Institution of Affiliation
Toni Morrison explores multiple themes in his novel ‘Song of Solomon’, and the idea of racism can be traced throughout the novel. Internal racism, however, is the central theme in the novel as Morrison does not only touch on the racism between groups but through individuals as the author focuses on the prejudice within a single race, the blacks. Throughout Song of Solomon, it is made clear that racism is not just a struggle between races but also could be evident within human races resulting in greater conflicts within the characters involved. The theme of internal racism is navigated through the novels main character who happens to be Milkman throughout his development and growing up to discover himself and tries to find his identity over the time.
Since the beginning of the novel, the main character Milkman is depicted as being different from the rest of his people in the community. The main reason is that his family and their presence stand out of the community making them unique. Morrison uses the nickname to unwrap the issue of racism in the culture to which Milkman comes from as the name itself stands out. The act of nicknaming individuals depicts the themes in the novel as the nickname implies something white, a fact that is very different from his culture as he is of black identity. Since Milkman was a young boy, he grew up with the perception that his family stood out from the rest of the community. He is brought up in a family that is notorious for having a father who doesn’t spare other people despite the intensity of their situations and is depicted as a show off in their manner to which they live. They show off in various ways such as through the car they drive, mode of dressing as well as the home to which they live. Milkman due to his characters is labeled a ‘black man with the possession of a white heart’ (p.201) by the people in his community. The label is a generalization of the Milkman’s family due to the show off they have to the general public in their black community, and therefore Milkman is also included in the generalization. The values depicted by Milkman’s family are purely similar to those of the whites and to which a large number of the black population tend to resent.
At the beginning of the novel where Milkman was a little boy, he is depicted as a person who lacks self-awareness as well as the inability to identify himself. “It was becoming a habit—this concentration on things behind him. Almost as though there was no future to be had.” (Pg. 65). The phrase foreshadows Milkman’s future throughout the novel. The inability to focus on him grows over a problem that a majority of the African Americans have been struggling to overcome for a very long period due to the role of slavery that is placed on them, that is their culture and identity making them appear lost with no self-recognition. Being diminished as ‘not human’ and made aware that their race is inferior, had the massive effects of tarnishing the African American communities beyond the people’s recognition and with the abolition of slavery, the problem did not disappear and had continued through history as the Black race is considered inferior by many. The same struggle is eminent with Milkman as he faces the same struggles as the rest of the society. Milkman is grouped with the whites by the people of his community, but physically he is bundled with the rest of the black people in his community.
When Milkman grows up and begins working on his father’s premises, he tries to be everything that his father was not. The reason is that he grew to blame his father for lacking the self-identity he was feeling. Milkman has the belief by doing it, Milkman will be able to build an identity, but Milkman is soon let down as he grows up to be the same person that his father used to be during his working years. No matter how he tries to run away from his culture, he still finds himself greatly attached, and there is no way he can escape from the destiny.
As Milkman grows more immune to being isolated, he still has to struggle with his lack of identity that according to him has been brought up by his parents past and has consequently thrust on him. “[Milkman] Has never felt he belonged to anyplace or anybody.” (Pg. 283). The phrase is a clear indication that his struggles have continued and that he still suffers and there is no regard to where he is located. Even as he tries to find the self-worth in money through finding his ancestors gold or even by displaying his worth through the clothes that he wears and the material properties that he buys, he continues to realize that nothing will be able to make him feel worthy of anything. And therefore he continues to suffer like the rest of the African Americans entitled to the same race as him.
When Milkman almost got murdered, we are already aware that he is given up with life but at the same time, he is determined to prove his self-worth. And therefore he is neither opposed or for the idea of dying, and he opts to take the issue as it unveils itself and this is an illustration of the isolation and the confusion through which Milkman passes through to feel normal. It is only after Milkman’s loss encounter to death and being in the woods that wakens him giving him the realization of some of his identity and who he wants to be, and this does not last for long. He lapses back to the previous life that he had come from even after making some progress in self-recognition as he never settles on much of anything.
Inadequate decision making and lack of conclusion by Milkman throughout the novel portrayed by Morrison is a representation of how an identity crisis can be terrific. In this particular case, it represents the lack of identity and self-worth among the African American communities, and this issue has continued to affect a large number of the community of African origin up to date. As the main character, Milkman flows from one cultural identity crisis to the other, and it is made clear that the history of a community and that of a family can have significant impacts to an individual affecting their identity and self-worth throughout their life.
Throughout the novel, the theme of internal racism between individuals and communities of the same race has been well outlined through characterization of Milkman. The main character has been used by the author to portray internal conflicts that arise due to the issues of identity. Milkman doesn’t accept his status and has grown up to be a man who hates his roots and his family. The more he tries to alienate himself from the community the more worthless he becomes.
Morrison, T. (2014). Song of solomon. Random House.