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Tony Morrison’s novel ”Song of Solomon” was published in 1977 and follows the life of its main protagonist, Milkman Dead, an African-American man whose life has been full of instances of racism and violence, as was the life of his ancestors. The novel explores how the ancestral past, along with the present suffering shape his character. This paper focuses on Ruth Foster Dead’s persona, Milkman’s mother, a woman oppressed by society and spouse alike, whose actions greatly affect him.
An Affectionate Daughter
Ruth Foster Dead grew up an upper-class woman, a doctor’s daughter. She is light skinned, smart, quiet and resilient. Ruth did not abandon her affection for her father even as an adolescent, their goodnight kiss ritual, motivated by her seeing her mother as a rival due to the latter’s lack of maternal care, was a source of shame to her father (Morrison, p.30).
Such an abnormal closeness on her part, which she later needs from Milkman as well, impacted his relationship with women later on. Her husband, suspected of involvement in her father’s death, would bitterly begrudge her visiting her father’s grave. His jealousy, arising from the scene at the doctor’s dead body, would turn her life into misery and result in an attempt on his unborn son“s life.
A Breastfeeding Mother
Ruth is seen as provoking her husband’s anger, manipulating him for a certain sense of power. The symbolic watermark on the table in the opening chapter serves as a personal reminder that she is alive inside and this is life, not a dream (Morrison, p.19). The watermark acts as an anchor against her husband’s psychological abuse.
The only experience that helps her live through each day is breastfeeding her son, who is no longer an infant, seen as an unwillingness to sever yet another connection, as he is growing up, “bored by the flat taste of mother’s milk” (Morrison, p.21). However, the ritual is more sensual than is proper, and she is knowingly secretive about it. Ruth is terrified at losing this aspect of her motherhood, as evidenced by her reaction when the janitor sees her through an open window, the moment Milkman acquires his nickname. On the other hand, Ruth is neglectful of her daughters, one of which, Pilate, has inherited her kindness and has a tragic fate.
A Mother Through the Eyes of Her Son
Milkman has seen his mother as overprotective for most of his adolescence. Later on, he begins to see her true humanity, frailty and fierceness in the face of death ( Morrison, p. 73), and physically protects her from his father’s assault ( Morrison, p. 76). The story of her sacrifice at protecting him even before his birth opens his eyes to her true character.
Ruth Foster Dead is depicted as a possessive mother, though heroic in the protection of her son. Her actions, therefore, are crucial to the story’s and the main protagonist’s development. However she acted, she loved him in her own way.