Literature is bound by threads of themes that transcend all barriers of race, religion, epoch, and culture. Archetypal ideas of death, freedom, self-realization, good, and evil are utilized throughout most literary text. It is especially evident in The Song of Solomon and Beloved By Morrison, The Woman Warrior by Kingston, The Scarlet Letter by Hawthorne and The Awakening by Chopin, that religion and culture are an imperative part of society. Religious and cultural taboos are viewed as a set of moral codes that restrain one s Id as stated in Sigmund Freud s theories. In these five novels restraint not only affects the protagonists lives, and view there of, but their Self ; the very essence of their being. The authors use symbolism and character development to effectively portray this throughout their books. The protagonists struggle with themselves and society to conceive their Self is the conflict as well as one of the esoteric themes throughout the five novels.
Milkman in The Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, struggles to find his identity apart from his father. This is the cultural hierarchy he surpasses to find his Self . Society looks up at Milkman, for he is better off than most of his peers, causing resentment as well. This sends Milkman spiraling through self-examination. Realizing he needs to find his past to get a better hold on the future, he travels where his grandfather lived, originally not to gain insight on who he could be, but finally becoming the effect of the trip. It was here, in the mist of his father s land, that he became a man. Toni Morrison s character development is extremely important to illustrate Milkman s transition, from adhering to society s taboo s and rules to liberating himself. Thus, portraying society s hindrance on the development of the Self . Much like Solomon of the bible, Milkman went into the forest as a boy, and came out as a man. Morrison s use of symbolism, with the peacock, illustrates the character s transition and metamorphosis. This rebirth was imperative in the process of finding his Self. Now Milkman was no longer over shadowed by his father, a symbol of how black Americans had lost sight of their past, he was his own man. The author wrote, A son of Macon Dead the first, he paid homage to his own father s life…a measure of his loss at his father s death.
Much like in Song of Solomon, in Beloved, Morrison illustrates through character development and symbolism, the struggle of the protagonists to free themselves from the chains of society s taboos in order to emerge as their candid Self . Morrison illustrates how enslavement in the external world, especially the denial of one s Self as a human, tends to hold repercussions even after external, tangible restraints, like slavery, are broken. Sethe having run away from her slave master, Schoolteacher, is on the verge of being captured. Her humanity has been so violated by this man, and by the entire experience as a slave woman that she has lost her self worth and her self image. Morrison develops Sethe through various re-memories. The development of Sethe assists in embracing the full extent of the marks of enslavement holding repercussions in Sethe s Self . Sethe struggles throughout the novel to gain her Self back. This only happens when she has no repercussions and re-memories to taunt her. In the final scene Morrison interjects the most significant symbolism, of the whole book. Paul D tells Sethe, He wants to put his story next to hers. Throughout the novel storytelling is associated with the Self , this is the final clue in realizing Sethe s rebirth no longer as a free slave, but as a free woman.
Storytelling is evident in all the novels, but in The Woman Warrior by Kingston, it works directly to develop the characters, as well as to interject symbolism. Told in first person, Kingston illustrates the predilections of the Chinese culture and its confinement of the Self. Kingston questions the subvert accepted cultural, racial, and gender definitions of this culture and their effect on the affirmation of intersubjectivity. Kingston uses character development to illustrate, that the protagonist is suppressed not only by the culture in America, with its endemic racism, but also by her own culture. She attempts to subvert these hierarchies by imaginative identification with The Woman Warrior , a symbol of a triumphant woman, that overcomes these circumstances. The author writes, Whispering, Whispering, making no sense. Madness. I don t feel like hearing your craziness… I shut my mouth, but I felt something alive tearing at my throat . Theses vivid accounts of being tortured by silence are metaphors for the particular limitations a writer must overcome in order to be heard. It is when Kingston shatters the bonds of her past and becomes independent, that she is able to subjectively evaluate her Self and become Maxine Hong Kingston, no longer A Chinese girl, living in America , but a woman freed from the overshadows of her brothers, and her mother s culture. Someone able to submerge as a successful, independent woman, in psyche with her individuality.
The search for individuality is important in all the novels, yet this search for Self has a more direct and intense impact on Edna, the protagonist of The Awakening by Chopin. Chopin uses this search for Self as the basis of the novel, the character development of Edna is solely to illustrate this search. Edna Pontellier senses the force that ultimately drives her to the sea after a disagreement with her husband, Leonce, early in the novel. Chopin writes, A certain light [will begin] to dawn dimly within her…the light which, showing the way, forbids it . Edna comes to realize that her aloneness is a product of her desire for spiritual emancipation. She is not willing to sacrifice self-fulfillment in order to uphold the traditions and expectations of society. The author states, Every step which she took toward relieving herself from obligations added to her strength and expansionism an individual. But Edna knows that complete control over her own life will only come through total relief from social commitments. Thus, she returns to the comforting touch of sea that enfold[s] the body in it soft, close embrace. As Edna removes her clothing, and enters the sea, Edna is reborn into a world free from constraints. Chopin uses Edna s nakedness to symbolize her vulnerability and water to symbolize her rebirth, as if referring to passages about John the Baptist in the Bible. It is here, in the final scene, when the reader witnesses Edna s suicide, that the importance of one s Self becomes most evident. Now Edna is free of her inner-prison and encounters the world she has longed for throughout The Awakening.
This inner prison Edna struggles to free herself from is an underlying theme in The Scarlet Letter by Hawthorne. Hawthorne uses symbolism and character development, to demonstrate the theme of society s impact of the protagonist and it s affect on the Self. The Puritan ethics of Hester s community alienates her as part of her punishment, this causes great and deep repercussions on Hester s Self.
Because of the deterioration of her self image, and the badge of shame she must uphold, she commits herself to an inner prison . Loosing her Self to the A . Unlike in the preceding novels, the main character is not the only one who looses Self in The Scarlet Letter. Dimmesdale looses it to his overpowering sense of guilt. More impressively, Chillingworth, looses his Self completely in the novel by turning from man to fiend, devoting his life to the destruction of another. In the conclusion of the novel, Hawthorne s symbol of humiliation, ironically gives Hester the strength to find her Self , enabling her to do good works, and once more become a fruitful member of the Puritan society.
In the five novels Song of Solomon, Beloved, The Woman Warrior, The Awakening, and The Scarlet Letter, the authors use symbolism and character development, to accentuate the transcending theme that fetters these novels, society s impact on the protagonists and it s repercussions on the Self . They succeed in realizing the concept of the importance of the Self and the individual s struggles to find his or her Self within the confinements of society s rules. Moreover, they successfully develop insights that may be relevant to readers of all cultures and that transcend place and time.