Michigan and the Great Lakes in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon

The sun setting over Lake Michigan, with the St. Joseph, Michigan lighthouse and railroad bridge in the foreground. PHOTO CREDIT: Ian Rastall. This photo is licensed under the the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication license.

“Truly landlocked people know they are…But the people living in the Great Lakes region are confused by their place on the country’s edge—an edge that is border but not coast. They seem to be able to live a long time believing, as coastal people do, that they are at the frontier where final exit and total escape are the only journeys left. But those five Great Lakes which the St. Lawrence feeds with memories of the sea are themselves landlocked, in spite of the wandering river that connects them to the Atlantic. Once the people of the lake region discover this, the longing to leave becomes acute, and a break from the area, therefore, is necessarily dream-bitten, but necessary nonetheless.”1

In Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, Milkman Dead lives in Michigan in a city on one of the Great Lakes. His birth in 1931 comes the day after a man with homemade wings leaps from the roof of Mercy Hospital in an attempt to fly to the other side of Lake Superior. The would-be flyer doesn’t make history with his leap; instead Milkman’s mother does when she becomes the first black woman allowed to give birth inside the hospital. Milkman’s real name is Macon Dead III. He has a best friend named Guitar, an aunt named Pilate, two sisters named Magdalena called Lena and First Corinthians, and an ancestor named Solomon who legend says escaped slavery in the American South by flying back to Africa. There are stories behind all these unusual names, and the effort to untangle myth from reality eventually leads Milkman to trace his family history from the urban North to the rural South, to a town in Virginia called Shalimar. Song of Solomon is Toni Morrison’s third novel. It was published in 1977 and won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Like Milkman Dead, Toni Morrison grew up in a Midwestern Great Lakes town—albeit in Ohio, not in its neighbor state of Michigan. Michigan, however, is the quintessential Great Lakes state, being bound by four of the five Great Lakes and having the longest freshwater coastline in the U.S. Even its name, which means “great water” or “large water” and was taken from the Ojibwe word for one of the Great Lakes that border it, is a reminder of its extensive watery surroundings. In modern times, Michigan has become synonymous with the U.S. auto industry and all that industry’s ups and downs. Michigan is also a major fruit-growing state and the birthplace of the highly influential Motown sound of music. Michigan, like other Midwestern states such as Illinois and Ohio, saw a huge influx of African American families and workers from the South beginning during World War I, a movement known as the Great Migration. In more recent times, Michigan’s diversity has expanded to include some of the largest Arab American communities in the U. S.

When making literary reports or essays determined by literary works out it is recommended to use demonstrate tense – ancient produce or story existing help for writing essay for college students, because it is regarded as. It creates the storytelling a bit more participating and serious, raising the sensation of reputation.

Read about Toni Morrison in the Paris Review, the Encyclopedia Britannica, on Wikipedia. Read more about Michigan on Wikipedia. Find Song of Solomon at a local library or on Amazon.

1Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon. New York: Knopf, 1977. 179. Print.

René Ostberg is a native Chicagoan who still resides in Illinois. She writes a travel blog called Writing and Wayfaring (www.writingandwayfaring.blogspot.com). Her writing and photography have been featured or are forthcoming at Eunoia Review, Literary Orphans, Rockwell’s Camera Phone, Wilderness House Literary Review, We Said Go Travel, and the Encyclopaedia Britannica blog.

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