‘Song of Solomon’ explores, expands on African American stereotypes

Quotes and candy were placed on each chair in the Lovejoy Library Friends Browsing Corner. Once the presentation began, the professor asked for five volunteers to read their quotes. The quotes ranged from Toni Morrison talking about “Song of Solomon” to Ralph Ellison exploring the concept of Americans wearing masks.

English professor DaMaris Hill discussed Toni Morrison's 'Song of Solomon' during the second Year of the Book presentation of the semester. Photo by Kari Williams

And thus began the English department’s second Year of the Book presentation of the semester.

English professor DaMaris Hill, who presented February’s book “Song of Solomon” by Toni Morrison, involved students and faculty in the presentation from the get go because she thinks presentations should be about the community not the individual.

“All [of the quotes] kind of prepared the mind to think of this complex journey that I’m going to take them on about African American identity and art,” Hill said.

“Song of Solomon” explores the life of Milkman, an African American boy, and the adventures and circumstances that occur throughout his life.

Hill discussed the idea of vaudeville, a form of variety entertainment, as an influence on “Song of Solomon” in terms of narrative structure and talking about African American identity.

“I think of vaudeville as being the influence because vaudeville was part of the popular culture that fueled negative stereotypes about African Americans,” Hill said. “So I think that was the author’s choice in order to discuss African American identity to start where it kind of got botched up.”

Hill also explored the minstrel characters present in vaudeville – mammy, sambo, over sexualized mulatto, mandingo negro and sapphire – and how those characters were represented in “Song of Solomon.”

Mammy characters were seen as maternal and nonthreatening. Sambo characters were happy and carefree. Mandingo negro portrayals viewed men as animalistic. Sapphires were seen as intelligent and overbearing.

“We talked about the character of Pilate, [Milkman’s aunt], being a more developed version of a mammy figure. So instead of Morrison using Pilate as a stock character that was a mammy figure, she actually fully developed her,” Hill said.

Morrison, according to Hill, took the minstrel characters or stereotypes and developed them.

“She took a caricature, and created dynamic characters from that stereotype associated with African Americans,” Hill said, “And in that way she demystified… any association about African Americans and their limited personas.”

Hill also relied on Ralph Ellison’s essay, “Change the Joke and Split the Yoke” and an essay by Sylvia Winter that shows minstrel stereotypes are also present in music.

Be Sociable, Share!

Filed Under: English Language & Lit

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.

Switch to our mobile site