Milkman in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon is always pursuing liberation because he knows it will bring him peace. Milkman becomes a self-made man in the book, liberating himself from his manipulating and materialistic father and losing his burdened family name. I, like Milkman, wanted freedom and found it in my first car. Milkman and I witnessed not only the advantages of democracy, but also the repercussions of equality. Milkman’s freedom gives him a false sense of confidence, which leads to life-threatening consequences that compel him to accept and mature. While searching for his independence in Shalimar, Milkman sparks a conversation with locals who are visibly opposed to his presence. After being verbally ridiculed, he tries to hold high his ego and jibes, “I never spent much time smacking my lips over another man’s dick.” Everybody smiled including himself. It was about to begin…the knife glittered… Milkman did the best he could with a broken bottle, but his face got slit, so did his left hand and his pretty beige suit. He would probably have had his throat cut if two women hadn’t come running in screaming, ‘Saul! Saul!’ (Chapter 11 P. 267-268). The false sense of security that Milkman gained from his independence led him to be very aggressive towards the locals that he would have otherwise not have interacted with if he was in a familiar territory. To prove himself as his own person, he becomes overly confident, which results in him getting cut. It also makes him much more cautious and less extroverted. Milkman accepts this defeat and moves on, showing maturity and making strides towards independence. He then thinks to himself while sitting in his car, “Who were all these people roaming the world trying to kill him? His father had tried while he was still in his mother’s womb. But he’d lived. He walked into a store and asked if anybody could fix his car and a black man pulled a knife on him. He still wasn’t dead in this scenario. He wondered what these black Neanderthals thought they were going to do. “Fuck them! My name’s Macon; I’m already dead” (Chapter 11 P.270). After physically enduring the consequences of a false sense of security, Milkman realizes how dangerous independence is bearing with the fact that it is him against the world. This realization shows maturity as well as an acceptance of his status within the society of Shalimar. Similar to a struggling athlete who leans on his hours of training and experience to persevere, Milkman reflects on his hardships to mature.
Like Milkman, one of the things I truly desire as a 16-year-old boy is freedom. Getting a driver’s license and a car is one of the biggest milestones for any teenager that redefines life. From driving to and from school every day to cruising with friends. The life of waiting for your parents to drive you somewhere and pick you up is truly over. I believed it was the start of a new life, without a worry in the world I was “flying.” The one limitation to this freedom, annoying to me but perfect for my parents was that legally I was not allowed to drive past 10:00 p.m. until I turned 17. Although no one else’s parents I knew enforced this rule, it was a reality I had to live with, and quite frankly, it didn’t matter because my birthday would be here soon. A week before I turned 17, after enjoying a movie with my girlfriend, I was awarded a speeding ticket! While driving, I did not look at my speedometer once, I was going with the flow of traffic and felt untouchable. This feeling subsided promptly as I looked in my rearview mirror and saw a cop drive out of the subdivision he had keenly parked. I was in dire disbelief that I was in trouble and assumed someone right next to me was about to get pulled over. However, as soon as I saw the red and blue lights flash, I knew life had finally caught up with me.
After pulling into the parking lot of the Bank of America.
“Did you know you were speeding?” the officer asked.
“No Sir,” I said, out of nervousness.
I still denied that I had obstructed the law due to the sense of invincibility that I thought was guaranteed with my independence. Luckily, the police officer was nice and only ticketed me for five miles per hour over as opposed to the twenty at which I was going. I didn’t know at that time that because of this ticket I now had to wait until I turn 18 to drive past 10:00 p.m. The other consequence came when I received a letter at home the week that followed requiring me to take an online driver’s education course. After my outgoing and talkative parents had learned about my situation via a text, I walked inside my house to see their blank expressions and peering eyes. This expression is a rarity due to their usual talkativeness and soft tone, which made me realize my new reality.
After bragging about his shooting ability to the locals, Milkman is invited to go hunting. On this hunting trip, Guitar surprises Milkman and strangles him: “The wire pressed into his neck then and took his breath… it filled him with such sadness to be dying, leaving this world at the fingertips of his friend, that he relaxed and in an instant, it took to surrender to the overwhelming melancholy. He felt the cords of his struggling neck muscles relax too, and there was a piece of a second in which the wire left him room enough to gasp, to take another breath.” (Chapter 11 P. 279). Once Milkman realizes that even his best friend wants him dead, he accepts his fate. When Milkman accepts death, it shows that he believes independence is too overwhelming for him. However, once he relaxes he can get out of the trap and survive. This is a metaphor that describes that when you are overly assertive and tense, the wire of independence only gets tighter and leaves you little room to breathe. But once you relax and take a step back, you can cope with independence and persevere through its trials and tribulations. This understanding of how to deal with independence allows Milkman to be himself and become fully at peace. This complacency and completeness manifest itself in one of Milkman’s dreams. While lying in bed with Sweet Milkman dreams, “all about flying, about sailing high over the earth. But not with arms stretched out like airplane wings, nor shot forward like Superman in a horizontal dive, but floating, cruising, in the relaxed position of a man lying on a couch reading a newspaper. Part of his flight was over the dark sea, but it didn’t frighten him because he knew he could not fall. He was alone in the sky, but somebody was applauding him, watching him and applauding.” (Chapter 12 P. 298). When he is alone with Sweet, without his overarching father or any common faces, Milkman is relaxed. He compares this new feeling to “flying” just like a bird who has no limitations along with “a man lying on a couch reading a newspaper.” It is the paragon of someone who is at peace. By meeting Sweet and staying in the foreign town of Shalimar, Milkman sees what his future could be if he is independent. This feeling of being self-made and having no ties to his father or hometown gives him the feeling of “sailing high over the earth” but without the constraints of an “airplane” that goes from point A to point B on a schedule, nor like Superman who is on a mission. But rather a “relaxed position of a man lying on a couch reading newspaper” with no burden and is absolutely careless. After his conflict with Guitar in the forest, Milkman knows that the worst is over and then can be free and live in a new state of mind.
My false sense of security in my car again yielded a realization of my reality. Just six days after my speeding ticket, the day after I received the letter requiring me to attend a driver’s course, I got involved in a car crash. I was driving back from lunch with my best friend, Steve, whom I had not seen in over a month because he lives in Canada and our schedules were filled with sports and school was too much to coordinate. On the way home, Steve reminded me that my dad had told me to pick up money from the bank. To quickly re-route, I turned left instead of right on a two-way road at an intersection. As I cut across to turn left, another car was straddling the line to get around me and ran into us. The front left part of my bumper was scratched and dented along with two doors and the right mirror of the other car. Again, like when I received my speeding ticket, I was in utter shock and disbelief. I felt that I was “flying” after a fantastic meal with a great friend, but again that feeling was short-lived and directly counteracted with an equal and opposite force of reality. It only took a week for me to regain the feeling of freedom and independence and for this sense of security to be stripped. Like Milkman I came to the realization that unfortunate events happen to overcome not to submit and quit.
In Song of Solomon, Milkman’s pursuit of independence leads him to become overly ambitious and creates a false sense of security. This sense of security is stripped over time until he understands how to rightfully achieve freedom. I also went through this same painful journey except through a car crash and a speeding ticket, not stabbed and strangled like Milkman. To mature and achieve independence, it was necessary to go through this life threatening tribulations.
Morrison, Toni. 1977. Song Of Solomon. 1st ed. Alfred Knopf.