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Macon & Pilate in Song of Solomon
Toni Morrison's novel, Song of Solomon, is a story of discovery as well as a story of celebrating heritage. With her stylistic technique, Morrison is able to create colorful characters to help demonstrate the perplexity and uniqueness of individuals. Through the characters of Macon and Pilate, Morrison illustrates how society and nature influences them in a profound way. By weaving their stories into a story of self-discovery and heritage, Morrison captures the essence of the power of influence as well as the power of one's own mind.
The influence of nature is most prevalent when Macon and Pilate are young, and have just left the protective care of their Aunt Circe and venture into the woods. This departure leads to the scene where they encounter the spirit of their father. Clearly Macon has a different reaction to the spirit, as does Pilate. Pilate sees the figure as more of a positive thing whereas Macon sees the image as a reminder of his father's death. In fact he believes the image looks "just like their father" (168).
However, Macon cannot handle looking at the man for very long without becoming enraged and wanting to avenge their father's death. Here we witness a striking difference between the two is how things are perceived. This man was perceived as something negative by Macon and viewed as something positive by Pilate. Pilate's response is almost a spiritual event while Macon only begins to feel animosity toward the man. His throwing the rock at the image indicates a major difference between the brother and sister. Here Morrison is using memory to explain how human behavior is often dictated by the past. We learn some of the deeper mysteries behind the story and we gain a greater understanding into the characters as well.
Morrison skillfully illustrates Macon's belief that money is the key to freedom by allowing us to glimpse into his past. We learn that their father was murdered over an issue involved over land, which leads us to believe that this is why, as an adult, Macon wants to own the town. In addition, when Macon sees the man's gold at the cave, we see how it has a magical affect on him and spreads out before him like a "peacock's tail" (178). We begin to understand how Macon, from that moment on, lives his life in an attempt to experience that magic again. We can see how Macon as an adult is still driven by his materialistic desires. For instance, every Sunday he would take the family for a ride on Not Doctor Street in his Packard. (31) This ride was only for Macon's sense of pride as his son could barely see over the dashboard of the car. We learn more about Macon's beliefs about wealth when we see the influence it begins to have on his son, Milkman. Perhaps one of the best examples of Macon's desire for wealth can be seen as he explains to Milkman that one of the most important things he'd ever need to know was to "Own things. And let the things you own other things. Then you'll own yourself and other people too" (55). These are examples of how Macon believed that money and property ownership were staples for a happy life.
Macon's behavior was also descriptive of his feelings regarding wealth and status. For example, he seemed to be disappointed with his family and harbored a dislike for them. We see this very vividly when we are told that Macon's "hatred of his wife glittered and sparkled in every word he spoke to her. The disappointment he felt in his daughters sifted down on them like ash" (10).
He is not close to any members of his family. This is best demonstrated when Morrison describes Macon as "Solid, rumbling, likely to erupt without prior notice, Macon kept each member of his family awkward with fear" (10). We are also told that he hit his wife. In addition, Macon chastised Pilate one day, asking her why she was wearing a "sailor's cap" on her head. He continued to ask, "Don't you have stockings? What are you trying to make me look like in this town?" (20). Macon also believes that he can protect his family from racism by providing a wealthy life for them. An example of this can be seen when he marries Ruth because she is a doctor's daughter, not because he loves her. In addition, Macon shows off his daughters in front his lower-class tenants but will not let the tenants touch them. Furthermore, Macon shows little mercy when tenants experience financial hardships. From these examples we can see how society was very influential in Macon's opinion of himself, as well as others. In fact, we learn that Macon wishes to keep his southern roots a secret. He becomes so bent on denying his past that he tries to keep his family from interacting with the other black folks in their community. Through specific detail, Morrison is able to paint a picture of Macon as a man who has little respect for others around him and more importantly, he chooses materialism over his family.
In contrast to Macon's desire for riches, Morrison illustrates his sister, Pilate, as one who is not driven by the need to have wealth. This contrast becomes evident when the two are together in the woods and they see the gold. Macon wants to take it; however Pilate admonishes him saying it would be stealing. This scene is critical because it demonstrates the different characteristics between the brother and sister as well as the reason for their estrangement. It also illustrates how the same thing in very different ways can affect members of the same family. We discover that these early impressions will stay with these characters and shape them as the story unfolds.
Morrison uses symbolism to illustrate the differences between Macon and Pilate. It is important to note that when Macon and Pilate go their separate ways, Macon travels up north, which is a symbol that he is trying to escape his past; whereas Pilate ventures south, which brings her closer to her family's past. Another example of their troubled relationship, is how Macon tries to talk Milkman, out of talking to Pilate. Macon tries to convince Milkman that she "can't teach you a thing you can use in this world. Maybe the next, but not this one" (55). Much to Macon's chagrin, Milkman seeks out Pilate to further uncover his heritage as well as the origin of the family name. By following in Pilate's tracks Milkman discovers the beauty in living with nature. He learns to fly like his great grandfather did: "like a bird" (323). This aspect of the novel serves as an over-arching symbol of the contrast between the materialistic world Milkman has grown accustomed to and the simple life he found with Pilate. Here Morrison is also using the relationships between these three characters as a pivotal point in the novel. Each character represents a "path" in life and Morrison describes each path eloquently.
In contrast to Macon's wealth-driven personality, Morrison provides us with his sister, Pilate, who chooses another path in life. Pilate is tough, strong and proud of her heritage. She is wise, unafraid, and a free spirit. Morrison also attributes mystical characteristics to Pilate. For example, she birthed herself from the womb after the death of her mother, and she has no navel. To add to her mysterious nature, Pilate also sang the legendary "Solomon's song" every day. This illustrates that she remembered her father fondly. This is reminiscent from her childhood when she and Macon saw the ghost of their father in the woods and he whispered, "Sing. Sing.' In a hollowed voice before he melted away again" (170). This mystical memory was with Pilate until the day she died, for her dying words were, "Sing,' she said. 'Sing a little something' for me'" (336). This is an important element of the story, because it illustrates even in her lasts moments alive, Pilate exhibited strength and character. Death was not something for her to fear. In fact, death for Pilate meant that she would once again be joined with her father -- it represented a new beginning for her because it meant a reunion with her father's spirit. With such characteristics, Morrison has provided Pilate with the framework to become the "wise one" of the novel.
Pilate might have been poor, but more importantly, she was happy. She did not thirst for wealth like her brother and preferred the simpler things in life. Her behavior demonstrates this how she did not base her happiness on material things. She lived without items that many would consider to be basic necessities. Housing was not a concern for her. She did not have a telephone nor did she have a number on her house. Pilate was not overly concerned with the need…[continue]
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