An Analysis of Dorothy Lee’s Critique of the Song of Solomon
In Dorothy H. Lee’s literary criticism of Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, she discusses multiple themes of the novel that pertain to the idea of flight in relation to Milkman’s journey. A main focus of the text is how community and outside factors all play into a character’s identity. She begins by discussing the archetypal quest for selfhood while lending insight to themes of African American life. Lee states, “The novel’s mythic structure, additional allusions, and its network of symbols also suggest a meaning broadly applicable to any person who seeks to emerge from the dark labyrinth of the past into an illuminating knowledge of identity” (Lee 64). This statement acts as the thesis for the article, followed by multiple supporting paragraphs that touch on the topics of names, symbolism, character analysis, and examination of various scenes in Song of Solomon. Milkman’s search for identity acts as the catalyst for his entire quest throughout the novel. Combined with Morrison’s writing style, which is riddled with allusions, metaphors, and symbolism, Lee was given endless topics to discuss in her piece.
As I read “Song of Solomon: To Ride the Air,” I was reminded of multiple scenes we had already analyzed as a class, and I found that I had drawn similar conclusions. I discovered no significant difference between my interpretation and Dorothy H. Lee’s interpretation of the text. However, she did raise several interesting ideas in her analysis that I had not previously considered. First, she mentioned the importance of names in the text within a few paragraphs and, specifically on page 67, she discusses The Seven Days. This name is a biblical reference, alluding to God’s creation of earth. The name suggests that Guitar and the other six members are not representing destruction by killing innocent white people, but rather the recreation or rebirth of black society. Guitar says, “Any man, any woman, or any child is good for five to seven generations of heirs before they’re bred out. So every death is the death of five to seven generations. You can’t stop them from killing us, from trying to get rid of us. And each time they succeed, they get rid of five to seven generations. I help keep the numbers the same” (Morrison 154). Their aim is to create a world that treats them fairly, where the law does not favor the powerful white man, while simultaneously maintaining the demographic balance between black and white populations.
How it works
Another interesting point brought up by Lee was the fact that the community had a massive impact on Milkman’s search for his identity. As I read the novel, I happened to focus more on the characters as individuals. Looking back, there are a multitude of juxtaposing communities, especially between Part I and Part II. For example, there is the marginalized African-American community, who believed Emmitt Till got what was coming to him vs. the privileged white community; Pilate and her warm, welcoming family vs. Macon, who runs his household without a hint of compassion; and his family in the north who didn’t care about their ancestry vs. his family in the south, which led him to discover his name. Lee briefly mentions Reverend Cooper when she talks about Milkman’s journey in the south, saying Cooper gave him a sense of community right as he met the young traveler (Lee 68). Milkman told the Reverend his name, and his immediate response was, “I know your people!” (Morrison 229). He immediately offered insight and shared what he knew about Milkman’s grandfather, Macon Dead I, then led him towards the next guide on his journey, Circe. In conclusion, Dorothy H. Lee’s article “Song of Solomon: To Ride the Air” lent insight into topics I would have otherwise read over. Her interpretation of the text was carefully crafted, and her explanations were concrete, making her points indisputable.