See studies by G. T. Dickinson (1971) and C. Suares (1972).
Song of Solomon is a 1977 novel by Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning American author Toni Morrison. It follows the life of Macon "Milkman" Dead III, an African-American male living in Michigan, from birth to adulthood.
Milkman has two sisters, "First Corinthians" and "Magdelene called Lena". The daughters of the family are named by putting a pin in the Bible; the males are named after their father. The name Macon Dead was the result of an administrative error when Milkman's grandfather had to register subsequent the end of slavery.
Milkman's mother (Ruth) is the Doctor's daughter; she tends to make her husband feel inadequate, and it is clear she idolized her father. After her father dies, her husband claims to have found her in bed with the dead body, sucking his fingers. Ruth later tells Milkman that she was kneeling at her father's bedside kissing the only part of him that remained unaffected by the illness from which he died. Macon is often violent and aggressive towards her out of frustration when she acts helpless, because he has worked hard to get to where he is, whereas Ruth has always been "daddy's little girl." However, on one occasion, it is Milkman who punches his father after he threatens their mother.
In contrast, Macon Dead Jr.'s sister, Pilate, is seen as nurturing—an Earth Mother type of character. Born without a navel she is more than a mystic. It is strongly implied that she is Divine—a female Christ (her name is ironic). Macon has not spoken to his sister for years and did not think highly of her. She, like Macon, has had to fend for herself from an early age, but she has dealt with her past in a different way. She has one daughter, Reba, and a granddaughter named Hagar. Hagar falls desperately in love with Milkman, and is unable to cope with his rejection. Guitar, Milkman's erstwhile best friend, attempts to kill Milkman multiple times after he incorrectly suspects Milkman of cheating him out of hidden gold.
The novel ends on a poignant and ambiguous note; after resolving to confront Guitar, Milkman finally learns to fly.
The novel is written in the third person, so the narrative weaves in and out from each character's viewpoint; also, we are given insight into Macon's and Pilate's early lives together. Their personal history and the effects of slavery unite into a common theme of finding an identity, displacement, and the effects of distorted love.
"If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it." (337)
“Solomon done fly, Solomon done gone, Solomon cut across the sky, Solomon gone home.” (303)
"The fathers may soar, and the children may know their names"(PRO).
“Macon Dead never knew how it came about -- how his only son acquired the nickname that stuck in spite of his own refusal to use it or acknowledge it. It was a matter that concerned him a good deal, for the giving of names in his family was always surrounded by what he believed to be monumental foolishness.” (15)
“He closed his eyes and thought of the black men in Shalimar, Roanoke, Petersburg, Newport News, Danville, in the Blood bank, on Darling Street, in the pool halls, the barbershops. Their names. Names they got from yearnings, gestures, flaws, events, mistakes, weaknesses. Names that bore witness.” (330).
"Let me tell you right now the one important thing that you'll ever need to know: Own things. And let the things you own own other things too. Then you'll own yourself and other people too.” (54)
"You just can't fly off and leave a body"(208).
“What difference do it make if the thing you scared of is real or not?” (42)
“The men and the dogs were talking to each other. In distinctive voices they were saying distinctive, complicated things.” (277)
"Milkman stared off into the sky for inspiration, and while glancing towards the rooftop of the used-car places, he saw a white peacock poised on the roof..."(178).
"[Macon Dead] walked there now . . . 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 . . . His own parents, in some mood of perverseness or resignation, had agreed to abide by a naming done to them by somebody who couldn't have cared less." (17)
"Even while [Milkman] was screaming he wondered why he was suddenly so defensive -- so possessive about his name. He had always hated that name, all of it, and until he and Guitar became friends, he had hated his nickname too. But in Guitar's mouth it sounded clever, grown up." (38)
""I asked you did you play any. That why they call you Guitar?" "Not cause I do play. Because I wanted to. When I was real little. So they tell me . . . It was a contest, in a store down home in Florida. I saw it when my mother took me downtown with her. I was just a baby . . . I cried for it, they said. And always asked about it."" (45)
"Milkman smiled and let his shoulders slump a little. It was a good feeling to come into a strange town and find a stranger who knew your people. All his life he'd heard the tremor in the word: "I live here, but my people . . ." or: "She acts like she ain't got no people," or: "Do any of your people like there?" But he hadn't known what it meant: links. He remembered Freddie sitting in Sonny's Shop just before Christmas, saying, "None of my people would take me in."" (229)
"[Milkman] read the road signs with interest now, wondering what lay beneath the names . . . How many dead lives and fading memories were buried in and beneath the names of the places in this country. Under the recorded names were other names, just as "Macon Dead," recorded for all time in some dusty file, hid from view the real names of people, places, and things. Names that had meaning. No wonder Pilate put hers in her ear. When you know your name, you should hang on to it, for unless it is noted down and remembered, it will die when you do." (329)
"The singing woman . . . had wrapped herself up in an old quilt instead of a winter coat. Her head cocked to one side, her eyes fixed on Mr. Robert Smith, she sang in a powerful contralto." (5)
"He didn’t mean it. It happened before he was through. She’d stepped away from him to pick flowers, returned, and at the sound of her footsteps behind him, he’d turned around 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." (35)
"Milkman closed his eyes and opened them. The street was even more crowded with people, all going in the direction he was coming from. All walking hurriedly and bumping against him. After a while he realized that nobody was walking on the other side of the street." (78)