Misnaming Motifs Essay, Research Paper
Misnaming Motifs in Song of Solomon by: Toni Morrison
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison is a brilliantly written novel that accurately depicts racial and social tensions between blacks and whites. Morrison chooses the setting of Shalimar, Virginia and Danville, Pennsylvania, during the late 1930 s through the 1960 s, where she covey s her story through the third person as an omniscient author. In order to emphasize the racial conflicts throughout Song of Solomon, Morrison carefully chooses names for her characters with an emphasis on misnaming motifs.
A motif is defined as, a unifying element in an artistic work, especially any recurrent image, symbol, theme, character, type, subject, or narrative detail (Murfin and Ray 224). Toni Morrison uses misnaming motifs to aid in developing a main theme in Song of Solomon. Their repetitive nature allows a reader to get a closer glimpse into the author s thoughts and central ideas.
The misnaming motifs that I noticed thus far are found in the following characters names: Guitar, Macon Dead, and Milkman. Guitar is a name of a character in the novel, not because he plays the guitar, but because he had a desire to play. When asked if he was named Guitar due to his usage of the instrument, guitar replies, Not cause I do play. Because I wanted to (Morrison 45). It appears that Morrison uses this passage to point out that a black man could not possibly of ever played a guitar that his only privilege could be to dream about playing. Macon Dead (make em dead) is another prime example of a misnaming motif. Macon Dead is an assigned name that was given when Macon signed up as a used-to-be-slave. He asked Papa where he was born. Papa said Macon. Then he asked him who his father was. Papa said, He s dead. The Yankee wrote it all down, but in the wrong spaces, Dead comma Macon. (Morrison 53). This services the reader into stereotyping blacks as uneducated in the novel, which is exactly the image that the author wants to portray. Morrison also points out some of the differing social aspects between blacks and whites through the character named Milkman. This name is dispensed after a janitor discovers him nursing on his mother s breast at an inappropriate age. Milkman is ignorant to the fact that the continually feeding his mother would so eagerly encourage was indeed wrong until the laughter became overwhelming and embarrassing. There was his face leaning out of the upturned collar of his jacket, and he knew. My mother nursed me when I was old enough to talk, stand up, and wear knickers, and somebody saw it and laughed and and that is why they call me Milkman and that is why my father never does and that is why my mother never does, but everybody else does (Morrison 78).
Morrison uses these motifs and many others throughout the novel to enlighten and entertain the reader. I find them to be an extremely useful tool that helps a reader to focus on the intimate feelings that the author wishes to portray.