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And She Was Loved: Trauma and Testimony in Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon


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“AND SHE WAS LOVED”: TRAUMA AND TESTIMONY IN TONI MORRISON’S SONG OF SOLOMON By CAMERON C. CLARK A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLOR IDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2003

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ii ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would like to thank the members of my thesis co mmittee, Dr. Anne Goodwyn Jones and Dr. Debra Walker King. I would also li ke to extend gratitude to the faculty and staff of the English Department of the Univ ersity of Florida. Fi nally, I would like to thank my family and friends who encouraged me throughout the researching and writing process.

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iii TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS..................................................................................................ii ABSTRACT....................................................................................................................... iv CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION........................................................................................................1 2 LOCATING TRAUMA STUDIES..............................................................................3 3 READING (T)RUTH WOUNDS IN FLICTED UPON THE FEMALE BODY.........9 4 HAGAR’S STORY: PRIVATE PAIN AND PUBLIC MANIFESTATIONS OF TRAUMA...................................................................................................................15 5 “THE MOST DESTRUCTIVE IDEA S”: THE TRAUMA OF SELF-HATE...........21 6 RACIAL INFIDELITY?............................................................................................32 7 CONCLUSION...........................................................................................................37 LIST OF REFERENCES...................................................................................................39 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.............................................................................................42

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iv Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts AND SHE WAS LOVED: TRAUMA AND TESTIMONY IN TONI MORRISONS SONG OF SOLOMON By CAMERON C. CLARK May 2003 Chair: Anne Goodwyn Jones Major Department: English Trauma narratives gained popularity in th e 1980s and 1990s with the emergence of trauma studies as a valid disciplinary field of academic study. No longer relegated to the field of medicine, the study of trauma allowe d for better contextualiz ation of the social, political, and economic issues, which stimulated the onset of the traumatic experience in fields ranging from psychology to li terature. While Toni Morrisons novel Song of Solomon has generally been critiqued as a novel c oncerning the identity formation of the male protagonist, it can also be read with an understanding of trauma and its relationship to feminism, psychoanalysis, and race studies. To that end, this thes is seeks to scrutinize the female characters in Song of Solomon by examining the effects of trauma on the female body. Rather than using trauma studies as merely an approach at elucidating a character analysis, this work intends to examine the verbal signification, or testimony, of the traumatized subjects as a means to better comprehend the e xperience and reveal trauma as an instrument of fema le oppression within the novel.

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1 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Generally, one looks to the epigraph of a novel to get some hint of what is to come within the text. The epig raph to Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon reads, “The fathers may soar and the children may know their name s” (1). The obvious omission within this statement is the women. While much of th e theoretical discourse concerning the novel deals with Milkman’s quest for identity, na ming, and ancestry few focus on the trauma and grief suffered by the female characters. A lthough the quest is not theirs, most of the females are unable to live auth entically or reach a sense of self-definition without being valued by a male. Traumatized by being re moved from a male embrace many of the women fall into a state of self-destruction. By utilizing trauma as a framework for reading Morrison’s text, this thesis attempts to relocate psychoanalysis in the unfamiliar territory of race and gender. It is with an understanding of trauma that one can begin to understand how the women in the text operate. Th is thesis will focus on the women in the novel with regards to the trauma they expe rience and their testim ony of the trauma. As Christina Zwarg agrees, “Until very recently, critics have been reluctant to deploy the critical legacy of psychoanalysis in their reading of African-Ame rican texts. Certain political imperatives and concerns have s upported this hesitation; all too often the presupposed subject of psychoa nalytic criticism has been white, bourgeois, and male” (1). This reluctance leaves African Ameri can literary criticism at a disadvantage. However, as Zwarg continues, trauma study is now allowing psychoanalysis to be used

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2 within the study of race. “Indeed, trauma ha s emerged as the issue most valuable for showing the blindness and insight of Freud’s legacy” (1).

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3 CHAPTER 2 LOCATING TRAUMA STUDIES The study of trauma has a long and chaotic history. The word “trauma” originates from the Greek word titrosko meaning “to wound” and before the nineteenth century it was used exclusively within medical fields. Michael Roth explains, “In the 19th century it gets reinvigorated as a psychological category meant to point to things that wound us in ways that cannot be traced physiologically. The concept appears in wartime in World War I as ‘shell-shock,’ after the Second World War as ‘battle fatigue,’ and after Vietnam as ‘post traumatic stress disorder’” (par. 6). It was not until 1980 that the American Psychiatric Association finally recognized the phenomenon of trauma, as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) “incl uding the symptoms of what had previously been called shell shock, combat stress, delayed stress syndrome, and traumatic neurosis, and referred to responses to both human and na tural catastrophes” (Caruth 3) According to the DSM-IV, trauma is defined as an event in which both of the following were present (1) the person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injur y, or a threat to the physical in tegrity of self or others, (2) the person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror. From this definition we see that trauma not only involves some t ype of danger, it is also characterized by a sense of powerlessness for the individual. That powerlessness causes a wound to the individual’s psyche. Recently, we see the word being used in a number of disciplines ranging from psychology to literature. Cathy Caruth explai ns, “The phenomenon of trauma has seemed

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4 to become all-inclusive, but it has done so pr ecisely because it brings us to the limits of our understanding: if psychoanalysis, psychi atry, sociology, and even literature are beginning to hear each other an ew in the study of trauma, it is because they are listening through the radical disruption and gaps of tr aumatic experience” (4). The gaps mentioned by Caruth take on a significant role in the understanding of trauma. Filling in the gaps is the job of the psychiatrist or psychologist in the case of ther apy and the reader in the case of narratives of trauma to interpret the fu ll meaning of the testimony given by the victim. In this way we must think of the recovery or remembering of trauma given in testimony as nonlinear. It returns fragmented, in pieces that must be interpreted. By understanding the testimony of the vi ctim readers may better understand the motivations of Morrison’s characters. In attempting to study trauma within the novel Song of Solomon I will comply with a definition of trauma more in keeping with Morrison’s view of the Black experience in Am erica, rather than a psychiatric definition because (as mentioned earlier) race has been widely excluded from the study. As Barbara Hill-Rigney describes, “Her characters are both subjects of and subject to history, events in ‘real’ time, that succe ssion of antagonistic movements that includes slavery, reconstruction, depression, and war [. .] For, in her terms, history itself may be no more than a brutal fantasy, a nightmare half-remembered, in which fact and symbol become indistinguishable” (61). Hill-Rigney posits Mo rrison’s traumatized individuals as victims of an already established world, which is out of their control. When asked about trauma being passed on through generations Hortense Spill ers answers, In some ways I don’t believe in the colle ctive unconscious, or racial unconscious, because if that were true then that mean s that we will all never be anything but haunted, each generation. [. .] I do thi nk that there is a body of history that’s coded for memory, and that is what’s being passed down in some symbolic and

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5 discursive and narratological sense; [. .] But the body of history is something I would like to think about, th e palpable nature of memory and how that gets passed on. (Haslett par.28) Thinking of trauma in this sense, as a product of “the Black experience,” becomes particularly relevant when di scussing the trauma experienced by the character Hagar in the novel. It is almost as if she is a reincarnation of a distant female relative who has fallen victim to the same trauma. Being left by the man she loves also traumatizes Ryna, her great grandmother. Being abandoned becomes something that many of the women encounter and their lives become colored by the pain of that event. Trauma then can be discussed as a type of inheri tance. Although it is unwanted, it is nevertheless bestowed. While all the women in Morrison’s novel e xperience some type of trauma, greater attention will be paid to the trauma inf licted upon Ruth and Hagar. How they choose to acknowledge the traumatic occurr ence is heard in their test imony. In an interview with Bonnie Angelo, Morrison discusses a trau ma that all too many African Americans encounter. “Everybody remembers the first time th ey were taught that part of the human race was Other. That’s a trauma” (qtd. in Matus 23). For Morrison, the experience of racism for Blacks is a type of trauma. But the same can be said for gender. Connecting the discussion of trauma to the fiction of Toni Morrison, Jill Matus asse rts, “But if we are to consider the question of Morrison’s fiction as testimony to the trauma of racism and to a history often erased or forgotten, we need to think about both the meaning of trauma and the special nature of literary testimony as opposed to, for example, testimony in a courtroom” (23). Matus sets up a very important challenge, for within Song of Solomon the female testimony is not an accurate record of the events as they took place, it is instead an outpouring of emotion because of the event. It is a bearing witness to the pain.

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6 The basic trauma that Morrison sets up in the novel is the trauma of loss, particularly loss of a male the women love and tr ust. But this is not to say that the men in the novel do not experience this same loss. Th ey too are victims of the abandonment of a male figure. However, we see that it is the women who experience greater suffering because of the desertion. For the women it is not simply as a loss, it is a rejection. Because they place their value in the hands of men, that rejection has the power to inflict great damage to the female. We must question this power that the male characters in the novel wield over the females. Why is it so detr imental to their psyche ? I would posit that the difference resides in how they deal or attend to the trauma inflicted. Morrison’s epigraph quickly alerts her reader to the detail that flight is represented as a traditionally male action. The myth of the Flying Africans, which the novel brings into play, dates back to some of the earlies t recorded slave account s. According to Carl Jung, flight symbolizes “man’s [sic] need for liberation from any state of being which is too immature, too fixed or final” (qtd. in Wilentz). Historically speaking this myth functions as a symbol of Afri can transcendence as resistance to a life of enslavement. While crossing the Atlantic, en route to Am erica, and while on the country’s soil, Africans experienced many inst ances of abuse. They soon understood what their lives would be like in America. Some chose flight. Bu t this feat does not come without a price. As Jill Matus explains, “For every joyous escap e, every transcendent flyer, there is a grounded wife or mother” (78). In this statem ent is the enduring dichotomy of flying men and grounded women. As an enduring image in the text Morrison bookends the novel with flying men.

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7 Matus also maintains one of the things that defines trauma is that memory and interpretation are not factual. They are su sceptible to forgetting and distortion. Citing Allan Young, she calls trauma “a disease of time” (24). The female victims remain trapped in a traumatized state, which they ar e unable to remove themselves from without the return of men to value them. “The quinte ssential ‘blue note’ in the Solomon myth is Ryna, whose weeping and wailing symbolises the distress of those left behind” (78). Ryna’s cries are left to reverberate across th e ravine. Hearing and in terpreting Ryna’s, as well as, the moan of the other deserted women is left to the reader. Morrison’s narrator offers only fragments of a half remembered song throughout the novel for the reader to decode along with Milkman. But, if we are given only the pieces of the traumatic story, how are we to be certain of our translation of it? In “On Traumatic Knowledge and Literary Studies,” Geoffrey H. Hartman reports, “Trauma theory introduces a psychoanalytic sk epticism as well, which does not give up on knowledge but suggests the existence of a traumatic kind, one that cannot be made entirely conscious, in the sense of bei ng fully retrieved or communicated without distortion” (537). So, when committing to doing trauma study it is with the understanding that some things will remain undisclosed. Ha rtman confirms that within the study one cannot count on certainty, but must, rather, attempt to “read the wound” (537). Morrison is very skilled at presen ting the wounded female body in many of her novels. Speaking particularly of Black women’s literature, Mary Helen Washington writes, “In this literature we hear the voices of those who are unheard in this culture; we see the faces of those this society has made faceless; it ma kes visible those who have been rendered invisible” (Wade-Gayles 199). Morrison gives vo ice to the women in Song of Solomon

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8 who have experienced traumas of abuse, rej ection and abandonment. By allowing them to testify to their pain, Morr ison provides a possible medi um for healing the wounds.

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9 CHAPTER 3 READING (T)RUTH WOUNDS INFLICTED UPON THE FEMALE BODY Ruth Foster Dead is unarguably one of the most physically and mentally wounded women in the novel. By the age of sixteen sh e is married to Macon Dead and by the time she is twenty he has stopped touching her. Hi s refusal of her is brought on by the events surrounding her father’s death. However, Ruth and Macon both have dissimilar accounts of what actually took place on that day. Macon do es admit to his son that he never really loved Ruth, saying, “I can’t tell you I was in love with her. Pe ople didn’t require that as much as they do now” (70). And given the lack of affection for her, there was no emotional connection to stop him from truly despising Ruth because of her relationship with Dr. Foster. The relationship between Ruth and her fath er is quite disturbi ng. Her mother dies while Ruth is still a child and she steps into the role of the woman of the house. But as she gets older her behavior towards he r father becomes rather irksome. Fond as he was for his only child, useful as she was in his house since his wife had died, lately he had begun to chafe under her devotion. Her steady beam of love was unsettling, and she had never dropped those expressions of affection that had been so lovable in her childhood. The good-night kiss was itself a masterpiece of slowwittedness on her part and discomfort on his. At sixteen, she still insisted on having him come to her at night, sit on her bed, exchange a few pleasantries, and plant a kiss on her lips. Perhaps it wa s the loud silence of his d ead wife, perhaps it was Ruth’s disturbing resemblance to her moth er. More 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. (23) This inappropriate behavior w ould certainly fall in line with the characteristics of Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex. According to Freud young girls have an original

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10 attachment to their mothers; however, “She makes the shift from mother-love to fatherlove only because she has to, and then with pa in and protest. She has to, because she is without the phallus” (Mitchell 96). And it is only by the tran sference of her love from mother to father that the girl becomes a wo man. The transition is probably easier for Ruth because of her mother’s death. The absence of the mother figure makes the transfer possible. Ruth’s complex is represented in her undying love and devotion for her father, but from the previous passage it is obvious that this attachment resembles a near incestuous relationship. And Dr. Foster is more than happy to marry her off to Macon. What is also evident in the passage is th at not only is Ruth emotionally involved with her father, the relations hip is somewhat reciprocal. Dr. Foster does not stop coming to her; he does not stop kissing her. Late r when Ruth becomes pregnant Dr. Foster delivers both of her female children against Macon’s wishes. When telling the story to Milkman he utters, “And both times he was ther e. She had her legs wide open and he was there. I know he was a doctor and doctors not su pposed to be bothered by things like that, but he was a man before he was a doctor” (emphasis added 71). Macon’s words elicit two interesting points to be considered. First, the reader gets what appear s to be disgust based on the possible incestuousness of Ruth’s rela tionship with her fath er, but jealousy can also be inferred from his thoughts. It is not so much that it is her father, but simply that it is another man between his wife’s legs, that bothers him. He goes on to explain to his son that he felt like it was Ruth and her father against him. When Dr. Foster is on his deathbed Mac on makes a startling discovery. When he enters the room he recounts, “In bed. Th at’s where she was when I opened the door. Laying next to him. Naked as a yard dog, ki ssing him. Him dead and white and puffy and

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11 skinny, and she had his fingers in her mouth” (73). The cold fingers penetrating Ruth’s mouth are symbolic of the possible sexual re lationship Macon believes them to have had. Uncertain as to whether Dr. Foster had an in cestuous relationship with his wife, he tells Milkman, “Nothing to do but kill a woman lik e that. I swear, many’s the day I regret she talked me out of killing her” (74). Ther e is no doubt that hearing this story has traumatized Milkman in some way. While he had never had any strong feelings of love towards his mother, Milkman wonders about the validity of the story. In trying to reconcile the story within himself he reme mbers (in fragments) being nursed by his mother. As Caruth points out, “Indeed, the litera l registration of an ev ent—the capacity to continually, in the flashback, reproduce it in exact detail—a ppears to be connected, in traumatic experience, precisely with the way it escapes full consciousness as it occurs” (153). It falls to Ruth to explain the truth behi nd the memory of her nursing him as well as the story concerning her father. She tells him how Macon had, in fact, killed her father by throwing his medicine away. She even tell s Milkman how Macon attempted to kill him while Ruth was still pregnant After Dr. Foster’s death Ma con and Ruth no longer share a bed. “I thought I’d really die if I had to live that way. With nobody touching me, or even looking as though they’d like to touch me,” Ruth declares. “I was twenty years old when your father stopped sleeping in the bed with m e” (125). Interestingly, it is not the absence of their sexual relationship that Ruth begins with; it is with his refusal to touch her. By not even attempting to lay a hand on her, Mac on treats Ruth as if sh e is untouchable, a diseased person, who could contaminate him if he came into contact with her. By the age of thirty, having touch and sexual pleasure re moved from the marriage for a decade now,

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12 Ruth acknowledges her fear that she would “d ie that way” (125). Here Morrison sets up lack of intimacy as a type of traumatiz ing rejection inflicte d upon the female body. Nursing Milkman became, for Ruth, a way to hold on to some measure of pleasure in her life. “She felt him. His restraint, his cour tesy, his indifference, all of which pushed her into fantasy. She had the distinct impression that his lips were pulli ng from her a thread of light. It was as though she was a cauldr on spinning gold” (13). Ruth continues this daily in a small room that her father ha d used as a study until Freddie the janitor discovers her. It seems almost fitting that a man would be the one to remove that intimacy and enjoyment from her life once again. Once Pilate comes to town she intuitively senses a problem between the married couple and questions Ruth, “Do you want him?” Ruth responds, “I want some body” (125). Dying from lack of physical contact and emotional closeness, Ruth follows all of Pilate’s magical instructions. Ruth believes she can get Macon to value her again if sex is reintroduced into the marriage. And within four days Macon comes to her as if in a trance. Once Macon awakens from his “sexual hypnosis” and realizes that Ruth is pregnant, he does ev erything he can think of to abort the baby. The traumatic events that Ruth now endures at the hands of her husband are far worse than when he would not touch her at all. Initially Ruth believes that the baby would be something to bring the two of them together, but she soon realizes otherwise. Instead the pregnancy brings something enti rely different into their relationship. Then the baby became the nausea caused by the half ounce of castor oil Macon made her drink, then a hot pot recently emptied of scalding water on with she sat, then a soapy enema, a knitting needle (she inserted only the tip, squatting in the bathroom, crying, afraid of the man who p aced outside the door), and finally, when he punched her stomach (she had been about to pick up his breakfast plate, when he

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13 looked at her stomach and punched it), sh e ran to Southside looking for Pilate. (131) In keeping with the characteristics of traumatic recollection, these repressed memories come flooding back only when Ruth learns of Hagar’s murder attempts on Milkman. This can be considered normal be havior for a trauma victim. As Vickroy explains, “Fundamental to traumatic experience is that the past linge rs unresolved” (12). She goes on to assert that there are many “tri ggers or associative conditions that cause returns to traumatic events” (12). Hagar’s attempts at Milkman’s life instantly return her to another time when she had to fight for hi s survival. But the emphasis of her memories is not placed on the abuse, but rather on the sex act that precedes it. As the narrator reveals, “Her passions were narrow but dee p. Long deprived of sex, long dependent on self-manipulation, she saw her son’s imminent death as th e annihilation of the last occasion she had been made love to” (134) Hearing of Milkman’s impending death, she does not focus on a time when her life was in jeopardy. Rather, she remembers the moment when she was in Macon’s arms. This clearly relates to Ruth’s perception about the trauma that she has experienced. She ha s repressed the trauma by disassociating her need for male attention from the physical abuse inflicted upon her body. Ruth fights for Milkman’s survival, but not her own. The reason may be found in her testimony, which she spills out to Milkman earlier in the novel. “...I am a small woman,” she utters. “I don’t mean little; I mean small, and I am small because I was pressed small” (124). In the confines of he r father’s house and in comparison to him she is made inconsequential. The people in thei r community refer to her as “Dr. Foster’s daughter.” She is not her own person. Her exis tence is directly related to her father. Ruth’s repetition of the word “small” as a self-descriptor points to her low self-esteem.

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14 And living in the same house under the reign of Macon, she has undeniably been pressed even smaller even before the trauma. While Ruth has physically survived the trauma, she is merely a disjointed indivi dual. Vickroy notes, “A diminish ed, even shattered sense of self is common in cases of severe trauma of any sort but seems par ticularly prevalent in accounts of domestic tragedie s and sexual abuse” (23)

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15 CHAPTER 4 HAGAR’S STORY: PRIVATE PAIN AN D PUBLIC MANIFESTATIONS OF TRAUMA With reference to Hagar’s attempts to take Milkman’s life, I wish to digress to the traumatic event that precipitated her rage. In the novel Morrison portrays the incestuous relationship between cousins Hagar and M ilkman. Upon their first meeting Pilate introduces Milkman to Hagar as her brother. Reba, Pilate’s daughter corrects her, saying, “That ain’t her brother, Mama. They cousins. ” Pilate responds, “Same thing.” Hagar joins in the conversation asserting that there is a difference between the two. Pilate then corrects her by asserting, “I mean what’s the difference in the way you act toward ‘em? Don’t you have to act the same way to both?” (44). In this scene Mo rrison sets up early on that family is family no matter how they are connected. Realizing that Milkman’s relation to Hagar should be considered that of a brother emphasizes the incestuous nature of their sexual relationship that will occur years later. Therefore, Milkman quickly takes to Hagar. “ From the time he first saw her, when he was twelve and she was seventeen, he wa s deeply in love with her, alternately awkward and witty in her presence” (92). Being five years his senior she initially pays him little attention. But after some time they c onsummate the relationship. “When he first took her in his arms, Hagar was a vain and somewhat distant creature. He liked to remember it that way—that he took her in hi s arms—but in truth it was she who called him back into the bedroom and stood ther e smiling while she unbuttoned her blouse”

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16 (92). As an older woman Hagar is in control of the situation. Milkman is no more than a “puppy” in love with a woman. Ten years later Milkman has become disill usioned by her. “Now, after more than a dozen years, he was getting tired of her. Her eccentricities we re no longer provocative and the stupefying ease with which he had gotten and stayed between her legs had changed from the great good fortune he’d cons idered it, to annoyance at her refusal to make him hustle for it, work for it, do some thing difficult for it” (91). Milkman no longer has to chase Hagar. Even now he does not “take” Hagar, as he desires to do; she willingly gives herself to him. She has opened hersel f up to loving him. Why would she refuse him? Morrison does not write many scenes of the two lovers; in f act, except for their juvenile meetings the only time they are togeth er is when she is attempting to kill him. By not allowing the reader to see them in a loving manner together Morrison deemphasizes the relationship, possibly in much the same way that Milkman does. Whenever their relationship is discussed it is in terms of their sexual relationship. This directly relates to th e fact that Milkman is only interested in he r sexually; beyond that, he does not value her. After Milkman realizes that he no longer wants Hagar, he describes her as the “[T]hird beer. Not the first one, which the throat receives with almost tearful gratitude; nor the second, that confirms and extends the pl easure of the first. But the third, the one you drink because it’s there, because it can’t hurt, and because what difference does it make?” (91). But it can hurt and all too late Milkman realizes how much his carelessness has hurt Hagar. Before coming to this understand ing he is resolved to end the relationship during the Christmas holiday. Milkman wr ites Hagar a thank you note for their time

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17 together and signs it with gr atitude. He takes away the one thing that he can control, himself. This removal hampers Hagar’s existence in many ways. Hagar suffers from an addiction to Milkman. As the novel progresses so does her addiction. Charlotte Eliza Kasl defines a ddiction as “a spiritual breakdown, a journey away from the truth into emotional blindness an d death” (qtd. in Schaef 10). Hagar surely falls under this definition. She is so far rem oved from the truth of her life. She does not understand that she can be a whole person with out Milkman to value her that she does not know how to behave without him. Trauma rela tes to addiction in that the sufferer looks towards something or someone to help forget the pain inflicted upon them. Hagar, however, is addicted to the one person who has caused her pain. Schaef explains three different types of addiction: sexual, roman tic, and relationship addi ction. Hagar’s violent behavior places her in the category of someone suffering fr om a relationship addiction. While the first type of relationship addicti on deals with a person be ing addicted to any relationship, real or imagine d, within the requirem ents of the second type “a person is addicted to a particular relationship with a particular person” (75). Hagar exhibits many of the symptoms that Schaef outlines such as fear of being alone, controlling behavior, and selective amnesia, a symptom that allows the sufferer to selectively forget the bad parts of the relationship. Hagar is overtaken by what is described by the townspeople as a “graveyard love,” explaining, “They had seen women pull their dresses over their heads and howl like dogs for lost love” (128). While Hagar has not resorted to this behavior, she has committed many acts of terror. Schaef goes on to state, Relationship addicts are constantly anxious and depressed. Since they have made the relationship the source of their validity, meaning, and security, they must hold on to it [. .] As relationship addicts b ecome increasingly aware that they cannot control the relationship, they become mo re and more desperate, often making

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18 accusations and precipitating ba ttles, with concomitant f eelings of desperation. (789) Hagar has completely lost herself in her pursuit of M ilkman. She knows nothing but the love she feels for him. “She loved nothing in the world except [M ilkman], wanted him alive more than anybody, but hadn’t the least bit of control over the predator that lived inside her. Totally taken over by her anaconda love, she had no self left, no fears, no wants, no intelligence that was her own” ( 136-7). While she does experience love and is valued in the female-centered home of Pilate she has not been ta ught about the outside world; she cannot function outside of the home. Pilate and Reba have always given Hagar everything she has desired, which only works to strengthen a particular symptom of addiction, the belief that sh e can make the relationship happen simply by desiring it. But Milkman does not want Hagar and she is una ble to cope without him in her life. It is evident that it is not only care or nurturing that Hagar desires because she receives that from the two ma ternal figures in her life, Reba and Pilate. Both women share the responsibilitie s of raising Hagar. Under Pilate ’s roof Hagar has flourished. She has not had to want for anything. But this al l-consuming mother love has in many ways hampered Hagar’s life. Gary Storhoff writes, “ Song of Solomon is a portrait of enmeshment—the suffocating bond parents occasi onally create with their children that Morrison calls ‘anaconda love’” (Bloom 210). While parental enmeshment is seen in the rearing of Hagar, Milkman also falls victim to enmeshment in Macon’s home. But this commonality is not enough to keep them together; it is not a source of bonding. If anything, this enmeshment work s to destroy the relationship. The separate home life of Milkman and Hagar has made them self-centere d, controlling, and una ble to discover an authentic self. Fortunately, Milkman has th e ability to find himself through the quest.

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19 Hagar does not have this ability because, hi storically speaking, it is the men who go off on the quest while the women remain at home. Pilate proves to be the only exception to this. Pilate has quested throughout the novel, roaming around after sh e is separated from Macon after their father’s murder. But she fi nally decides to settle in Macon’s town because Hagar needed a family. Pilate is wise enough to realize that a life on the road is no life for a child. Settled in a new home, Pila te creates a home better suited to raise a child. While Hagar’s home is matrifo cal and nurturing, Ruth’s is not. The home is traditionally thought of as a female domestic space. Macon’s family lives in the home of Ruth’s late father. While Ruth should have inherited the house after her father’s death, it is more Macon’s hom e than hers. The people in the community describe it as big and dark, “more prison than palace” (10). And Macon enters the novel in much the same way as a violent husba nd returns home to his abused wife. “Solid, rumbling, likely to erupt without prior noti ce, Macon kept each member of his family awkward with fear. His hatred of his wife glittered and sparked in every word he spoke to her. The disappointment he felt in his da ughters sifted down on them like ash, dulling their buttery complexions and choking the l ilt out of what should have been girlish voices” (10). The negative feelings that Mac on has for the women in his life are evident in his daily interactions with them. And much like women in an abusive relationship, they have come to not only expect it, but as Morrison writes, “The way he mangled their grace, wit, and self-esteem was the single excitement of their days” (11). Not only is this an abusive relationship, it is also marked by codependency; the wo men need Macon to define them and Macon needs them to domina te. Ruth and her daughters, Lena and First

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20 Corinthians, do not thrive in Macon’s home. They personify the patronym of their name; they are all “Dead” women in mind, body, and spirit. Pilate’s home is quite the opposite of Ruth ’s. Ruth’s home is characterized as a male dominated space, while Pilate’s is ve ry female-centered. Ruth’s home is one of violence, where abuse is inflicted upon her body; Pilate’s is a home of safety and refuge. Ruth feels the security of Pilate’s home; so does her son. Only Macon fears going to the house and the women who lived inside it. He was very strict with Milkman about never going there. But “Milkman is initially fascinat ed with this matriarchal household because of its difference from his patriarchal one. Here stories are told, food is tasty and plentiful, and none of the rigidity of his own home is present” (Byerman 202). When Macon goes against his own warnings and sneaks up to P ilate’s house, he is entranced by what he sees. “Near the window, hidden by the dark, he felt the irritability of the day drain from him and relished the effortless beauty of the women singing in the candlelight. Reba’s soft profile, Hagar’s hands moving, moving in her heavy hair, and Pilate” (29). Macon cannot take his eyes off the women. Pilate’s hom e is full of life and music and he realizes that his is cold and barren. There is no ques tion as to why Ruth’s home becomes a site of violence. There is no spirituality, no sensua lity, or connectedness to their ancestry. Trauma is enacted daily upon the women who liv e there and they must all venture outside of the house to receive healing.

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21 CHAPTER 5 “THE MOST DESTRUCTIVE IDEAS”: THE TRAUMA OF SELF-HATE Trauma is not only enacted upon the female s because of male separation, but also because of lack of male value. What men come to value in women is their physical appearance. There is a stark contrast between the women in Macon’s household compared to the women in Pilate’s. Ruth a nd her daughters are light-skinned, while Pilate and Hagar are dark-skinned. Also, the women have dissimilar hair textures. While many instances of self-hate occur throughout the novel, the most traumatic occurs when Hagar sees Milkman with another woman. The woman, like her female cousins, is physically the opposite of Hagar. Issues of skin color and hair texture have plagued the African American community for centuries. In The Color Complex: The Politics of Skin Color Among African Americans Russell et al take up this very taboo subject matter, explaining, “In short, the ‘col or complex’ is a psychologi cal fixation about color and features that leads Blacks to discriminate against each other” (2). In Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye she tackles color disc rimination and self-hate in the life of Pecola Breedlove. Pecola is a young, Black girl who desires nothing more than to have blue eyes like her white doll. Pecola’s eight-year-old friend, Claudia MacTeer, who despises blond haired, blue-eyed dolls and is repulsed by Shirley Temple, narrates the story. While Claudia is unrelenting in her hatred to the ex tent that she destroys her doll, Pecola is enraptured by images of whiteness. She is al ways eating Mary Jane (the picture of the little white girl on the candy wrapper resemble s Shirley Temple) and she repeatedly asks Claudia if she may drink milk from her Sh irley Temple cup. Abdellatif Khayati writes,

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22 “Toni Morrison singles out the figure of Shirle y Temple as a dominant icon of this white, consumer culture, and examines the psychic de vastation to which Peco la is subjected as she imagines herself miraculously transformed into a Shirley Temple with blue eyes” (par.7). Drinking milk from the cup also signifies her desire to not only possess whiteness, but to consume it, as if by ingesting it she might become white. In “Tracking ‘the Look’ in the Novels of Toni Morrison” Ed Guerrero discusses the text asserting, “ The Bluest Eye [. .] holds as its central concern a critique of Western beauty and its special destructiveness when imposed upon pe ople of color in general and women of color in particular. Morrison has these women in mind when she asserts in the novel that the idea of physical beauty is one of ‘probabl y the most destructive id eas in the history of human thought’” (28). Internalizing these ideas of beauty ultimately works to damage the self-esteem and self-identity of Black women. This destructive idea of physical beauty overtakes Pecola. She wants nothing more than to be loved and if she possessed blue eyes she believed love would inevitably follow. In Song of Solomon Hagar deals with many simila r false assumptions concerning beauty and is psychologically damaged by them. After Milkman has dumped her she sees him in a bar with another woman. Detai ling Hagar’s murderous rage, the narrator acknowledges, The thank you cut her to the quick, but it was not the reason she ran scurrying into cupboards looking for weapons. That had been accomplished by the sight of Milkman’s arms around the shoulders of a girl whose silky copper-colored hair cascaded over the sleeve of his coat [. .] and Hagar saw her gray eyes, the fist that had been just sitting in her chest since Christmas released its forefinger like the blade of a skinning knife. (126-7) At first sight Hagar thinks the woman is one of his sisters because of her light complexion and hair. But, upon realizing that th is woman is not one of his sisters, she

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23 loses control. The woman emphasizes the Eur opean standards of beauty; Hagar possesses African features like Pilate. Ha gar’s jealousy is fueled by fee lings of inadequacy and selfhate. She does not fit the type of woman th at Milkman should be with. Russell states, “A Black man is aware that the way others judge him often depends on the attractiveness of the woman he is escorting. For the dark-s kinned Black man, having a beautiful lightskinned woman at his side instantly communicat es to others that he has ‘made it’” (109). It is mentioned earlier in th e novel that Milkman does not ta ke Hagar around town with him. Couched in the explanation of shame for dating his cousin, his reluctance to be seen with her might also have to do with color discrimination. According to Russell, “The politics of hair parallels the politics of skin color. Among Black women, straight hair and Eur opean hairstyles not only have been considered more feminine but have sent a message about one’s standing in the social hierarchy” (82). The hair te xtures of the two women are also contrasted. While the woman has “silky, copper colored hair,” Hagar’ s is described as being “heavy.” It is not weightless or silky. By descri bing it as heavy Morrison is acknowledging that it is thick and possibly not chemically straightened. The fact that she is brai ding her hair may, in fact, symbolize her connection to her African roots. The sign ificance of braiding hair in the African American community is highlig hted in Noliwe Rooks’ “Wearing Your Race Wrong.” Rooks uses an excerpt from Sherley Anne Williams’ Dessa Rose to further her argument: I missed this when I was sold away from home...The way the womens in the Quarters used to would braid hair. Moth ers would braid child ren heads—girl and boy—until they went into the field or for as long as they had them. This was one way we told who they peoples was, by ho me they hair was combed...Child learn a lot of things setting between some grown person’s legs, listening at grown peoples speak over they heads. This is where I learned to listen, right there between

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24 mammy’s thighs, where I first learnted to speak, from listening at grown peoples talk. (286) According to Rooks “braiding comes to sym bolize closeness, comfort, and community...” (287). There are many occasions in the novel in which the women at Pilate’s home are in the process of doing their own or each others hair. While they adhere to the more traditional African ways of doing hair, many wo men venture to beauty salons to have their hair processed with chemicals, or st raightened with heat. The narrator alerts, “Beauty shops always had curtains or shad es up. Barbershops didn’ t. The women didn’t want anybody on the street to be able to s ee them getting their hair done. They were ashamed” (62). Morrison does not go into further detail about why these women are ashamed, but we can assume that shame come s from the psychological trauma of needing to have their hair altered because they do not naturally posses the European type of hair. The women are ashamed of the procedure they must go through in order to transform their hair, transform them even, in order to conform to an acceptable standard of beauty. Only then when they are considered decent can they come from behind the curtain. Men must not be allowed to witness this transf ormation. They can only see and appreciate the results. Morrison notes that men are not victim to this type of trauma. Barbershops are not hidden behind veils. The value of th e men in the novel is not based on their appearance. They are valued for property, in the case of Macon and Milkman; for strength, in the case of Guitar; and for their ties to the comm unity, in the case of Macon’s father. The process of “fixing” the hair is restri cted behind veils, but the act of freeing one’s hair, or letting it down, is symbolic of freedom. When Firs t Corinthians finally experiences love and spends th e night with Porter, she retu rns home with her hair down.

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25 Dropping her off down the street from her hous e, he questions, “Hadn’t you better fix your hair?” (202). The narrator qualifies his question revealin g, “He thought she looked beautiful like that, girlish, but he didn’t want her excu se to her parents to sound ridiculous. She shook her head. She wouldn’t ha ve collected her hair into a ball at the nape of her neck now for anything in the world” (202). Wearing her hair down as a liberating act is reminiscent of Janie in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God once she is free from her oppressive relatio nship with Joe Starks. In detailing this moment of freedom Hurston’s na rrator states, “She tore off the kerchief from her head and let down her plentiful hair. The weight, the length, the glory was there” (87). She burns all of her scarves on the night of Starks’ funeral. Not having to “fix” one’s hair to conform to an accepted standard of beauty is an act of female liberation and selfactualization. For always desiring, but falling shor t of this standard is traumatizing to the female psyche. In a society that values wome n based on their appearance, not living up to the ideal is traumatic. The effects are seen in Hagar’s case. She does not experience the liberation of accepting her hair. It is only by “fixing” it that she thinks she can win Milkman back. While Hagar cannot remove herself from agony she feels because of Milkman’s preference for lighter complexione d women with long, silk y hair, she remains nonetheless addicted to him and what she thinks her provides her. Her addiction is only tested. As Schaef asserts, “Even when they know the relationship is destructive, they will cling to it” (79). Hagar clings to the hope that she can ha ve Milkman again even though he has caused her pain. She refuses to acknowledge that he has used her for sex. And she becomes intent on killing him only after reasoni ng with herself that if she cannot have him, no one else can.

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26 To address Hagar’s addicti on to Milkman we must return to a time before the relationship was formed. On a visit to Pilate ’s house Milkman and Guitar sit watching the women make wine. When discussing Reba’s winning of groceries in a contest Hagar alleges that they would have starved to d eath had she not. Pilate declares that no one would let her starve, but Hagar contends, “Some of my days were hungry ones” (48). Reba is hurt by this new information and a ffirms that they have always gotten her anything she has ever wanted. “Reba, she don’ t mean food,” Pilate responds (49). The narrator does not say what it is that Hagar has hungered for, only that realization creeps over Reba’s face. The silence by these women in response to Hagar’s alleged emptiness apparently stems from something that they cannot give her. After a few minutes they begin to sing, “O Sugarman don’t you leave me here [. .] Sugarman done fly away”(49). Later in the novel we learn that the song is about Milkman’s great great grandfather Solomon who flew back to Africa and left hi s family behind. It is possible that Hagar mourns for her missing and unknown father. When Milkman ends the relationship she experiences severe trauma possibly due to the lo ss of a constant male figure in her life. In an interview with Nellie McKay, Morrison answers a question concerning Hagar’s death by explaining, Hagar does not have what Pilate had, which was a dozen years of a nurturing, good relationship with men. Pilate had a father and she had a brother, who loved her very much, and she could use the knowledge of that love for her life. Her daughter Reba had less of that, but she certainly ha s at least a perfunctory adoration or love of men which she does not put to good use. Hagar has even less because of the absence of any relationships with men in her life. She is weaker. (qtd. in Appiah 401) The sorrow she feels at this loss is iden tical to the mourning of Solomon’s wife, Ryna. When Milkman travels to Virginia in sear ch of gold he learns of his family history, which includes the story of Ryna. Milkman l earns of Ryna and Solomon from his distant

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27 relative Susan Byrd. It is a part of local folk lore that once Solomon fl ew off and left Ryna she yelled and screamed for days. The ravine near where it happened is named Ryna’s Gulch because when the wind blows across it her cries can still be heard. Susan tells Milkman, “They say she screamed and scre amed, lost her mind completely. You don’t hear about women like that anymore, but ther e used to be more—the kind of woman who couldn’t live without a particular man. And when the man left, they lost their minds, or died or something” (323). Ha gar is a descendant of Ryna; she too has become that “kind of woman.” Almost as if Susan has prophe sied it Hagar’s addict ion to Milkman has begun to hamper her own personal survival. Possi bly better classified as an obsession at this point, rather than an addiction Kasl explains, An obsession occupies the mind and is ofte n experienced as a painful intrusion that can’t be shut off at will. It feels like an inescapable presence, another person in your head. It takes you out of the present, out of control, sometimes for months or even years. One woman described an obse ssion about a woman she was attracted to as ‘a knife in my head I couldn’t shake o ff. It was with me every minute. I started to feel physically sick, I couldn’t eat, a nd I prayed it would go away. (67) While the woman that Kasl quotes had a kni fe in her head, Hagar’s knife was lodged within her chest and once a month she woul d dislodge it by going after Milkman. In her final attempt at his life, Milkman remains mo tionless in Guitar’s bed as she stands over him with a knife. As she is poised to kill, Milkman wills her death instead. With the knife raised high above her head Hagar becomes pa ralyzed. When Milkman opens his eyes and gets up he cruelly admonishes, “If you keep your hands just that way and then bring them down straight, straight and fast, you can driv e that knife right smack in your cunt. Why don’t you do that? Then all your problems will be over” (130). But Hagar’s problem does not reside in a part of the body, which can eas ily be chopped off. Her problem is internal; it is mental. “An obsession may signal that you are not being honest with yourself.

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28 Obsessive thinking is often th e difference between what we know to be true and what we want to be true. If you want to get over an obsession, you may need to look within yourself” (Kasl 67). But what would Hagar find from introspection? Possibly what has already been established, that she may be desirous of a pate rnal closeness or evidence of her low self-esteem. When Guitar finds her stil l frozen in his room he has pity on her and takes her home. On the drive to Pilate’s home he confides, You think because he doesn’t love you th at you are worthless. You think because he doesn’t want you anymore that he is right—that his j udgment and opinion of you are correct. If he throws you out, then you are garbage. You think he belongs to you because you want to belong to him. Hagar, don’t. It’s a bad word, ‘belong.’ Especially when you put it with somebody you love. Love shouldn’t be like that. (306) Hagar’s worth is tied to Milk man’s desire for her. Without his love she feels worthless. Hagar remains in a catatonic state for many da ys. It is not until Pila te puts a mirror in front of her that Hagar snaps out of it. “L ook at how I look. I look awful. No wonder he didn’t want me. I look terribl e” (308). She bathes, gets her hair washed, her clothes ironed and goes off on a shopping spree. She al so makes a hair appointment. On her way home it begins to rain and she is left soak ed. She returns home with nothing to show for her effort. Hagar gives her stilted testimony in the arms of her grandmother. “Why don’t he like my hair?” (315). Her speech is frag mented, consumed with minute pieces of memory that have traumatized her. She cries about the woman’s silky, penny-colored hair, her lemon-colored skin, gray-b lue eyes and thin nose (315-16). If, as Morrison asserts, racism is trauma then intraracial prejudice is overly traumatic to the psyche. The wound that Ha gar possesses is inflicted upon many African American women. bell hooks discusses these types of wounds and offers an avenue towards healing. hooks points to teaching text s by Black female authors as a way to

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29 become more aware of the collective suffering of contemporary Black women. Recounting their testimonies hooks explains, When black female students would come to my office after reading these novels and confess the truth of their lives—that they were terrorized psychologically by low self-esteem; that they were the victims of rape, incest, and domestic violence; that they lived in fear of being unmasked as inferiors of their white peers; that stress was making their hair fall out; th at every other month one of them was attempting suicide; that they were anor exic, bulimic, or drug addicted—I was shocked. (12) In response to this trauma hooks establishes a support group, Sisters of the Yam, with the hope that “it would be a space where black women could name their pain and find ways of healing” (13). By naming the pain, or tes tifying to the trauma women may be able to recover. However, Hagar cannot. She is on th e verge of death and cannot be pulled back. In Toni Cade Bambara’s The Salt Eaters hooks discusses the suicid e attempt of Velma in the opening of the novel as a moment of iden tification for some of her students. hooks observes, “ The Salt Eaters begins with a question, as ked by the elder black woman healer. She says to Velma, who has tried to k ill herself and is barely alive, ‘Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well?’ Only an affirmative response makes healing possible” (13-14). Without Milkman, Hagar would have undoubtedly answered in the negative. Schaef reports, “People die from relationship addiction. [. .] Addictive relationships can be fatal, phys ically, mentally, and spiritually They just seem to grind a person down” (81). Hagar’s addiction has take n its toll on her and the healing arms of Pilate are not enough to save her. And although Pilate has fought to love Hagar back by running her fingers through Hagar’s hair, she remains in a traumatized state with her testimony flowing out in pieces. Pilate can only respond with the words, “Hush. Hush. Hush, girl, hush” (316). Hagar’s testimony is silenced only in death. Why is Hagar not saved by Pilate’s love, why is her testimony not healing for her? As Vickroy relates, “If a

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30 survivor is encouraged to na rrate his or her experience and emotionally relive it in a safe context with an empathetic listener [. .] this ‘can actually produce a change in the abnormal processing of the traumatic memory” a nd can lead to relief (22). Pilate, while sympathetic, does not truly liste n to Hagar’s testimony. She quie ts her. In doing so, Pilate denies the truth behind Hagar’s words. While Pilate only means to comfort Hagar, the refusal to let her speak only negates her e xperience of trauma. Ha gar is smothered by Pilate’s maternal drive to hurry away the pain. Pilate’s trauma is experienced with the realization that she cannot rescue Hagar. There is no more appropriate space for her to give her personal testimony than at Hagar’s funeral. Pilate begins her testimony with onl y one word, “mercy,” then turns it into a question, “Mercy?” But, “It was not enough. Th e word needed a bottom, a frame. She straightened up, held her head high, and tran sformed the plea into a note. In a clear bluebell voice she sang it out—the one word held so long it became a sentence—and before the last syllable had died in the corn ers of the room, she was answered in a sweet soprano: ‘I hear you’” (317). Pila te and Reba sing their testim ony, Reba in the back of the church and Pilate looking down upon Ha gar’s lifeless body. Turning toward the congregation she mouths the words “My baby girl,” speaking the words to each person. Then, “Suddenly, like an elephant who has just found his anger and lifts his trunk over the heads of the little men w ho want his teeth or his hide or his flesh or his amazing strength, Pilate trumpeted for the sky itself to hear, ‘And she was loved!’” (319). Pilate takes on the form of a powerf ul, male-identified animal. In her powerful exclamation Pilate is critiquing a patriarchal society th at does not value females. Hagar was valued and loved in her female-centered home. Pilate is justified in he r anger at “the little men”

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31 who would strip her of her sole possession, he r grandchild, because they do not see the value in her. But she does not direct her a nger at Milkman for cau sing Hagar’s pain and death. While the novel may serve as a criti que of patriarchy, the men in the novel are never directly indicted for the abuse they in flict upon their female victims. So, it comes as a shock that Morrison’s novel would come under such scrutiny for being anti-male.

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32 CHAPTER 6 RACIAL INFIDELITY? Toni Morrison, as well as many other Black female authors, ha s been denigrated for writing novels that do not conform to a st ringent code of black love. These writers are condemned for airing their dirty laundry. Authors such as Gayl Jones, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and Terry McMillan ha ve been criticized for as Le rone Bennett Jr. describes, “creating a new literature based on the premise that Black America is a vast emotionless wasteland of hustlin’ men and maimed women,” which ultimately, functions to construct a history of falsified relati ons between Black men and wo men (duCille 443). However, those who would condemn these writers for creating female-centered narratives, which allow their female protagonists to give voice to their pain, are attempting to silence these traumatized women once more. Critics cannot and should not view these texts as an indictment of all Black men. Rather they s hould see them as a “forum for exploring the oppression, insanities, sorrows, joys, and triumphs of women’s lives and [as a transformation of] those experiences into art” (duCille 456). In “Phallus(ies) of Interpretation: Toward Engendering the Black Critical ‘I,’” Ann duCille attempts to discuss the issue of gender essentialism by focusing on the “phallus as principle signifier and on man as principle referent” (445). In doing so, she teases out the distinction between what could be considered phallocentric and gyno centric “truths.” Her essay functions as a tool to foreground the ideas of black love that are brought up in Morrison’s Song of Solomon in that the trauma experienced by Ruth, Hagar, and Ryna are due to loss of love. By focusing on the love of men as the root cause of female

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33 oppression, duCille offers a passage from Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God as evidence of support. Janie’s grandm other tells her, ‘Dat’s de very prong all us black women gits hung on [. .] Dis l ove! Dat’s just whut’s got us uh pullin’ and uh haulin’ and sweatin’ and doin’ from can’t see in de mornin’ till can’t see at night” (449). Janie’s grandmother makes th is plight specific to Black women. In doing so she characterizes Black women as the only vic tims of an irresistible sexual need. In Song of Solomon Ruth and Hagar do everything possible to hang on to an oppressive love. But duCille goes on to claim that it is not only l ove that keeps Black women hung up, but also “dat penis—the domain of dominating power” (449). We see duCille’s theory being played out in Milkman’s thoughts of the attempts Hagar makes at his life. He concedes that he was never afraid of her, actually, he was rather pleased with himself delighting in the fact that his sexual prowess could drive a woman crazy, “he had the power to drive a wo man out of her mind, to destroy her, and not because she hated him, or because he had done some unforgivable thing to her, but because he had fucked her and she was driven wild by the absence of his magnificent joint ” (emphasis added 301). The Black male sex organ has historical ly been under scru tiny. Interrogating the trauma surrounding Black male sexuality doe s not fall within th e boundaries of this paper, it does; however, become significant to discuss why Morrison seems to privilege the Black male penis within the text by allo wing its removal to be so detrimental to female survival. It may not necessarily be the penis that is privileged, but rather what it signifies—power. Michael Vannoy Adams writes, “Psychically, however, rather than physically (or materially), the penis is poetic— at least when it functions symbolically as

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34 the phallus” (162). “The subject, Lacan argue s, can only assume its identity through the adoption of a sexed identity with reference to the phallus, for the phallus is the privileged signifier” (Segal 85). The penis becomes the pr ivileged signifier for Black males because, especially in Milkman’s case, it allows fo r spectacle, fascination, and power. Milkman believes he can assert masculinity and/ or power by invoking the phallus. bell hooks describes this as a “shift of emphasis on pa triarchal status (determined by one’s capacity to assert power over others in a number of spheres based on maleness) to a phallocentric model, where what the male does with his penis becomes a greater and certainly more accessible way to assert masculine status” (94). Milkman accepts his position of power not only in his relationship with Hagar, but to all the women in his life (with the exception of Pilate). As his sister Lena calls him on it scornfully remarking, Our girlhood was spent like a found nickel on you. When you slept, we were quiet; when you were hungry, we cooked; when you wanted to play, we entertained you; and when you got grown enough to know the difference between a woman and a two-toned Ford, everything in this hous e stopped for you. You have yet to wash your own underwear, spread a bed, wipe the ring from your tub, or move a fleck of your dirt from one place to another. [. .] Where do you get the right to decide our lives? I’ll tell you where. From that hog’s gut that hangs down between your legs. [. .] You are a sad, pitiful stupid, selfish, hateful man. I hope your little hog’s gut stands you in good stead, and that you take good care of it, because you don’t have anything else. (215-16) Lena indicts the notion that would lower her st atus in the world based on what she lacks. She verbally castrates Milkman with her spee ch, an act that spurs him on to his journey of self-discovery. Freudian theorists would undoubt edly allege that Ruth and Hagar both suffer from ‘penis envy,’ desiring from Macon and Milkma n what neither of them possess. But we must push beyond this narrowly conceived theo ry. As Hillman explains, “The Freudian error lies not so much in th e importance given to sexuality ; more grave is the delusion

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35 that sexuality is actual sexuality only, that the phallus is always only penis” (qtd. in Adams 162). The question then becomes, do Ruth and Hagar experience trauma because they are denied the sexual pleasure provided by the penis, or what th e penis signifies? If trauma lays not so much in the denial of se xual fulfillment, but rather in the inequality of power in the relationships, then Hagar and Ru th desire a fundamentally feminist goal, equality. Hagar and Ruth are powerless in th eir relationships with Milkman and Macon. However, Morrison has been very open con cerning her interest in and criticism of relationships. In an interview given by Christina Davis Morrison acknowledges, “I’m interested also in the relationships of bl ack men and black women and the axes on which those relationships frequently turn, and how they complement each other, fulfill one another or hurt one another and are made w hole or prevented from wholeness by things that they have incorporated into their ps yche” (qtd. in Appiah 419). It is with an understanding of this statement that I contend that the root cause of their trauma resides in sexual denial. Interestingly, in the beginning of their relationship it is Hagar who wields power over Milkman. It is Milkman who chases a nd Hagar who denies. “She babied him, ignored him, teased him—did anything she felt lik e, and he was grateful just to see her do anything or be any way” (92). In this way Haga r controls the situation fully. It is not until they commit to a sexual relationship that her power is transferred to Milkman. Much like the nourishment he has taken from his moth er, Milkman takes from Hagar; he grows strong while she weakens, mentally and physic ally. It is not a coincidence that these things occur simultaneously. As Trudier Harris asserts, “The pattern is set in a way that Milkman thrives in direct proportion to Haga r’s demise. As he learns more about his

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36 relationship to her and the rest of his family, her physical es sence decreases in value. For each stage on the journey that brings enlightenment to Milkman, that enlightenment comes directly from Hagar’s lifeline” (112). Milkman indeed lives up to the meaning of his name.

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37 CHAPTER 7 CONCLUSION Having consulted many texts on the nature of trauma, the one thing that remains constant is the significance of telling, or narrating the trauma as a way of surviving it. Judith Greenberg quotes a question asked by Ca ruth in her essay “The Echo of Trauma and the Trauma of Echo” asking, “Is the trau ma the encounter with death, or the ongoing experience of having survived it? At the core of these stories [trauma narratives]...is thus a kind of double telling, th e oscillation between a crisis of death and the correlative crisis of life : between the story of the unbearable natu re of an event and the story of the unbearable nature of its surv ival” (325). Ruth has survived the trauma inflicted upon her body by Macon, yet living with the impact of it c ontinues to haunt her. Ruth still lives without touch, without care and affection fr om Macon. Hagar, however, has not survived her traumatic experience. The “crisis of life” pr oves to be too great for her to withstand. While both women endure two distinct damagi ng experiences, the initial trauma is the same for both of them. They both suffer the ru pture of a love relati onship, which sets the tone for the remained of their lives. Realizing that neither is c ontent to live deprived of th e love and affection provided by their significant others, I re turn to the epigraph of th e novel and my earlier question contemplating the omission of the women. In Song of Solomon Morrison makes a critique on a patriarchal society, which devalues wome n. While some would characterize the text as a novel about the loss of fath ers, I contend that it is rather about the effect the loss has on the psyche of the women left behind. Ce rtainly, men in the novel experience the

PAGE 42

38 trauma of paternal loss, but they have inhe rited a coping ability th at the women have not. The very masculinized idea of the quest wo rks to ultimately traumatize the women who are left grounded. As Milkman realizes at th e conclusion of the novel, men have inherited the ability to fly. Men lose and in return they leave. The women, however, remain stationary. They remain tied to the land, tied to their children. They are left to pass on the stories, sing the songs, and mourn the men who have left them. In the end Hagar is left dead, and Ruth is shattered. Morrison does not offer her readers a happy ending to this story of love and loss of love. Rather she leaves us with one mo re woman being left. Before Pilate dies she tells Milkman to “Watch Reba for me,” but Milkman does not (336). Whether he dies at the hands of Guitar or flies off like Solomon, Reba will be left alone. Having always depended on Pilate to care for her, one can only wonder what her testimony will be.

PAGE 43

39 LIST OF REFERENCES Appiah, K.A. and Henry Louis Gates Jr. eds. Toni Morrison: Critical Perspectives Past and Present New York: Amistad Press Inc., 1993. Bennett, Michael and Vanesa D. Dickerson. eds. Recovering the Black Female Body: Self-Representations by African American Women. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2001. Bloom, Harold. Ed. Modern Critical Interpretations : Toni Morrisons Song of Solomon Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1999. Byerman, Keith. Fingering the Jagged Grain: Tradition and Form in Recent Black Fiction Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985. Caruth, Cathy. Ed. Trauma: Explorations in Memory. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. Conner, Marc. Ed. The Aesthetics of Toni Morris on: Speaking the Unspeakable Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000. duCille, Anne. Phallus(ies) of Interpretatio n: Toward Engendering the Black Critical I. African American Literary Theory: A Reader Ed. Winston Napier. New York: New York University Press, 2000. 443-459. Guerrero, Edward. Tracking The Look in the Novels of Toni Morrison. Black American Literature Forum 24 (1990): 761-773. Harris, Trudier. Fiction and Folklore: The Novels of Toni Morrison. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991. Hartman, Geoffrey. On Traumatic K nowledge and Literary Studies. New Literary History 26.3 (1995): 537-563. Hill-Rigney, Barbara. The Voices of Toni Morrison. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1991. hooks, bell. Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery. Boston: South End Press, 1993. Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1998.

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40 Kasl, Charlotte. Women, Sex, and Addiction: A Search for Love and Power. New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1989. Khayati, Abdellatif. Represent ation, Race, and the Language of the Ineffable in Toni Morrisons Narrative. African American Review (Summer 1999): 43 pars. 7 Feb. 2003 http://www.findarticles.com Langford, Wendy. Revolutions of the Heart: Gender, Power, and Delusions of Love. New York: Routledge, 1999. Matus, Jill. Toni Morrison: Contemporary World Writers. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998. Middleton, David. Ed. Toni Morrisons Fiction: Contemporary Criticism. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1997. Mitchell, Juliet. Psychoanalysis and Feminism: Freud, Reich, Laing and Women New York: Vintage Books, 1974. Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Washington Square Press, 1970. _______. Song of Solomon New York: Plume, 1987. Napier, Winston. Ed. African American Literary Theory: A Reader New York: New York University Press, 2000. Rooks, Noliwe. Wearing Your Race Wrong: Hair, Drama, and a Politics of Representation for African American Women at Play on a Battlefield. Recovering the Black Female Body eds. Michael Bennett and Vanessa D. Dickerson. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2001. Roth, Michael. History, Memory, Trauma: Problems in Representing the Extreme. Research Libraries Group Annual Memb ership Meeting. Getty Center, Los Angeles, 1999. Russell, Kathy, Midge Wilson, and Ronald Hall. The Color Complex: The Politics of Skin Color Among African Americans New York: Doubleday, 1992. Schaef, Anne. Escape From Intimacy: The Ps uedo-Relationship Addictions New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1989. Segal, Lynne. Slow Motion London: Virago Press, 1990. Seidman, Steven. Embattled Eros: Sexual Politics and Ethics in Contemporary America New York: Routledge, 1992. Spillers, Hortense. Personal interview by Haslett. 4 February 1998.

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41 Storhoff, Gary. Anaconda L ove: Parental Enmeshment in Toni Morrisons Song of Solomon. Modern Critical Interpretations Ed. Harold Bloom. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1999: 209-223. Vickroy, Laurie. Trauma and Survival in Contemporary Fiction. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2002. Wilentz, Gay. If You Surrender to the Air: Folk Legends of Flight and Resistance in African American Literature. MELUS 16.1 (Sp.1989-1990): 21-32.

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42 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Cameron C. Clark received her B.A. fr om Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, MI, in April of 2001 with a doubl e major in creative writing and Black Americana studies. As an undergraduate she was fortunate to participat e in the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program as well as the In stitute for the Recruitment of Teachers in Andover, Massachusetts. She will complete he r M.A. in English with an emphasis in cultural studies in May 2003.


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"AND SHE WAS LOVED": TRAUMA AND TESTIMONY IN TONI MORRISON'S
SONG OF SOLOMON

















By

CAMERON C. CLARK


A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


2003
















ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I would like to thank the members of my thesis committee, Dr. Anne Goodwyn

Jones and Dr. Debra Walker King. I would also like to extend gratitude to the faculty and

staff of the English Department of the University of Florida. Finally, I would like to

thank my family and friends who encouraged me throughout the researching and writing

process.
















TABLE OF CONTENTS


A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S .................................................................................................. ii

ABSTRACT ........ ............... .............. ...... ..................... iv

CHAPTER

1 IN TRODU CTION ................................................. ...... .................

2 LOCATING TRAUM A STUDIES ........................................ ......................... 3

3 READING (T)RUTH WOUNDS INFLICTED UPON THE FEMALE BODY .........9

4 HAGAR'S STORY: PRIVATE PAIN AND PUBLIC MANIFESTATIONS OF
TRAUM A ................................... .................................. ........... 15

5 "THE MOST DESTRUCTIVE IDEAS": THE TRAUMA OF SELF-HATE ...........21

6 R A C IA L IN F ID E L IT Y ? ................................................................. .....................32

7 C O N C L U SIO N ......... ...................................................................... .. .......... ..... .. 37

L IST O F R EFE R E N C E S ............. ........................................................... ............... 39

B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E TCH ..................................................................... ..................42















Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts

"AND SHE WAS LOVED": TRAUMA AND TESTIMONY IN TONI MORRISON'S
SONG OF SOLOMON

By

CAMERON C. CLARK

May 2003

Chair: Anne Goodwyn Jones
Major Department: English

Trauma narratives gained popularity in the 1980s and 1990s with the emergence of

trauma studies as a valid disciplinary field of academic study. No longer relegated to the

field of medicine, the study of trauma allowed for better contextualization of the social,

political, and economic issues, which stimulated the onset of the traumatic experience in

fields ranging from psychology to literature. While Toni Morrison's novel Song of

Solomon has generally been critiqued as a novel concerning the identity formation of the

male protagonist, it can also be read with an understanding of trauma and its relationship

to feminism, psychoanalysis, and race studies. To that end, this thesis seeks to scrutinize

the female characters in Song of Solomon by examining the effects of trauma on the

female body. Rather than using trauma studies as merely an approach at elucidating a

character analysis, this work intends to examine the verbal signification, or testimony, of

the traumatized subjects as a means to better comprehend the experience and reveal

trauma as an instrument of female oppression within the novel.














CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION

Generally, one looks to the epigraph of a novel to get some hint of what is to come

within the text. The epigraph to Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon reads, "The fathers

may soar and the children may know their names" (1). The obvious omission within this

statement is the women. While much of the theoretical discourse concerning the novel

deals with Milkman's quest for identity, naming, and ancestry few focus on the trauma

and grief suffered by the female characters. Although the quest is not theirs, most of the

females are unable to live authentically or reach a sense of self-definition without being

valued by a male. Traumatized by being removed from a male embrace many of the

women fall into a state of self-destruction. By utilizing trauma as a framework for

reading Morrison's text, this thesis attempts to relocate psychoanalysis in the unfamiliar

territory of race and gender. It is with an understanding of trauma that one can begin to

understand how the women in the text operate. This thesis will focus on the women in the

novel with regards to the trauma they experience and their testimony of the trauma. As

Christina Zwarg agrees, "Until very recently, critics have been reluctant to deploy the

critical legacy of psychoanalysis in their reading of African-American texts. Certain

political imperatives and concerns have supported this hesitation; all too often the

presupposed subject of psychoanalytic criticism has been white, bourgeois, and male"

(1). This reluctance leaves African American literary criticism at a disadvantage.

However, as Zwarg continues, trauma study is now allowing psychoanalysis to be used






2


within the study of race. "Indeed, trauma has emerged as the issue most valuable for

showing the blindness and insight of Freud's legacy" (1).














CHAPTER 2
LOCATING TRAUMA STUDIES

The study of trauma has a long and chaotic history. The word "trauma" originates

from the Greek word titrosko meaning "to wound" and before the nineteenth century it

was used exclusively within medical fields. Michael Roth explains, "In the 19th century it

gets reinvigorated as a psychological category meant to point to things that wound us in

ways that cannot be traced physiologically. The concept appears in wartime in World

War I as 'shell-shock,' after the Second World War as 'battle fatigue,' and after Vietnam

as 'post traumatic stress disorder'" (par. 6). It was not until 1980 that the American

Psychiatric Association finally recognized the phenomenon of trauma, as post-traumatic

stress disorder (PTSD) "including the symptoms of what had previously been called shell

shock, combat stress, delayed stress syndrome, and traumatic neurosis, and referred to

responses to both human and natural catastrophes" (Caruth 3). According to the DSM-IV,

trauma is defined as an event in which both of the following were present (1) the person

experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or

threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others, (2)

the person's response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror. From this definition

we see that trauma not only involves some type of danger, it is also characterized by a

sense of powerlessness for the individual. That powerlessness causes a wound to the

individual's psyche.

Recently, we see the word being used in a number of disciplines ranging from

psychology to literature. Cathy Caruth explains, "The phenomenon of trauma has seemed









to become all-inclusive, but it has done so precisely because it brings us to the limits of

our understanding: if psychoanalysis, psychiatry, sociology, and even literature are

beginning to hear each other anew in the study of trauma, it is because they are listening

through the radical disruption and gaps of traumatic experience" (4). The gaps mentioned

by Caruth take on a significant role in the understanding of trauma. Filling in the gaps is

the job of the psychiatrist or psychologist in the case of therapy and the reader in the case

of narratives of trauma to interpret the full meaning of the testimony given by the victim.

In this way we must think of the recovery or remembering of trauma given in testimony

as nonlinear. It returns fragmented, in pieces that must be interpreted.

By understanding the testimony of the victim readers may better understand the

motivations of Morrison's characters. In attempting to study trauma within the novel

Song of Solomon, I will comply with a definition of trauma more in keeping with

Morrison's view of the Black experience in America, rather than a psychiatric definition

because (as mentioned earlier) race has been widely excluded from the study. As Barbara

Hill-Rigney describes, "Her characters are both subjects of and subject to history, events

in 'real' time, that succession of antagonistic movements that includes slavery,

reconstruction, depression, and war [. .] For, in her terms, history itself may be no more

than a brutal fantasy, a nightmare half-remembered, in which fact and symbol become

indistinguishable" (61). Hill-Rigney posits Morrison's traumatized individuals as victims

of an already established world, which is out of their control. When asked about trauma

being passed on through generations Hortense Spillers answers,

In some ways I don't believe in the collective unconscious, or racial unconscious,
because if that were true then that means that we will all never be anything but
haunted, each generation. [.. ] I do think that there is a body of history that's
coded for memory, and that is what's being passed down in some symbolic and









discursive and narratological sense; [. .] But the body of history is something I
would like to think about, the palpable nature of memory and how that gets passed
on. (Haslett par.28)

Thinking of trauma in this sense, as a product of "the Black experience," becomes

particularly relevant when discussing the trauma experienced by the character Hagar in

the novel. It is almost as if she is a reincarnation of a distant female relative who has

fallen victim to the same trauma. Being left by the man she loves also traumatizes Ryna,

her great grandmother. Being abandoned becomes something that many of the women

encounter and their lives become colored by the pain of that event. Trauma then can be

discussed as a type of inheritance. Although it is unwanted, it is nevertheless bestowed.

While all the women in Morrison's novel experience some type of trauma, greater

attention will be paid to the trauma inflicted upon Ruth and Hagar. How they choose to

acknowledge the traumatic occurrence is heard in their testimony. In an interview with

Bonnie Angelo, Morrison discusses a trauma that all too many African Americans

encounter. "Everybody remembers the first time they were taught that part of the human

race was Other. That's a trauma" (qtd. in Matus 23). For Morrison, the experience of

racism for Blacks is a type of trauma. But the same can be said for gender. Connecting

the discussion of trauma to the fiction of Toni Morrison, Jill Matus asserts, "But if we are

to consider the question of Morrison's fiction as testimony to the trauma of racism and to

a history often erased or forgotten, we need to think about both the meaning of trauma

and the special nature of literary testimony as opposed to, for example, testimony in a

courtroom" (23). Matus sets up a very important challenge, for within Song of Solomon

the female testimony is not an accurate record of the events as they took place, it is

instead an outpouring of emotion because of the event. It is a bearing witness to the pain.









The basic trauma that Morrison sets up in the novel is the trauma of loss,

particularly loss of a male the women love and trust. But this is not to say that the men in

the novel do not experience this same loss. They too are victims of the abandonment of a

male figure. However, we see that it is the women who experience greater suffering

because of the desertion. For the women it is not simply as a loss, it is a rejection.

Because they place their value in the hands of men, that rejection has the power to inflict

great damage to the female. We must question this power that the male characters in the

novel wield over the females. Why is it so detrimental to their psyche? I would posit that

the difference resides in how they deal or attend to the trauma inflicted.

Morrison's epigraph quickly alerts her reader to the detail that flight is represented

as a traditionally male action. The myth of the Flying Africans, which the novel brings

into play, dates back to some of the earliest recorded slave accounts. According to Carl

Jung, flight symbolizes "man's [sic] need for liberation from any state of being which is

too immature, too fixed or final" (qtd. in Wilentz). Historically speaking this myth

functions as a symbol of African transcendence as resistance to a life of enslavement.

While crossing the Atlantic, en route to America, and while on the country's soil,

Africans experienced many instances of abuse. They soon understood what their lives

would be like in America. Some chose flight. But this feat does not come without a price.

As Jill Matus explains, "For every joyous escape, every transcendent flyer, there is a

grounded wife or mother" (78). In this statement is the enduring dichotomy of flying men

and grounded women. As an enduring image in the text Morrison bookends the novel

with flying men.









Matus also maintains one of the things that defines trauma is that memory and

interpretation are not factual. They are susceptible to forgetting and distortion. Citing

Allan Young, she calls trauma "a disease of time" (24). The female victims remain

trapped in a traumatized state, which they are unable to remove themselves from without

the return of men to value them. "The quintessential 'blue note' in the Solomon myth is

Ryna, whose weeping and wailing symbolises the distress of those left behind" (78).

Ryna's cries are left to reverberate across the ravine. Hearing and interpreting Ryna's, as

well as, the moan of the other deserted women is left to the reader. Morrison's narrator

offers only fragments of a half remembered song throughout the novel for the reader to

decode along with Milkman. But, if we are given only the pieces of the traumatic story,

how are we to be certain of our translation of it?

In "On Traumatic Knowledge and Literary Studies," Geoffrey H. Hartman reports,

"Trauma theory introduces a psychoanalytic skepticism as well, which does not give up

on knowledge but suggests the existence of a traumatic kind, one that cannot be made

entirely conscious, in the sense of being fully retrieved or communicated without

distortion" (537). So, when committing to doing trauma study it is with the understanding

that some things will remain undisclosed. Hartman confirms that within the study one

cannot count on certainty, but must, rather, attempt to "read the wound" (537). Morrison

is very skilled at presenting the wounded female body in many of her novels. Speaking

particularly of Black women's literature, Mary Helen Washington writes, "In this

literature we hear the voices of those who are unheard in this culture; we see the faces of

those this society has made faceless; it makes visible those who have been rendered

invisible" (Wade-Gayles 199). Morrison gives voice to the women in Song of Solomon






8


who have experienced traumas of abuse, rejection and abandonment. By allowing them to

testify to their pain, Morrison provides a possible medium for healing the wounds.














CHAPTER 3
READING (T)RUTH WOUNDS INFLICTED UPON THE FEMALE BODY

Ruth Foster Dead is unarguably one of the most physically and mentally wounded

women in the novel. By the age of sixteen she is married to Macon Dead and by the time

she is twenty he has stopped touching her. His refusal of her is brought on by the events

surrounding her father's death. However, Ruth and Macon both have dissimilar accounts

of what actually took place on that day. Macon does admit to his son that he never really

loved Ruth, saying, "I can't tell you I was in love with her. People didn't require that as

much as they do now" (70). And given the lack of affection for her, there was no

emotional connection to stop him from truly despising Ruth because of her relationship

with Dr. Foster.

The relationship between Ruth and her father is quite disturbing. Her mother dies

while Ruth is still a child and she steps into the role of the woman of the house. But as

she gets older her behavior towards her father becomes rather irksome.

Fond as he was for his only child, useful as she was in his house since his wife had
died, lately he had begun to chafe under her devotion. Her steady beam of love was
unsettling, and she had never dropped those expressions of affection that had been
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, sit on her bed, exchange a few pleasantries, and plant a
kiss on her lips. Perhaps it was the loud silence of his dead wife, perhaps it was
Ruth's disturbing resemblance to her mother. More 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. (23)

This inappropriate behavior would certainly fall in line with the characteristics of Freud's

theory of the Oedipus complex. According to Freud young girls have an original









attachment to their mothers; however, "She makes the shift from mother-love to father-

love only because she has to, and then with pain and protest. She has to, because she is

without the phallus" (Mitchell 96). And it is only by the transference of her love from

mother to father that the girl becomes a woman. The transition is probably easier for Ruth

because of her mother's death. The absence of the mother figure makes the transfer

possible. Ruth's complex is represented in her undying love and devotion for her father,

but from the previous passage it is obvious that this attachment resembles a near

incestuous relationship. And Dr. Foster is more than happy to marry her off to Macon.

What is also evident in the passage is that not only is Ruth emotionally involved

with her father, the relationship is somewhat reciprocal. Dr. Foster does not stop coming

to her; he does not stop kissing her. Later when Ruth becomes pregnant Dr. Foster

delivers both of her female children against Macon's wishes. When telling the story to

Milkman he utters, "And both times he was there. She had her legs wide open and he was

there. I know he was a doctor and doctors not supposed to be bothered by things like that,

but he was a man before he was a doctor" (emphasis added 71). Macon's words elicit two

interesting points to be considered. First, the reader gets what appears to be disgust based

on the possible incestuousness of Ruth's relationship with her father, but jealousy can

also be inferred from his thoughts. It is not so much that it is her father, but simply that it

is another man between his wife's legs, that bothers him. He goes on to explain to his son

that he felt like it was Ruth and her father against him.

When Dr. Foster is on his deathbed Macon makes a startling discovery. When he

enters the room he recounts, "In bed. That's where she was when I opened the door.

Laying next to him. Naked as a yard dog, kissing him. Him dead and white and puffy and









skinny, and she had his fingers in her mouth" (73). The cold fingers penetrating Ruth's

mouth are symbolic of the possible sexual relationship Macon believes them to have had.

Uncertain as to whether Dr. Foster had an incestuous relationship with his wife, he tells

Milkman, "Nothing to do but kill a woman like that. I swear, many's the day I regret she

talked me out of killing her" (74). There is no doubt that hearing this story has

traumatized Milkman in some way. While he had never had any strong feelings of love

towards his mother, Milkman wonders about the validity of the story. In trying to

reconcile the story within himself he remembers (in fragments) being nursed by his

mother. As Caruth points out, "Indeed, the literal registration of an event-the capacity to

continually, in the flashback, reproduce it in exact detail-appears to be connected, in

traumatic experience, precisely with the way it escapes full consciousness as it occurs"

(153).

It falls to Ruth to explain the truth behind the memory of her nursing him as well as

the story concerning her father. She tells him how Macon had, in fact, killed her father by

throwing his medicine away. She even tells Milkman how Macon attempted to kill him

while Ruth was still pregnant. After Dr. Foster's death Macon and Ruth no longer share a

bed. "I thought I'd really die if I had to live that way. With nobody touching me, or even

looking as though they'd like to touch me," Ruth declares. "I was twenty years old when

your father stopped sleeping in the bed with me" (125). Interestingly, it is not the absence

of their sexual relationship that Ruth begins with; it is with his refusal to touch her. By

not even attempting to lay a hand on her, Macon treats Ruth as if she is untouchable, a

diseased person, who could contaminate him if he came into contact with her. By the age

of thirty, having touch and sexual pleasure removed from the marriage for a decade now,









Ruth acknowledges her fear that she would "die that way" (125). Here Morrison sets up

lack of intimacy as a type of traumatizing rejection inflicted upon the female body.

Nursing Milkman became, for Ruth, a way to hold on to some measure of pleasure in her

life. "She felt him. His restraint, his courtesy, his indifference, all of which pushed her

into fantasy. She had the distinct impression that his lips were pulling from her a thread

of light. It was as though she was a cauldron spinning gold" (13). Ruth continues this

daily in a small room that her father had used as a study until Freddie the janitor

discovers her. It seems almost fitting that a man would be the one to remove that

intimacy and enjoyment from her life once again. Once Pilate comes to town she

intuitively senses a problem between the married couple and questions Ruth, "Do you

want him?" Ruth responds, "I want somebody" (125). Dying from lack of physical

contact and emotional closeness, Ruth follows all of Pilate's magical instructions. Ruth

believes she can get Macon to value her again if sex is reintroduced into the marriage.

And within four days Macon comes to her as if in a trance. Once Macon awakens from

his "sexual hypnosis" and realizes that Ruth is pregnant, he does everything he can think

of to abort the baby.

The traumatic events that Ruth now endures at the hands of her husband are far

worse than when he would not touch her at all. Initially Ruth believes that the baby

would be something to bring the two of them together, but she soon realizes otherwise.

Instead the pregnancy brings something entirely different into their relationship.

Then the baby became the nausea caused by the half ounce of castor oil Macon
made her drink, then a hot pot recently emptied of scalding water on with she sat,
then a soapy enema, a knitting needle (she inserted only the tip, squatting in the
bathroom, crying, afraid of the man who paced outside the door), and finally, when
he punched her stomach (she had been about to pick up his breakfast plate, when he









looked at her stomach and punched it), she ran to Southside looking for Pilate.
(131)

In keeping with the characteristics of traumatic recollection, these repressed

memories come flooding back only when Ruth learns of Hagar's murder attempts on

Milkman. This can be considered normal behavior for a trauma victim. As Vickroy

explains, "Fundamental to traumatic experience is that the past lingers unresolved" (12).

She goes on to assert that there are many "triggers or associative conditions that cause

returns to traumatic events" (12). Hagar's attempts at Milkman's life instantly return her

to another time when she had to fight for his survival. But the emphasis of her memories

is not placed on the abuse, but rather on the sex act that precedes it. As the narrator

reveals, "Her passions were narrow but deep. Long deprived of sex, long dependent on

self-manipulation, she saw her son's imminent death as the annihilation of the last

occasion she had been made love to" (134). Hearing of Milkman's impending death, she

does not focus on a time when her life was in jeopardy. Rather, she remembers the

moment when she was in Macon's arms. This clearly relates to Ruth's perception about

the trauma that she has experienced. She has repressed the trauma by disassociating her

need for male attention from the physical abuse inflicted upon her body.

Ruth fights for Milkman's survival, but not her own. The reason may be found in

her testimony, which she spills out to Milkman earlier in the novel. "...I am a small

woman," she utters. "I don't mean little; I mean small, and I am small because I was

pressed small" (124). In the confines of her father's house and in comparison to him she

is made inconsequential. The people in their community refer to her as "Dr. Foster's

daughter." She is not her own person. Her existence is directly related to her father.

Ruth's repetition of the word "small" as a self-descriptor points to her low self-esteem.






14


And living in the same house under the reign of Macon, she has undeniably been pressed

even smaller even before the trauma. While Ruth has physically survived the trauma, she

is merely a disjointed individual. Vickroy notes, "A diminished, even shattered sense of

self is common in cases of severe trauma of any sort but seems particularly prevalent in

accounts of domestic tragedies and sexual abuse" (23)














CHAPTER 4
HAGAR'S STORY: PRIVATE PAIN AND PUBLIC MANIFESTATIONS OF
TRAUMA

With reference to Hagar's attempts to take Milkman's life, I wish to digress to the

traumatic event that precipitated her rage. In the novel Morrison portrays the incestuous

relationship between cousins Hagar and Milkman. Upon their first meeting Pilate

introduces Milkman to Hagar as her brother. Reba, Pilate's daughter, corrects her, saying,

"That ain't her brother, Mama. They cousins." Pilate responds, "Same thing." Hagar joins

in the conversation asserting that there is a difference between the two. Pilate then

corrects her by asserting, "I mean what's the difference in the way you act toward 'em?

Don't you have to act the same way to both?" (44). In this scene Morrison sets up early

on that family is family no matter how they are connected. Realizing that Milkman's

relation to Hagar should be considered that of a brother emphasizes the incestuous nature

of their sexual relationship that will occur years later.

Therefore, Milkman quickly takes to Hagar. From the time he first saw her, when

he was twelve and she was seventeen, he was deeply in love with her, alternately

awkward and witty in her presence" (92). Being five years his senior she initially pays

him little attention. But after some time they consummate the relationship. "When he first

took her in his arms, Hagar was a vain and somewhat distant creature. He liked to

remember it that way-that he took her in his arms-but in truth it was she who called

him back into the bedroom and stood there smiling while she unbuttoned her blouse"









(92). As an older woman Hagar is in control of the situation. Milkman is no more than a

"puppy" in love with a woman.

Ten years later Milkman has become disillusioned by her. "Now, after more than a

dozen years, he was getting tired of her. Her eccentricities were no longer provocative

and the stupefying ease with which he had gotten and stayed between her legs had

changed from the great good fortune he'd considered it, to annoyance at her refusal to

make him hustle for it, work for it, do something difficult for it" (91). Milkman no longer

has to chase Hagar. Even now he does not "take" Hagar, as he desires to do; she willingly

gives herself to him. She has opened herself up to loving him. Why would she refuse

him? Morrison does not write many scenes of the two lovers; in fact, except for their

juvenile meetings the only time they are together is when she is attempting to kill him.

By not allowing the reader to see them in a loving manner together Morrison de-

emphasizes the relationship, possibly in much the same way that Milkman does.

Whenever their relationship is discussed it is in terms of their sexual relationship. This

directly relates to the fact that Milkman is only interested in her sexually; beyond that, he

does not value her.

After Milkman realizes that he no longer wants Hagar, he describes her as the

"[T]hird beer. Not the first one, which the throat receives with almost tearful gratitude;

nor the second, that confirms and extends the pleasure of the first. But the third, the one

you drink because it's there, because it can't hurt, and because what difference does it

make?" (91). But it can hurt and all too late Milkman realizes how much his carelessness

has hurt Hagar. Before coming to this understanding he is resolved to end the relationship

during the Christmas holiday. Milkman writes Hagar a thank you note for their time









together and signs it with gratitude. He takes away the one thing that he can control,

himself. This removal hampers Hagar's existence in many ways.

Hagar suffers from an addiction to Milkman. As the novel progresses so does her

addiction. Charlotte Eliza Kasl defines addiction as "a spiritual breakdown, a journey

away from the truth into emotional blindness and death" (qtd. in Schaef 10). Hagar surely

falls under this definition. She is so far removed from the truth of her life. She does not

understand that she can be a whole person without Milkman to value her that she does not

know how to behave without him. Trauma relates to addiction in that the sufferer looks

towards something or someone to help forget the pain inflicted upon them. Hagar,

however, is addicted to the one person who has caused her pain. Schaef explains three

different types of addiction: sexual, romantic, and relationship addiction. Hagar's violent

behavior places her in the category of someone suffering from a relationship addiction.

While the first type of relationship addiction deals with a person being addicted to any

relationship, real or imagined, within the requirements of the second type "a person is

addicted to particular relationship with a particular person" (75). Hagar exhibits many

of the symptoms that Schaef outlines such as fear of being alone, controlling behavior,

and selective amnesia, a symptom that allows the sufferer to selectively forget the bad

parts of the relationship. Hagar is overtaken by what is described by the townspeople as a

"graveyard love," explaining, "They had seen women pull their dresses over their heads

and howl like dogs for lost love" (128). While Hagar has not resorted to this behavior,

she has committed many acts of terror. Schaef goes on to state,

Relationship addicts are constantly anxious and depressed. Since they have made
the relationship the source of their validity, meaning, and security, they must hold
on to it [. .] As relationship addicts become increasingly aware that they cannot
control the relationship, they become more and more desperate, often making









accusations and precipitating battles, with concomitant feelings of desperation. (78-
9)

Hagar has completely lost herself in her pursuit of Milkman. She knows nothing but the

love she feels for him. "She loved nothing in the world except [Milkman], wanted him

alive more than anybody, but hadn't the least bit of control over the predator that lived

inside her. Totally taken over by her anaconda love, she had no self left, no fears, no

wants, no intelligence that was her own" (136-7). While she does experience love and is

valued in the female-centered home of Pilate, she has not been taught about the outside

world; she cannot function outside of the home. Pilate and Reba have always given Hagar

everything she has desired, which only works to strengthen a particular symptom of

addiction, the belief that she can make the relationship happen simply by desiring it. But

Milkman does not want Hagar and she is unable to cope without him in her life.

It is evident that it is not only care or nurturing that Hagar desires because she

receives that from the two maternal figures in her life, Reba and Pilate. Both women

share the responsibilities of raising Hagar. Under Pilate's roof Hagar has flourished. She

has not had to want for anything. But this all-consuming mother love has in many ways

hampered Hagar's life. Gary Storhoff writes, "Song of Solomon is a portrait of

enmeshment-the suffocating bond parents occasionally create with their children that

Morrison calls 'anaconda love'" (Bloom 210). While parental enmeshment is seen in the

rearing of Hagar, Milkman also falls victim to enmeshment in Macon's home. But this

commonality is not enough to keep them together; it is not a source of bonding. If

anything, this enmeshment works to destroy the relationship. The separate home life of

Milkman and Hagar has made them self-centered, controlling, and unable to discover an

authentic self. Fortunately, Milkman has the ability to find himself through the quest.









Hagar does not have this ability because, historically speaking, it is the men who go off

on the quest while the women remain at home. Pilate proves to be the only exception to

this. Pilate has quested throughout the novel, roaming around after she is separated from

Macon after their father's murder. But she finally decides to settle in Macon's town

because Hagar needed a family. Pilate is wise enough to realize that a life on the road is

no life for a child. Settled in a new home, Pilate creates a home better suited to raise a

child. While Hagar's home is matrifocal and nurturing, Ruth's is not.

The home is traditionally thought of as a female domestic space. Macon's family

lives in the home of Ruth's late father. While Ruth should have inherited the house after

her father's death, it is more Macon's home than hers. The people in the community

describe it as big and dark, "more prison than palace" (10). And Macon enters the novel

in much the same way as a violent husband returns home to his abused wife. "Solid,

rumbling, likely to erupt without prior notice, Macon kept each member of his family

awkward with fear. His hatred of his wife glittered and sparked in every word he spoke to

her. The disappointment he felt in his daughters sifted down on them like ash, dulling

their buttery complexions and choking the lilt out of what should have been girlish

voices" (10). The negative feelings that Macon has for the women in his life are evident

in his daily interactions with them. And much like women in an abusive relationship, they

have come to not only expect it, but as Morrison writes, "The way he mangled their

grace, wit, and self-esteem was the single excitement of their days" (11). Not only is this

an abusive relationship, it is also marked by codependency; the women need Macon to

define them and Macon needs them to dominate. Ruth and her daughters, Lena and First









Corinthians, do not thrive in Macon's home. They personify the patronym of their name;

they are all "Dead" women in mind, body, and spirit.

Pilate's home is quite the opposite of Ruth's. Ruth's home is characterized as a

male dominated space, while Pilate's is very female-centered. Ruth's home is one of

violence, where abuse is inflicted upon her body; Pilate's is a home of safety and refuge.

Ruth feels the security of Pilate's home; so does her son. Only Macon fears going to the

house and the women who lived inside it. He was very strict with Milkman about never

going there. But "Milkman is initially fascinated with this matriarchal household because

of its difference from his patriarchal one. Here stories are told, food is tasty and plentiful,

and none of the rigidity of his own home is present" (Byerman 202). When Macon goes

against his own warnings and sneaks up to Pilate's house, he is entranced by what he

sees. "Near the window, hidden by the dark, he felt the irritability of the day drain from

him and relished the effortless beauty of the women singing in the candlelight. Reba's

soft profile, Hagar's hands moving, moving in her heavy hair, and Pilate" (29). Macon

cannot take his eyes off the women. Pilate's home is full of life and music and he realizes

that his is cold and barren. There is no question as to why Ruth's home becomes a site of

violence. There is no spirituality, no sensuality, or connectedness to their ancestry.

Trauma is enacted daily upon the women who live there and they must all venture outside

of the house to receive healing.














CHAPTER 5
"THE MOST DESTRUCTIVE IDEAS": THE TRAUMA OF SELF-HATE

Trauma is not only enacted upon the females because of male separation, but also

because of lack of male value. What men come to value in women is their physical

appearance. There is a stark contrast between the women in Macon's household

compared to the women in Pilate's. Ruth and her daughters are light-skinned, while Pilate

and Hagar are dark-skinned. Also, the women have dissimilar hair textures. While many

instances of self-hate occur throughout the novel, the most traumatic occurs when Hagar

sees Milkman with another woman. The woman, like her female cousins, is physically

the opposite of Hagar. Issues of skin color and hair texture have plagued the African

American community for centuries. In The Color Complex: The Politics of.\kmi Color

Among African Americans, Russell et al take up this very taboo subject matter,

explaining, "In short, the 'color complex' is a psychological fixation about color and

features that leads Blacks to discriminate against each other" (2). In Morrison's first

novel, The Bluest Eye, she tackles color discrimination and self-hate in the life of Pecola

Breedlove. Pecola is a young, Black girl who desires nothing more than to have blue eyes

like her white doll. Pecola's eight-year-old friend, Claudia MacTeer, who despises blond

haired, blue-eyed dolls and is repulsed by Shirley Temple, narrates the story. While

Claudia is unrelenting in her hatred to the extent that she destroys her doll, Pecola is

enraptured by images of whiteness. She is always eating Mary Jane (the picture of the

little white girl on the candy wrapper resembles Shirley Temple) and she repeatedly asks

Claudia if she may drink milk from her Shirley Temple cup. Abdellatif Khayati writes,









"Toni Morrison singles out the figure of Shirley Temple as a dominant icon of this white,

consumer culture, and examines the psychic devastation to which Pecola is subjected as

she imagines herself miraculously transformed into a Shirley Temple with blue eyes"

(par.7). Drinking milk from the cup also signifies her desire to not only possess

whiteness, but to consume it, as if by ingesting it she might become white. In "Tracking

'the Look' in the Novels of Toni Morrison" Ed Guerrero discusses the text asserting,

"The Bluest Eye [. .] holds as its central concern a critique of Western beauty and its

special destructiveness when imposed upon people of color in general and women of

color in particular. Morrison has these women in mind when she asserts in the novel that

the idea of physical beauty is one of 'probably the most destructive ideas in the history of

human thought'" (28). Internalizing these ideas of beauty ultimately works to damage the

self-esteem and self-identity of Black women. This destructive idea of physical beauty

overtakes Pecola. She wants nothing more than to be loved and if she possessed blue eyes

she believed love would inevitably follow.

In Song of Solomon, Hagar deals with many similar false assumptions concerning

beauty and is psychologically damaged by them. After Milkman has dumped her she sees

him in a bar with another woman. Detailing Hagar's murderous rage, the narrator

acknowledges,

The thank you cut her to the quick, but it was not the reason she ran scurrying into
cupboards looking for weapons. That had been accomplished by the sight of
Milkman's arms around the shoulders of a girl whose silky copper-colored hair
cascaded over the sleeve of his coat [. .] and Hagar saw her gray eyes, the fist that
had been just sitting in her chest since Christmas released its forefinger like the
blade of a skinning knife. (126-7)

At first sight Hagar thinks the woman is one of his sisters because of her light

complexion and hair. But, upon realizing that this woman is not one of his sisters, she









loses control. The woman emphasizes the European standards of beauty; Hagar possesses

African features like Pilate. Hagar's jealousy is fueled by feelings of inadequacy and self-

hate. She does not fit the type of woman that Milkman should be with. Russell states, "A

Black man is aware that the way others judge him often depends on the attractiveness of

the woman he is escorting. For the dark-skinned Black man, having a beautiful light-

skinned woman at his side instantly communicates to others that he has 'made it"' (109).

It is mentioned earlier in the novel that Milkman does not take Hagar around town with

him. Couched in the explanation of shame for dating his cousin, his reluctance to be seen

with her might also have to do with color discrimination.

According to Russell, "The politics of hair parallels the politics of skin color.

Among Black women, straight hair and European hairstyles not only have been

considered more feminine but have sent a message about one's standing in the social

hierarchy" (82). The hair textures of the two women are also contrasted. While the

woman has "silky, copper colored hair," Hagar's is described as being "heavy." It is not

weightless or silky. By describing it as heavy Morrison is acknowledging that it is thick

and possibly not chemically straightened. The fact that she is braiding her hair may, in

fact, symbolize her connection to her African roots. The significance of braiding hair in

the African American community is highlighted in Noliwe Rooks' "Wearing Your Race

Wrong." Rooks uses an excerpt from Sherley Anne Williams' Dessa Rose to further her

argument:

I missed this when I was sold away from home...The way the women in the
Quarters used to would braid hair. Mothers would braid children heads-girl and
boy-until they went into the field or for as long as they had them. This was one
way we told who they peoples was, by home they hair was combed...Child learn a
lot of things setting between some grown person's legs, listening at grown peoples
speak over they heads. This is where I learned to listen, right there between









mammy's thighs, where I first learned to speak, from listening at grown peoples
talk. (286)

According to Rooks "braiding comes to symbolize closeness, comfort, and community..."

(287). There are many occasions in the novel in which the women at Pilate's home are in

the process of doing their own or each others hair. While they adhere to the more

traditional African ways of doing hair, many women venture to beauty salons to have

their hair processed with chemicals, or straightened with heat. The narrator alerts,

"Beauty shops always had curtains or shades up. Barbershops didn't. The women didn't

want anybody on the street to be able to see them getting their hair done. They were

ashamed" (62). Morrison does not go into further detail about why these women are

ashamed, but we can assume that shame comes from the psychological trauma of needing

to have their hair altered because they do not naturally posses the European type of hair.

The women are ashamed of the procedure they must go through in order to transform

their hair, transform them even, in order to conform to an acceptable standard of beauty.

Only then when they are considered decent can they come from behind the curtain. Men

must not be allowed to witness this transformation. They can only see and appreciate the

results. Morrison notes that men are not victim to this type of trauma. Barbershops are

not hidden behind veils. The value of the men in the novel is not based on their

appearance. They are valued for property, in the case of Macon and Milkman; for

strength, in the case of Guitar; and for their ties to the community, in the case of Macon's

father.

The process of "fixing" the hair is restricted behind veils, but the act of freeing

one's hair, or letting it down, is symbolic of freedom. When First Corinthians finally

experiences love and spends the night with Porter, she returns home with her hair down.









Dropping her off down the street from her house, he questions, "Hadn't you better fix

your hair?" (202). The narrator qualifies his question revealing, "He thought she looked

beautiful like that, girlish, but he didn't want her excuse to her parents to sound

ridiculous. She shook her head. She wouldn't have collected her hair into a ball at the

nape of her neck now for anything in the world" (202). Wearing her hair down as a

liberating act is reminiscent of Janie in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching

God once she is free from her oppressive relationship with Joe Starks. In detailing this

moment of freedom Hurston's narrator states, "She tore off the kerchief from her head

and let down her plentiful hair. The weight, the length, the glory was there" (87). She

burns all of her scarves on the night of Starks' funeral. Not having to "fix" one's hair to

conform to an accepted standard of beauty is an act of female liberation and self-

actualization. For always desiring, but falling short of this standard is traumatizing to the

female psyche. In a society that values women based on their appearance, not living up to

the ideal is traumatic. The effects are seen in Hagar's case. She does not experience the

liberation of accepting her hair. It is only by "fixing" it that she thinks she can win

Milkman back. While Hagar cannot remove herself from agony she feels because of

Milkman's preference for lighter complexioned women with long, silky hair, she remains

nonetheless addicted to him and what she thinks her provides her. Her addiction is only

tested. As Schaef asserts, "Even when they know the relationship is destructive, they will

cling to it" (79). Hagar clings to the hope that she can have Milkman again even though

he has caused her pain. She refuses to acknowledge that he has used her for sex. And she

becomes intent on killing him only after reasoning with herself that if she cannot have

him, no one else can.









To address Hagar's addiction to Milkman we must return to a time before the

relationship was formed. On a visit to Pilate's house Milkman and Guitar sit watching the

women make wine. When discussing Reba's winning of groceries in a contest Hagar

alleges that they would have starved to death had she not. Pilate declares that no one

would let her starve, but Hagar contends, "Some of my days were hungry ones" (48).

Reba is hurt by this new information and affirms that they have always gotten her

anything she has ever wanted. "Reba, she don't mean food," Pilate responds (49). The

narrator does not say what it is that Hagar has hungered for, only that realization creeps

over Reba's face. The silence by these women in response to Hagar's alleged emptiness

apparently stems from something that they cannot give her. After a few minutes they

begin to sing, "O Sugarman don't you leave me here [. .] Sugarman done fly away"(49).

Later in the novel we learn that the song is about Milkman's great great grandfather

Solomon who flew back to Africa and left his family behind. It is possible that Hagar

mourns for her missing and unknown father. When Milkman ends the relationship she

experiences severe trauma possibly due to the loss of a constant male figure in her life. In

an interview with Nellie McKay, Morrison answers a question concerning Hagar's death

by explaining,

Hagar does not have what Pilate had, which was a dozen years of a nurturing, good
relationship with men. Pilate had a father, and she had a brother, who loved her
very much, and she could use the knowledge of that love for her life. Her daughter
Reba had less of that, but she certainly has at least a perfunctory adoration or love
of men which she does not put to good use. Hagar has even less because of the
absence of any relationships with men in her life. She is weaker. (qtd. in Appiah
401)

The sorrow she feels at this loss is identical to the mourning of Solomon's wife,

Ryna. When Milkman travels to Virginia in search of gold he learns of his family history,

which includes the story of Ryna. Milkman learns of Ryna and Solomon from his distant









relative Susan Byrd. It is a part of local folklore that once Solomon flew off and left Ryna

she yelled and screamed for days. The ravine near where it happened is named Ryna's

Gulch because when the wind blows across it her cries can still be heard. Susan tells

Milkman, "They say she screamed and screamed, lost her mind completely. You don't

hear about women like that anymore, but there used to be more-the kind of woman who

couldn't live without a particular man. And when the man left, they lost their minds, or

died or something" (323). Hagar is a descendant of Ryna; she too has become that "kind

of woman." Almost as if Susan has prophesied it Hagar's addiction to Milkman has

begun to hamper her own personal survival. Possibly better classified as an obsession at

this point, rather than an addiction Kasl explains,

An obsession occupies the mind and is often experienced as a painful intrusion that
can't be shut off at will. It feels like an inescapable presence, another person in
your head. It takes you out of the present, out of control, sometimes for months or
even years. One woman described an obsession about a woman she was attracted to
as 'a knife in my head I couldn't shake off. It was with me every minute. I started
to feel physically sick, I couldn't eat, and I prayed it would go away. (67)

While the woman that Kasl quotes had a knife in her head, Hagar's knife was lodged

within her chest and once a month she would dislodge it by going after Milkman. In her

final attempt at his life, Milkman remains motionless in Guitar's bed as she stands over

him with a knife. As she is poised to kill, Milkman wills her death instead. With the knife

raised high above her head Hagar becomes paralyzed. When Milkman opens his eyes and

gets up he cruelly admonishes, "If you keep your hands just that way and then bring them

down straight, straight and fast, you can drive that knife right smack in your cunt. Why

don't you do that? Then all your problems will be over" (130). But Hagar's problem does

not reside in a part of the body, which can easily be chopped off. Her problem is internal;

it is mental. "An obsession may signal that you are not being honest with yourself.









Obsessive thinking is often the difference between what we know to be true and what we

want to be true. If you want to get over an obsession, you may need to look within

yourself" (Kasl 67). But what would Hagar find from introspection? Possibly what has

already been established, that she may be desirous of a paternal closeness or evidence of

her low self-esteem. When Guitar finds her still frozen in his room he has pity on her and

takes her home. On the drive to Pilate's home he confides,

You think because he doesn't love you that you are worthless. You think because
he doesn't want you anymore that he is right-that his judgment and opinion of
you are correct. If he throws you out, then you are garbage. You think he belongs to
you because you want to belong to him. Hagar, don't. It's a bad word, 'belong.'
Especially when you put it with somebody you love. Love shouldn't be like that.
(306)

Hagar's worth is tied to Milkman's desire for her. Without his love she feels worthless.

Hagar remains in a catatonic state for many days. It is not until Pilate puts a mirror in

front of her that Hagar snaps out of it. "Look at how I look. I look awful. No wonder he

didn't want me. I look terrible" (308). She bathes, gets her hair washed, her clothes

ironed and goes off on a shopping spree. She also makes a hair appointment. On her way

home it begins to rain and she is left soaked. She returns home with nothing to show for

her effort. Hagar gives her stilted testimony in the arms of her grandmother. "Why don't

he like my hair?" (315). Her speech is fragmented, consumed with minute pieces of

memory that have traumatized her. She cries about the woman's silky, penny-colored

hair, her lemon-colored skin, gray-blue eyes and thin nose (315-16).

If, as Morrison asserts, racism is trauma then intraracial prejudice is overly

traumatic to the psyche. The wound that Hagar possesses is inflicted upon many African

American women. bell hooks discusses these types of wounds and offers an avenue

towards healing, hooks points to teaching texts by Black female authors as a way to









become more aware of the collective suffering of contemporary Black women.

Recounting their testimonies hooks explains,

When black female students would come to my office after reading these novels
and confess the truth of their lives-that they were terrorized psychologically by
low self-esteem; that they were the victims of rape, incest, and domestic violence;
that they lived in fear of being unmasked as inferiors of their white peers; that
stress was making their hair fall out; that every other month one of them was
attempting suicide; that they were anorexic, bulimic, or drug addicted-I was
shocked. (12)

In response to this trauma hooks establishes a support group, Sisters of the Yam, with the

hope that "it would be a space where black women could name their pain and find ways

of healing" (13). By naming the pain, or testifying to the trauma women may be able to

recover. However, Hagar cannot. She is on the verge of death and cannot be pulled back.

In Toni Cade Bambara's The Salt Eaters, hooks discusses the suicide attempt of Velma in

the opening of the novel as a moment of identification for some of her students. hooks

observes, "The Salt Eaters begins with a question, asked by the elder black woman

healer. She says to Velma, who has tried to kill herself and is barely alive, 'Are you sure,

sweetheart, that you want to be well?' Only an affirmative response makes healing

possible" (13-14). Without Milkman, Hagar would have undoubtedly answered in the

negative. Schaef reports, "People die from relationship addiction. [.. .] Addictive

relationships can be fatal, physically, mentally, and spiritually. They just seem to grind a

person down" (81). Hagar's addiction has taken its toll on her and the healing arms of

Pilate are not enough to save her. And although Pilate has fought to love Hagar back by

running her fingers through Hagar's hair, she remains in a traumatized state with her

testimony flowing out in pieces. Pilate can only respond with the words, "Hush. Hush.

Hush, girl, hush" (316). Hagar's testimony is silenced only in death. Why is Hagar not

saved by Pilate's love, why is her testimony not healing for her? As Vickroy relates, "If a









survivor is encouraged to narrate his or her experience and emotionally relive it in a safe

context with an empathetic listener [. .] this 'can actually produce a change in the

abnormal processing of the traumatic memory" and can lead to relief (22). Pilate, while

sympathetic, does not truly listen to Hagar's testimony. She quiets her. In doing so, Pilate

denies the truth behind Hagar's words. While Pilate only means to comfort Hagar, the

refusal to let her speak only negates her experience of trauma. Hagar is smothered by

Pilate's maternal drive to hurry away the pain.

Pilate's trauma is experienced with the realization that she cannot rescue Hagar.

There is no more appropriate space for her to give her personal testimony than at Hagar's

funeral. Pilate begins her testimony with only one word, "mercy," then turns it into a

question, "Mercy?" But, "It was not enough. The word needed a bottom, a frame. She

straightened up, held her head high, and transformed the plea into a note. In a clear

bluebell voice she sang it out-the one word held so long it became a sentence-and

before the last syllable had died in the corners of the room, she was answered in a sweet

soprano: 'I hear you'" (317). Pilate and Reba sing their testimony, Reba in the back of the

church and Pilate looking down upon Hagar's lifeless body. Turning toward the

congregation she mouths the words "My baby girl," speaking the words to each person.

Then, "Suddenly, like an elephant who has just found his anger and lifts his trunk over

the heads of the little men who want his teeth or his hide or his flesh or his amazing

strength, Pilate trumpeted for the sky itself to hear, 'And she was loved!'" (319). Pilate

takes on the form of a powerful, male-identified animal. In her powerful exclamation

Pilate is critiquing a patriarchal society that does not value females. Hagar was valued

and loved in her female-centered home. Pilate is justified in her anger at "the little men"






31


who would strip her of her sole possession, her grandchild, because they do not see the

value in her. But she does not direct her anger at Milkman for causing Hagar' s pain and

death. While the novel may serve as a critique of patriarchy, the men in the novel are

never directly indicted for the abuse they inflict upon their female victims. So, it comes

as a shock that Morrison's novel would come under such scrutiny for being anti-male.














CHAPTER 6
RACIAL INFIDELITY?

Toni Morrison, as well as many other Black female authors, has been denigrated

for writing novels that do not conform to a stringent code of black love. These writers are

condemned for airing their dirty laundry. Authors such as Gayl Jones, Alice Walker, Toni

Morrison, and Terry McMillan have been criticized for as Lerone Bennett Jr. describes,

"creating a new literature based on the premise that Black America is a vast emotionless

wasteland of hustlin' men and maimed women," which ultimately, functions to construct

a history of falsified relations between Black men and women (duCille 443). However,

those who would condemn these writers for creating female-centered narratives, which

allow their female protagonists to give voice to their pain, are attempting to silence these

traumatized women once more. Critics cannot and should not view these texts as an

indictment of all Black men. Rather they should see them as a "forum for exploring the

oppression, insanities, sorrows, joys, and triumphs of women's lives and [as a

transformation of] those experiences into art" (duCille 456).

In "Phallus(ies) of Interpretation: Toward Engendering the Black Critical 'I,'" Ann

duCille attempts to discuss the issue of gender essentialism by focusing on the "phallus as

principle signifier and on man as principle referent" (445). In doing so, she teases out the

distinction between what could be considered phallocentric and gynocentric "truths." Her

essay functions as a tool to foreground the ideas of black love that are brought up in

Morrison's Song of Solomon in that the trauma experienced by Ruth, Hagar, and Ryna are

due to loss of love. By focusing on the love of men as the root cause of female









oppression, duCille offers a passage from Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were

Watching God as evidence of support. Janie's grandmother tells her, 'Dat's de very prong

all us black women gits hung on [. .] Dis love! Dat's just whut's got us uh pullin' and uh

haulin' and sweatin' and doin' from can't see in de momin' till can't see at night" (449).

Janie's grandmother makes this plight specific to Black women. In doing so she

characterizes Black women as the only victims of an irresistible sexual need. In Song of

Solomon Ruth and Hagar do everything possible to hang on to an oppressive love. But

duCille goes on to claim that it is not only love that keeps Black women hung up, but also

"dat penis-the domain of dominating power" (449).

We see duCille's theory being played out in Milkman's thoughts of the attempts

Hagar makes at his life. He concedes that he was never afraid of her, actually, he was

rather pleased with himself delighting in the fact that his sexual prowess could drive a

woman crazy, "he had the power to drive a woman out of her mind, to destroy her, and

not because she hated him, or because he had done some unforgivable thing to her, but

because he had fucked her and she was driven wild by the absence of his magnificent

joint" (emphasis added 301).

The Black male sex organ has historically been under scrutiny. Interrogating the

trauma surrounding Black male sexuality does not fall within the boundaries of this

paper, it does; however, become significant to discuss why Morrison seems to privilege

the Black male penis within the text by allowing its removal to be so detrimental to

female survival. It may not necessarily be the penis that is privileged, but rather what it

signifies-power. Michael Vannoy Adams writes, "Psychically, however, rather than

physically (or materially), the penis is poetic-at least when it functions symbolically as









the phallus" (162). "The subject, Lacan argues, can only assume its identity through the

adoption of a sexed identity with reference to the phallus, for the phallus is the privileged

signifier" (Segal 85). The penis becomes the privileged signifier for Black males because,

especially in Milkman's case, it allows for spectacle, fascination, and power. Milkman

believes he can assert masculinity and/or power by invoking the phallus. bell hooks

describes this as a "shift of emphasis on patriarchal status (determined by one's capacity

to assert power over others in a number of spheres based on maleness) to a phallocentric

model, where what the male does with his penis becomes a greater and certainly more

accessible way to assert masculine status" (94). Milkman accepts his position of power

not only in his relationship with Hagar, but to all the women in his life (with the

exception of Pilate). As his sister Lena calls him on it scornfully remarking,

Our girlhood was spent like a found nickel on you. When you slept, we were quiet;
when you were hungry, we cooked; when you wanted to play, we entertained you;
and when you got grown enough to know the difference between a woman and a
two-toned Ford, everything in this house stopped for you. You have yet to wash
your own underwear, spread a bed, wipe the ring from your tub, or move a fleck of
your dirt from one place to another. [. .] Where do you get the right to decide our
lives? I'll tell you where. From that hog's gut that hangs down between your legs.
[. .] You are a sad, pitiful, stupid, selfish, hateful man. I hope your little hog's gut
stands you in good stead, and that you take good care of it, because you don't have
anything else. (215-16)

Lena indicts the notion that would lower her status in the world based on what she lacks.

She verbally castrates Milkman with her speech, an act that spurs him on to his journey

of self-discovery.

Freudian theorists would undoubtedly allege that Ruth and Hagar both suffer from

'penis envy,' desiring from Macon and Milkman what neither of them possess. But we

must push beyond this narrowly conceived theory. As Hillman explains, "The Freudian

error lies not so much in the importance given to sexuality; more grave is the delusion









that sexuality is actual sexuality only, that the phallus is always only penis" (qtd. in

Adams 162). The question then becomes, do Ruth and Hagar experience trauma because

they are denied the sexual pleasure provided by the penis, or what the penis signifies? If

trauma lays not so much in the denial of sexual fulfillment, but rather in the inequality of

power in the relationships, then Hagar and Ruth desire a fundamentally feminist goal,

equality. Hagar and Ruth are powerless in their relationships with Milkman and Macon.

However, Morrison has been very open concerning her interest in and criticism of

relationships. In an interview given by Christina Davis Morrison acknowledges, "I'm

interested also in the relationships of black men and black women and the axes on which

those relationships frequently turn, and how they complement each other, fulfill one

another or hurt one another and are made whole or prevented from wholeness by things

that they have incorporated into their psyche" (qtd. in Appiah 419). It is with an

understanding of this statement that I contend that the root cause of their trauma resides

in sexual denial.

Interestingly, in the beginning of their relationship it is Hagar who wields power

over Milkman. It is Milkman who chases and Hagar who denies. "She babied him,

ignored him, teased him-did anything she felt like, and he was grateful just to see her do

anything or be any way" (92). In this way Hagar controls the situation fully. It is not until

they commit to a sexual relationship that her power is transferred to Milkman. Much like

the nourishment he has taken from his mother, Milkman takes from Hagar; he grows

strong while she weakens, mentally and physically. It is not a coincidence that these

things occur simultaneously. As Trudier Harris asserts, "The pattern is set in a way that

Milkman thrives in direct proportion to Hagar's demise. As he learns more about his






36


relationship to her and the rest of his family, her physical essence decreases in value. For

each stage on the journey that brings enlightenment to Milkman, that enlightenment

comes directly from Hagar's lifeline" (112). Milkman indeed lives up to the meaning of

his name.














CHAPTER 7
CONCLUSION

Having consulted many texts on the nature of trauma, the one thing that remains

constant is the significance of telling, or narrating the trauma as a way of surviving it.

Judith Greenberg quotes a question asked by Caruth in her essay "The Echo of Trauma

and the Trauma of Echo" asking, "Is the trauma the encounter with death, or the ongoing

experience of having survived it? At the core of these stories [trauma narratives]...is thus

a kind of double telling, the oscillation between a crisis of death and the correlative crisis

of life: between the story of the unbearable nature of an event and the story of the

unbearable nature of its survival" (325). Ruth has survived the trauma inflicted upon her

body by Macon, yet living with the impact of it continues to haunt her. Ruth still lives

without touch, without care and affection from Macon. Hagar, however, has not survived

her traumatic experience. The "crisis of life" proves to be too great for her to withstand.

While both women endure two distinct damaging experiences, the initial trauma is the

same for both of them. They both suffer the rupture of a love relationship, which sets the

tone for the remained of their lives.

Realizing that neither is content to live deprived of the love and affection provided

by their significant others, I return to the epigraph of the novel and my earlier question

contemplating the omission of the women. In Song of Solomon Morrison makes a critique

on a patriarchal society, which devalues women. While some would characterize the text

as a novel about the loss of fathers, I contend that it is rather about the effect the loss has

on the psyche of the women left behind. Certainly, men in the novel experience the









trauma of paternal loss, but they have inherited a coping ability that the women have not.

The very masculinized idea of the quest works to ultimately traumatize the women who

are left grounded. As Milkman realizes at the conclusion of the novel, men have inherited

the ability to fly. Men lose and in return they leave. The women, however, remain

stationary. They remain tied to the land, tied to their children. They are left to pass on the

stories, sing the songs, and mourn the men who have left them. In the end Hagar is left

dead, and Ruth is shattered. Morrison does not offer her readers a happy ending to this

story of love and loss of love. Rather she leaves us with one more woman being left.

Before Pilate dies she tells Milkman to "Watch Reba for me," but Milkman does not

(336). Whether he dies at the hands of Guitar or flies off like Solomon, Reba will be left

alone. Having always depended on Pilate to care for her, one can only wonder what her

testimony will be.
















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40


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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

Cameron C. Clark received her B.A. from Western Michigan University in

Kalamazoo, MI, in April of 2001 with a double major in creative writing and Black

Americana studies. As an undergraduate she was fortunate to participate in the Ronald E.

McNair Scholars Program as well as the Institute for the Recruitment of Teachers in

Andover, Massachusetts. She will complete her M.A. in English with an emphasis in

cultural studies in May 2003.