Morrison is crazy and relevant to me all at the same time. One of her favorite literary tricks is to name her characters from the Bible but with an ironic twist. She has done just this with her character Pilate in Song of Solomon. This is a little long, but I am in love with her Pilate character and she deserves this much of my blog and more:
Can we just talk about Pilate? I realize that this may be a coming-of-age book about Milkman, yet I see nothing extraordinary about his coming of age (at least not yet anyway). Now, Pilate, she’s extraordinary. It’s a quirky name for this character. Pilate is perhaps one of the most evil people in the Bible. Pilate, the governor, who recognized Jesus’ innocence and still chose to hand him over for crucifixion, is not often a name that new parents choose for their new little bundle of hopes and dreams. Pilate, the governor, was very weak and human in his fear of condemnation by his fellow man. Pilate, Morrison’s character, is in some ways the glue that binds the entire story of Song of Solomon with her presence and strength of character.
If readers have not yet taken Pilate seriously, they surely will in the beginning of Chapter 4, when her sweet daughter Reba is attacked and we learn, “not to fool with anything that belonged to Pilate, who also was believed to have the power to step out of her skin, set a bush afire from fifty yards, and turn a man into a ripe rutabaga – all on account that she had no navel” (94). Skip her namesake the Roman governor. what we have here is whispers of Moses and Jesus. Both of these men were able to transcend their human bodies and one was reported to be fully divine and fully human at the same time – God with flesh. This passage in the book makes my spine tingle. And it is not lost on me that our Pilate is woman! Morrison is a strong woman and we all have much to learn from her.
I suppose although I really want this to be about Pilate and only Pilate, I can concede the idea that perhaps Morrison has put Pilate in the story to assist Milkman find himself. After all, it turns out that Macon Dead is a Mr. Yuck who tried to get Ruth to abort Milkman and Ruth tells Milkman, “I wouldn’t have been able to save you except for Pilate. "Pilate is the one brought you here in the first place” (124). It becomes clear here that Pilate represents divinity in this story.
I can dwell a little on the theme that God is present in every event in our lives and is often found in our fellow man. But I would be silly to believe this is going to be a pretty, clean Christian story about how good triumphs over evil. Is it not Pilate who stuck the doll on Macon’s chair to warn him away from Ruth? Similar to Sula, where the African Americans believed in the presence of evil as the quatrain to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Pilate is intervening on evil’s attempt to take Milkman before he is even born.
Finally, Pilate steps in again and this time in the fashion of wise King Solomon. As Hagar and Ruth tug-o-war over Milkman’s love, Hagar tells Ruth, “He is my home in this world” and Ruth answers, “And I am his.” (137). It is just like in the Bible story where the two women are arguing over the one living baby, convinced that it is their child to have, and King Solomon tells them to divide the child. Only the true mother is willing to let the child go to sacrifice his life. With the wisdom of Solomon, but with the ever present ironic twist, Pilate steps in and says, “And he wouldn’t give a pile of swan shit for either one of you….Whatever he need, don’t none of you got it.” Boom. Pilate stops their bicker over the Milkman just like that.
Pilate, the woman without the navel, is divinity. It’s worth repeating. And we are reminded again of this when it is revealed that “most important…the father who appeared before her sometimes… told her things” (150).
See, I told you! Pilate is all that and a bag of chips (do people even say that anymore?). Any one want to join my Pilate party?