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From Pilate to Pilate and Song to Song

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Toni Morrison presents various different allusions to the Bible in her novel Song of Solomon. The most apparent examples of this are represented within the parallels between Pontius Pilate and Pilate Dead, along with the thematic plot of love present in the novel and in the biblical book Song of Solomon. Morrison shows a great deal of correlation between the Bible and Song of Solomon. She uses her creativity to present familiar characters in a new and different light. She is able to present the same characteristics in an original story that has a vast amount of biblical similarities in love, strength, and power.
There are several circumstances that demonstrate Morrison 's creativity in the parallel aspect of the story. Pilate, for one, is a strong and independent character determined to live the way she sees fit. Fascinating is how Pilate got her name. Macon remembers after their mother dies during child birth, their father must point to a name out of the Bible, but unfortunately, he cannot read.
"How his father, confused and melancholy over his wife 's death in childbirth, had thumbed through the Bible, and since he could not read a word, chose a group of letters that seemed to him strong and handsome; saw in them a large figure that looked like a tree hanging in some princely but protective way over a row of smaller trees" (18). Even more interesting is the description of Pilate cooking when Macon is spying through the window as "Pilate swayed like a willow over her stirring" (30).
This is a representation of what Pilate Dead will be and what the biblical Pilate was; strong like a willow tree. There is clear evidence from scripture that Pilate was a strong man that primarily did what he thought would be best for him. In the book of John, after Jesus is sent to be crucified, "Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS…and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews. Pilate answered, What I have written I have written" (Holy Bible, John 19.19-22).
This is unmistakably a description of the dominance enveloped in his character. The chief priests of the Jews did not want it written out for all to see that Jesus was considered a king, but Pilate would not alter his decision because some of the Jews opposed the idea. He would stand strong in the certainty of his choice being right. He managed to remain in a position of power and strength over the people wishing for the title to be removed from the cross. Pilate shows characteristics that are close to those of Pontius Pilate in the Bible. As Pontius Pilate was strong, Pilate Dead had similar attributes. She did what she thought was right, even if her concern sprouted from love and Pontius Pilate 's sprouted from selfishness. This is proven at one specific point when Ruth was having marital problems with Pilate 's brother Macon Dead.
Ruth was "desperate to lie with her husband and have another baby by him" and she had for a long time wanted to "reinstate their sex lives" (131). Pilate assists Ruth in this by giving her a magic powder to put in his food to make Macon desire his wife, and when Ruth becomes pregnant, Macon wants her to abort the baby. At this point Pilate shows her confidence and faith in herself. She tells Ruth not to worry and that "Macon wouldn 't bother her no more; she, Pilate, would see to it." She left a doll that looked like Macon in the chair of his office "with a small painted chicken bone stuck between its legs…he left Ruth alone after that" (132).
Pilate did not allow for Macon 's intimidation to pressure out of the situation. Pilate was not afraid of the man that so many people in their town feared with every fiber of their existence. She was able to stand up to that man with no inclination of the dread seen in the many faces that Macon had no problem throwing on the street due to lack of rent payment (21-22). Pilate had some control over her brother and a confidence that no one else would dare face Macon with. She shows her true colors by facing the fear of a man that in no way terrifies her.
Another instance of power shown by Pilate Dead would have to be that fact that she has no naval. After her mother dies during childbirth, the rest is described through Macon 's point of view. "The baby, who they had believed was dead also, inched its way headfirst out of a still, silent, and indifferent cave of flesh, dragging her own cord and her own afterbirth behind her…Once the new baby 's lifeline was cut, the cord stump shriveled, fell off, and left no trace of having ever existed…he learned that there was probably not another stomach like hers on earth" (28). Pilate is a special person depicted as even crawling out of the womb all on her own. That alone is a picture of the kind of endurance she possesses as a person.
Scripture also paints of picture of Pontius Pilate as being a very dominant person. This is especially evident when he is speaking to Jesus and trying to decide if he is guilty of crime that deserves the punishment of death. Pilate goes to Jesus "And saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer. Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee" (Holy Bible, John 19.9-10).
Pilate states himself that he knows he possesses the power as governor to do as he wishes with Jesus. Pilate knows that he has the legal authority to either destroy Jesus or let him go as a free man. He obviously plays the power card and having the ability to make the decisions regarding this situation at hand, he uses it ensure that he is doing what is most beneficial for him. For example, the Jews describe a different point of view to Pilate. "Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar" (Holy Bible, John 19.15). The Jews also make the statement to Pilate, "If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar 's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar" (Holy Bible, John 19.12).
This correlates with the instance when Pilate does any of the actions that her father 's ghost presents for her to complete. Pilate Dead goes back for the bones because "Papa told me to" (208). In the same conditions that Pontius Pilate follows Caesar, Pilate Dead follows her father. Each authority has the dominance over each Pilate. They cannot turn away from the commands they receive from the one they hold so highly in respect. Although Pilate Dead 's respect results from her utter devotion to her father, Pontius Pilate 's respect is derived from his own selfish fear of death caused by treason. In either situation, they only relinquish their power to one other force in their lives caused by love. In one case it is a love of his own life, in the other it is love for her people.
Song of Solomon, both the novel and the book in the Bible, have a very strong theme of love. Morrison has entwined the theme of love all throughout her novel. Love is present, regardless of how twisted it may be, in the relationships of Ruth and her father Dr. Foster, First Corinthians and Porter, Ruth and Macon, Macon (Jake) and Sing, Milkman and Hagar, The Seven Days and the black culture, Pilate and Macon (Jake) along with Macon her brother, and most combinations of any characters that are within the novel. Love is what carries them to do the awful things they do and the marvelous actions they take part it.
The biblical Song of Solomon demonstrates the love King Solomon once had. He fell in love with a Shulammite girl and decides to marry her. From the description in scripture it is explained that he married the girl on the day of his coronation. "Come out, you daughters of Zion, and look at King Solomon wearing the crown, the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his wedding, the day his heart rejoiced" (Life in the Spirit, Song Sol. 3.11). This is simply to prove that at the time of these writings Solomon was in more of an innocent stage. He had yet to be involved with 700 wives and 300 concubines because this girl was his first wife (Life in the Spirit 973). The way King Solomon and the Shulammite girl speak and treat each other is a reminder of the relationship that Milkman and Sweet had. In their case it may not have been a situation of marriage or longevity but the respect and affection they show one another is in the same form of passion as King Solomon. Milkman does things for Sweet that he has never done for anyone else ever before. He makes the bed, bathes her and washes dishes, among other things (285). Milkman has never taken the time to care for anyone but himself and in this case he did. King Solomon and the girl write some of the most passionate lyrics to each other to express their love. It is a kind and gentle way of showing their adoration for their lover. Solomon speaks of his beloved in the highest respect, "How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! You eyes behind you veil are doves. You hair is like a flock of goats…All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you" (Life in the Spirit, Song Sol. 4.1-7). In the biblical book, "Solomon paints a vivid picture of idyllic romantic courtship and physical consummation…the celebration of their love is more about openness to love itself than it is about mere physical pleasure, as is sometimes assumed" (Glickman 61). The love involved in the biblical Song of Solomon is a passionate devotion to another lover which is primarily the case in Morrison 's novel. The basis of most of the characters actions are based on love; although, in a different form. Macon has an intense love for money and power that drives him to be an angry man and to only care about the envy of other people. "Macon is obsessive and authoritarian, a collector driven by what seems an utterly ruthless need to possess property and people" (Bryant).
This is especially shown in situations such as when he takes his family out in the Packard on Sunday afternoons. This is not even an enjoyable experience for the family it has become a ritual to show off his family and his wonderful car. He believes that he will receive more respect because of this "amazing" car he is driving. He simply goes to "display and parade his children and wife like a valuable hood ornament on his vintage Hudson automobile" (Bryant). Macon even passes on his lust for wealth to others "whose only advice to his son to get ahead is to 'Own things. And let the things you own own other things. Then you 'll own yourself and other people too '" (Buehrer). Ruth had a twisted love for her father that was definitely an inappropriate relationship. After her mother died, Ruth was the woman of the house which led to unsettling circumstances. Dr. Foster even knew of the improper behavior:
"Her steady beam of love was unsettling, and she had never dropped those expressions of affection…so lovable in her childhood. The good-night kiss was itself a masterpiece of slow-wittedness on her part and discomfort on his. At sixteen, she still insisted on having him come to her at night…and plant a kiss on her lips. Perhaps it was the loud silence of his dead wife…Ruth 's disturbing resemblance to her mother…probably it was the ecstasy that always seemed to be shining in Ruth 's face when he bent to kiss her—an ecstasy he felt inappropriate to the occasion."
Dr. Foster knew that this was a disturbance of nature that was not suitable for their relationship, but he continued on anyway. This was deep love for both characters, although clearly wrong.
Then there is the special case of The Seven Days. Guitar, Milkman 's best friend, is in the group called "The Seven Days whose goal is to seek retribution for the random killings of blacks by whites" (Buehrer). This group of men kills white people because of the extreme loyalty and affection to their race. When a black person is murdered one man in the group has to go and kill a white person on the same day of the week. They do this to ensure that the ratio stays the same; that they are not being killed off. Guitar explains it to Milkman as, "What I 'm doing ain 't about hating white people. It 's about loving us. About loving you. My whole life is love" (159). Even if what they are doing is a criminal act, they see it as pure devotion and dedication to their race.
Love is present all throughout the novel and in the biblical book of the same name. The difference is simply the act caused by the love. While King Solomon was writing to depict his affection for his lover, in the novel they kill or act irrationally, in a conventional sense, for love. In their minds every action is justified by the love that they feel, whether it is for power and wealth, closeness, or maintaining the race. Love is all around them and drives them to be the people that they are. In all cases, including biblical, they cling to the love that inspires even the most absurd of actions and live their lives to fulfill their needs.
Works Cited
Bryant, Cedric Gael. "Every Goodbye Ain 't Gone: The Semiotics of Death, Mourning, and Closural Practice in Toni Morrison 's Song of Solomon." MELUS 24.3 (1999): 97+.
Buehrer, David. "American History X, Morrison 's Song of Solomon, and the Psychological Intersections of Race, Class, and Place in Contemporary America." Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 25.1 (2004): 18+.
Glickman, Craig. "Solomon 's Song of Love: Let a Song of Songs Ispire Your Own Romantic Story." Publishers Weekly 250.47: 60-61.
Holy Bible: Authorized King James Version. Michigan: Zondervan, 1994.
Life in the Spirit: Study Bible. Donald C. Stamps, gen. ed. Michigan: Zondervan, 2003.
Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon. New York: Vintage, 2004

Cited: Bryant, Cedric Gael. "Every Goodbye Ain 't Gone: The Semiotics of Death, Mourning, and Closural Practice in Toni Morrison 's Song of Solomon." MELUS 24.3 (1999): 97+. Buehrer, David. "American History X, Morrison 's Song of Solomon, and the Psychological Intersections of Race, Class, and Place in Contemporary America." Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 25.1 (2004): 18+. Glickman, Craig. "Solomon 's Song of Love: Let a Song of Songs Ispire Your Own Romantic Story." Publishers Weekly 250.47: 60-61. Holy Bible: Authorized King James Version. Michigan: Zondervan, 1994. Life in the Spirit: Study Bible. Donald C. Stamps, gen. ed. Michigan: Zondervan, 2003. Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon. New York: Vintage, 2004

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