Song of Solomon and Absalom, Absalom!
There has been a lot of ink spilled on the comparison’s between Toni Morrison’s novels and William Faulkner’s novels and justifiably so. Both have written stories about Americans dealing with the American problem of race relations. Morrison’s “Song of Solomon” and Faulkner’s “Absalom, Absalom!” are two such novels that contain many similar elements. Both novels are about young men or relatively young men (Milkman is 31 when he begins his quest) who try to put together a family’s past. The novels also share certain similarities between certain characters and in narrative structure, but within these similarities come differences that separate the authors from each other. The differences stem from their perspective on what the legacy of the American South should be. The most striking similarity in the two novels is the characters Clytie from “Absalom, Absalom!” and Circe from “Song of Solomon”. Clytie is the result of Thomas Sutpen’s affair with one of his slaves and her place is the runner of the Sutpen household. “Clytie, not inept, anything but inept: perverse inscrutable and paradox: free, yet incapable of freedom who had never once called herself a slave, holding fidelity to not like the indolent and solitary wolf or bear (yes, wild: half-untamed black, half Sutpen blood: and if ‘untamed’ be synonymous with ‘wild’, then ‘Sutpen’ is the silent unsleeping viciousness of the tamer’s lash)…” (AA pg 126)
Circe was the midwife for the town of Dannville and she ran the household for the Butler family until they all died. “Birthed just about everybody in the county, I did. Never lost one either. Never lost nobody but your mother. Well grandmother, I guess she was. Now I birth dogs.”(SoS pg 243) She is described by Milkman as “…the face so old it could not be alive, but because of the toothless mouth came the strong, mellifluent voice of a twenty-year-old girl.” (SoS pg 240) Compare this with Quentin’s physical description of Clytie, “…woman not much bigger than a monkey and who might have been any age up to ten thousand years…” (AA pg. 174) and you begin to see that Morrison intended for Circe to be her response to Faulkner’s Clytie. Both characters on the surface are the same; the difference between them and the differences in Morrison’s and Faulkner’s perspectives comes out of their motivation for continuing to hold down the households of their dead white masters. Clytie’s life is devoted to the continuation of Thomas Sutpen’s grand design. “…for the sake of the family which no longer existed, whose here-to-fore inviolate and rotten mausoleum she still guarded…(AA pg. 280) Her devotion was so complete that she decided to sell the store for two hundred dollars to buy the headstones for the Sutpen family. Even though she was starving and could have used the money on food live she paid the money. So complete that she decided to burn down the mansion, killing herself in one last act of devotion in order to keep Henry Sutpen from being arrested for the killing of Charles Bon. Clytie, who along with Dilsey from the “Sound and the Fury” are seen from Faulkner’s view as being blacks who know nothing but service and hospitality towards their white masters. Baldwin said it better in his essay “Faulkner and Desegregation”, “That some---not nearly as many as Faulkner would like to believe---
Southern Negroes prefer, or are afraid of changing, the status quo does not negate t he fact that it is the Southern Negro himself who, year upon year, and generation upon generation has kept the Southern waters troubled.” (Baldwin pg 209) Circe’s life was about giving others life by being a mid-wife at all their births and when the Butlers took over the property and died one by one, her life took on another meaning. “They loved it. Stole for it, lied for it, killed for it. But I’m the one left. Me and the dogs. And I...
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