Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon was published in 1977. The work went on to win several awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction in 2012. Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Nobel Prize for Literature for Beloved. Song of Solomon, Morrison’s fourth novel, follows Milkman Dead as he travels to Virginia in search of the truth (the “song”) about his ancestors. Morrison employs magical realism to investigate the “flights” of numerous people through four generations, including Milkman’s great-grandfather Solomon, who fled slavery by flying to Africa; as well as the inability to fly and the consequences of flight.
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Summary Song of Solomon
Robert Smith, an insurance agent, commits himself in 1931. Smith takes a leap of faith from the Mercy Hospital in an unknown Michigan town, which is located on the iconic “Not Doctor Street.” It was the first time a black woman gave birth at Mercy Hospital when Ruth Foster, Dr Foster’s daughter, gave birth there.
Ruth’s husband, Macon Dead II, is a harsh landowner who has amassed a large fortune, according to several citizens of Macon Dead 2. Ruth’s two daughters are named First Corinthians and Lena, which Macon chose at random from the Bible after giving birth to their son in the hospital. Macon and his sister Pilate used to be close, but a strange experience in a cave shattered their relationship. Ruth, despite her best efforts, eventually succumbs to her father’s memories and withdraws into her thoughts. When she’s alone, she breastfeeds her three-year-old son, Macon Dead III, despite his age. After seeing Ruth breastfeed her baby, Freddie, the Macon Dead II janitor/errand runner, dubbed him Milkman.
Milkman encounters Guitar, a youngster his age when he is 12 years old. Pilate lives with her daughter Reba and granddaughter Hagar, and Milkman is forbidden to see her. Hagar immediately piques Milkman’s curiosity. Macon is furious with Milkman later for meeting Pilate, but Milkman ignores his father’s commands. Macon and Pilate used to live on their father’s farm as youngsters, and they used to nickname each other “snakes,” which Macon refers to Pilate as. Freedman’s Bureau officials misinterpreted their father as saying that their father had died in Macon, Georgia, and dubbed the family the “Macon Dead.” Milkman is hired as a rent collector by Macon soon after.
When Ruth annoys Macon while the family is eating dinner, he hits her. Several years have passed. Milkman pushes Macon into the radiator and threatens to destroy him if he ever approaches Ruth again. Macon admires his son’s bravery in challenging him in secret. That night, he tells Milkman that he witnessed Ruth licking her dying father’s fingers years previously, implying that they had an incestuous relationship. Milkman is sickened by all women, including Ruth. He’s also worn down by the fact that he’s been dating Hagar for so long. He dumps her, and she is devastated. The guitar might be linked to a series of homicides carried out in retaliation for racist deaths of black people. Guitar believes that all white people are nasty and terrible, even those who pretend to be kind.
Hagar is infuriated by Milkman and repeatedly tries and fails to kill him. Ruth confronts Pilate, who confesses her background, after discovering that Hagar and Milkman had a sexual connection. Pilate’s father was killed by a racist white family in Danville, Pennsylvania, and she escaped to Virginia, where she had an affair with a man and gave birth to her daughter, Reba. She rejected to marry him because she was afraid he would be insulted by her lack of a navel. She encountered the spirit of her father while travelling and was told to “Sing,” which is why she sings so often.
He tells Milkman about a bag of gold he believes Pilate has at her house and that Macon believes is buried someplace in the house. Pilate says that he and his brother wandered the woods and tunnels as children when their father died and left them, orphans. To avoid being discovered, Macon assassinated a mysterious stranger hiding in a cave the following morning; he later learned that the man was carrying vast sums of money. Macon raced away when Pilate pushed him out of the cave, only to discover Pilate and the riches disappeared by the time he returned. To reclaim the wealth, he enlists the help of Milkman. Milkman and Guitar are tasked with breaking into Pilate’s house and removing her green bag from the ceiling. When they open it, all they find are bones. The police are suspicious of the two of them because of the bones, and they are arrested. Pilate covers both of them rather than pursuing charges, which makes Milkman feel even worse.
Milkman’s sister, Corinthians, is forced to work as a maid despite having a college diploma. Henry Porter, a yard worker and former drunken tenant of Macon Dead’s home, is her first suitor. Corinthians, first afraid that no one else is interested in her, eventually relents and marries a guy of lower social status. The first time they go home together, Corinthians has sex with Porter against her will, but she stays with him after that.
Milkman travels to Danville, Pennsylvania in part of the novel to search for a cave where he suspects Pilate has stashed her fortune. When Macon Dead II comes upon people he met during his father’s reign, they are ecstatic to hear of his newfound wealth and power. While looking for the cave, Milkman also meets Circe, the devoted midwife who delivered Pilate and his father. Circe tells Milkman that his paternal grandfather’s real name was Jake and that the Butler family killed him and dumped his body in the river. She tells him to seek the gold in the cave, but he doesn’t find any. Circe’s knowledge leads him to believe Pilate is faking his return from the cave, so he goes off in pursuit of wealth.
One of Milkman’s first revelations upon arriving in Shalimar is that he has been sought by someone from Michigan. People in town mock him for his snobbish demeanour, and he realizes that they’re right—spent he his whole life looking out for himself. Milkman is accompanied on a hunting excursion by many Shalimar guys. Guitar tries to kill him while they’re on the hunt. Guitar has no clue why he wants to kill him, but he guesses it’s because of the gold.
Milkman then follows Pilate’s trail to Susan Byrd’s house, where she discloses to Milkman that his paternal grandfather, Jake, married an Indian woman named Sing. As he leaves Byrd’s house, Milkman runs into Guitar, who accuses him of wanting to steal the gold for his gain. Guitar wants Pilate’s money to fund his vigilante group, the Seven Days, which murders white people in vengeance for a Black person’s death (regardless of whether the particular white people killed were involved in the original murder). Guitar warns Milkman, who then walks away.
As he strolls about Shalimar, Milkman realizes that the nursery rhyme the children are singing is based on his own family. At his great-grandfather Byrd’s home, he learns about his great-grandfather Solomon’s purported flight to Africa with his wife and children. Milkman, on the other hand, is thrilled and believes what he’s heard, whilst Byrd is sceptical. He feels like a different person after returning to Michigan, feeling that every name has a story to tell.
When Milkman arrives in Virginia, he learns that Hagar has died of melancholy as a result of her attempts to make herself more appealing to him. He approaches Pilate, who hits him with a bottle and knocks him out, but does not kill him. He is in a foul mood. When Milkman returns to the cave, she tells Pilate that she found her father’s body within, the one she’d been carrying for years. They return to Shalimar together to bury the bones, but Pilate dies before they can do so because she was shot by Guitar, who had been shooting for Milkman and is still chasing the gold that neither Pilate nor Milkman has. In the last moments, Guitar surrenders his weapon, and Milkman saves his life. As he leaps for Guitar, plummeting through the air, it’s unclear whether he intends to fight or embrace him.