I'm reading Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison for a class, and I'm confused by this.
An important part of Milkman's life story is that his mother (Ruth) breastfed him later than normal. It's how he got his name:
She felt him. His restraint, his courtesy, his indifference, all of which pushed her into fantasy. She had the distinct impression that his lips were pulling from her a thread of light. It was as though she were a cauldron issuing spinning gold. Like the miller's daughter--the one who sat at night in a straw-filled room, thrilled with the secret power Rumpelstiltskin had given her: to see golden thread stream from her very own shuttle. And that was the other part of her pleasure, a pleasure she hated to give up. So when Freddie the janitor, who liked to pretend he was a friend of the family and not just their flunky as well as their tenant, brought his rent to the doctor's house late one day and looked in the window past the evergreen, the terror that sprang to Ruth's eyes came from the quick realization that she was to lose fully half of what made her daily life bearable. Freddie, however, interpreted her look as simple shame, but that didn't stop him from grinning.
“I be damn, Miss Rufie. When the last time I seen that? I don't even know the last time I seen that. I mean, ain't nothing wrong with it. I mean, old folks swear by it. It's just, you know, you don't see it up here much….” But his eyes were on the boy. Appreciative eyes that communicated some complicity she was excluded from. Freddie looked the boy up and down, taking in the steady but secretive eyes and the startling contrast between Ruth's lemony skin and the boy's black skin. “Used to be a lot of womenfolk nurse they kids a long time down South. Lot of 'em. But you don't see it much no more. I knew a family--the mother wasn't too quick, though--nursed hers till the boy, I reckon, was near 'bout thirteen. But that's a bit much, ain't it?” All the time he chattered, he rubbed his chin and looked at the boy. Finally he stopped, and gave a long low chuckle. He'd found the phrase he'd been searching for. “A milkman. That's what you got here, Miss Rufie. A natural milkman if ever I seen one. Look out, womens. Here he come. Huh!”
Later in Milkman's life, he is upset about this, but Ruth defends herself:
“You nursed me.”
“Until I was…old. Too old.”
Ruth turned toward her son. She lifted her head and looked deep into his eyes. “And I also prayed for you. Every single night and every single day. On my knees. Now you tell me. What harm did I do you on my knees?”
I'm confused about:
- Why does Ruth breastfeed Milkman?
- Why is this a scandal?