Desperate for Control
Humans fear what they cannot control. Thus, for their own security and peace of mind, they constantly seek control. The characters in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon are no different. In fact, they feel the instinctive desire for control more poignantly than others because they are African Americans living in the South under white oppression. Because of this situation, characters utilize countless devices to gain feelings of control in their lives. Morrison employs motifs of naming, money, and death to exhibit the many subtle and drastic measures which humans will take to gain control.
Both the first gift granted to an individual and the last thing they leave behind on Earth is their name. Accordingly, the one who names or nicknames an individual exerts a significant amount of control over them. The situation through which the Dead family obtains its name begins a long line of poorly chosen, inescapable names. A drunken white man fills out Macon Dead I’s registration papers incorrectly, but Macon is illiterate, so, he does not catch the mistake. If Macon were more learned, he could have exerted some control by noticing the mistake and having it fixed. Instead, he remains oblivious until his wife reads his papers and tells him to keep the name, thus exerting her own control over him. However, when Macon names his daughter, he takes control. He chooses a name he cannot read or understand, thus it has no special significance, a name with negative connotations, then refuses to change it simply because it is his choice. He will not allow the midwife to undermine his authority to choose the child’s name even when she explains that Pilate was the man who killed Jesus.
Macon Dead II falls into the same trap as his father, even though the fact that “his own parents, in some mood of perverseness or resignation, had agreed to abide by a naming done to them by somebody who couldn’t have cared less” frustrates him greatly (18). He longs for “a name...