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Rising Above it or Getting Left Behind

In Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon many of the characters have very strange and unique names. Song of Solomon is a very unique story about the struggles of a black family in the early 1900’s. Many of the names of characters in the book appear in the Bible. In the story three character have their own battles with their own names, Pilate is at peace with her name, Milkman takes many years to rise above it, and Hagar is dragged down by her name. All of the characters’ names have a preset image that they are stamped with, some are able to rise above it and make their own name, and some are stuck with someone else’s identity.

Pilate never le her name get to her, she didn’t struggle with her name dragging her down. Her father Macon picked the name because it was where his finger ended up in the Bible after she was born. She is very proud of her name, ever since she was twelve years old, she has worn an earring with a piece of paper that had her name on it. Even though she is named after the villain that crucified Jesus, she still is proud of it. Pilate’s unique personality and difference from the rest of the characters is best summed up by how her personality is opposite to that of her namesake’s.

Pilate’s personality is the opposite of the Pilate that killed Jesus. In the story when she had even a little part in a murder she felt very guilty and thought that she should carry the bones of the dead man for the rest of her life. Pilate is the type of person that always thinks about things for a long time. In contrast the biblical Pilate is not known for thinking or analyzing issues. When he killed Jesus, he did not wrestle with his conscious about taking the life of another person; he just went ahead and killed him. The biblical Pilate was quick to put the blame on others when he was really at fault after killing Jesus.

Through her inner strength and will power, Pilate is able to rise above her name and separate herself from the biblical Pilate. Pilate has always been responsible and proud of her name. Pilate’s nephew Milkman struggled with his name, it took him almost thirty years to take responsibility for himself and make his own name. Milkman, the son of Macon Dead and Ruth has the most interesting name in the entire book. He is called Milkman because Ruth breast-fed him much longer than normal babies, and one day, while she was milking him, a man was coming to the door and saw Ruth and her son nursing.

Ruth scrambled, and Milkman dropped to the floor. The man came in the house and talked to her about what had happened, then he said, “A milkman. That’s what you got here, Miss Rufie. A natural milkman if I ever seen one,”(p14). So from then on his name was Milkman. In the first half of the book and in the early years of his life, Milkman was a baby. He feels as if he has no control over his life because other people have shaped him through his name or controlling him. He was still living at home when he was thirty-six years old.

It takes Milkman almost forty years to realize who he really is, instead of knowing right from the beginning. Eventually he begins to grow up and make his own name for himself. During his travels, he finally realizes that he con no longer rely on his father’s things, he must make it on his own. This is the turning point for Milkman because he is finally able to be his real self, and be proud of it. Unlike Milkman and Pilate, Hagar was never able to create her own identity. Hagar is the character in the story who resembles her biblical namesake the most.

She is Milkman’s girlfriend, despite feeling that Milkman is only using her for sex. In the Bible Hagar is the slave of Abraham and Sarah. She is also the mother of Abraham’s illegitimate son. The relationships that both Hagars share with the two men are almost identical. In both cases, Hagar doesn’t approach Abraham/Milkman because it is obvious that they have all of the control in the relationship. The best example of Milkman controlling Hagar, is when Hagar attempts to kill him with the butcher knife, but she is physically unable to do it. This inability is because Milkman had total control over her.

At the end of the book after Milkman dumps Hagar, she is sick for a while. Then all of a sudden she is rejuvenated and goes out to buy clothes and other things to heal her pain. The only reason that Hagar goes out to buy all of this stuff is to please Milkman, since he has total control over her. Eventually she gets to wandering around, just like the biblical Hagar did. Hagar (Song of Solomon) is the granddaughter of Pilate, another biblical name that has great significance on her personality. Reba, Hagar’s mother insists that she picked the name at random, but it seems to be exactly the opposite.

Hagar was a very troubled person, throughout her life she was never able to create her own identity. All of the Deads are burdened with the task of overcoming their names to create their own image. Some were able to make it, others weren’t. Morrison uses this subtle battle of identity to go alongside the constant struggle for equality that all blacks lived with in the mid 1900’s. Just like Milkman, it wasn’t until after they discovered their identity when they made strides in equality. Pilate was strong enough to figure everything out at a very young age. And finally Hagar, the suppressed black that never found her identity.

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