A Key to Identity and Purpose in Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon

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Shea Congioloso

Dr. Jennings

Eng 332 Sec 003

November 8, 2011

Names: A Key to Identity and Purpose in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon

Toni Morrison’s (1931- ) third novel, Song of Solomon (1977), was published during the latter part of the Civil Rights Movement. During this time in our nation’s history when African Americans were seeking to be recognized by their fellow Americans, Morrison shares the story of one young African American man and his quest to discover identity and purpose through the discovery of his families lost ancestral roots. In Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison explores the intricate connection between names and identity. The novel’s protagonist, Macon Dead III, or Milkman, is a young man out of touch with his familial roots and his own identity. He fights to uncover his true name while discovering his past. In Milkman’s case, searching for identity is equivalent to searching for his name. The novel's epigraph reads, "The fathers may soar/ And the children may know their names." The importance of names and naming for Morrison's characters lies in a name's ability to intimate or uncover hidden truths about personal identity. In the novel, names take on an active role: they help one acquire self-knowledge, connect with one's history, and might even have the power to change one for the better or worse. Names can identify important truths about people and characters. Throughout Morrison’s novel the reader encounters many peculiar yet informative names or nicknames. The most familiar nickname in the novel would be the nickname given to Morrison’s protagonist, Milkman. We first see Milkman as a nameless child sucking on his mother’s breast, “too young to be dazzled by her nipples, but…old enough to be bored by the flat taste of mother’s milk” (Morrison 13). One day during this very secret ritual between mother and child, Freddie the janitor and town gossip accidently happens upon the too-old boy nursing...
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