Song of Solomon is a novel that starts with a death, ends with a death, and details the life of a bewildered, ignorant protagonist in between. The character of Milkman spends most of the book stumbling blindly around fictitious circumstances surrounding actual historical events, while characters like Guitar and Hagar are used to represent the actual struggles that surrounded segregation. Milkman at all but a few points is unaware of how poorly others are being treated because of his father’s wealth, and this shows through in his interactions with Guitar, and this is eventually why their friendship sours. The course epigraph, “You can’t just fly on off and leave a body”, represents a few different ideas throughout the book, but the one that is returned to most is the idea that even when reparations are in good faith, one can’t ignore the crime done. This is seen when Milkman tries to leave Hagar the first time, and she is so distraught she feels the need to stalk him. When Macon Sr. refuses to forgive his wife for her father’s actions, and her inability to part with the dead man. Most importantly, the idea of being able to forgive and forget is the dividing ideology between Milkman and Guitar.
Guitar experienced horrible things from a young age and was introduced to the idea that apologies can’t always reverse the harm that was done. Milkman never experienced a significant enough loss in his youth that this idea could be imparted on him, this is what leads to the fracture in their friendship. From a reader’s point of view, it might be easier to condemn Guitar and glorify Milkman for the way that he sees the world, but it is important to understand why Guitar thinks the way that he does. By the time that he decides that the only way to combat oppression is with the eye-for-an-eye policy of the Seven Days, he has already received more harm than any one person ever should have to suffer. I don’t mean to condone his actions, but it is important to see him as a character in pain and not just a vengeful plot device. That is something that stuck with me even now, weeks after finishing Song of Solomon. If there is something to take away from this book it is that fictional characters can represent struggles that were all too real for people that faced harm and reparations in bad faith time and time again. There is no understanding of how that might feel without actually experiencing it, but there is no way around seeing what that does to a person. It’s a sad fact of life that this happens to all too many people, and most of the time someone’s first response is a surface-level judgment. If there’s one thing I’d like to take away from reading this book, it’s that.
After the conditions of isolation last year, I came back to campus this fall excited for a chance to find that “college experience” that so many of my friends and family members felt sorry that I was missing. One of my biggest goals for this year was to distance myself from feelings of isolation I had last year, so it’s not hard to understand why a course epigraph of “You can’t just fly on off and leave a body” felt hard to connect with. In all honesty, I still can’t say that I’ve taken this epigraph completely to heart, and it has completely changed my life. Even in this essay where I’m supposed to be writing about how I’m so much of a better person than I was 15 weeks ago. I’ve just been trying to continue progressing through my education without addressing this fear of future unhappiness. However, there is one thing that struck me as applicable to my own experiences, and that was the way that Guitar dealt with his trauma. I’m not going to make any sort of comparison between the gravity of the two, but I do think that trying to understand the tragedy of a fictional character with an all too real origin story might provide a little insight into how seriously I think about my issues.
When I was first asked to write a goal-setting essay at the beginning of the semester I took the prompt to heart. In all honesty, it was partly because I tend to get very enthusiastic about starting projects and then procrastinate the bulk of the work until 48 hours before it is due, but also partly because it forced me to confront a scary truth that I didn’t (and still don’t) necessarily want to address. Although I feel like I’m enjoying my time at Geneseo, I still do not know what I want to get out of my time here. I’ve heard the litany of reassurances that “I shouldn’t worry because most students change their major ”, or my personal favorite, “You should just do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. That is stupid, everyone’s hobbies have to change at least at least a few times every few, and I know that mine will continue to change every few weeks. As a high schooler, I wanted to major in geology my junior year, and Biology the next, but by the time that I applied for college I decided I wanted to study political science. It isn’t that I won’t be good at whatever I end up doing, it’s the fear that in thirty years I’m going to wake up one day in twenty years and decide that whatever major I graduated with was a forty thousand dollar mistake. With that said I appreciated being able to express something that I felt was a pretty personal issue, but at the same time, I’m still not sure how I can do anything to prevent that fear from happening. I feel like all I am doing constantly is trying to fly on off from the way that I lived last year.
Although this year feels light years away from the experience I had last year, I still have things that I have tried to change. Although they’ve not huge, I’ve been trying to participate in my classes with good faith. I’ve been showing up, trying to do the readings, and participating when asked. With my goal-setting paper, I tried to express the frustration felt last year and to express how I felt like I wanted to avoid the same issues this semester. I still don’t know what I’m doing here at Geneseo but after a semester that hasn’t felt like a coffin, I’ve been able to make more friends and connect with people experiencing the same crisis of faith I felt last year. In that way, it’s a little comforting to know that I’m not the only one who’s here feeling the same way that I am. That’s something that I would have continued to miss the importance of online, and it’s somewhat comforting to know that it’s not something that I have to suffer in silence about. Milkman and Guitar are almost similar examples in that sense. Although he doesn’t understand how he would go about it, Guitar understands that this isn’t an issue confined to his personal experience, and for that reason, he feels a sense of comradery that Milkman isn’t able to. Milkman, on the other hand, is blissfully ignorant of the problems going on around him which works better for him in the short term but by the time he is an adult and he has to come to terms with the way black people are treated in the U.S. in the 40s it hits him twice as hard and he loses a friend in the process. Milkman and Guitar represent conflicting ideologies in their older age, but it’s important to remember that they shared enough common experiences in their childhood that they were friends in the first place.
Even though situationally, these characters aren’t going through very similar struggles to my own, I can draw lessons from the way Morrison concluded their stories to better solve my issues. One thing I learned from this experience is the skills that Geneseo says GLOBE is supposed to provide (the ability to “reflect upon changes in learning and outlook over time”) aren’t necessarily something that you learn, but the manifestation of a lot of time thinking about how to confront the problems in life that one generally shoves to the side. Most problems are eventually unavoidable, and that’s part of the stress of having to deal with them, but that’s part of the beauty of the thing. It’s a unifying experience for everyone going through them, which makes it a little bit better for everyone involved. That’s at least how I’ve come to think about it, and it’s something less tangible that I’ve tried to improve with this semester. I don’t know if I’ll hate myself for the academic decisions I’m making now but at least now I know I’m not the only one thinking like this. The best part about college is the people, and as long as we’re all suffering together it makes the future a little less terrifying.