The Impact of Gender Classification in the Song of Solomon
How are specific characters defined and affected by gender? The American Dream? What comments does Morrison make through this?
In Song of Solomon, the female characters not only bear the burden of racism but also face the harsh realities of sexism and cruel double standards. Guitar portrays African-American men as the “workhorses” of humanity to Milkman. However, as the novel progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that this description more accurately fits African-American women. The theme of female abandonment recurs throughout the novel. For example, when Solomon gains his freedom, he abruptly flies to Africa, leaving his wife Ryna (also a former slave) alone in the United States with the responsibility of their twenty-one children. Another instance is when Guitar’s grandmother, despite being elderly and unwell, raises him and his siblings. These scenarios emphasize the fact that men are only responsible for themselves, whereas women bear the additional burden of their families and communities.
How it works
Not only are women saddled with the responsibility of their communities, but they are also held to a much higher standard and hence face an overwhelming amount of judgment. For instance, despite deserting his family years ago, Solomon is still revered as the brave patriarch. The community even honors him by naming a scenic mountain after him. In contrast, Ryna is scorned for her inability to care for her twenty-one children, with the community naming a dreary gulch after her. The community lauds men who abandon their families as heroes and ridicules women who strive to provide for their families.
In Song of Solomon, Morrison likens men to flight and escape, and equates women with stability and security. Trapped in society and their marriages by the arduous demands of surviving everyday life, women are depicted as choosing their partners out of necessity. A woman’s life changes drastically when she loses her partner, descending into overwhelming distress. This type of obsessive love, however, is typically not reciprocated by the men in the narrative. Women’s dependence on the men in their lives stems from their perception of these men as their only safe haven. This reasoning leads women down a path of further sorrow as they find themselves trapped in a cycle of pleading for love. On the other hand, women capable of independence and refusing male reliance are shunned by society. Society perpetuates this destructive cycle that compels women to be subservient to their partners. Through this revelatory portrayal of gender relations in Song of Solomon, Morrison demands the abolition of harmful gender roles foisted upon women, especially African-American women.