Beneath, before and beyond: how characters achieve a true identity through alternative education in Song of Solomon, The bear, and Things fall apart.
Dear Reader, let me tell you a story. In Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon, a black man named Milkman goes in search of his true identity. He had grown up learning to be a certain type of person: one who, like his father, valued commercial success, an affiliation with the white community, social authority, and conventional wisdom, and someone who distanced himself from all members of his family who were outcasts of this society. Pilate, Milkman's aunt, exemplifies everything her brother despised: a disregard for money, fashion, manners, school and socially acceptable behaviors, but also, Pilate is a woman who understands and accepts her black heritage. Milkman is forbidden to go near his aunt, but against his father's wishes, Milkman goes to meet Pilate, where he immediately realizes from her he cannot stay away. She becomes his guide on his journey toward a truer identity: one that is unique to him because it is rooted in the legacy of his ancestors. Thus, unhappy in Michigan, he heads to Virginia, where he is taught the history of his family and consequently, Milkman learns about himself. And so, reader, Milkman rejects an untrue identity inherited from his father and uncovers a true self-understanding via an alternative education: one not learned in the classroom, but through experience; one not taught by an un-related teacher or American History textbook, but by his aunt Pilate; one not in mainstream society, but in the Virginia country and society of his ancestors. Milkman discovers what it means to be an individual in a homogenizing world--a world that asks him to sacrifice his true identity because it distances him from his ancestors and the natural world. By showing us, reader, how to achieve identity through an alternative education, Toni Morrison not only suggests what we've lost from forgetting ourstory in favor of history, but shows us the value of finding our own narrative. She is not alone in this suggestion. William Faulkner, in his The Bear, and Chinua Achebe in his Things Fall Apart, suggest something similar through a similar story, and by showing the patterns among these three works, this thesis draws conclusions as to what it means to be a writer and reader in the 21st century. So now reader, let me prove to you this pattern in Song of Solomon.