Literary Analysis of Pilate in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon





Literary Analysis of Pilate in Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon”


Issues toughing on racial discrimination have always drawn considerable controversy. This is especially considering that the history of the United States is rooted in racial discrimination especially against the black people. The fundamental nature of this aspect is evidenced by the fact that a considerable volume of literature has been done on it, trying to explain its various aspects. On the same note, the theme of racial discrimination has inspired and been incorporated in various fictional works. This is the case for Toni Morrison’s book, Song of Solomon.

Song of Solomon is a story that is set in Michigan. It traces the life of Milkman, since his birth to the age of 32, while focusing on his aimless and spiritually empty life as a young man trapped in the materialistic lifestyle of his dad and the traditional values that Pilate upholds. This book explores the pursuit for cultural identity. The story, based on African American folktale pertaining to enslaved Africans who escape from slavery by finding their way back to Africa, tells of Milkman’s story of alienation from his people, estrangement from family, community, as well as cultural and historical roots. The young man is spiritually dead and mentally enslaved, but he embarks on a spiritual, as well as physical journey that enhances his capacity to realize his self-worth and reconnect with the past with Pilate’s help and assistance of Guitar Bains. One of the most crucial characters in the story is Pilate Dead, who is Milkman’s auntie. This lady has been sufficiently used in the exploration of the theme of flight as a means for escaping slavery. It is evident that Pilate’s character places her as an embodiment of courage, strength, as well as love with Mother Nature and love for one’s cultural roots.

Pilate is the key, female protagonist in the story. She is closely linked with the family history and is rich in connotations. Her mother had died while giving birth to her, or rather before giving birth to her but she was sufficiently strong as to fight her way out of the womb. This is the strength that was to characterize her life even as an adult. Nevertheless, Pilate did not have a navel, a handicap that resulted in her isolation from the ordinary people of this country and even had a bearing on the independent and autonomous way of life. Her mystical qualities of half witch and half human gave her the ability to communicate with the dead father. It is stated that “Pilate was believed to have the power to step out of her skin, set a bush afire from fifty yards, and turn a man into a ripe rutabaga- all on account of the fact that she had no navel (Morrison 94).

On various occasions, Morrison uses symbolism to underline the nature of Pilate. One of the symbols that she uses is the perfect, soft-boiled egg. Pilate makes the eggs and shells off of them, after which she opens them up thereby revealing their soft insides. This is when she starts outlining the captivating stories pertaining to seeing her father’s ghost and watching a man die. The act of splitting up the egg gives the readers the impression that her capacity to get open is up is tantamount to having the capacity to deal with matters in a conclusive manner.

Despite the misfortunes that she has undergone, Pilate remains selfless and loving with her only regret at her time of death being that she could not extend her love to more people. It is noteworthy that her loving nature is nor a weakness rather it is her strength. This is especially seen when Reba, her daughter is beaten by a man. Pilate is seen pushing a knife within an inch of the man’s heart and warns him against touching Reba every again. While Pilate is well in her sixties, she prevails against Reba’s abuser, who is a strong young man.

Pilate is a representation of the close link to the people’s ancestry and Mother Nature. She is the crucial life force that strives to maintain the pedigree of the family above all other means. At the same time, Pilate’s complexion is extremely black, in which case it comes as a reminder of the African roots of the family. The deliberate choice of the Pilate (the blackest female) as the most powerful character for the novel underlines the ideology pertaining to the “Beauty of being a Negro”, a notion that was a fundamental pillar in the Harlem Renaissance.

One of the fundamental aspects of the story is the incorporation of folk songs, which also cement the nature of Pilate (Morrison, 22). Singing folk songs, pertaining to the Sugarman’s flight, reaffirm her stand against oppression through recreation of a past where her ancestors were expunged from the jaws of oppression. It is worth noting that the recreation of her past sustains the various characters living in the present. Milkman and Macon Jr. need Pilate so as to ensure that they retain the last vestiges pertaining to their humanity. As milkman comes to realize at the end of the journey, Pilate remains the only human being that has the capacity to fly without touching the ground. This implies that she is sufficiently liberated, in which case she does not have to run away so as to regain her freedom. In the end, Pilate becomes the model character of the story and novel. She shows the fact that strength does not necessarily have to be incorporated at the expense of humanity or gentleness. In addition, she exemplifies the fact that freedom never has to be compromised by the compassion of other people.

The existence of Pilate in the story is fundamental as it keeps matrilineal line alive especially considering her opposing values to the obsession with materialism. She attracts Milkman to her by the forbidden fruit pertaining to her knowledge (Morrison 24), which urges the young man to find out the truth about his ancestors. Pilate becomes the surrogate mother and spiritual guide to Milkman, thanks to her role in the creation and preservation of life. She inspires Macon because of her capacity to fly without detaching her feet from the ground (Morrison 25).

Names have also been seen as incredibly significant for the entire Dead Family thanks to their practice of choosing names in a random manner from the bible. Power is associated with the power to define and name perception and reality, especially in the case of Pilate’s attachment or connection to her name. She has even wired the name through her earlobe. Her acknowledgement of the crucial nature of a name, as well as the utilization of Sing’s box, underlines the fact that she connects the past and present using the unshakeable love necessary for creating the likelihood of a real future. It is only when she understands her past that she can establish a future worth admiring.

In conclusion, Toni Morrison has used Pilate as an embodiment of courage, strength, as well as love with Mother Nature and love for one’s cultural roots. The incorporation of folk songs reaffirms her stand against oppression through recreation of a past where her ancestors were expunged from the jaws of oppression. Toni incorporates various symbolic elements in the story, one of which is the perfectly, soft-boiled egg. Pilate, by splitting it up and giving riveting stories, is seen as someone who would strive to deal with any matter in a conclusive manner. The deliberate choice of the Pilate as the most powerful character for the novel, despite her extremely black complexion, underlines the ideology pertaining to the “Beauty of being a Negro”, a notion that was a fundamental pillar in the Harlem Renaissance.

Works cited

Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon. London: Vintage, 1998, print

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