Minorities in Life of a Slave Girl, Push, and Song of Solomon

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Minorities within Minorities in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Push, and Song of Solomon

 
     In a study about minorities, the groups that are differing from the dominant culture are seen as homogeneous. But, if we look deeper into the groups, we can see that there are distinctions among the minorities concerning lifestyle and social status. In Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Push, and Song of Solomon the authors gave some examples in the background of their stories that shows people with differential identities of the general identity of the minorities.

 

In the autobiographical Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, we see that the "free" African-American people form a group which is much less in number than the slaves. We surely cannot properly call them "minorities" in its general sense, but as having a different situation than the rest of the African-American population. When taking the stories of Jacobs as a basis, it is inevitable to talk about only the situation in South.

 

We can identify the "free" African-Americans in the South as having fulfilled the most important dream of every slave. These people are mostly ex-slaves, who are set free by their masters or who bought their own freedom. With the new generations coming there are also freeborn blacks whose parents were ex-slaves. Although fulfilled their most important dream, these people are not happy and fearless as they should be.

 

White people of the South just couldn't bear the fact that any black person was called free. In fact the African-Americans were always living with the danger of being unjustly accused of any kind of crime. As Linda is telling us, white people search every house where black people live and put around false evidence to be able to severely punish and even kill the people they hate so much (ch.12). We learn from the stories that is not always a guarantee to be free from slave hood. Linda tells us how her grandmother was set free as a child but then recaptured and sold to other white people as a slave (341-342).

 

There are also some rules concerning the marriage of these so called "free" African-Americans. If a free black man is married to a slave woman, he has no power to protect his wife from any kind of abuse coming from her master.

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If any children are born from this marriage they "must follow the condition of the mother" (374) which makes them the property of their mother's master. As Linda witnessed in her story, there are occasions where both parents are free but cannot prevent their children from being sold as slaves (381).

 

All these difficulties that these free people have to deal with brings another dimension to the dream of becoming free: to be free but in the North. As a fact, as we see in the story, people see the only hope of freedom in escaping to the Northern part of the country.

 

The striking novel Push deals with a completely different group of people than Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl does: people with different sexual preferences than the majority. Since the story is mostly focusing on Precious and her tragic struggle to become a "member" of the society, we get the sexual identity only in the background where we find out that that Ms. Rain, her teacher, and Jermaine, her class mate, are lesbians. Think how hard it must be to be both black and lesbian. We can easily call them double-minorities. Yet, we also see how strong these two ladies are in their own ways.

 

When Precious learns that Ms. Rain is a lesbian, she is shocked. Ms. Rain is the one who "put the chalk in my hand, make me queen of the ABCs" (81). She can't even imagine that someone so nice and helpful can be a lesbian. Precious is reflecting the ideas she learned from Farrakhan. The prejudices of the society are reflected through Precious in the novel. Farrakhan, being an important figure in the society, influences the society against the people having sexual interest towards their own gender.

 

"Ms. Rain a butch. This still shock to me 'cause you can not tell it..." (95). Except the negative comments she hears, Precious has so little knowledge about people interested in people of their own sex that she would expect some difference in the appearance of Ms. Rain than heterosexual people. Yet, she does not feel bad about lesbians anymore and starts to think that she would be able to find "love" if she had feelings towards other girls (95).

 

Jermaine tells her life story in their class book where she tells about the difficulties of being a lesbian because of the society. "Look it never occurred to me to dress like a man...I was dressing like myself." Her feelings are this simple and she tells them in such an impressive way. Her girlfriend's father rapes Jermaine when she was young and she hides it for a very long time to prevent people saying that it was the event that made her lesbian. As we can see, the society needs some underlying reasons to accept the sexual identities of people who choose partners from their own sex.

 

When her mother catches Jermaine having sex with her girlfriend, she protests against the reactions of her mother as: "Can't she see we're in love? No she can't." In a society where people are called "minorities" just be of their skin color, it must be twice as hard for them to be a lesbian where you also lost the support of your own race.

 

In Song of Solomon Macon Dead and his family is represented as differing from the society they live in with their social status. They are rich and try to live like white people. Since it might be improper to call them double minorities, I want to refer them as strangers among ordinary people.

 

It is important for Macon Dead to have a good impression on other people. Since he had to face a lot of difficulties as a child because of his race he wants to be as rich as possible to gain respect. These ambitions cause him to split ways with his sister Pilate, as we see in this part of the novel:

"Why can't you dress like a woman?"... "...What are you trying to make me look like in this town?" He trembled with the thought of the white men in the bank- the men who helped him buy and mortgage houses- discovering that this raggedy bootlegger was his sister. That the propertied Negro who handled his business so well and who lived in the big house on Not Doctor Street had a sister who had a daughter but no husband, and that daughter had a daughter but no husband. (20)

 

We see from this passage how important for Macon Dead the thoughts about him by others is important; especially the thoughts of white people. He already believes that he has a good impression on those people. "In 1936 there were very few among them who lived as well as Macon Dead" (32).

 

His material wealth is so important for Macon that he takes his family every Sunday for a ride with his car. It is not for the sake of his family or to have fun, but to make everybody see his car. These rides were "a way to satisfy himself that he was indeed a successful man" (31). It is impressive how Morrison reflects Macon's desires in life with the route of the Sunday rides: "...through the rough part of town, over the bypass downtown, and headed for the wealthy white neighborhoods" (32).

 

The difference between Milkman and his father is that he was born rich and does not have the ambitions of his father. But, because of the way he was raised, he cannot prevent himself from acting different from the African-American society. In fact, we see that he has only Guitar as a friend. He likes to spend time with women in parties. The result of his wealthy life and the fact that he was raised in a city shows us his distinction from the society when he arrives in Shalimar.

 

When Milkman talks with the shopkeeper Mr. Solomon, he grows up the anticipation of the people around him. The reasons why they are offended by Milkman is clearly stated in the following passage:

They looked with hatred at the city Negro who could buy a car as if it were a bottle of whiskey because the one he had was broken. And what's more, who had said so in front of them. He hadn't bothered to say his name, nor ask theirs, had called them "them," and would certainly despise their days, which should have been spent harvesting their own crops, instead of waiting around the general store hoping a truck would come looking for mill hands or tobacco pickers in the flatlands that belonged to somebody else...He was telling them that they weren't men, that they relied on women and children for their food...That thin shoes and suits with vests and smooth smooth hands were the measure...they looked at his skin and saw it was as black as theirs, but they knew he had the heart of the white men who came to pick them up in the trucks when they needed anonymous, faceless laborers.(266)

 

We see that these people are hateful against the image that Milkman brought to their little Southern town. On the surface Milkman represents all the things these man do not have; most importantly money and a good life. If we look deeper into the situation and relate it to the history, Milkman represents their ancestors who were lucky enough to escape to the North from slavery. These men simply feel deserted in this small town where all they have is to live under the shadow of the past. One of the men simply asks Milkman; "Big money up North, eh?" which shows the way they see him.

 

Milkman is very confused about these reactions. He can't resonate the behavior of these men towards him. He had some other expectations:

He had thought this place, this Shalimar, was going to be home. His original home. His people came from here, his grandfather and his grandmother. All the way down South people had been nice to him, generous, helpful...But here, in his "home," he was unknown, unloved, and damn near killed. These were some of the meanest unhung niggers in the world (270).

 

As we know from the end of the novel, Milkman will have all his feelings changed during his stay in the town:

"He was curious about these people. He didn't feel close them, but he did feel connected, as though there was some cord or pulse or information they shared. Back home he had never felt that way, as though he belonged to anyplace or anybody" (293).

 

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Push, and Song of Solomon gave us three different occasions where people were in a double minority position. In Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl , people are unable to live their dreams of freedom, in Push the struggle of lesbian women is shown where they are already seen as minorities because of their race, and in Song of Solomon we see the social status as a factor in alienating people from the society.

 

Works Cited:

Brent, Linda. "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl". The Classic Slave Narratives. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. New York: Penguin Group, 1987.

Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon. New York: The Penguin Group, 1977.

Sapphire. Push. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 1996.


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