“If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it”.
Toni Morrison, “Song of Solomon”.
The novel “Song of Solomon” written by Toni Morrison covers one of the most important issues in human life. Regardless of nationality, race, citizenship faith, or age, people search for their place in life. They try to understand where they come from and where they belong. Some of them look for their niche during the whole life, but there are also those who never think of it. However, people never feel comfortable without understanding the sense of their existence. People’s roots and background mean much in the forming of personal authenticity. Children start asking about their parents and grandparents in early childhood, and that is not simply a curiosity. That is a natural interest in their family history, which grows as they mature and transform into the pursuit of one’s place in the world. It is crucial to nourish this interest because people’s roots make the basis for their further development. The problem of authenticity is faced by the protagonist of the novel “Song of Solomon” Macon Milkman.
Milkman, aged thirty-two, is an African-American young man, who leads his life not knowing where he goes and what he wants from his life. His spiritual emptiness, materialistic attitude to life, and apathy to everything around him make Milkman a person without principles and purposes. Milkman does not want to accept that he is alike his father; he takes after him a lot though. His father’s sister, Pilate, is an absolute opposite of Milkman’s dad. She seems weird and mystical, but she knows the true values of life and tries to draw Milkman’s attention to them. Unfortunately, the only thing that attracts Milkman’s interest is the imaginary Pilate’s gold, which he thinks to be his inheritance. However, this journey for the material gold became his journey for his inner gold – his authenticity.
The authenticity of a person is defined by the awareness of one’s nature and personality, which is impossible without knowing one’s past. The background and family history gives a person an understanding of life and one’s difference from others. Although Toni Morrison highlights the problem of authenticity among African-Americans involved in the culture of other races and thus losing their identity, the problem of a person’s authenticity is of great importance for all people in the world. Globalization, which takes place nowadays, makes people borrow the traditions, rituals, and peculiarities of other cultures. It makes people forget about their own history and origin. The spiritual development starts when people begin to feel their uniqueness, and when they renew or never lose the connection with their past.
Milkman never thought about this connection; he never wanted to think about it. Being torn between different aims put for him by his relatives, he just drifted in his life. Only after meeting Circe and other former slaves, who knew the story of his family and told them to him, Milkman began to realize the true meaning of life. “Sitting in the kitchen, they looked at Milkman with such rheumy eyes, and spoke about his grandfather with such awe and affection, Milkman began to miss him too” (Morrison 209). The stunning story of his great-grandfather Solomon makes him reconsider his life and see other bright characters in his family history apart from his possessive, greedy, and selfish father. He saw people who respected his grandfather and truly loved the place where they lived. Milkman understood the contribution of his grandfather into the lives of other people and realized that life might have had a purpose. “The more the old men talked – the more he heard about the only farm in the county … the more he missed something in his life” (Morrison 211). He learned about the love for freedom, generosity, and the “flight”.
The “flight” is another meaningful concept of the novel, which contributes a lot to the understanding of Milkman’s authenticity. The novel gives a rather ambiguous idea of the “flight” encouraging the reader to think more about the destiny of the main character. First of all, the flight is not only a leap into the infinity, in other words, death; it is the ability to feel the inner freedom. Paradoxically, this freedom is achieved once a person acquires the awareness of himself. Milkman’s ancestors not only had this awareness and inner strength but transferred them to other people as well. People working for Milkman’s grandfather were proud of what they did and were happy despite all their hardships. “Never mind you can’t tell one letter from another, never mind you born a slave, never mind you lose your name, never mind your daddy dead, never mind anything. Here, this here, is what a man can do if he puts his mind to it and he's back in it” (Morrison 212).
The author does not tell us how Milkman finishes his way, but what we know for sure is that he changed. He felt the connection between the past and the future. He gained inner strength because he realized the importance of his roots and came back to his origins in order to derive strength from the past. Milkman has attained his authenticity despite all the errors, misunderstandings, misfortunes, and losses. Moreover, he taught everyone who read the novel never to forget where we all belong to.