The Juxtaposition of Ruth Foster and Pilate Dead in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon

The Juxtaposition of Ruth Foster and Pilate Dead in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon

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Toni Morrison juxtaposes Ruth Foster and Pilate Dead, in Song of Solomon, to highlight the separate roles they play in the protagonist Milkman’s journey.
Early in the novel Morrison, uses the juxtaposition of Ruth Foster and Pilate dead, when she tells of the flight of Mr. Robert Smith from Mercy Hospital. Ruth Foster, not yet described as such, is known as the “dead doctor’s daughter” (5). During this scene her insignificance is made clear, “the rose-petal scramble, got a lot of attention, but the pregnant lady’s moans did not” (5). This scene perfectly embodies Ruth Foster’s character, as diminutive, and unimportant, she also ignores the flight of the Mr. Smith as the pedestrians ignore her and Mr. Smith. On the other hand, Pilate Dead, is the singer in the crowd that notices Mr. Smith’s flight and says, “O Sugarman done fly away” (6), introducing the theme of the novel, flight, and representing her understanding of it, while others remain oblivious. This is important, because this is Milkman’s journey, the discovery of the flight of his people, or the realization of his people’s culture. Pilate, Milkman’s aunt, also foreshadows his “flight”, which is a main theme of the novel, ‘A little bird’ll be here with the morning” (9), whereas his mother, Ruth, says, “It can’t be...It’s too soon,” (9) this shows her role in the novel as keeping Milkman from his flight, while Pilate teaches him he can fly. "Mr. Smith's blue silk wings must have left their mark, because when the little boy discovered, at four, the same thing Mr. Smith had learned earlier - that only birds and airplanes could fly - he lost all interest in himself" (9). Tis loss of flight symbolizes Milkman’s loss of his heritage, which Pilate tries to reinstall in him, ...


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...ography book. But had been from one end of the country to another. One wholly dependent on money for life, the other indifferent to it. But those were the meaningless things. Their similarities were profound. Both were vitally interested in Macon Dead’s son, and both had close and supportive posthumous communication with their fathers” (139). They are very different in personality, but they both want Milkman, Pilate wishes to teach him love and culture, and Ruth wishes to keep Milkman at her side. These characteristics lead Milkman along his journey, both as hindrances and as salvation, and without these juxtaposed mother-figures in Milkman’s life he would not have a well-rounded character and growth which is brought from his struggles brought by his mother, and his triumphs from Pilate.


Works Cited

Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon. New York: Penguin Books, 1987.

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