Song of Solomon: Ruth and Macon’s Marriage
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The abandonment and betrayal of women has been seen throughout history and novels, including Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison. Morrison uses the relationship of Macon Dead II and Ruth to express this in her book. Morrison also expresses how women are to reliant on their men for support, she uses Pilate to show this. Macon Dead II and Ruth are married and the parents of Milkman, the protagonist of the novel. The novel starts out in 1931, the birth of Milkman and narrates his life till about 1962. They are a middle to lower class African American family living in Michigan. The theme abandonment of women is shown through the relationship of Macon Dead II and Ruth, consequently Ruth’s emotional, mental and physical state show this. Morrison is trying to show that women rely to much on men for support.
Ruth’s emotional state shows the theme of abandonment or women. In the Macon household, there is a table and on this table is a large water mark which Ruth uses for assurance she is alive. She knew it was there, would always be there, but she needed to confirm its presence. Like the keeper of the lighthouse and the prisoner, she regarded it as a mooring checkpoint some stable visible object that assured her the world was still there; and that this was life and not a dream. That she was alive somewhere inside, which she acknowledged to be true only because a thing she knew intimately was there, outside herself. (Morrison 11) Emotionally, Ruth has been abandoned by Macon Dead II to the point where she needs, a physical reminder that she is alive. Ruth and Macon’s marriage is compared to a lighthouse and its prisoner; the lighthouse is the marriage and Ruth is the prisoner.
Ruth is very passive with Macon. Her passiveness shows how emotional she is abandoned, because marriage is about compromise not giving completely into the other person. The scene where this is shown, is when the Dead family is in the car. They are going to look at beach houses, and Milkman needs to use the bathroom. “Macon glanced at her in the mirror and slowed down. ‘Who’s going to take him?’ Ruth fiddled with the door handle. ‘Not you,’ Macon said to her. Ruth looked at her husband. She parted her lips but didn’t say anything”(35). Ruth was going to take Milkman, but her husband said no and she stayed there. She didn’t try to argue or fight back. It shows how passive and emotionally weak she is. Ruth’s emotional state shows how her marriage evidences the theme of abandonment of women.
Ruth’s mental state shows the theme of abandonment of women; Ruth has been mentally abandoned by her husband. To feel joy in her life, she resorts to very obscene things. Ruth breastfeeds Milkman to about age 4, give or take a year or two.
“She felt him. His restraint, his courtesy, his indifference, all of which pushed into her fantasy. She had the distinct impression that his lips were pulling from her a thread of light. It was though she were a cauldron issuing a spinning gold. […] And that was the other part of her pleasure, a pleasure she hated to give up.(13-14) Since Ruth has been mentally abandoned she does odd things, to feel a mental peace or even joy. The pleasure she talks about is the pleasure of receiving giving love and having that love returned. Ruth is emotionally abandoned in the fact that, Macon II wants nothing to do with her and she doesn’t give up trying to get him to return the love.
We had a terrible quarrel. He threatened to kill me. I threatened to go to the police about he had done to my father. We did neither. I guess my father’s money was more important to him than the satisfaction of killing me. And I would have happily died except for my babies. But he did move into another room and thats the way things stayed till until I couldn’t stand it anymore. Until I thought I’d really die if I had to live that way. With nobody touching me, or even looking as thought they’d like to touch me.(125) Ruth was emotionally abandoned she wanted someone to return the love she had been giving out. The mere idea of her having to go the rest of her life in that state frightened her. If she was emotionally supported by her husband she would have been happier. This shows that her mental state shows abandonment of women.
Ruth has been physically abandoned by her husband; Ruth and Macon Dead II never have gotten a divorce, they remain together for the duration of the novel. Ruth is physically abandoned by her husband, and this is seen in the following quotation, “And almost twenty years during which he had not laid eyes on her naked feet, he only missed the underwear”(16). This shows, that in the marriage they had not been together romantically in two decades. Marriage is about love and physical contact, therefore one can infer that don’t even sleep in the same room and that he doesn’t acknowledge her existence. It’s stated in the text that Macon Dead II doesn’t sleep in the same room as Ruth. “But he did move into another room and thats’s the way things stayed”(125). He not only stop being romantically involved with her, but he also abandoned her physically by depriving of her of the closeness she longed for. Even though Macon didn’t divorce her or move out, he physically abandoned her, in the idea that marriage is bout physical contact and the love shared between two people.
Morrison is trying to show through the relationship of Ruth and Macon Dead II, that women rely to much on men for any support in their lives. She does this through her character Pilate. Pilate is the symbol of strength and empowerment of women throughout the novel. Ruth constantly seeks out Pilate’s advice. This is crucial to the story because without Pilate, Milkman wouldn’t have been born. “But I wouldn’t and Pilate helped me stand him off. I wouldn’t have been strong enough without her. She saved my life. And you Macon [Milkman]. She saved yours too”(125-6). Pilate helped Ruth to not rely on her husband for support in a time of need. Pilate’s granddaughter, Hagar, is in love with Milkman. Ruth loves Milkman because she is her son. Hagar is upset over her and Milkman’s break up, to the point where she tries to kill him. Ruth doesn’t like this since Milkman is her ‘world’.
Pilate tells them that they need to cut it out in the following dialogue: “Can’t say as I blame him neither. Two growed-up women talkin [a]bout a man like he was a house or needed one. He ain’t a house, he’s a man, and whatever he need, don’t none of you got it”(138). This shows that Pilate is a vessel for Toni Morrison’s motive of spreading the word about women being too reliant on men. Pilate tells these two women that they need to leave Milkman alone, beacause he doesn’t want anything to do with them. They are showing reliance on men for support, and Pilate is challenging it. Later, Morrison makes a connection to strength and Pilate through Ruth and Macon. “[…]and who was in any case, the only person she [Ruth] knew of strong enough to counter Macon.” (138). As stated before, Pilate is a symbol of strength of women. Ruth even says herself the ‘only person she knew strong enough’, this shows that she knows men who can’t counter Macon like how Pilate does. Pilate is the voice of reason, who helps the women in her life who are too reliant on men.
Toni Morrison uses, her characters to portray not only a theme but personal motive. By analyzing the marriage of Ruth and Macon Dead II, through Ruth’s emotional, mental, and physical state; the theme of abandonment of women is shown. Consequently, Morrison uses their (Ruth and Macon’s) relationship to show that women are too reliant on their men. This is demonstrated through her character, Pilate, a symbol of strength of women. Abandonment isn’t just a physical circumstance, it can be mental or emotional state, which is something that people should keep in mind when interacting with others.