darker one’s skin, the grimmer and bleaker the canvas of one’s life. Their color is like an affliction they have to suffer and humiliation stalks them like an implacable enemy.

Even Lula Ann’s father, Louis, could not bring himself to love his Tar black child. He never even touched her. “We had three good years,” Sweetness tells us, “but when she was born, he blamed me and treated Lula Ann like she was a stranger, more than that, an enemy.” When his wife told Louis that the child’s blackness must be from his side of the family, he left.

But, Lula Ann Bridewell grew up to be a beautiful woman and a senior executive at a cosmetics company. Toni Morrison gives us a heroine who attains beauty and success in spite of her appearance (in the same way the author did in her field). Her complexion, the source of her parents’ shame, was the foundation of her success.

The kindest meaning of her name Lula is the Arabic definition which means a pearl. And what a beautiful gem she became, with beauty that turned heads wherever she went. She recovers her life by shedding her name-she jettisons the Lula Ann, and only becomes Bride. Years later her boyfriend, Booker-another victim of a tormented childhood, walks out on her. An old wound was cut open. She had consummately dealt with her family’ rejection, but Booker’s flight from her life almost drove her mad.

Like the jilted Florentina Ariza in Marquez’s Love in the time of Cholera, she embarks on random relationships. Bride eventually sets out to find Booker in a pilgrimage that takes her to the woods of northern California. The reader never quite knows where reality ends and fantasy begins in Bride’s travels. Her body is changing in ways only she can see, shrinking and becoming hairless as if she is regressing back to girlhood.

Booker doesn’t fare well in his life. The loss and pain of his childhood continue to stalk him. In rejecting Bride, he is escaping from the demons that drove him away from home. As in Songs of Solomon, escape is a major theme in the book. Perhaps this is flight, not the geographical type as the author states, but flight from the wounding of their childhood-an odyssey of the soul.

The book has a beautiful end with the two lovers surrendering to each other-not without Bride breaking a bottle on Booker’s head. One wonders as they sail away if the two young lovers will indeed find the happiness that had eluded them all their lives. At the end of the Marquez’s Love in the time of Cholera, as the boat reaches its final destination, Fermina Daza sees people she knows and understandably seeks to avoid them. One hopes that Morrison’s maimed lovers will not cling to their past hurt and sorrow, or rewrite the old painful themes of their lives. One hopes that the presence of one in the other’s life will cause them to find joy, and release them from the choke hold of childhood misery.

There are ancillary characters that help move the story along and even give it strength. There is Sofia Huxley, the white teacher that Bride as a schoolgirl accused of molestation. There is Brooklyn, her assistant, and friend, also reeling from the travails of a difficult childhood. But, at the very heart of the story is Lula Ann Bridewell-the little hurt black girl who made good.

God Help the Child is a magnificent achievement by Toni Morrison. It is a compelling narrative that elegantly delves beyond superficial emotions and deftly describes the horror that adults wreak on children. It’s about their struggles, conflicts, and in the God Help the Child, their survival.

This novel is an incredible celebration of literature- a gem that will be read and re-read for many years. Professor Toni Morrison has to be one of the most important writers of the last century.