Song of Solomon Summary

Toni Morrison

Song of Solomon

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Song of Solomon Summary

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Song of Solomon is a 1977 Toni Morrison novel that follows the life from birth to death of an African American man, Macon “Milkman” Dead III. It was one of the works cited when she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.

It is the story of Milkman, so nicknamed because he was breastfed during much of his childhood. He was seen through the window breastfeeding by one of his father’s employees . People see him as a momma’s boy, unlike his future best friend, Guitar.

He is named after his father, and his father’s father. His two sisters are named after pins stuck in the Bible, “First Corinthians” and “Magdalene called Lena.” His mother, Ruth, is a local physician who idolized her own father. After her father died, her husband claimed to have found her kneeling and sucking on her father’s fingers. Ruth denies this, saying that she was only kissing his hand, the only part of his body not affected by the disease. Truth is difficult to obtain from these conflicting stories of his parents. His father also accused Ruth of being sexually involved with her own father, and on one occasion, Milkman punches his father after his father hits Ruth.

At four, when Milkman discovers that humans cannot fly, he loses all interest in himself and others. As he begins to resemble his father, a man obsessed with the accumulation of wealth, he is taken care of by the women in his family, but he is unable to return their affections.

As an adult, he is stifled by this family and begins to seek other options. His son informs him that his aunt, Pilate, may have millions of dollars of gold tied up in a tarp attached to the ceiling of her house. He and Guitar rob her but are disappointed to find only rocks and the remains of a skeleton that turns out to be his grandfather.

They decide that the gold might be in a cave near his grandfather’s old property, and Milkman goes off to search for it, promising Guitar a share if he finds it. Guitar is convinced he is hiding the gold, and attempts to kill him, along with Milkman’s family member Hagar, who is devastated by his rejection.

While there, he finds an almost supernaturally old woman, a former slave named Circe. She tells him that Macon’s original name was Jake and that he was married to an Indian girl, Sing. From her, he finds out that Jake’s father was the legendary Flying African, Solomon. Solomon was able to escape slavery by flying back to Africa. Although his flight was extraordinary, he left behind his wife and twenty-one children.

Milkman is transformed by this knowledge, and he returns home to tell his family what he has discovered. However, Hagar has died of a broken heart, and his family’s problems still plague them. He survives an assassination attempt by Guitar, and he and Pilate return to the farm to bury Jake’s bones.

After the burial, Pilate is killed by Guitar with a bullet intended for Milkman. Milkman is devastated, but he is still transformed by his recent experiences. He call’s Guitar’s name and leaps towards him.

A main theme of the novel is the discrepancy in social status between women and men. The men of the novel are encouraged to fly, so much so that one actually did to escape enslavement. The women are always left behind. They are trapped by marriages and social expectations. The men of the novel are always fleeing, able to escape the dredges of existence. Women, on the other hand, are driven mad by their love.

The women in the novel rely on their male partners to stabilize the home and to give them their sense of security and place. As each man leaves, the women are then driven mad by their obsessive love and a few eventually die from it. They are incapable of living independently unless they have reached a level of societal marginalization that is irreversible.

Another theme is racism and the vision of America. The novel spans four generations of black families, and spends a great deal of time in the 1960s on the eve of the Civil Rights movement. Inequality affects the lives of each character, and the act of escaping slavery begins the journey that ultimately changes Milkman’s life.

For most of the characters, racism traps them in their unhappy lives. Milkman feels that his life is nothing. He is disillusioned, as all the character are, and it is not until he finds out that his great grandfather really can fly that he begins to find hope in his circumstances. Although we cannot know the outcome of his leap towards Guitar, the leap is symbolic of his return to his family lineage’s greatness.