In Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, the character of Milkman gradually learns to respect and to listen to women. This essay will examine Milkman’s transformation from boy to man.
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 responsibilities.
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.
Comparing the Search in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio
The Search for Truth in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio
The novel Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson has many themes that present themselves throughout the book. One such recurring theme is a search for truth. The characters in the book do not fully realize that they are searching for truth, but they do feel a vague, “indescribable thing” that pushes and prods their minds to actualize a higher plane of thought. This search for a higher plane by the characters of Winesburg nearly parallels another literary work of ancient Greek origin- Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” which is a portion of his famous writing “The Republic.” I contend that the town of Winesburg is the equivalent of the Cave in Plato’s writing.
The “Allegory of the Cave” is an attempt by Plato to relate his thoughts and philosophy on human civilization into common terms. He believed that there are two planes of existence: the material world of the senses, and a higher world of thoughts and ideals. Plato’s “Allegory” made it possible for people to more firmly grasp a somewhat abstract concept.
The “Allegory” depicts a number of people who are imprisoned in a cave, chained by the legs and neck so that they cannot move, nor can they turn their heads; they see only towards the back wall opposite the cave opening. These people have been chained in this manner their entire lives. Sometimes objects and people pass in front of the cave opening, and shadows play upon the back wall. Since the people have only seen the shadows, they assume that the shadows are the real objects and beings of the world. They watch the shadows, measuring them, trying to understand them, and soon honors are bestowed upon those persons who can see the…
… middle of paper …
…ld (the cave) leads to qualities which are the antithesis of goodness, namely hatred.
I believe that drawing parallels between Winesburg, Ohio and the “Allegory of the Cave” helps provide insight into how the human race has wrestled with the problem of finding ways to act upon the higher ideals that reside in the character of mankind. Perhaps realizing that Man has contemplated this problem for thousands upon thousands of years, from the time of the ancient Greeks through the early twentieth century to the present, can assist human civilization to see the higher plane of existence, which Plato says is the “author of all things beautiful and right.”
Anderson, Sherwood. Winesburg, Ohio. New York, NY: Penguin Books Ltd.,
Plato. Allegory of the Cave. in The Norton Reader. Linda H. Peterson et al., eds. New York: W. W. Norton, 2000.