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338 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1977
“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”Song of Solomon is HUUUGE in scope. This book is so layered, so rich in theme, with so many complex characters, amazing dialogue (that makes the characters feel like real people), complicated and abstruse plot points, it was impossible to catch on to all of it – or even most of it. What was most important to me was that I loved it, that I cherished it, and that I will return to it in future years.
“You can't own a human being. You can't lose what you don't own. Suppose you did own him. Could you really love somebody who was absolutely nobody without you? You really want somebody like that? Somebody who falls apart when you walk out the door? You don't, do you? And neither does he. You're turning over your whole life to him. Your whole life, girl. And if it means so little to you that you can just give it away, hand it to him, then why should it mean any more to him? He can't value you more than you value yourself.”Most of the women in her novel have smothered their own identities, their voices, by depending on men for a sense of self. As a result, the silenced voice often seeks self-destructive or otherwise hurtful forms of expression.
“Pilate can’t teach you a thing you can use in this world. Maybe the next, but not this one.”Pilate is set apart from the other women in the novel because she maintains a distinctive identity all along, expressing herself though song and through wise, direct speech. Pilate keeps her own literal and figurative voice for two reasons. First, she has a sense of personal identity that does not depend on men or society for validation.
“What difference does it make if the thing you scared of is real or not?”Morrison makes her protagonist unearth the history of his family and hence the myths of African slaves of the South to comprehend his true identity. Moreover, the most congenial character portrayed in the novel is Pilate who has sustained the way of life and values of her forefathers in the heart of modern America and also acts as the guardian of her nephew who is supposed to incarnate the myths of their ancestors.
“He ain’t a house, he’s a man, and whatever he need, don’t none of you got it.”Throughout his life, Milkman has a very strained relationship to his father. One day, he hits Macon after he abuses Ruth. The act of retaliation represents Milkman’s loss of innocence and transition into full adulthood; he realizes that he no longer fears his father: “There was the pain and shame of seeing his father crumple before any man–even himself. Sorrow in discovering that the pyramid was not five-thousand-year wonder of the civilized world, mysteriously and permanently constructed by generation after generation of hardy men who had died in order to perfect it, but that it had been made in the back room at Sears, by a clever window dresser, of papier-maché, guaranteed to last a lifetime.”
“He himself did nothing. Except for the one time he had hit his father, he had never acted independently, and that act, his only one, had brought unwanted knowledge too, as well as some responsibility for that knowledge.”By the time Milkman reaches the age of thirty-two, he feels stifled living with his parents and wants to escape to somewhere else. Macon Jr. informs Milkman that Pilate may have millions of dollars in gold wrapped in a green tarp suspended from the ceiling of her rundown shack. With the help of his best friend, Guitar Bains, whom he promises a share of the loot, Milkman robs Pilate but inside the green tarp, Milkman and Guitar find only some rocks and a human skeleton (= they later find out that the skeleton is Milkman's grandfather, Macon Dead I).
“He meant that if you take a life, then you own it. You responsible for it. You can’t get rid of nobody by killing them. They still there, and they yours now.”When there is no gold to be found in Montour County, Milkman starts looking for his long-lost family history. Milkman meets Circe, an old midwife who helped deliver Macon Jr. and Pilate. Circe tells Milkman that Macon’s original name was Jake and that he was married to an indigenous girl, Sing.
“Don’t nobody have to die if they don’t want to.”At home, he finds that Hagar has died of a broken heart and that the emotional problems plaguing his family have not gone away. Nevertheless, Milkman accompanies Pilate back to Shalimar, where they bury Jake’s bones on Solomon’s Leap, the mountain from which Solomon’s flight to Africa began. Immediately after Jake’s burial, Pilate is struck dead by a bullet that Guitar had intended for Milkman. Heartbroken over Pilate’s death but invigorated by his recent transformation, Milkman calls out Guitar’s name and leaps toward him. Milkman has finally learned to fly.
“Había estado dispuesto a golpear a una anciana negra que le había ofrecido el primer huevo cocido perfecto que había comido en su vida, que le había mostrado el firmamento, azul como las cintas del sombrero de su madre, de modo que desde aquel día cada vez que miraba al cielo no sentía la distancia, la lejanía, sino que lo reconocía como algo íntimo, familiar, como el cuarto en que vivía, un lugar en que encajaba, al que correspondía. Le había contado cuentos, le había cantado canciones, le había alimentado de plátanos y bizcochos de maíz, y, cuando llegaba el frío, con sopa de nueces bien calentita. Y si su madre no mentía, esta anciana —cercana ya a los setenta, pero con la piel y la agilidad de una adolescente— le había traído al mundo cuando sólo un milagro podía conseguirlo. Fue aquella misma mujer, aquella a quien él hubiera golpeado hasta dejarla inconsciente, la que irrumpió en la comisaría y actuó ante los policías ofreciéndose indefensa a sus risas, a su piedad, a sus burlas, a su desprecio, a su incredulidad, a su odio, a su capricho, a su disgusto, a su poder, a su ira, a su aburrimiento… a todo lo que pudiera ser de utilidad para salvarle a él.”¿Qué más necesitan para leerlo?
"But it was the death of that girl--the one who lived in his head--that I mourned when he died. Even more than I mourned him, I suffered the loss of the person he thought I was, I think it was because I felt closer to him than to myself that, after his death, I deliberately sought his advice for writing the novel that continued to elude me. 'What are the men you have known really like?'
Whatever it is called--muse, insight, inspiration, 'the dark finger that guides,' 'bright angel'--it exists and, in many forms, I have trusted it ever since."