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Song of Solomon

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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.

338 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1977

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About the author

Toni Morrison

193 books17.7k followers
Toni Morrison (born Chloe Ardelia Wofford) was an American author, editor, and professor who won the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature for being an author "who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality."

Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed African American characters; among the best known are her novels The Bluest Eye , Song of Solomon , and Beloved , which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988. In 2001 she was named one of "The 30 Most Powerful Women in America" by Ladies' Home Journal.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,540 reviews
Profile Image for leynes.
1,102 reviews2,959 followers
November 14, 2021
It's time to review this thang. Not because I want to but because I have to. I read this in February (so around 9 months ago) and was left utterly in shock: Unsuspectedly, I had discovered a new favorite book. But unlike most of my other favorite books, Song of Solomon proved to be a book a didn't understood. I mean I did understand parts of it, and feel like I "got it" in my heart, but it also completely overwhelmed me, left me confused and unprepared to ever really talk about it.
“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.

My most used annotation whilst reading the book was "WTF", followed closely by "WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?" It took me a long time to figure out even the base structure of the story, what the characters stood for, what their motivation and goals were. You won’t believe how creeped out I was by Ruth’s behaviour in the beginning (before I figured out that piece of the puzzle) … lord, I almost put the book down.

Like Morrison's first two novels, The Bluest Eye and Sula, Song of Solomon is, at its core, a coming of age story. But unlike her first two novels, it's also a family saga, and one that has a man at its centre. Milkman is Morrison's first male protagonist.

However, despite its male focus and its exploration of masculinity and Black manhood, the women of Song of Solomon were the ones who made this book truly stand out to me. In this novel, women are those left behind. We see them trapped in their marriages and in their societal niches, crushed by the heavy burden of survival. While men are associated with flying and fleeing, women are associated with groundedness and earthliness.

We see them brought to madness at the loss of their lovers and husbands, and we see the anguish that comes when they are denied sexual love and sexual expression. Women in Song of Solomon are obsessive in their love of the men in their lives, relying on these partners as representation of "home" or of a safe place.
“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.

The only women capable of living independently, without men, are those who have been marginalized by society. Therefore, we understand the relationship between women and men in the novel as inextricably linked to the way in which we understand the society in which they live.

Unlike Hagar and Ruth, Lena finds her voice as the novel progresses and begins forming her own identity. From childhood, Lena and her sister are silenced by their father. Lena is saved from mimicking her mother Ruth’s passivity, however, because she finds her voice in a confrontation with her brother.

While speaking with him about their childhood, she remembers how she used to sit and make artificial roses: “[Making roses] kept me quiet. That’s why they make those people in the asylum weave baskets and make rag rugs. It keeps them quiet. If they didn’t have the baskets they might find out what’s really going on and do something.”

Realizing how she was silenced, Lena confronts her brother and rejects the patriarchal domination under which she has been living: “What do you know about somebody not being good enough for somebody else? You’ve been laughing at us all your life. Corinthians. Mama. Me. Using us, ordering us, and judging us: how we cook your food; how we keep your house. Who are you to approve or disapprove anybody or anything? I was breathing air in the world thirteen years before your lungs were even formed. Corinthians, twelve but now you know what's best for the very woman who wiped the dribble from your chin because you were too young to know how to spit. Our girlhood was spent like a found nickel on you. When you slept, we were quiet; when you were hungry, we cooked; when you wanted to play, we entertained you; and when you got grown enough to know the difference between a woman and a two-toned Ford, everything in this house stopped for you. Where do you get the right to decide our lives? I’ll tell you where. From that hog’s gut that hangs down between your legs. I didn't go to college because of him. Because I was afraid of what he might do to Mama. You think because you hit him once that we all believe you were protecting her. Taking her side. It's a lie. You were taking over, letting us know you had the right to tell her and all of us what to do. Well, let me tell you something, baby brother: you will need more than that. I don’t make roses anymore, and you have pissed your last in this house. Now get out of my room.”

Lena’s new awareness makes her angry enough to speak out. She now claims the identity that was crushed by her father and brother. These men are no longer interacting with an echo, with a self always subordinate to their own; instead, they face a strong, self-aware individual demanding autonomy. Lena makes the step towards self-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.

Like most African-Americans of her era, Pilate lacks a documented, societally recognized history; so, she chronicles her own history instead. Most importantly, she always wears her name. Written on a scrap of paper by her father, it travels with her inside her earring, which itself is a small brass snuffbox belonging to her mother. This tangible reminder of personal history gives her strength.

When Pilate finds that she is “isolated” from others, especially from men, because of her missing navel—her mystifying lack of a biological history—she learns to give birth to herself, so to speak.

Morrison dedicated this book to her father. In the introduction, she claimed that she was only ever able to write this book after he had died – maybe even because of his death. The loss of her father pushed her to this story. The novel's epitaph – The fathers may soar / And the children may know their names – accentuates the significance of fathers’ deeds on their children’s life and identity. Morrison said: “It was the death of that girl–the one that lived in his mind–that I mourned when he died.” In her father’s mind, the world was full of infinite possibilities for her, he believed in her. Becoming an adult (something you may only ever become after you lose your parents), was learning to see that potential within yourself, and start believing that others might see it too.
“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.

Song of Solomon draws on diverse mythological traditions, particularly biblical, Greco-Roman, and African to create a unique narrative. It's a story that requires its readers to participate in order to piece together the seemingly incompatible elements of the story to make a sensible and meaningful whole. You have to be attentive, go back, read things twice over ... and still, many references and plot points will fly over your head. AND THAT'S OKAY.

The opening scene of Song of Solomon is one you won't quickly forget: Robert Smith, an insurance agent in an unnamed Michigan town, leaps off the roof of Mercy Hospital wearing blue silk wings and claiming that he will fly to the opposite shore of Lake Superior. Mr. Smith plummets to his death. The next day, Ruth Foster Dead, the daughter of the first Black doctor in town, gives birth to the first Black child born in Mercy Hospital, Milkman Dead.

Discovering at age four that humans cannot fly, young Milkman loses all interest in himself and others. He grows up nourished by the love of his mother and his aunt, Pilate. He is taken care of by his sisters, First Corinthians and Magdalene (called Lena), and adored by his lover and cousin, Hagar. Milkman does not reciprocate their kindness and grows up bored and privileged. He becomes a self-absorbed, petulant, and rootless man.
“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.”

Prior to this moment, his father, like the pyramid, is a mysterious object of wonder; he is both fearsome and omnipotent. Yet, just as if Milkman smashed a paper-maché pyramid, Macon’s image crumbles when Milkman retaliates. Milkman realizes that his father’s image is merely a façade, and that he is truly weak and vulnerable.
“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).

Guitar is especially disappointed not to find the gold because he needs the funds to carry out his mission for the Seven Days, a secret society that avenges injustices committed against African-Americans by murdering innocent whites.

Thinking that the gold might be in a cave near Macon’s old Pennsylvania farm, Milkman leaves his hometown in Michigan and heads south, promising Guitar a share of whatever gold he finds.

Before he leaves, Milkman severs his romantic relationship with Hagar, who is driven mad by his rejection and tries to kill him on multiple occasions. Instead of succeeding, Hagar finds herself "paralyzed" by her obsessive love for him. Hagar’s intense and unexpressed emotion ultimately turns self-destructive and probably causes her death in the end.
“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.

Encouraged by his findings, Milkman heads south to Shalimar, his grandfather’s ancestral home in Virginia. Milkman does not know that he is being followed by Guitar, who wants to murder Milkman because he believes that Milkman has cheated him out of his share of the gold.

While Milkman initially feels uncomfortable in Shalimar’s small-town atmosphere, he grows to love it as he uncovers more and more clues about his family history. Milkman finds that Jake’s father, his great-grandfather, was the legendary flying African, Solomon, who escaped slavery by flying back to Africa.

Milkman’s findings give him profound joy and a sense of purpose. Milkman becomes a compassionate, responsible adult. After surviving an assassination attempt at Guitar’s hands, Milkman returns home to Michigan to tell Macon Jr. and Pilate about his discoveries.
“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.
Profile Image for Rowena.
500 reviews2,465 followers
April 1, 2016

"He walked there now--strutted is the better word, for he had a high behind and an athlete' stride--thinking of names. Surely, he thought, he and his sister had some ancestor, some lithe young man with onyx skin and legs as straight as cane stalks, who had a name that was real. A name given to him at birth with love and seriousness. A name that was not a joke, nor a disguise, nor a brand name." - Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

There’s so much to say about this book. Someone described it as kaleidoscopic and I think that's a very apt description. It’s probably one of the most complex stories that I’ve read from Morrison; such a rich tapestry of stories, including some magical realism, symbolism, myths, and family history. There are many characters, and each character seems to be so essential, not superfluous at all like in some other books. Everything was obviously carefully thought out and I wouldn’t expect anything less from Toni Morrison.

The story is a coming of age story of Macon “Milkman” Dead III., the son of a rich black man in a Midwestern city. I love it when Morrison gives us characters that are deeply flawed , yet manages to show some humanity, or helps us understand to an extent why a person is the way they are. In many cases, it’s family history that results in this, and in this book we eventually see Milkman going on a journey to discover his past.

It’s also about the hurt from the past and how that can direct our lives. Macon II watched his father getting killed and getting his land stolen and he becomes a man who is focusing on respectability politics, a cold man who is all about material possessions and has no joy in his life. He’s the only black man with a car in the neighbourhood and he takes his family out every week on a ride, a joyless ride, a ride more out of duty than for anything else:

“Others watched the family gliding by with a tiny bit of jealousy and a whole lot of amusement, for Macon’s wide green Packard belied what they thought a car was for. He never went over twenty miles an hour, never gunned his engine, never stayed in first gear for a block or two to give pedestrians a thrill.”

Being such a central character, I concentrated mostly on Milkman's story the first time I read this. This time, however, I was more drawn to the female characters. Because I’ve been thinking a lot about emotional work and how women often end up doing that, I focused a lot on that during my reading. We see that in this book when Milkman’s mother, sisters, and lover/cousin constantly prop him up and nurture him. In a sense they are supporting casts to his story and their existence seems to circle around Milkman. You'd think they have no story of their own, especially if you look at them through Milkman's eyes, who doesn’t really acknowledge the work they do; in fact he seems to feel he is being used:

“Deep down in that pocket where his heart hid, he felt used. Somehow everybody was using him for something or as something. Working out some scheme of their own on him, making him the subject of their dreams of wealth, or love, or martyrdom. Everything they did seemed to be about him, yet nothing he wanted was part of it.”

I found Milkman to be quite infuriating and selfish. The women in general are trapped by cultural and societal mores, as well as good old-fashioned patriarchy which results in a 40 year old woman being too afraid to tell her father that she has a boyfriend. Ruth, Milkman's mother, says about herself, "...because the fact is that I am a small woman. I don't mean little; I mean small and I'm small because I was pressed small." She's also described as "husbanding her own misery, shaping it, making of it an art and a Way." There is so much anguish and lost lives among most of the woman characters.

There is an exception to the above, and that is Pilate, who is my favourite Morrison character so far. She is very unconventional, starting with the fact that she was born with no navel:

"She was a natural healer, and among quarreling drunks and fighting women she could hold her own, and sometimes mediated a peace that lasted a good bit longer than it should have because it was administered by someone not like them."

All in all, a wonderful book that will stay with me for a long time!
Profile Image for Dolors.
527 reviews2,210 followers
October 22, 2017
Have you ever considered the historical heritage and the intrinsic meaning of your name and surname? What is a proper noun if not a word that carries concentrated quintessence to depict oneself? Aren’t people named after parents or grandparents paying homage to their own ancestry somehow?
There is something miraculous about the past that the future lacks. All nations, maybe even the whole mankind, have managed to transform thousands and millions of particular fictions created by individual beings into a unique and collective memory, into a shared history, into a coherent past. Contrarily, the future can’t be designed collectively. Its individual fictions are elusive, unfinished, bled dry because like all visions of heaven and hell, they are ethereal.

Milkman believes people’s names reflect their own yearnings, failures, wishes, weaknesses and even their worst fears. Names bear witness, names are condensed DNA. But what happens if one’s name is the byproduct of mere randomness or the result of some humiliating mishap like a “white drunkard” mistyping what he hears? Milkman’s “official” name is Macom Dead. Named after his father and grandfather, Macom the third knows he can’t have a future because his surname is Dead. His nickname “Milkman” mirrors disturbing connotations about his mother Ruth and the effects sustained sexual deprivation and marital abuse have on her waning psyche, perverting the significance of Macon’s nickname and leaving the young man even more restless about his true origins.
"It’s a wonder anybody knows who anybody is.” A whole generation of people with empty names: Empire States, Railroads Hospital, Guitar Bains, Macom Dead. A dark joke played on a hapless community by a wounded past suppurating with centuries of slavery and steadfast barbarity where everybody is on a quest to give meaning to their hollow identities.
Some, like Milkman’s father, the regal Macom Dead the second, think they can recover their robbed pride with riches and status. Others, like Guitar Bains, Milkman’s best friend, are moved by a bloodthirsty and insane vengeance to rebalance justice in a universe ruled with radical fanaticism. They are all groping in the dark, lost in the thick mist of fear and shame, in a world where the living and the dead coexist in the mystical tradition of Afro-American songs.
Only those who are not afraid of ghosts, only those who intone healing melodies to suture the scarred past, only those who welcome anonymity with arms wide open possess the clairvoyance to reach beyond the mist and are blessed with the redeeming light of truth.
Pilate, Milkman’s aunt and his father’s sister, is a natural shaman who searches no more. Equally shunned yet respected by all, she accepts the encumbrance of existence and pays her respects to her ancestors in taking life as the precious treasure it is, forcing Milkman to ponder about his aimless one.
Estranged from his own family and impelled by self-pity, Milkman embarks on a journey to the past that leads him to Southern Virginia following the traces of his great-grandfather.
Who is Solomon? Why does Milkman have an urge to fly since he was a kid? Why is he rooted in a past that prevents him from thinking of a future? What is he really afraid of? A chain of prodigious events involving supernatural experiences in a cave full of bones and gold, the communion of a man’s lost soul with Mother Earth and disturbing dreams about disembodied female spirits points selfless love as the hidden path to Milkman’s true identity.

With the menacing subplot of a declared racial war pulsating in her arrhythmic phrasing, Morrison creates a joined voice for the oppressed minorities of the Afro-American community that sings with the inherent melody of myths and legends incrusted in their popular tradition. Below Morrison’s unmistakable sumptuous prose, vibrant imagery and the allegoric dimension of her magic realism there is a painful exploration of recurrent themes such as the weight of past, the burden of present and the shifting power between genders in the Southern America of the sixties.
Sinking his fingers deep into the mossy soil, cradled by the roots of a Sweetgum Tree and inhaling the movement of the whispering leaves, Milkman listens to the soft tune of a faraway song. “Solomon done fly, Solomon done gone, Solomon cut across the sky, Solomon gone home!” Blinded by the absence of fear and tired of dodging death, Milkman submits to the Song of Solomon and opens his wings to soar the skies with a lightness of being and a confident heart beating with faith for a bright future that will redeem a silenced past.
Profile Image for Barry Pierce.
559 reviews7,420 followers
April 20, 2015
Almost four whole months into 2015 and I've finally read my first four-star book. You can always trust Toni Morrison to deliver even when you think all hope is lost. I think Song of Solomon is my favourite Morrison novel thus far. This novel just flows with greatness. I feel that I enjoyed this book more than let's say, Beloved, because the time period in which this is set (the 1930s through to the 60s) is an era with which I'm relatively familiar. She references the murder of Emmett Till and the rise of Malcolm X for instance. I felt more of a connect because of the historical time setting. In many ways I found that this novel almost mirrors the early chapters of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, I'm not sure if this was intentional though. I really found this novel to be "unputdownable", more so than the other Morrison novels that I've read. If I were to choose a good starting place for Morrison virgins, I'd choose Song of Solomon. I really enjoyed this one.
Profile Image for Marchpane.
293 reviews2,128 followers
August 14, 2019
Song of Solomon begins and ends with a leap, a man hurling himself into the air, an act of surrender. Book-ended between these (attempted) acts of flight, a rich and beautiful work of literature slowly, gradually, takes wing.

This is the fifth Toni Morrison book I’ve read (after Beloved, The Bluest Eye, Home and Sula), and I think of these five, Song of Solomon is the one that asks the most of its reader. It’s not a book that enchants immediately. The characters – at least in the beginning – are all awful or at least infuriating, and it’s difficult to know who to get behind. But as the story unfolds, the complexity and humanity of the characters are revealed so that they begin to earn the reader’s sympathy and affection. By the end you realise that the psychology of each and every one of them makes perfect sense, that their personal experiences and generations of history have subtly shaped who they became, and that this tapestry of lives is telling a much bigger story. Even the characters’ names – Milkman, Corinthians, Guitar, Pilate – seemingly so whimsical, are emblematic of profoundly important truths.

For the first half, I was unsure really what the thrust of the novel even was. If you had asked me what it’s about, the best I could have managed is ‘the story of a well-off, urban black family in 20th century America’. It meanders and ambles around, in ways that seem so unstructured as to be frustratingly messy and, beautifully written though it is, those early chapters lacked some sort of hook. Gradually though, it emerges that the family’s (relative) wealth has disconnected, alienated and trapped them; that their upward mobility, especially for the women, has limits; that each one of them is isolated and alone even while living all together under one roof.

This unrest reaches a tipping point which sets Milkman off on an odyssey that forms Part II of the novel. Ostensibly he is seeking material wealth, but what Milkman finds as he retraces the steps of his forebears is much richer and more valuable. Morrison pulls it all together so gradually that when a pattern and a structure finally emerge it almost feels accidental. But if you go back and re-read the early chapters, you realise that the threads and pathways were there all along. This is the kind of book that rewards patience, close reading, and (I expect) multiple re-reads. Powerful and immensely rewarding.
Profile Image for Swrp.
663 reviews
June 3, 2022
"Wasn`t that the history of the world? Isn't that what men did? Protected the frail and confronted the King of the Mountain?"

This is the story of Macon Dead, also known as 'Milkman'. (My name is Macon, remember? I`m already Dead.)

Song of Solomon is beautiful writing with an engaging storyline and interesting characters. It is a wonderful read, that surely is a rewarding experience.

"What good is a man's life if he can`t even choose what to die for?"
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews966 followers
March 11, 2020
Sprawling and epic, Song of Solomon paints a vibrant picture of Black social life across midcentury America. The coming-of-age novel follows Milkman Dead, a Black man caught in arrested development, as he journeys from his hometown in Michigan to rural Pennsylvania and Virginia in a quest for legendary gold, after a youth full of waste, indecision, and wealth. As he searches for gold, Milkman overcomes hardships of all kinds, learns about his heritage, and matures; all the while he’s pursued by his fanatical childhood best friend Guitar, who’s convinced that Milkman will keep all the gold for himself after promising to gift him part of the sum. Along the way Morrison fully renders the inner lives of the Black folk Milkman crosses on his journey toward adulthood, from a town janitor to his father’s midwife. The novel’s more linear and straightforward than the writer’s other work, but easily ranks as one of her best.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,688 followers
May 5, 2018
“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”
― Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon


I liked all of it and loved much of it. It is an amazing piece of literature with beautifully realized characters. Originally, I felt this book was on par with The Bluest Eye, but still not as strong as Beloved. I now think they are ALL great Morrison novels. The further I get from this book, the bigger and the bolder the shadow it casts. I love how Morrison writes and how she juggles big themes (death, family, trauma, class, home, race, slavery and African-American culture, etc). Obviously, she belong in the canon of great black writers, great women writers, etc., but her words and novels transcend ALL of those shelves. She is wrestling with global themes and ideas that transcend race, sex, culture, and time.
99 reviews50 followers
June 29, 2007
One of my absolute favorites, partly for the following:

"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."
Profile Image for Guille.
756 reviews1,547 followers
January 1, 2020
A ver, señoras y señores, esta novela fue galardonada con el National Critics Awards en 1978 y en ella se dicen cosas como estas:
“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?
Profile Image for Blair.
133 reviews118 followers
July 25, 2021
Song of Solomon is the book that propelled Toni Morrison to literary fame. Published ten years earlier than 'Beloved', I much preferred this earlier work, although both deserve a re-read as both works are multi-layered and reluctant to give up all their secrets with just one reading.
SoS is the generational saga of Macon Dead III, or Milkman, and his dysfunctional family. At first, a bildungsroman of sorts, it is the story of his family in Michigan from the time of his birth in the 1930's to adulthood. Later, Milkman, in his search for identity, retraces his migratory roots, from Michigan to Pennsylvania, where his paternal grandfather was murdered, to Shalimar, Virginia where his ancestors were from. It is only by finding answers through this search that Milkman can make sense of the present and finally be free of the chains that are holding him down.
Morrison is a gifted writer with a poetic voice who packs alot into a 328 page story. Adorned with symbolism, elements of magical realism and African-American Folklore, many themes are touched upon: identity, racism, masculinity/femininity, the emerging economic and social disparity within the black race, memory, family, and probably a few more.
I'll need to revisit this story sometime and maybe it'll reveal itself to me a little bit more. My feeling of it now is that is a work of greatness that tried a bit too hard to be everything when it could've settled for being something.
Highly recommended nonetheless.
Profile Image for Meike.
1,512 reviews2,454 followers
May 22, 2019
It’s pretty apparent why this novel is considered a masterpiece, the three stars only reflect my personal enjoyment of the text which was, frankly, limited – I wasn’t really invested in the characters, but again, that’s more a matter of personal taste. The eponymous “Solomon” in the text is the great-grandfather of the protagonist who escaped back to Africa because he couldn’t bear the condition of enslavement, leaving behind his 21 children and his wife; the biblical Solomon was the wise king of Israel who, when having to decide which of two women was the true mother of a child, announced that the child would be cut in half as a compromise – when one woman promptly renounced her claim to safe the child, he pronounced her the mother. So Morrison’s Solomon saves himself instead of being torn apart by a society that perceives him as a lesser human, but all of his descendants will suffer from the traumatic effects of slavery and Jim Crow: His illiterate son dies from a seizure while trying to protect his land, his grandson acquires wealth but sacrifices his compassion and spirit in order to survive during the era of segregation, and his great-grandson ventures on a journey for deliverance – and this journey is at the center of the novel.

Milkman, the great-grandson of Solomon, leaves Michigan in search of the gold his father and aunt Pilate once left behind in a cage in Pennsylvania. At the beginning, he displays an attitude similar to his father, a heightened individualism that strives for personal gain and uses others. Milkman has no deep emotional connection to his family and friends, and no spiritual connection to nature and the land like his great-grandfather and grandfather. But, a typical motive in American novels, the outer movement reflects an inner movement, and it’s important to realize that Milkman does not travel westward as the American myth usually has it, but ultimately southward, to Virginia, reversing the migration pattern of his family. So in a way, he also travels back in time, because (as his aunt Pilate puts it): ”Life is life. Precious. And the dead you kill is yours. They stay with you anyway, in your mind. So it’s a better thing, a more better thing to have the bones right there with you wherever you go. That way it frees up your mind.”

Which brings us to the varied female figures in the text who represent what it can mean to be a black woman in this world. Milkman’s sisters are trapped in traditional, restrictive roles; his aunt Pilate, who was born without a navel, defends her values and aspirations against a hostile and environment; and his cousin and lover Hagar fights an uphill battle she can’t win by sticking to the misogynist logic surrounding her. Just like in the case of the men, Morrison incorporates different worldviews and behavioral patterns when facing adversity, thus showing the broadness of the black experience. (The relationship between and unification of men and women is also the topic of “The Song of Solomon” (also: “Song of Songs”) in the Hebrew Bible.)

All of this is only scratching the surface of what’s going on in this novel – it is incredibly dense and requires an attentive, patient reader. There is no doubt about the literary merit of Morrison’s achievement, but I had a hard time feeling with the characters while being busy figuring out the numerous hints and clues in this packed narrative. Still: There are many authors who have gotten the Nobel and it makes you wonder why they were chosen – not in the case of Morrison. She is simply an amazing, highly gifted writer.
Profile Image for Reggie.
115 reviews388 followers
April 11, 2019
In a criminal amount of oversimplification I will simply say that Song of Solomon is a perfect novel that has reached a higher level of perfection in my mind during this reread. I'm not sure how many more years of reading I have left, but I'm sure it will take a long time for me to read any work of literature that is better than this.

I'll post some specfic 2019 thoughts soon, but in the mean time, my thoughts from my initial read in February of 2018 is below.

Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,306 reviews753 followers
December 17, 2015

There's something to be said for stories. Beyond all the talk of clichés, the bemoaning of stereotypes, the intricate and obsessive breakdown of the latest wave of hyped-up mass media extravaganza that has managed to aggressively worm its way into the mob conscience. Beyond the deep-seated resignation at puzzle-piece popularity.

I don't have anything against the forthright advocates of analysis at all levels of fiction. Far from it. I simply believe that there is a time when one is able to put the microscope back in the drawer and the fine-toothed comb on the top shelf, sit back, and say, Yes. Here is a story.

It is a story of oppression, of hatred, of justified rage and passionate fury fighting against discrimination both big and small, both intentional and otherwise. If you come away from this review with one thing, know that large scale oppression, this horrible racism in the "land of the free" depicted in this book has existed, does exist, and will most certainly exist for a long, long while. Slavery. Martin Luther King, Jr. Trayvon Martin. Facts and faces that may be forgotten or even denied, but the ideology that connects them all will always be rooted out by the plain evidence of its existence.

Every character has some measure of this rage, and every character is given their say in some fashion, fashions that often clash and bite and break the others around them. If the road to hell is paved with Good Intentions, the road to hell on earth is a yellow bricked road bounded on both sides by long sparkling walls of Indifference. Indifference is neither black nor white, neither good nor evil, and each of the characters illustrate this innate resistance to quick and easy pigeon-holing. At first you will love them, or you will hate them, and then the tables will switch, and you will be left with the unsatisfying satisfaction of reading about human beings.

Unsatisfied satisfaction. Feeling that one is straddling two worlds due to the color of one's skin, when in reality just stuck in one really fucked up one that makes progress a constant battle. Us versus them. The only guarantee is that a single step out of line will explode into violence.

What can you do with this? What is a human being expected to do with this horrible paradox that is real life?

This story poses the question to a boy-child who reaches and then passes the age of thirty in a safe, contained bubble, his head filled with safe, contained problems. He has no awareness of the context of his life, the family that surrounds him, the history that follows him, the society that defines him. He has long forgotten his dreams of flying.

We've all forgotten our dreams of flying, you say.

Perhaps, I say. Would you like to be reminded?
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,539 followers
December 19, 2020
Song of Solomon is a gorgeous work of fiction and a masterpiece of storytelling. Not as dark as her first two books, The Bluest Eye, Sula, it is more upbeat, but every bit as complex and rewarding. The leitmotif here is the stripping of layers from childhood mythology to reality as Milkman, the protagonist goes on a psychological journey to discover himself and understand where his family came from.

The story takes place in an unnamed town (probably Marquette) in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as we learn from the first sentence:
The North Caroline Mutual Life Insurance agent promised to fly from Mercy to the other side of Lake Superior at three o'clock. (p. 3) This motif of flight is embedded in the stories of several of Milkman's ancestors and in the final scene of the book as well, so it is a clever foreshadowing of what is to come and occurs precisely the day that Milkman is born. Ruth and Macon are a rather unhappy couple: she is eccentric and nagging, he is overbearing and severe. Their children Magdelena called Lena and Corinthians (chosen at random by opening a Bible) and later Milkman (a nickname he earns because his mother nurses him way past his weaning and is caught in the act by the village gossip, Freddie.) She walks down to the shore of the lake and gets some driftwood which she uses to decorate the table which is ignored by her husband.
Ruth let the seawood disintegrate, and later, when its veins and stems dropped and curled into brown scabs on the table, she removed the bowl and brushed away the scabs. But the water mark, hidden by the bowl all these years, was exposed. (p. 12) This is a beautiful metaphor for the rot at the heart of their relationship.

On the less privileged side of town (because Macon is rather well-off, living off of the rent of several buildings in various parts of the city), lives Pilate, her daughter Reba, and her daughter Hagar. Milkman ignores a restriction from visiting the house and meets his aunt, eventually having a long-term relationship with his cousin, Hagar. The house, for a time is a haven for him:
Near the window, hidden by the dark, he felt the irritability of the day drain from him and relished the effortless beauty of the women singing in the candlelight. (p. 29)

There is another incident from Milkman's childhood that has echoes later in his life: during a trip in the car to visit some property that his father wants to buy, Milkman needs to pee really bad, obliging his father to stop the car. Unfortunately, he is a bit maladroit and ends up peeing on his sister Magdalene's dress: He didn't mean it. It happened before he was through...It was becoming a habit-this concentration on things behind him. Almost as though there were no future to be had. (p. 35). And indeed, this lack of future drives Milkman throughout the book.

Milkman's family name, Dead is also highly symbolic and the result of a mistake at the Freedman's Bureau following the Civil War.
"Say, you know how my old man's daddy got his name?"
"Uh uh. How?"
"Cracker gave it to him."
"Sho 'nough?"
"Yep. And he took it. Like a fuckin sheep. Somebody should have shot him."
"What for? He was already Dead."
(p. 89). That is one of the typical dialogs betweem Milkman and his best friend Guitar. The book does educate on various aspects of life for ex-slaces, how they got their names, the dangers of moving north and the racism they encountered there.

The action in the novel picks up when Milkman breaks up with Hagar sending her into a murderous, self-destructive rage. We also learn of Guitar's involvement with an underground circle of men that take revenge for murders of black people by white vigilantes who get away with it (in otherwords, all of them). The book at this point (after page 99) is a real page-turner as Milkman learns more and more about his past, Hagar slips further and further into insanity, and Guitar turns on his friend also in a homicidal rage over a misunderstanding.

The book has some great opening lines for chapters, my favorite was this one for Chapter 7: Truly landlocked people know they are. Know the occasional Bitter Creek or Powder River that runs through Wyoming; the large tidy Salt Lake of Utah is all they have of the sea and that they must content themselves with bank, shore, and beach because they cannot claim a coast. And, having none, seldom dream of flight. (p. 162)
And this dreamy one from Chapter 10:
When Hansel and Gretel stood in the forest and saw the house in the clearing before them, the little hairs at the nape of their necks must have shivered. (p. 221)

Overall, the book is wonderfully built and narrated and a true pleasure to read (particularly after about page 100 when it speeds up to a frenetic pace.) I found it to be my fourth favorite Morrison novel in fact (after Beloved, The Bluest Eye, and Tar Baby.)
As fleet and bright as a lodestar he wheeled toward Guitar and it did not matter which one of them would give up his ghost in the killing arms of his brother. For now he knew what Shalimar knew: if you surrendered to the air, you could ride it. (p. 337)

Fino's Toni Morrison Reviews:
The Bluest Eye
Song Of Solomon
Tar Baby
Profile Image for B. P. Rinehart.
747 reviews254 followers
August 7, 2019
[08/06/2019 Update]: Toni Morrison has died and while I engage in my usual requiem-ritual of listening to Al Green's Take Me To The River, I immediately came back to my experience reading this book. Though she's dead what's important is that we still have her books, her words, and the site of her memory. I read this book back in 2015 and she immediately became an old friend. Not one for modesty, her work is an authentic and commanding portrait of human life. This book in particular was my world and my grandfather's world recreated on the page in a way that few if any writers I've read has ever done. Well--on y va!

[Original review]
Retrospective for a Flying Man:

My first reading of Toni Morrison was nothing short of amazing, this book does so much, so well, so easily. We learn about three to four generations of one family and, in-fact, one culture. I won't be beating around the bush in this review. Though Macon "Milkman" Dead III was the default protagonist, he was also my least favorite character. The natural woman/superwoman Pilate was my second favorite character because she knew how to navigate time and space in her own way. The Dead family as a whole seems like an interesting archetype or counterpoint of The Sutpen family of Absalom, Absalom! (down to their sharing the same origins in Virginia--which are also my maternal family origins). This book shows a good example of Faulknerianism played straight and subverted in the hands of a Black writer. To be short: this is a great Black Southern Gothic novel.

But that leads to talking about the greatest character of this novel...its author. Morrison took me places that I had not realized I needed to go. Even my animosity to the main character did not hurt this book to me because it did everything so well. The chapters divided the story so well, I can only think of The Brothers Karamazov doing it better. The reason this book has struck me so well is how personal it is to African-American experience. This book alludes to White people and White supremacy, but you will be hard pressed to find a White person in it, much less with even a speaking line (I think a white nurse from the beginning is all we are told in 377 pages). This is the first book I have read in a long time written by Black hands only concerning Black people on their own terms (this is not accidental) and it is refreshing! I can hear the true cadence of how my family talks to one another and the number of cultural references and inside jokes were amazing and I would be amazed if most non-African-Americans can pick it up. This book was written to a specific audience much of the small things in it go unexplained and I was surprised to see it all there. This more than anything will make me have to read Morrison again. I believe the only other Black writer to come close isJames Baldwin in Go Tell It on the Mountain, but even he had to start "explaining" things that he would not have to do for a strictly African-American audience.

Names play a pivotal role in this story. Every significant character is given a symbolic name or nickname which is symbolic of how names play a role in African-American life. As is the truth in reality, if you are given a nickname it is rarely for a positive reason. This is taken further in that even the "real" names in this book are acquired in very unusual or strange ways. The one exception I see in this is the character Guitar, whose name is a misnomer from his infancy (though I am increasingly thinking it is a stealth pun/reference to a certain character from The Brothers Karamazov).

The locations of this story, particularly in the second half of the novel, are also very special to me as it shows the history of Black people's journey in-country. Though the story's main setting is Michigan, Milkman's "Roots" journey leads him not simply through a different land (the mid-Atlantic and eventually the origin of African- Americans: Virginia), but literally (in the magical realist sense) back in time. He goes back to his father and grandfather's time in Pennsylvania, but more importantly to me is that he went to central Virginia. When he talks about his journey into Virginia it hits me personally because my mother's family is from this land. I can see the landscape and almost the roads and shops of this area and I knew exactly what the climate was. This was another crucial factor in my reading this book—it is about the land of my ancestors as much as it is about the land of Milkman's ancestors.

The Southern Gothic nature of the novel is also worth talking about. Morrison is as much a fan of Faulkner as she is critic. This book takes the haunted nature of gothic fiction and manages to put it in an urban, mid-western environment. The city of Mercy, Michigan is as much haunted by slavery and its legacy as Jefferson, Mississippi. The difference is that the stakes are a lot higher and the fallout more severe for the Black inhabitants in Morrison's universe versus the White inhabitants of Faulkner's.

To conclude, if you want to read a story about one man's search for his place in the world in the middle of the 20th century, this is your book.

P.S. MAGICAL REALISM. Seems I would be fined if I did not mention that somewhere. It was a very well used trope.
12 reviews5 followers
June 2, 2007
Toni Morrison is perhaps the most important writer living today and Song of Solomon is perhaps the best novel of the last 50 years of American life. Despite the high standing of both novel and author, there are many that chide both for delving too far into the world of African American mythology. The book, according to a reviewer on this very website, bitterly states that Song of Solomon is more fable than novel. Attempting to paint the novel as fable undercuts its central mission: to highlight the important role of mythology in linking African Americans to their past by creating narratives for those that were lost during slavery, Jim Crow, and black peril. The novel is not fable, but the recreation and reconnection of Milkman, symbolic of his own community, reconnecting with a lost past. The gaffe by the reviewers is understandable, however, as mythology has lost credibility due to the ferocious rise of science.

Morrison, quite rightly, attempts to delve into mythology to try to answer pertient questions about Black history. Much of the mythology in Song of Solomon revolves around flight. For hundreds of years, there has been a belief among the Black community that people of color could fly; that is was one their gifts. While for residents of the scientific age people flying seems trite, for Morrison and other people of color the ability to fly seems only natural. The difference in the thought processes is derived from educational differences. European education has tended to focus on empirical science while African education has tended to focus on familial values and cultural learning. African education seeks to reunite the learner with the etymology of self while European education seeks some broad sort of social literacy engulfed in intimately knowing "other."

The language of Song of Solomon might not be accessible to all readers who fail to understand its broader context, which is perfectly understandable. indeed, even Milkman, the story's protagonist, doesn't understand the language of his community for the first half of the book. It is only when he begins to seek out, understand, and embrace the mythology of his race and the roots planted by previous generations that he is able to connect, for the first time, with his community and experience that sort of bond that mythology can bring. This connection with the past and the necessity of finding one's own story is as important a theme as one could imagine, especially in an era where sameness, conformity, and the idea of the ethnic "mutt" have won some sort of cultural acceptance.

It is that theme--one of a resurrected connection with the past--that makes Morrison's novel of the utmost importance. We must all connect back to our mythology and begin to understand the language of previous generations in order to benefit ourselves.
Profile Image for Read By RodKelly.
205 reviews756 followers
April 10, 2019
Song of Solomon is the most brilliant novel ever written. It is a miracle of voice and style, as is typical of Toni Morrison's prolific œuvre of literary works, but also, it is epic and lyrical and thrilling to read in a way her other novels do not come close to. Written chronologically, from the perspective of one character, Macon "Milkman" Dead, SoS is, on the surface, a perfect bildungsroman; our hero grows up and encounters difficulties that ultimately leave him at a crux where he must go on a quest to empower, embolden, and strengthen his resolve, maturing him into manhood and true understanding of who he is in the world.

In Milkman's world, however, things aren't so simple and predicable. Part 1 is a brilliant but straightforward telling of our main character's life up to a certain point. But by Part 2, it becomes clear that the novel is more deeply concerned with history, about roots, about inheritance, reclamation of names, and the transcendence of earthly wealth for the wealth of truly knowing one's self. There is much concern with the idea of flight: Milkman is a man stuck and yearning for escape from the emptiness and stagnancy of his current reality but is continually mired in both ignorance and indifference to everything and everyone around him. When he finally wakes up and decides to be a man, he goes on a literal quest to find gold, but winds up tracking his forefathers, gaining clarity about who he is and ultimately finding the key to true flight.

It is the last third of the novel that gives me chills every time I read it. Morrison offers no explanations for her nebulous symbolism throughout the novel, but it is in this last section that the symbols and themes begin to offer a clear way into the story...there are ghosts and waking dreams and evocations of oral epic storytelling that culminate in what I think is the greatest final moment in all of literature.

The heart of this novel is the incredibly fascinating group of women: Pilate, Reba, Hagar, Ruth, First Corinthians, Magdalene called Lena, Circe, Sweet, and Sing. Special mention to the Solomon of the title, who's song and history, in the context of the novel, is impactful and emotionally affecting in a way that is indescribable. He represents, for me, the lost great (x10) grandfather of all of us black people, cut off from history because of slavery and this country's love of historical and cultural erasure. He is that lost ancestor who's song was the only possession he had to hand down, who song is the only way we have to tell our own stories....
Profile Image for Lorna.
680 reviews368 followers
November 4, 2019
Song of Solomon is a timeless classic and coming-of-age tale as told as only Toni Morrison can do in this moving and lyrical novel. I was so moved by the author's Forward to the book where she talks about the death of her father stressing that even in the grip of the unmanageable sadness and grief, that each of his four children was convinced that he loved him or her best by the gifts he shared with each throughout their lives, and how he spoke to each in the language only they understood. Toni Morrison says it best:

"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?'

He answered.

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."

And with that, Ms. Morrison tells us how she was guided to write this stunning novel from a male perspective. What I found magnificent was the use of flight throughout the novel, sometimes in a mythical and magical way, other times metaphorical. Following Macon "Milkman" Dead as he explores the roots of his family and how that history has impacted him was a lovely novel with beautiful and lyrical writing by one of our best contemporary authors.
6 reviews2 followers
July 23, 2007
I would like to have given a lower rating because I simply did not enjoy the read, but there is a value to this book that I cannot deny. Powerfully written, and has great cultural insight and thought. But really, I couldn't relate very well -- perhaps that is the point in many cases. I can't explain it much better without spending more time looking at it again than I'd like to, so I'll leave it at this:

I felt enlightened. I felt like shit. All without feeling very invested.
Profile Image for Amanda.
840 reviews344 followers
July 25, 2020
2017: This is the first 5 star read of the year that wasn't a reread! I'm really surprised and relieved that my first Toni Morrison was a huge success. I had assumed that her books would be too dark for me (and I think some of them might be), but SOS turned out to be just the right book for me. This novel has a parcel of amazingly odd characters who you want to hear more and more about. I would classify this as magical realism because the idea of magic hovers all throughout this text. The main plot of this novel is a search to understand one's heritage, but the joy I found whilst reading this came from the succinct, yet poetical writing style and those unique characters. This makes me consider reading all of her novels in 2018 and so eager to read the two other Morrisons I have on my shelves this year.

2020: Milkman Dead doesn't realize just how coddled he's been all his life. Now in his thirties, he discovers a truth about his family history and embarks on a road trip that will change everything he knows about himself. Song of Solomon is Toni Morrison's first attempt to write from a male protagonist's point of view.

Though Milkman is our main character, which becomes more apparent in the second half of the novel, the joy of SOS is learning about the lives of Milkman's family. There are many strong, flawed female characters to connect with and fascinate the reader. This delving into the lives of all the characters is why I love SOS. Pilate, First Corinthians, Ruth, Hagar... these characters show that there's really nothing ordinary about any person.

Throughout this novel is the image of flight, beginning with a scene in which a man wearing blue silk wings jumps from the roof of a building to his death. Hearkening back to the legend of Africans who literally fly away to escape slavery, this is just one element of magical realism that permeates to story of the Dead family. SOS remains my favorite Morrison, and I look forward to rereading it again and again.
Profile Image for Zanna.
676 reviews945 followers
July 29, 2015
Milkman's father, the man with the weird name and mysterious past, teaches his son to 'own things'. His sister is 'wild', she inhabits the opposite pole. Ownership does not occur to her. When a kind woman brings her cherry jam on white bread, she weeps because the fruit she loves for the taste of sun and earth exploding, the feel of stalk and stone and bark-scraped knees, has lost these elements that forge the relationships between self and world and being that have nothing to do with property, lines of nourishment and communication. Lost those routes to ecstasy, and been, in a way, poisoned by sugar, the white addiction for which women and men were kidnapped and shipped across the Atlantic to cut cane in stolen fields.

Own things! But Milkman has always had pleasant things for his use, unlike his friend Guitar, who longs for them. Instead of such things, he yearns for freedom of movement; for cars and trains and boats to carry him away, and for power over people. Both of them know they can seek these ends through money. Their desire burns so brightly they forget to be just, to be kind.

In Toni Morrison's books pain is powerful and histories bend hearts. What grows must grow from poisoned soil, reaching for healing in the sun if it can. She peels back skin to show us the potentialities lurking in the root. What will flower out of this? What will fruit? Like slow saplings or sudden briars the shoots of her stories unwind, organic, uncontrollable, smelling of the earth, rank and sweet.

I love this as a story of love both destructive and creative and for its mood and structure, cyclic and fluid rather than linear and climactic. I noticed that action initiated by men is often diffused by women, and when this does not happen there is a dangerous escalation of physical or emotional violence, though this is a severe simplification. The atmosphere reminded me very much of Katharine Mansfield's stories.

This tale is sometimes like a mystery, signed with foreshadowings, flavoured with interludes of anguished self-reflection, male psyches working their half-conscious preoccupations, changing in the unexpected light of their encounters. That Milkman's materialist quest leads him to its spiritual pretext is a fabular gift; how often is someone lucky enough to find what they need when they pursue what they want? Can I allow myself to believe that this doesn't only happen in tales?

Mystery, fable, and also ghost story, for here the dead speak. Morrison tells us in the foreword that it was inspired by her own dead father's unexpectedly active presence in her life. She invites us to hear our dead, and work to fathom their words, however strange.
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books781 followers
December 25, 2020


In The Source of Self-Regard, Morrison says of this work: “…into these spaces should fall the ruminations of the reader and his or her invented or recollected or misunderstood knowingness.” During this reread, my “recollected or misunderstood knowingness” landed on clues—fairytale elements—I choose to believe Morrison scattered as a key to the subversive, communal, familial folksong that arrives later in her narrative.

In the first chapter Ruth, nursing her son who’s nicknamed Milkman, thinks of herself as the “miller’s daughter” of the Rumpelstiltskin story, she who has the power to turn straw into gold. Gold will be the lure that takes the adult Milkman from a pampered existence toward the almost-ludicrous trials he puts himself through to reach the legendary cave of his father, Macon Dead, and Macon’s sister, Pilate (and the siblings’ dead father). Like Hansel, though without a Gretel, he also visits the crumbling house of a “witch” with “golden-eyed dogs.” His many trials lead him toward an understanding of what is fool’s gold and what isn’t.

Like a benevolent godmother, Pilate once sat and sung at Milkman’s crib. She is quickly banished by his kingly father, who believes his sister has hidden stolen wealth in her home on the shameful side of the tracks. He poisons his son with this belief, as if it’s “Jack and the Beanstalk…some fairy tale mess.” When Milkman is old enough to venture to Pilate’s house unbeknownst to his father, he is bewitched by Pilate’s voice and the smell of her wine-making, but the choices he makes with the Ophelia-like Hagar, his cousin, are still those of a privileged prince.

Set during the time of Malcom X and the Birmingham church bombing, Milkman’s journey, from home toward a truer home, and there and back again (like the hobbit), is that of a mythical hero. It makes for a gripping tale, one that Morrison has made relevant to the time period and to all time: Women and children, left behind, grappling with the reality of flown fathers and lovers; women of wisdom whose life-choices are slim to nothing; coldblooded revenges that turn inward, sickening the perpetrators; true names that lie unrecorded— suppressed under wrested, false power.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,962 reviews293k followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
June 7, 2022
I may come back to this someday but I am very much not in the mood right now for a book this dense, odd and meandering, where all the characters have strange names like Milkman, Guitar and Pilate, and the book seems to be reaching for "clever" as opposed to engaging or interesting.

I loved Sula and The Bluest Eye. It's been too long for me to recall Beloved, but I do remember liking it. This one had my eyes glazing over.
Profile Image for Traci Thomas.
544 reviews9,845 followers
October 16, 2021
This book is great. It grabs you from jump and never let’s go. The characters. The plot. It’s all there. I gotta admit I’m too dumb to understand 90% of what Toni Morrison was doing with this book, but even what I got was WOW. I finished and can’t wait to reread.
Profile Image for Karina.
820 reviews
October 7, 2020
I tried this once and couldn't get past the first chapter. I stopped for 2 weeks and decided that I had to read it so I can get rid of it faster. (Not a good reason to read anything right?) But it slowly started to get better after that second chapter.

It was a coming to age story but not really. It was about family and how you get a nickname in the North hood and how it sticks in the community hence the main character, Milkman. Someone saw him suckling his mother's teat at an age where he was seemingly too big for it but too small to understand the embarrassment of it. The novel goes through Milkman's family dynamics and his feelings towards it all. His father is Macon Dead and has made it as an arrogant successful black landowner. Milkman doesn't understand how hard it is to be a black successful anything so has no ambition in his life.

His mother is an unhappy wife that his father takes for granted. He has no real relationships with his older sisters, First Corinthians and Magdalene, and sees them and their problems as annoying and not worth his time.

The story takes us back and forth to before Milkman was born to his mid thirties. At this point in his life he learns about some hidden gold his aunt and father fought over long ago. This gold hunt takes him to Virginia where he learns about his families past. And he learns a lot about himself in the process.

This ended up being a great surprise. It is very Southern and the reader should be aware of black history and the black and white tensions of the United States to better understand a thick story like this.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
308 reviews172 followers
November 17, 2011
This book takes me back to my college English classes, when I read so many books that were rich in beautiful language but poor in plot and action. There's no doubt that Morrison is a gifted writer, especially when it comes to down-to-earth, authentic dialogue. Her writing is poetic and lyrical without being abstract or fussy -- she describes real things, disgusting things, sadness and passion with an intense energy and verbal power.

But the plot of this book didn't grab me. I remember enjoying The Bluest Eye more and feel like that book had more direction and focus. Song of Solomon, on the other hand, didn't move very much, or very fast. I didn't connect with any of the characters in the book, so all of their actions seemed hollow and arbitrary; I didn't feel that familiar emotional tug when good or bad things happened to them. It read to me more like a vignette of black life in 1940s America rather than a full-fledged novel, with all the moving parts and psychological complexity that a novel entails.

I always feel a bit guilty and apprehensive when I don't like a major classic as much as other readers do, or as much as I've been led to believe I should, because it makes me wonder if I missed something or wasn't being fair to the book. But I can only honestly report what I felt while reading, which in this case is: lovely language; boring story.
Profile Image for Amy Biggart.
350 reviews389 followers
April 7, 2023
Toni Morrison is just an excellent author independently of the fact that her books also work incredibly well for me as a reader — I’m heading to google some things, brb

Such an interesting departure from Sula and The Bluest Eye. I'm going to struggle to describe what I thought of this book without over intellectualizing my own experience. I'm sure this is the sort of book I would need to read multiple times to really parse out what Morrison is doing with it.

Some random thoughts about what I did like: The characters were gripping, and I think Milkman was particularly sympathetic at the center of the novel. His experience weathering verbal abuse from classmates, a fraught relationship with his father, and his own struggle to understand his identity made it easy to sympathize with him. You can feel his desperation to uncover his family's origin and how he bumps up against the constraints of his family's past enslavement (as well as unreliable narrators within his own family). As the reader you're also positioned with more knowledge than Milkman has, both about his family's past and about the origin of their last name Dead.

I always appreciate how Toni Morrison is so deliberate about her inclusion of plot, themes, and characters. Characters from the beginning of the book appear again later, the idea of flight is consistently woven throughout the narrative and is both the beginning and ending imagery bookending this book. Parts of Milkman's journey to find the gold his family left behind feels Odyssean.

I also think Milkman's best friend, Guitar, was a fascinating character. So much of his journey within this book involves him seeking vengeance or revenge over white people, and given how recently removed this community is from slavery, he can feel at times like a triumphant vigilante you want to root for, even as he enacts his eye-for-an-eye style of justice.

Truly could talk for days about the nuances of this book and what's going on with it — suffice it to say, this one especially feels like a book I'll have to re-read again.
Profile Image for Trudie.
526 reviews560 followers
June 12, 2019
This was my first experience with Toni Morrison's writing and it was probably not the usual entry point, most people seeming to start with Beloved or The Bluest Eye . However, for me it ended up being an enjoyable if slightly perplexing introduction.
I found Song of Solomon more accessible than I had anticipated and I had a cracking good time reading it for the most part. The characters and dialogue really sing (;) and there are some startlingly good set pieces that are emblazoned in my memory.
The section in which Milkman approaches the abandoned Butler house and subsequently meets with Circe is a standout.

Four graceful columns supported the portico, and the huge double door featured a heavy, brass knocker. He lifted it and let it fall; the sound was soaked up like a single raindrop in cotton. Nothing stirred. He looked back down the path and saw the green maw out of which he had come, a greenish-black tunnel, the end of which was nowhere in sight

She was old. So old she was colorless. So old only her mouth and eyes were distinguishable features in her face. Nose, chin, cheekbones, forehead, neck all had surrendered their identity to the pleats and crochetwork of skin committed to constant change


I am on more tenuous ground however when it comes to plot, the first section seemed to be laying out a complex set of characters and story arcs but this very suddenly narrows to what feels like a different book in the last third. Unfortunately, for me this part read more as fable or allegory and I am never a good reader of those. However, I am convinced that I would gain a much deeper appreciation of this novel upon a second closer reading and with the added benefit of some critical analysis.

As it stands I don't regret a moment of the time I spent reading and trying to puzzle out this novel. I now need to explore the rest of this this Nobel laureate's work.
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