Through literacy will come emancipation. But emancipation comes in many forms, as does literacy. The various aspects of academic literacy are rather obvious in relation to emancipation, especially when one is confronted with exclusion from membership in the dominant culture. Most, but not all, of Toni Morrison's characters in Song of Solomon appear to have attained at least a modicum of literacy. But what part does literacy play in the advancement of the individual, and to what lengths will one go to achieve it?
"But if the future did not arrive, the present did extend itself, and the uncomfortable little boy in the Packard went to school and at twelve met the boy who [...] could liberate him [...]" (Song of Solomon 35-36). So says Toni Morrison of Milkman Dead, the boy in the Packard, in Song of Solomon. The other boy of whom she speaks is Guitar Bains, Milkman's mentor-of-the-street. Morrison tells us little more of Milkman's formal education, but we can assume that he goes on to high school because Guitar is in high school when she introduces him. We do learn that Milkman's sisters attend and graduate from college, but their education isolates them from the rest of the community. In fact, at age forty-four, Corinthians eventually goes to work as a maid and enters into a relationship with Porter, one of her father's tenants, much to her father's dismay. Within the class structure of "haves" and "have-nots," Corinthians finds the "haves" side abhorrent, the "have-nots" side attractive, but she can not cross the socioeconomic line that her father has drawn. She must remain within the paradigm that separates her from the lower, uneducated portion of their society.
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...ith the earth and at the conclusion of the novel when he finds he is able to fly. Is the state of super-metacognition he enters during these episodes a metaphor for an inherent attachment to the past? something akin to a shared history? something ingrained and transferred with roots deeply embedded in African traditions? Morrison leaves the answers to these questions (and many others) up to her readers, but it is obvious that Milkman finds more in historical literacy than he ever received from his formal education.
Milkman sees hope for the future through a connection with the past. In a certain sense, he finds emancipation through his relationships with literacy.
Middleton, David. Toni Morrison's Fiction: Contemporary Criticism. New York: Garland, 1997.
Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon. New York: Penguin Books USA, Inc., 1987.
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