Song of Solomon is a novel of hope while Wide Sargasso Sea is a novel of despair. Discuss this assertion with particular comparison to the representation of culture and society. The quest for self identity is extremely important in defining whether Song of Solomon should be considered as a novel of ‘hope’ whilst Wide Sargasso Sea is epitomised as a novel of ‘despair’. Both Rhys and Morrison recognize self identity being vital for the protagonists to fully realise their roles and live a more contented life.
In fact Song of Solomon is considered a novel of ‘hope’, primarily because the protagonist Milkman is given the opportunity to explore the history of his ancestors, allowing him to achieve a greater understanding of himself and his past. His understanding secures his own identity and liberates himself from the materialistic values of his father. Furthermore the values and traditions of the black culture are essentially embraced by the end of the novel. This signifies hope, because it metaphorically emphasises that there can be hope for any individual.Order now
In contrast the protagonist of Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette, is constantly searching for her identity but is much more restricted. As a white Creole woman is post emancipation West Indian society, Antoinette can not move between the black and white cultures without being scorned by both communities and so is constantly the ‘other’. Consequently, Antoinette meets a destructive end, continually asking ‘who am I? ‘ to little avail. Due to the fact Antoinette experiences more restrictions than Milkman, one must be reasonable when deciding to what extent the novel can classed as ‘hope’ or despair’.
The impact of culture and society on the individual’s search for identity must also be taken into consideration. Milkman and Antoinette’s lives are shaped by their culture and society and it determines why their fate is either full of ‘hope’ or ‘despair’. Morrison and Rhys explore in depth the conflict that arises in black and white cultures. Morrison is concerned with highlighting the diverse interactions and conflicts between individuals and their community, as well as the dilemma African Americans face as they struggle to acquire prosperity and independence without breaking ties with their heritage, which nourishes their black identities.
Rhys however, exposes the conflict that arises between the repressed black community and the ignorant white community. For Morrison, Guitar is the product of a repressed black community and one cannot help noticing there is some ironic logic in Guitars explanation about the Seven days; his race argument is identical to that of his oppressors. Guitar and the ‘Seven days’ represent ‘despair’ in Morrison’s novel. Guitar rejects the values and attitudes of the black middle class and unknowingly perhaps the values of the black lower class.
Like Milkman he has no place in society and never does find his place. Likewise for Rhys, Antoinette and Tia are the products of what their society has made them: ‘We stared at each other, blood on my face, tears on hers. It was as if I saw myself. Like in a looking glass’ (Rhys, pg 23) The looking glass is used as a metaphor by Rhys to emphasise the fact that Tia and Antoinette are the same despite their racial differences but there is little hope in their relationship.
Unlike Milkman and Guitar who are able to maintain a friendship because they belong to the same culture (despite their different values), Rhys shows that Antoinette can never have a genuine relationship with any black person in the novel due the ideological barriers implanted in the colonial system of white rule. Even her relationship with Christophine is disrupted and questioned by Rochester who represents the cultural position of an English coloniser, commenting in a disdainful tone ‘Slavery was not a matter of liking of disliking… It was a question of justice’ (Rhys, pg 94).
The openings of both novels suggest quite clearly why the assertions ‘hope’ and ‘despair’ could be applicable. Song of Solomon opens with an insurance salesman with ‘wide blue wings’ who leaps off a hospital roof, which Morrison contrasts with ‘spilling red velvet rose petals’ which are scattered onto ‘white snow’. The use of bright colours symbolise both ‘hope’ and ‘despair’, since ‘red’ has many connotations and could be an early indicator that the novel will be plagued with conflict between two difference societies, with the ‘white snow’ perhaps representing the white community and the ‘red velvet roses’ the aspiring black community.
Alternatively the insurance salesman with his ‘wide blue wings’ is not presented by Morrison as man simply committing suicide which typifies despair, but as a man who through his death symbolises freedom and flight. In contrast the violent death of Annette’s horse in the introduction of Wide Sargasso Sea evokes images of death and chaos. The death of the horse foreshadows Antoinette’s abandonment and violent death, similarly Robert Smith’s death prefigures the end of the novel as well as establishing the theme of flight which becomes a regular motif in the novel.
Morrison and Rhys through their exploration of the divisions in society present ideas of ‘despair’ and ‘hope’. The contrast between the Ruth the wealthy middle class woman and Pilate the poor woman in Song of Solomon shows the class divide in the black community. It is not seen entirely as a despairing situation as Morrison shows that even though there are problems the division can be overcome, this is seen through Pilate and Ruth being able to look ‘deep into each other’s eye’, and the black community being brought together to witness Smith’s suicide.
The black people are unified against the white culture through calling a street ‘Not Doctor Street’ as opposed to the whites who stated it must be called ‘Mains Avenue’. In comparison Rhys shows in Wide Sargasso Sea that within the white culture there is a deeper divide between the rich and the poor, with Antoinette’s family suffering extreme poverty, and their neighbour Mr Luttrell being driven by poverty to commit suicide. In poverty Antoinette’s family are isolated, ‘no one came near us’. They are called by the blacks ‘white cockroaches’.
Being scorned by the black community shows a power struggle, it is almost a reversal of power. End of 1000 words… Even after Mr Mason has rescued Antoinette’s family from poverty, Antoinette the narrator finds they cannot be embraced into the white culture even with their newfound wealth. Being Creole Antoinette’s family is perceived as being racially impure, thus they are rejected by Mr Mason’s white English friends who scorn her mother as she dances with Mr Mason, stating Mr Mason has made ‘a fantastic marriage and he will regret it’.
Antoinette is able to identify with the black culture, this is seen when she calls Mr Mason who is the representative of the colonial centre ‘white pappy’. However Rhys demonstrates throughout the novel Antoinette cannot be accepted by either culture making the assertion ‘despair’ valid. Singing is used by both authors as a common motif in their novels. It is an oral tradition that is identified as integral to the black culture, and both authors accentuate its importance, particularly Morrison as she uses it as a constructive link to the Dead ancestors.
It is seen as a source from which comfort can be derived and unity gained. The song of Solomon allows Milkman to be united with his heritage as he discovers his families past through the verses which contain an oral history of Solomon’s family, listing the names of the twenty-one children who were left behind when Solomon ‘cut across the sky/Solomon gone home’ (pg 303). Morrison highlights the hope singing can bring through Milkman’s reaction when he memorizes his ancestors’ names and becomes ‘as excited as a child confronted with boxes and boxes of presents’ (303).
The ‘unwrapping of presents’ is used by Morrison as a metaphor to show that as the presents become ‘unwrapped so does Milkman’s identity. Singing in Song of Solomon therefore symbolises ‘hope’ as Morrison demonstrates that by embracing one’s roots one is able to embrace their future. Morrison conveys the idea that the past not only lingers in memories but in the present through songs and stories, waiting to be understood in order to allow one to move forward.