Comapring Families in Song of Solomon, Narrative of Frederick Douglass and Push
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Role of Extended Families in Song of Solomon, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and Push
The readings presented by African American writers vary greatly in style, context, and story line, however there are some common themes presented throughout. Among these themes is an expansive shift from what is generally considered to be a traditional, nuclear family. Each work presents a view of family life that, forced by events, shows people attempting to build non-traditional, extended families in an effort to identify themselves, understand where they fit in socially, and know their place in the world.
It is important to clarify the definition of traditional and extended families in the context of minority populations. For the majority culture, a traditional family is thought to consist of the nuclear family (i.e. father, mother, and children). Minority groups tend to cast a wider net when defining members of their "families." The extended family is the norm in minority cultures, which consists of the nuclear family plus Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, and Grandparents. In the following works, each of the main characters are forced to go beyond what is considered the extended family structure to find what they need.
Song of Solomon is the only story presenting even a glimpse of what can be considered a majority traditional family. On the surface, the Dead family presents all the mechanics of a normal and functional family attempting to live out the American dream. The family unit is complete; there are no overt problems or missing pieces of the puzzle.
This image of a normal family quickly vanishes when we see how unhappy Milkman is within this family. He feels smothered; he lacks identity and direction for his life. His family does not provide what he needs most, a sense of where he belongs and fits in the world. In order to understand his own place and history he is forced to first leave his immediate family, then his extended family and finally begins his quest in search of unknown family members as a way of self-development.
This quest is beyond the normal strive that a son takes to become his own person rather than the son his father envisions. It is a quest to understand himself as a whole person, to know where he fits in the "big picture" rather than simply following the family's expectations. He does not feel complete until he has discovered where he came from.