Beginning with the first African American literary works through the more recent successes such as Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon the topic of literacy is almost inextricably connected to freedom and power. A closer investigation, however, leads the reader to another, less direct, message indicating that perhaps this belief in literacy as a pathway to the "American Dream" of freedom and social and financial success is contradictory or, at least, insufficient in social and cultural terms. In this way, African American literature reconstructs the "American Dream" into an even more complex "dream deferred."
Toni Morrison deconstructs the "American Dream" and the "literacy myth" in The Song of Solomon by deriding formal education and literacy while emphasizing oral family history. A most blatant ridicule of formal education comes to the reader in the story of First Corinthians Dead, the only character in the novel to attend college. First Corinthians finds that education made her "a little too elegant" (188), and that "Bryn Mawr had done what a four-year dose of liberal education was designed to do: unfit her for eighty percent of the useful work of the world," (189). At forty-two, First Corinthians is untrained, unmarried and unfulfilled, thanks to her college education.
Milkman, on the other hand, is not sent to college and is ultimately educated by the oral family history revealed by Pilate and the townspeople of Shalimar, Virginia. Milkman's freedom comes only after he breaks the chains of the "American Dream" myth his father is slave to and seeks out his history, his culture, and his identity.
Milkman's father, Macon Dead II, is certain that...
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...eedom, independence and equality built on the successful negotiation of not just illiteracy, but of a history of social and cultural denial. Such is the nature of the dream deferred.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Views: Toni Morrison. New York: Chelsea House Publishing, 1990.
Graff, Harvey J. The Literacy Myth: Literacy and Social Structure in the Nineteenth-Century City. New York: Academic Press, 1979.
McKay, Nellie, editor, Critical Essays on Toni Morrison, G.K. Hall, 1988.
Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon. New York: The Penguin Group, 1977.
Sapphire. Push. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 1996.
Peterson, Nancy J. Toni Morrison: Critical and Theoretical Approaches. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997.
Rice, Herbert William. Toni Morrison and the American Tradition: A Rhetorical Reading. New York: P. Lang, 1996.
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