Song of Solomon

by Toni Morrison

Hardcover, 1977

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Knopf, 1977.

Description

Milkman Dead was born shortly after a neighborhood eccentric hurled himself off a rooftop in a vain attempt at flight. For the rest of his life he, too, will be trying to fly. With this brilliantly imagined novel, Toni Morrison transfigures the coming-of-age story as audaciously as Saul Bellow or Gabriel García Márquez. As she follows Milkman from his rustbelt city to the place of his family's origins, Morrison introduces an entire cast of strivers and seeresses, liars and assassins, the inhabitants of a fully realized black world.

User reviews

LibraryThing member dchaikin
16. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (1977, 341 pages, read Mar 30 – Apr 13)

There is something fun in the curious way Morrison presents this. Things happen that make us wonder. Every character seems to have a name that is clearly meaningful, and yet it’s never clear what they mean. And, actually, we never seem to be fully in reality. Even the location, somewhere near a not-inspiring Flint, MI and yet where one can look over Lake Superior, is impossible. But why?

Names do come about in a wonderful variety of forms, including three Macom Deads, the second naming his daughters Magdalena and First Corinthians, and a having an estranged sister named Pilate. Pilate, a somewhat goddess like character without a navel, is unmarried with an unmarried daughter and granddaughter, that later one named Hagar. The third Macom Dead, the book’s main character, acquires the name Milkman initially because his mother nursed him too long (till he was about 8?), but Milkman grows up unaware of the origin of his name. His best friend is Guitar. And so on.

The story is a coming of age of sorts, even if Milkman’s coming of age takes place in his thirties. He must somehow be driven to leave his comfortable and stifled middle class life (funded by his father’s success as a slumlord), and travel through his family's past, ending up in a dirt-poor black community somewhere in Virginia. He finds mythical and real roots, perspective, and a very different view of life. But he leaves a kind of wreckage behind along the way. And the ending is a most precarious one.

There are many things going on through out this novel. Some seem to be clear, such as the racially conscious tone and the criticism of middle-class blacks as rootless, soulless imitations of white people. The mythological links to the Odyssey in Milkman’s travels. And again in the opening Icarus-like scene where salesman Robert Smith dives off a tall building intending to fly, leaving behind a note that says something simply like, “I love you all,” and very powerfully illustrating the black glass ceiling, where black professional prospects cannot exceed.

But this only touches the surface. The reader is left to ponder, and ponder widely as there is simply no easy take. This books goes many places, and the tracks are obscured. When I put it down, I simply had no response. A good book, but how good? And what was the point? After much thinking and reading a Bloom’s collection of essays on it, I still can’t clearly answer that second question, although I can say this is a pretty good book. Enjoyed it.
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LibraryThing member Katie_H
I have read a couple of Toni Morrison's other novels, but this is the by far the best I have read. This is a stunning tale of self-discovery that follows the lives of a black family living in Michigan. The majority of the narrative revolves around Milkman, the first black child born at Mercy Hospital, and the son of a prominant and wealthy businessman. To escape the town and threat of death by the hand of his scorned lover and cousin, Hagar, he goes on a quest for treasure. He may not find what he is looking for, but he discovers something much more valuable. Morrison's approach is magical and passionate, and her prose is detailed, riveting, and powerful. This is a thought provoking masterpiece and a must read for all audiences.… (more)
LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
This isn't a quick read, and the characters aren't particularly believable at many points, but they will at times break your heart. The story is so beautiful, though, and the themes so carefully interwoven, that you'll find yourself being seduced by this novel despite yourself, and despite the fact that you're not sure why. The writing is memorable, also, which doesn't hurt. I'd recommend this novel, though you do have to have some patience to really get into it before it will engage you. My advice is to let yourself wander through it, not to rush, and to enjoy it for what it gives you, which is a fascinating wonderfully written story that will stay with you quite a while after the book is done.… (more)
LibraryThing member rosalux
This is my favorite of Toni Morrison's books. It's tragic and beautiful and gives a living breathing feel to the real past and the mythic past without being as overwhelmingly heartbreaking as some of her other novels.
LibraryThing member gbill
Like a lot of great literature or art in general, Toni Morrison’s ‘Song of Solomon’ is not a tidy little story where everything is easily comprehensible, and that may put some readers off. It’s also not a book that depicts African-American characters as downtrodden victims, as successive men in generations of the Macon Dead family succeed at farming, being a doctor, and in real estate. Within its long and winding story it does describe elements of the African-American experience that seem so alive today, 40 years after the book was written: the police using profiling and stopping people just for being black, the justice system not caring about black people getting killed, and the excessive, random, and arbitrary violence of white people towards blacks, and for that alone it’s well worth reading.

Morrison’s style is unique, as she writes at times with magical realism and poetically weaves her way through the story, and at others with dialogue and events that are so direct and real that they sear on the page. You may shudder at the ‘Seven Days’ club’s desire for vengeance, but Morrison does not flinch in describing this. Her writing seems very honest in so many ways: in the banter in her characters’ dialogue, the relationships between men and woman particularly when there is sexual obsession, and in the observations she makes, such as at one point expressing the criticism that there is sometimes a tendency for blacks to excuse themselves from doing better because everything is “The Man’s fault”.

One of the central themes of the book is the hope of transcending difficult conditions, and also to know one’s past, one’s people. Most have lost their real names and sometimes get the ridiculous names out of white hubris, or because “White people name Negroes like race horses”, and indeed, the dedication to the book reads “The fathers may soar, and the children may know their names”. The book is ambitious in its scope and in how the story was told. Maybe too ambitious for an even higher rating from me. Parts of the plot don’t seem plausible, such as Guitar’s actions towards Milkman towards the end, though perhaps they are also symbolic. Regardless, all in all, a good read.
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LibraryThing member SophiAsaviour
If you often ponder about who did what to whom and when in your family's closet, this is a book for you. The characters are deep and intense and the action is full. The interchange between characters is excellent and the ending is a real surprise. A must-add to your library. I could not put it down.
LibraryThing member writestuff
With her father as her muse, Toni Morrison has created a memorable African American family with strong male characters in her novel The Song of Solomon. The novel opens with an insurance agent attempting to fly and therefore diving to his death off of Mercy (referred to as No Mercy) hospital in 1931. This sets the tone for the rest of the novel - a novel about flight and self discovery...mystical, triumphant, and disturbing.

Morrison's story centers around the Dead family composed of Macon (the abusive, yet savvy father), Ruth (the mother - a sad woman whose grief for her dead father defines her life), First Corinthians (a daughter both beautiful and educated who stumbles in her search for a lover), Magdalene called Lena (the second daughter), and finally Milkman (Macon's son). There are other important characters as part of the extended family - namely Pilate, Macon's free spirited sister who lives with her daughter Reba and Reba' daughter Hager.

There are many themes and much symbolism throughout the book, and I found myself marking passages and re-reading paragraphs to make sense of them. First and foremost, the novel is about discovery of one's roots, and the painful search for love. Milkman starts his life fighting to avoid murder at the hands of his father, and this theme continues through the book ending with Milkman's protracted journey from his home in Michigan to his grandparent's home in Virginia. Along the way, Milkman's views of life are challenged and his connection to his roots are strengthened. Another strong theme in the novel is that of racism and the struggle of blacks in American to overcome the history of slavery. Finally, the idea of taking flight and finding oneself is replayed over and over in the book. In one memorable scene, Milkman and his friend Guitar observe a white peacock. Milkman asks why the peacock struggles to fly and Guitar says:

"Too much tail. All that jewelry weighs it down. Like vanity. Can't nobody fly with all that shit. Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down." -From Song of Solomon, page 179-

I avoided reading a Morrison novel for a long time because I had heard that Morrison's books were often difficult reads with weighty themes. And this is certainly true. But despite this, I found myself looking forward to picking up the book. Morrison writes beautifully and is a superb storyteller. Although she is sometimes heavy handed with the symbolism, I didn't find it distracting from the story. I found myself caring deeply about the characters in Song of Solomon, even those who were not terribly likable.

Song of Solomon has been banned in the United States for "language degrading to blacks," violent imagery, sexually explicit and profane language and depictions of sexuality. It has been accused of promoting a "homosexual agenda." There is profanity, violence and sex in the novel, but it is not gratuitous.

Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 for her body of work, and I can certainly see why based on this book alone. I will be reading more of Toni Morrison in the future.

Song of Solomon is highly recommended; rated 4.5/5.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
Song of Solomon is a brilliant synthesis of a mythic journey, family drama and story of origin. This is the story of Macon "Milkman" Dead, heir to the richest black family in a Midwestern town, as he makes a voyage of rediscovery, travelling southwards geographically and inwards spiritually. In some respects, Milkman's story is a classic Bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story about the moral and psychological development of the main character. However, Milkman is thirty-two when he finally comes of age, unlike traditional heroes and heroines of the Bildungsroman. In part, Milkman postpones his adulthood because he is comfortable as the pampered only son of an upper-middle-class family. But Milkman also resists the sense of connection and commitment to others that are required of adults. We see him thinking for himself -- questioning his place in the world:
"As the stars made themselves visible, Milkman tried to figure what was true and what part of what was true had anything to do with him." (p 75)
Through the enlightenment of this one man, his quest for identity, the novel recapitulates the history of slavery and liberation. The novel's epigraph reads, "The fathers may soar/ And the children may know their names." The importance of names and naming for Morrison's cast of characters, primarily Milkman's family, seems to exist in a name's ability to intimate or uncover hidden truths about personal identity. Morrison's use of the flight metaphor to bookend the story is brilliant as well. I found the story both entertaining and educational in the sense that I learned about a culture that was very different than my own. The differences were submerged beneath the similarities in relationships of family and friends that were like those of everyone everywhere.
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LibraryThing member kant1066
It’s been too many years since I’ve read Toni Morrison (“Paradise,” which was wonderful and “Sula,” which I don’t remember much about at all). This one brought back to the fore everything that I loved about “Paradise” all over again.

“Song of Solomon” tells the story of Macon (“Milkman”) Dead (far from the only peculiar name you’ll see encounter in this book), the son of a loveless marriage and an overbearing, despotic father, also named Macon. Morrison presents the reader with a wide cast of characters early in the novel, all fully drawn out, but refuses to hint at which ones you should be following most closely. There’s Macon Sr.’s sister, Pilate; her daughter, Rebecca; and Rebecca’s daughter, Hagar, all of whose names point directly to the kind of mythical, grand storytelling that Morrison is so invested in. Not even the Nobel Committee could escape the language of myth when mentioning her in their citation: “The Solomon of the title, the southern ancestor, was to be found in the songs of childhood games. His inner intensity had borne him back, like Icarus, through the air to the Africa of his roots. This insight finally becomes Milkman’s too.”

The action is centered around Milkman’s coming of age, and slightly resembles a Bildungsroman, though it’s so much richer and fuller than anything that word could connote. The novel is full of disintegrating, rotting relationships – between Ruth and Macon Sr., Pilate and Macon Sr., Milkman and his erstwhile best friend Guitar, and Milkman and his girlfriend Hagar. Without giving away too much, Milkman’s journey sets him on a path where he ends up learning about the circumstances of his own birth and his ancestors.

This was a spectacular novel, convincing me still again that Toni Morrison is a kind of American Homer, full of allegory and origins, an undiluted rhapsode always pushing for a deeper and more expansive and prophetic evaluation of our roots, our identities, and our borders. As often as she’s called a black writer, an African-American writer, a woman writer (that especially grating nineteenth-century appellation that rings of male condescension), she seems like none of these to me. She is American – as widely and deeply American as any of the other novelists who come before her.

This is a truly impressive piece of work, and a wonderful place to start if you’re unfamiliar with Morrison’s oeuvre.
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LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
This isn't a quick read, and the characters aren't particularly believable at many points, but they will at times break your heart. The story is so beautiful, though, and the themes so carefully interwoven, that you'll find yourself being seduced by this novel despite yourself, and despite the fact that you're not sure why. The writing is memorable, also, which doesn't hurt. I'd recommend this novel, though you do have to have some patience to really get into it before it will engage you. My advice is to let yourself wander through it, not to rush, and to enjoy it for what it gives you, which is a fascinating wonderfully written story that will stay with you quite a while after the book is done.… (more)
LibraryThing member BrianDewey
Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon. Plume, New York, 1977. One of my favorite Morrison novels.
LibraryThing member novelcommentary
As I read this novel I realized I should probably read everything by Toni Morrison since she is so important an author. This story of Milkman Dead was a captivating one as we grew up with this boy who tries to find his own place in the world. The portraits of his parents, his friend Guitar and his Aunt Pilate are all remarkable, as are the various scenes depicted.… (more)
LibraryThing member Jaylabelle
Stunningly poignant tale of finding identity in an African American setting, and out of an ugly present beauty and pride by discovering the past.
LibraryThing member ireed110
Macon Dead, the son of Macon Dead, wanders carelessly through his life until one day he is moved to find out who he really is. Toni Morrison excels at creating interesting and moving characters, and this book has a whole cast of them. This book is an intricate examination of who these people are and how they came to be.

My favorite character is Pilate, sister to the second Macon Dead. She is intense, somewhat magical, and driven. She wears her name in her earring and eschews worldly trappings, living in the way she feels she should, rather than the way the world expects her to, and she apologies to no one.

This is not a simple story. The characters are deep, their motives deeper, their stories are both uplifting and tragic. It deserves a re-read in a couple of years' time, as I'm sure there's much that I missed the first time in.
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LibraryThing member Othemts
This may be Morrison's best novel. It's a great story about a quest to find one's people and learn to fly. This is also a good book for someone reading Toni Morrison for the first time since the style is a lot more accessible than her other books.
LibraryThing member bexaplex
Song of Solomon is an absolutely brilliant synthesis of a mythic journey, family drama and story of origin. There are strong echos of James Baldwin, and probably many other authors of whom I am ignorant. Morrison juggles a lot of ideas without looking like she's trying too hard. The characters are compelling and real, and they grow and learn in a bumpy real-world way. Milkman, who chafes at his father's attitudes about life, waits until he is in his thirties to take his voyage of self-discovery. My favorite up-ended traditional character is Pilates, who is an earth-mothery root worker who ends up being just plain wrong about the dominant spirit in her life.

It's worth reading the book just for the names, which provide the kind of humor that one character describes as being vital to living life as a black woman. An ancestor of the main character, being illiterate, unintentionally accepts a post-slavery surname of "Dead" and names his children by pointing at the Bible, resulting in some of the best names in English-language literature.
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LibraryThing member zip_000
This was really an amazing book. It is the only Morrison book other than Beloved that I have read, and, while this one does not quite compare to Beloved, it was still excellent.

The only negative that I can come up with is that there is a bit too much plot. I feel like Morrison's writing is at a high enough level that she can forgo some of the plot and just write. She gives the reader a feeling of deep, deep roots and a beautiful melancholy that is enough without the overwrought plot. Her writing is reminiscent of Faulkner, which is for me, a very high compliment.… (more)
LibraryThing member MsNikki
I hated having to read this book for school. But then my literature teacher wasn't teaching so I sat down with a pen and actually read the book, and surprise, surprise I liked it.

It confused me initially, and that why I resisted it. But once I got over that, I really enjoyed it.
LibraryThing member sandglass
It turns out, reading is bad for sleep cycles. The ending of Song of Solomon felt really rushed and very deux ex machina. All of a sudden Milkman realizes that the song the children are singing, a version that his aunt has been singing, is about his family. And then there’s a cousin who can explain everything for him, but she didn’t want to before because the town gossip was there! Uhm. . .okay. I figured a while ago that the bones that Pilate was carrying were her father’s, and the whole grown woman regressing to small child was touching, I guess.

The Days was the most interesting part. Unlike Beloved, the politics felt a lot less pastede on yey. Political diatribes felt appropriate in Song of Solomon. The idea that they would rape and murder innocent white women made me ill, but Guitar had a compelling explanation—that any white person is a potential lyncher. Wrong, of course, but I can see how he would be so filled with fear and rage that he’d start thinking that way.

It felt a little misogynistic, something I realize more comparing it with Beloved. Beloved was a story about a woman and her two female daughters, and yet there was a long subplot about her lover shoehorned in with a lot about how awful it was to be a black man that eclipsed her story. The rape of black women wasn’t so bad—but the effect it had on black men was just horrible! Sigh. Ditto here, although in this story it’s more appropriate, since the main focus is on Milkman, his father Macon Dead (and his father Macon Dead), and Guitar. The young women are blamed for how they were raised, and mostly exist in relation to men (as mothers, as lovers, as sisters). Milkman’s sister points out his misogyny and how he has been using women, but that was pretty quickly dropped. There’s no real analysis of the sociopolitical forces that lead to it, like there is for the stuff involving men.

Some of the prose was just absolutely beautiful. The book was a serious slog, it was so thick and dense. It took me a while to start really caring about the characters, and I have to admit I never really came to care about Milkman.
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LibraryThing member BAP1012
One of my favorites - and my favorite of Morrison's books. I was introduced to this book in 1978 in a college lit class. I've read it many times since and own too many copies to count because I get a craving to read it and need it now!

I love the beauty of Toni Morrison's words and the terribly complicated but simply human characters of this novel. The plot takes me to places and worlds I would never know without this book. I want to know Pilate and Circe as strongly as my own grandmothers.… (more)
LibraryThing member bexaplex
Song of Solomon is an absolutely brilliant synthesis of a mythic journey, family drama and story of origin. There are strong echos of James Baldwin, and probably many other authors of whom I am ignorant. Morrison juggles a lot of ideas without looking like she's trying too hard. The characters are compelling and real, and they grow and learn in a bumpy real-world way. Milkman, who chafes at his father's attitudes about life, waits until he is in his thirties to take his voyage of self-discovery. My favorite up-ended traditional character is Pilates, who is an earth-mothery root worker who ends up being just plain wrong about the dominant spirit in her life.

It's worth reading the book just for the names, which provide the kind of humor that one character describes as being vital to living life as a black woman. An ancestor of the main character, being illiterate, unintentionally accepts a post-slavery surname of "Dead" and names his children by pointing at the Bible, resulting in some of the best names in English-language literature.
… (more)
LibraryThing member pinkcrayon99
I am trying to work my way through all of Toni Morrison’s novels even the ones I have read before. I needed something to get me through the work day and my podcasts were just not cutting it so I decided to download the audio version of Song of Solomon. The title of the book also made me inch it up TBR pile because of the allusion to the Biblical book Song of Solomon. Needless to say, when I hit play on itunes I was in for a literary whirlwind that only Toni Morrison can produce.

The beginning of this novel was utter chaos. Mr. Smith the insurance agent jumping to his death from the top of Mercy Hospital and a baby, the protagonist, being born all at the same time. Macon “Milkman” Dead II was born into a dysfunctional family that had skeletons in every closet. He got his nickname “Milkman” from being observed breastfeeding at a late age. Rose Dead, Milkman’s mother, has one or two strong moments in the story but mainly she is this passive detached wife and mother. Macon Dead Jr. is the iron fist ruling father that has emotional baggage from a terrifying childhood. Magdelena and First Corinthians Dead are Milkman’s sisters whom he seems not to remotely have a thought or care about. Pilate, Milkman’s aunt who is his father’s sister, is the most endearing character. Pilate has a way of drawing you in. The mystery surrounding Pilate is that she has no navel. Pilate’s daughter, Reba, is mother to Hagar who falls in love Milkman. Guitar, Milkman’s best friend, has to be my least favorite character of entire novel. He is a snake and a betrayer.

I found Milkman to be quite ambiguous. I could never really connect with him. I read a review that stated that they felt he was arrogant and I couldn’t agree more. He seemed to have no connection whatsoever with his sisters and or the woman that was madly in love with him, Hagar his cousin. Milkman only seemed to relate to his aunt Pilate who was the connecting force of the entire family. Which was ironic seeing that she had no navel (go deeper). Milkman was loyal to his best friend Guitar who ultimately betrayed him. I propose that Guitar’s paranoia developed from all the “secrets” he was trying to keep.

Hagar left quite an impact on me. Morrison referred to her love for Milkman as an “anaconda” type love. This love ultimately squeezed the life out of her. At one point, I thought she would kill herself if she could not have Milkman. It was love that bordered on madness. Hagar went on an unsuccessful mission where she bought a new wardrobe and cosmetics to try and make herself more desirable for Milkman. It all faded away in the rain. Another small part of this novel that stood out to me was the plight of First Corinthians. Educated black woman, no children yet she could not find a job in her area of study or a companion that met her “social standards.” First Corinthians had to turn to domestic work to make a living and she fell in love with a blue collar worker instead of the doctor her mother hoped for. Both of these she hid from her family because of the pressure they put on her. These are similar situations I believe a lot of black women are facing today.

“…her voice was light and sprinkled with gravel.” –Pilate
This quote from the novel best describes how I felt about it over all.
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LibraryThing member jojolson
Song of Solomon is a well written book that helps you learn from the main character Milkman of who he really is. You feel sorry for him even though he is a jerk towards others, but learn to love him as he becomes more aware of his own life. There are many twist, and turns in the book that build up to the plot, and the ending will be unsuspecting. This is a must read book if you love to learn about African-American liturature.… (more)
LibraryThing member estellen
I've read this a million times and it continues to leave me breathless. I wish I wrote it!
LibraryThing member lit13
I read this book for a Lit class, and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I had heard horror stories about Beloved, and assumed that Song of Solomon would be the same way. Either Song of Solomon was better, or I just have a taste for the darkness of Toni Morrison that my friends don't, because I really liked it. The writing was wonderful and the characters were interesting. It's a strange book, and some weird things happen, but they seem to make sense in the context of the book. I'd recommended to anyone who wants to read something very different.… (more)

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