ENGL1B City College Hero Journey in Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison Analysis

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City College of San Francisco


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To what extent does Song of Solomon present a Campbellian hero? That is, what is the novel’s idea of a hero? In answering this question, you will need to think about who the hero really is and what difference it makes. Begin with reading Gerry Brenner’s essay (see below) and then find some articles that interpret the novel differently (feminist readings would be especially helpful here). Is Milkman really the hero of the novel? Is Pilate? Or, is this a novel that somehow questions the need for a hero? See the attached description of the hero’s journey. It is also required that you include the article by Gerry Brenner in your discussion. Please find, print out, and read:

“Song of Solomon: Morrison's Rejection of Rank's Monomyth and Feminism,” Studies in American Fiction, Vol. 15, No. 1, Spring, 1987, pp. 13-24.

The South in Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon: Initiation, Healing, and Home. By: Lee, Catherine Carr, Studies in the Literary Imagination, 00393819, Fall98, Vol. 31, Issue 2

Toni Morrison’s Hero A Song of Solemn Men Chris Rasmussen https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/19566795.pdf

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Explanation & Answer


Heroism in Song of Solomon- Outline
Thesis Statement: By portraying Milkman as the archetypical hero and Pilate as the feminist
and cultural hero, Morrison challenges the system of a centrally-placed hero and questions the
need for a single identification of a hero in the novel.
I. Introduction
II. Milkman
A. Journey
B. Trickster
C. Archetype
III. Pilate
A. Mockery
B. Culture
C. Savior
IV. Conclusion

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Heroism in Song of Solomon
A hero’s journey in literature is one of the most important aspects of storytelling which
makes up the story pattern and hence creates structure in many stories. Primarily, the hero is
identified as a person who undergoes a transformation often through a departure from the
familiar world, initiation in an unfamiliar world, and then a return to the familiar world. This
archetypical state of a hero is mostly evident in myths and has been highlighted by Joseph
Campbell in his text The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Given this description, identifying the
hero in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon remains a challenge, especially with the knowledge
that Morrison is a feminist writer and hence has the tendency to highlight matters of female
empowerment in her text. Throughout the text, Milkman undergoes the stages typical of a hero
but is also challenged in many ways hence undermining claims of him being the hero.
Elsewhere, Pilate, his aunt, is heroic in various ways and for the reader, the choice remains
between these two. By portraying Milkman as the archetypical hero and Pilate as the feminist
and cultural hero, Morrison challenges the system of a centrally-placed hero and questions the
need for a single identification of a hero in the novel.
On the one hand, Milkman comes across as the hero due to his transformation throughout
the text and his experience of the different steps in the hero’s journey. One major step of the
hero’s journey that Milkman undergoes is the departure from the familiar world. In the novel,
Milkman is alienated from the community in the South. This alienation leads him to his

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discovery. His departure from his home guides him to discover his grandfather’s home and also
realizes where he had been laid. He also discovers the mythology of his family and the bones that
Pilate hid in her house. This process, is the moment of departure from the familiar world and the
immersion into a world of mythology where discovery is attained. The fact that Morrison puts
Milkman through this experience and selects him to be the protagonist in making those
discoveries shows that he probably is the hero of the story. His heroism is seen in the departure
and return to the familiar world. Although he may not himself go into the supernatural, he
experiences that connection through the discovery of his family history.
Other than the departure stage of the hero’s journey, another aspect of a hero emphasized
in Milkman is the character development hence focusing on him as the hero. One typical
depiction of a hero in a story is the development of the character to a round and dynamic one
hence showing his growth and also his relationship with other characters in the novel. This is the
case of Milkman whom Morrison focuses on since his conception and is still the point of focus at
the end of the novel. This view is supported by Chris Rasmussen who claims that “by developing
Milkman’s character, impairing others by contrast, Morrison’s hero tunnels through a history of
gender-based family roles across generations” (p. 3). This statement by Rasmussen identifies
Milkman in the middle of the themes advanced by the text and shows how his development and
impairment of other characters make up the entire novel. Therefore, since this is the character
that is most developed and enhance in the novel, it is seen that he is indeed the hero of the text
due to the author’s close focus on him and building the entire story around him.
Moreover, Morrison presents Milkman as the hero by developing a villain who clearly
targets him and hence acts as the trickster in the novel. Milkman is momentarily drawn to Guitar,
his friend. However, from the time the reader knows this character; they learn that he is the

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opposite of Milkman. First, he is a part of the Seven Days who killed White men as part of
retaliation for slavery. Additionally, while Milkman is cautious with his plan, Guitar is ambitious
and risks everything in his actions. For instance, he is courageous in his works in the Seven Days
and he says “There is a society. It’s made up of a few men who are willing to take some risks”
(Morrison). On the other hand, Milkman is reserved and doubting. Therefore, the presentation of
these childhood characters is a show of antagonism and a clear difference between the hero and
the trickster. Catherine Carr Lee discusses the role of Guitar in the novel and claims that “Guitar
operates in the tradition of the trickster and other ambivalent archetypal figures who, by
challenging the hero, push him to his destination” (p. 46). This statement can be seen as the
enmity that grows between Guitar and Milkman. It pushes the latter to his destiny through
discovery and at the end of the novel; the reader gets the impression that Milkman has managed
to fly by ‘flying’ towards Guitar for a final showdown. Therefore, the presentation of Guitar as a
trickster in the story and his relationship with Milkman highlights the understanding that the
latter is indeed the hero of the story.
Closely connected to the positioning of Guitar and reinforcing the notion of Milkman as
the hero is the battle. In heroic stories, the hero is often characterized by some heroic action,
often combat or battle with the villain and a win for the hero. In Song of Solomon, “like the hero
of the archetypal folktale, Milkman must engage in combat with the villain-who in this novel is
his best friend-and receive a brand or wound” (Lee 55). This is another piece of evidence that the
hero is indeed Milkman. The focus on his battle with Guitar confirms that the latter has been
placed in the story to develop him and hence Milkman comes across as the hero that the reader
has to focus on. Generally, therefore, Guitar is one character that effectively emphasizes the role
of Milkman as a hero hence confirming the theory.

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Finally, another aspect that emphasizes the hero in Milkman is his development through
the story hence showing growth and confirming the Campbellian heroic journey. The
development of a character allows the reader to identify with the hero’s journey and hence
identify t...

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