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Classic Literature

Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon: The Ultimate Guide

Song of Solomon is a captivating novel about personal growth, self-discovery, and identity.

Last Updated on March 15, 2024 by BiblioLifestyle

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon is hands down my personal favorite book by Morrison, and I consider it a true masterpiece. The novel details the journey of Macon Dead III, also known as Milkman, as he seeks to find his true identity and discover the secrets of his family’s past. Song of Solomon is truly captivating, with beautiful imagery, and is highly acclaimed for its literary style and its story about personal growth, self-discovery, and identity. Morrison tells the story of Milkman’s physical and spiritual quest to find himself, his family roots, and his true identity. So in this article, I’ll talk more about the themes explored in this novel, the characters, as well as some discussion questions to spark intellectual thought processes.

About Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon

Summary

“Song of Solomon” unfolds as a rich and complicated narrative that centers around the life story of Macon Dead III, nicknamed Milkman. Born in a society plagued by racial injustice, Milkman embarks on a journey from Michigan to Virginia in a quest for gold, which he believes will provide him economic freedom. This journey, however, turns out to be Milkman’s voyage into his ancestral past. As he discovers his family lineage marked by slavery and a fight for liberation, he gains a profound understanding of his own identity and purpose. The novel thus interweaves Milkman’s personal journey with the collective history of African Americans, creating a powerful narrative tapestry that addresses themes of identity, personal freedom, and cultural heritage.

Main Characters

Macon Dead III (Milkman)

Milkman is the protagonist of ‘Song of Solomon.’ He embarks on a journey to understand his family’s history and, in the process, discovers his own identity. Raised in privilege, his journey exposes him to a world he was previously oblivious of, leading to his personal transformation.

Macon Dead II

Macon Jr. is Milkman’s father, a wealthy, materialistic man who is obsessively concerned with his social status. He represents the societal pressures and constraints that Milkman must overcome to find his true self.

Jake, aka Macon Dead I

Jake is Milkman’s grandfather, and his journey as a freed slave forms the backbone of the family history that Milkman seeks.

Pilate Dead

Pilate is Milkman’s eccentric aunt, who, in many ways, is the spiritual heart of the book. She is a repository of family history and tradition, and plays a central role in Milkman’s journey towards self-discovery.

Guitar Bains

Guitar is Milkman’s best friend, who accompanies him on his journey. He represents the anger and frustration felt by many African Americans towards white society and is character offers a counterpoint to Milkman’s, embodying the anger and frustration born out of racial injustice.

Ruth Foster Dead

Ruth is Milkman’s mother, a quiet woman who lives a life of repression under her husband, Macon Dead Jr. Her character sheds light on the gender dynamics prevalent in their society.

Solomon

The mysterious character of Solomon is the one Milkman embarks on his journey to find. His quest for gold and flight from captivity symbolizes the search for personal freedom and liberation.

Susan Byrd

Susan Byrd is a distant relative of Milkman’s who lives in Shalimar, Virginia. She holds the keys to unraveling Milkman’s intricate family history. Despite her initial hesitance to reveal the truth about their shared ancestry, she eventually discloses vital information about Solomon, significantly aiding Milkman in his quest for self-discovery. Her character emphasizes the importance of embracing one’s roots and the power of truth in the journey towards self-realization.

Themes

Quest for Self-Identity

The central theme of ‘Song of Solomon’ is the quest for self-identity. Throughout the novel, Milkman embarks on a journey to discover his individual and familial identity. His search for gold becomes a metaphor for his hunt for self-identity and understanding of his family’s past.

Freedom and Imprisonment

This theme is prevalent throughout the novel, represented by the physical and mental barriers that restrict the characters. The oppression of African Americans and the societal constraints each character experiences form a crucial part of this theme.

Love and Betrayal

Morrison explores the complexities of love and betrayal among family members and friends. This theme is manifest in various relationships within the novel, such as between Milkman and Guitar, and between Ruth and Macon Jr.

Flight as a Means of Escape

The motif of flight recurs throughout the novel, symbolizing a means of escape from physical, economic, and ideological confinement. From Solomon’s flight to Africa to escape slavery, to Milkman’s journey south, flight represents liberation and transcendence.

The Significance of Names

Names in ‘Song of Solomon’ hold profound meanings and serve as a connection to the characters’ identities and past. Names reflect the personal histories, aspirations, and societal roles of the characters.

Writing Style

Toni Morrison’s ‘Song of Solomon’ is celebrated for its rich and lyrical narrative style. Morrison employs a wealth of poetic language and vivid imagery to paint a powerful picture of Milkman’s journey and the world he inhabits. Her storytelling is deeply rooted in the oral tradition, infused with African American folklore, songs, and myths. The non-linear narrative structure, characterized by frequent flashbacks and shifts in perspective, mirrors the complexity of memory and history. The dialogues authentically capture the vernacular speech patterns of African American communities, adding to the novel’s cultural richness. Additionally, Morrison’s use of symbolism, metaphor, and magical realism imbues the narrative with deeper layers of meaning, inviting readers to engage in an active interpretation of the text.

Song of Solomon

Frequently Asked Questions about Song of Solomon

What is the main message of Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison?

The main message of ‘Song of Solomon’ by Toni Morrison is the importance of understanding and embracing one’s cultural heritage and personal history as a path to self-discovery and liberation. Morrison underscores the notion that personal identity cannot be separated from cultural identity, and that acknowledging one’s roots is vital to gaining a sense of self-worth and purpose. The novel also explores themes of racial oppression, societal constraints, and the quest for freedom, providing a complex critique of the African American experience. Ultimately, through Milkman’s journey, the novel offers a profound exploration of the human condition, emphasizing the need for personal growth, understanding, and transformation.

What is the plot of Song of Solomon Toni Morrison?

‘Song of Solomon’ by Toni Morrison tells the story of an African American named Macon “Milkman” Dead III. The novel begins with the birth of Milkman and traces his life into adulthood. Milkman grows up in a wealthy family but is detached from his cultural heritage. He hears a story about gold that his Aunt Pilate may have hidden, and this fuels a greedy desire in him. He embarks on a journey to find this gold, which turns into a quest for self-discovery. Along the way, he learns about his family’s history, from his grandfather’s escape from slavery to his father’s and aunt’s diverging paths as they grew older. He reignites a love interest in a woman named Hagar, who he previously scorned, but his disregard leads Hagar to her death, causing Milkman great guilt and remorse.

Throughout his journey, Milkman becomes increasingly disconnected from his initial pursuit of wealth and more interested in understanding his roots. His search leads him to a town in Virginia where his ancestors lived. His friend Guitar, who accompanied him, becomes convinced that Milkman has found and hidden the gold. Their friendship turns sour, leading to Guitar trying to kill Milkman at the end of the novel. The novel ends ambiguously, with Milkman embracing his heritage, leaping towards Guitar, and the words “If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.”

What is Toni Morrison’s religion in Song of Solomon?

Toni Morrison’s religious beliefs are not explicitly revealed in ‘Song of Solomon.’ However, the novel incorporates various religious and spiritual elements, reflecting a blend of Christian, African, and Native American traditions. These influences are evident in the themes, symbols, and characterizations throughout the novel. It’s important to note that Morrison’s personal religious beliefs should not be conflated with the religious elements present in her work. As an author, she often explored diverse religious and cultural perspectives to enrich her narratives and shed light on the multifaceted African American experience.

Why is Milkman called Milkman Song of Solomon?

Macon “Milkman” Dead III is given his nickname for a rather peculiar incident from his childhood. The character, Freddie, catches his mother, Ruth, breastfeeding him when he is past the typical age for nursing. This event leads to the moniker “Milkman.” This unusual name serves multiple symbolic purposes in the novel. It underscores his prolonged dependence and conflictual relationship with his mother and his alienation from the community. The name also emphasizes his distinctive status in his society – he is different, set apart from others in both positive and negative ways.

What does Milkman realize at the end of Song of Solomon?

At the end of ‘Song of Solomon,’ Milkman realizes the importance of his cultural heritage and family history in shaping his identity. After learning about his ancestors and their struggles, he attains a newfound respect and understanding for his roots. He also comprehends the futility of his previous materialistic pursuits and the greed that drove him. In the novel’s climactic ending, he embraces his heritage and leaps towards Guitar, which is metaphorically his leap towards understanding, acceptance, and liberation. The last line of the novel, “If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it,” signifies his realization that surrendering to his heritage, rather than fighting or denying it, offers a path to freedom and self-discovery.

What is the trauma in the Song of Solomon and the Milkman?

The trauma in ‘Song of Solomon’ is multifaceted and deeply ingrained in the characters’ lives. For Milkman, the protagonist, his trauma stems from his strained relationships, particularly with his mother and his alienation from his cultural heritage. His mother, Ruth, suffers from the emotional trauma of living in an unloving marriage and being socially ostracized. Milkman’s quest for material wealth further distances him from his family and community, causing him emotional distress. As he uncovers his family’s past, he is confronted with the generational trauma of slavery and racial oppression that his ancestors endured. By the end of the novel, Milkman’s journey becomes one of healing as he learns to understand and reconcile with his past, giving him a path to navigate and overcome his trauma.

Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon Discussion Questions

The edition of Song of Solomon that I used when discussing the book as a part of an online ‘Year of Morrison’ read-along I hosted in 2019 can be found here on Amazon or Bookshop.

  • Why does  Morrison open the novel with a man jumping off a building? Why did Robert Smith jump? Why did he choose this method of suicide?
  • What is the significance of Macon wanting to buy property in Honoré?
  • Why does Macon secretly listen to Pilate and her family singing?
  • How does Milkman’s relationship with Hagar show his inner conflict?
  • What is Guitar’s justification for participating in the Seven Days? Was he deluding himself?
  • What does the white peacock symbolize?
  • Why is Corinthians depressed? What are your thoughts on her character and her choice to immerse herself in the Black community?
  • How do Lena and Corinthians handle their oppression differently?
  • Pilate, Macon, and Guitar take on different personalities when dealing with White people. What do these changes reveal about them?
  • How does the character of Pilate function in the novel? What does she represent, and how does she contribute to Milkman’s journey?
  • How is Milkman’s dream similar to and different from his experience on a plane?
  • How does racism affect Milkman and Hagar’s relationship?
  • What enables Milkman to take responsibility for Hagar’s death?
  • What does Morrison tell this story in such a nonchronological way?
  • How does Milkman’s family history play a role in shaping his own identity?
  • What is the significance of the “Song of Solomon” in the novel? How does it relate to the themes of identity, family, and self-discovery?

Legacy of Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon

Toni Morrison’s ‘Song of Solomon’ has left an indelible mark on the landscape of American literature. Its exploration of African American history and identity, along with its lyrical and innovative narrative style, has had a profound influence on subsequent generations of writers. The novel has been widely studied in academic circles, inspiring countless theses and scholarly articles. Its themes of self-discovery, freedom, and the power of storytelling have resonated with readers worldwide, making it a beloved classic. Furthermore, ‘Song of Solomon’ has served as a powerful vehicle for introducing readers to the rich tapestry of African American culture, with its vibrant oral tradition and folklore. In recognition of its cultural significance, the book has received numerous accolades, including the National Book Critics Circle Award. It was also a key factor in Morrison’s receipt of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. Through ‘Song of Solomon,’ Morrison has not only crafted an enduring work of art but also contributed to greater visibility and recognition of African American literature in the global literary canon.

Have you read Song of Solomon?

Is Song of Solomon on your TBR?  What is your favorite Toni Morrison book?  Let us talk all about Song of Solomon and all things Toni Morrison in the comments below!

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