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Throughout slavery, myths were created that tainted the image of the African American woman. These myths promote the misconceptions that African American women are promiscuous and are virtually useless. These myths caused these women to be degraded in the eyes of others as well as themselves. In Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon womanhood is defined in ways that have destroyed these myths. Womanhood is defined according to one's sexuality, spirituality, beauty, identity, relationships, and motherhood.
Song of Solomon begins with one of the most arresting scenes in our century''s literature: a dreamlike tableau depicting a man poised on a roof, about to fly into the air, while cloth rose petals swirl above the snow-covered ground and, in the astonished crowd below, one woman sings as another enters premature labor. The child born of that labor, Macon (Milkman) Dead, will eventually come to discover, through his complicated progress to maturity, the meaning of the drama that marked his birth. Toni Morrison''s novel is a romance of self-discovery, a retelling of the black experience in America that uncovers the inalienable poetry of that experience, and a family saga luminous in its depth, imaginative generosity, and universality. It is also a tribute to the ways in which, in the hands of a master, the ancient art of storytelling can be used to make the mysterious and invisible aspects of human life apparent, real, and firm to the touch.
Milkman's independent aunt, Pilate, serves as the best but not the only example of the retention and use of African ways and culture. Pilate is seen as a conjure woman and this fact is made evident by her unnatural birth and the distinguishing feature of being born without a navel. This sets her apart from the rest of the community giving her almost immediate supernatural status. Not only can she be seen as a conjure women she should also be seen as a keeper of African cultural ways. She proves to be the the strength and preservation of her heritage and culture. Pilate in keeping with the African Spiritual culture seeks to repair the relationship of Macon and Ruth at Ruth's request. So with this knowledge gained from what seems, another world source, Pilate gives to Macon's wife Ruth a greenish powder to put in Macon's food to induce him to become sexually active with Ruth again.
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Macon, in many crude and brutal attempts, tries to cause the abortion of what will be Macon Dead Jr. In an attempt to protect her child Ruth flees to Pilots house. While there she comes under Pilate's physical and spiritual care. In the role of midwife she, "lead her (Ruth) into the bedroom, where the woman wrapped her in a homemade-on-the-spot girdle----tight in the crotch--- and told her to keep it on until the fourth month and 'don't take no more mess off Macon and don't ram another thing up in your womb'" (Morrison 132). She also prescribes for her a diet that would have her eat what the baby craved less the baby come in the world hungry for what it was denied. By helping Ruth, she proves to be a woman of enormous strength and character. She is pure in the fact that she is not a woman who would allow a man to take advantage of her.
Milkman's mother, Ruth, is a peculiar woman with a seemingly weak character. She lives out her life with an neglectful and abusive husband. However, she depicts a woman of strength, purity, and dignity by maintaining a normal family life for her children. Like Linda and Precious, from Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and Push, she is enslaved in a life of neglect and abuse by her husband. (In Push, Precious grows up as the slave to her father's sexual needs.) Although her family life is anything but perfect, Ruth still has the aura of a pure woman; a good housewife and mother.
Pilate, and Ruth are characters of strength, pride, and purity for the African American woman. They have overcome harsh realities and survived with dignity and grace. Through these women, Morrison defies the myths placed upon the African American woman. They open our eyes to the "truths" of the world, and have provided a window to a world otherwise unknown to many.
Davis, Cynthia A. "Self, Society, and Myth in Toni Morrison's Fiction." Contemporary Literature 23.3 (1982): 323-332.
Levine, Lawrence W. Black Culture and Black Consciousness. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.
Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon. New York: Penguin Books, 1987.
Story, Ralph. "An Excursion into the Black World: The 'Seven Days' in Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon." Black American Literature Forum 23.1 (1989): 149-158.