Living with Nature in the City: An Ecocritical Reading of Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon | Eun Bin Suk

Living with Nature in the City: An Ecocritical Reading of Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon | Eun Bin Suk

Living with Nature in the City: An Ecocritical Reading of Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon
Eun Bin Suk

Abstract: This paper seeks to do an ecocritical reading of Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. Most slave narratives and African American novels have characters that move from the South to the North in order to escape slavery as well as make a better living. However, this novel is unique because Milkman undergoes a process of reverse migration – journeying from the North to the South. Also, the main character achieves a different kind of liberation. Although he is already a free man living in the 1950-60s America, Milkman is alienated from his historical roots because of the influence from his father Macon. The one who guides Milkman toward his ancestry is Pilate, his aunt, who lives in a totally opposite way from Milkman’s father Macon. In this paper, I focus on Pilate’s relationship to the environment – an ecocritical reading of the character. Pilate is important because she is the only guide for Milkman to achieve liberation. It is interesting that she, who is without a navel, lives in the Northern city, an urban environment, without any use of electricity and gas. Many studies on Pilate have already focused on her relationship to the physical environment, exemplified by her rural living style in the urban space; however, an ecocritical reading will provide various other aspects about Pilate. Pilate’s Afrocentric way of living, exemplified by her natural way of living, is significant due to the fact that she reclaims the space that African Americans were exempt from. Black people in America could not claim a space for themselves other than living like the mainstream whites or like a radical extremist. Pilate’s relationship to the environment is very unique she is able to have the agency to claim a space for herself as well as be rooted to her ancestry in the urban environment of the North.

Keywords: Ecocriticism, reverse migration, liberation, rural/urban, space

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Published in December 2015

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