When slaves were brought to America they were taken from all they had known and forced to live in a land of dark irony that, while promising life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, provided them with only misery. In a situation such as the one in which the slaves found themselves, many people would rely on their religion to help them survive. But would slaves be able to find spiritual comfort within the parameters of a religion that had been passed on to them from the slaveholders? In Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon, African-Americans struggle to find a spirituality that is responsive to their needs and that encompasses their experiences in a way that the religion of the dominant culture does not.
Song of Solomon deals with the African-American struggle to find a spirituality not defined by a religion of the dominant culture. From the beginning of the novel, Morrison alludes to Christianity with the names she chooses-Hagar, First Corinthians, Magdalene, and Ruth for example. However, the two main allusions Morrison draws on are the name "Pilate" and the name of the biblical book Song of Solomon.
In the narrative in which Pilate is named, Pilate's father, who can't read, lets the Bible fall open and points to a set of lines that look agreeable to him. It just so happens that the word spelled out by those lines is "Pilate," the name of the Roman who turns Jesus over to be crucified. The midwife attending at Pilate's birth asks the father if he really wants to name the child after the person who killed Jesus, and the father replies, "I asked Jesus to save me my wife," and he continues, "I asked him all night long" (19). Yet his wife wasn't saved, and Pilate's father feels...
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...sition of meanings shows both majority and minority readers that African-American spiritual experience, while touched by majority experience, does not have to be formed by it.
Song of Solomon deals with the struggle of African-Americans to find a spiritual avenue that is responsive to their needs and reflective of their experience. The text helps people to examine differing ideas, learn about different experiences, and become sensitive to various needs. If we are able to learn something from Song of Solomon, really learn something, perhaps life, liberty and happiness will finally find us.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Views: Toni Morrison. New York: Chelsea House Publishing, 1990.
Middleton, David. Toni Morrison's Fiction: Contemporary Criticism. New York: Garland, 1997.
Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon. New York: Plume, 1987.
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