Précis for Song of Solomon
By Joomi Park
Names as a cultural connection
In the book Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize, suggests that names, despite how they are given to us, have meaning and become a part of who we are. Morrison advances this idea by giving her characters odd names and nicknames (Guitar, Milkman, Pilate), explaining stories behind these names (Pilate's father randomly pointed at a name in the bible, Milkman was breastfed even when he outgrew that age "'You nursed me.' 'Yes.' 'Until I was... Old. Too old.'" (Morrison, 126)), and sending her characters through life according to the symbolism of their names (Macon Dead sounds like "making dead"). By putting her characters through both troubling and redeeming times, Morrison emphasizes the connection we have to her characters, in order to help us achieve acceptance with our own names, which show where and what we have come from. Her obvious audience is her readers, who, despite the vast differences in culture and nationality, are able to find realization in their roots through her book.
Love as a foreign concept for the Deads
In Song of Solomon (1977), Toni Morrison, acclaimed feminist and Nobel Prize winner, suggests that love is a dangerous poison that we and the Deads thirst for, despite the fact that the side effects are deadly, as can be seen when almost all of her characters take desperate measures (Corinthians, for example, "believed she would surely die" (198) without Porter). Morrison elaborates on this assertion by giving her characters an unhealthy love so possessive that they are willing to kill, as Hagar demonstrated when she held "a butcher knife, which she raised high over her head and brought down heavily toward [Milkman's] smooth neck" (130), to risk their status and their lives, as Ruth revealed when Milkman asked incredulously if she had "come to lay down on [her] father's grave... all these years." (123), and to die or hurt themselves, as Corinthians entered a craze so great, she "would have smashed her fist through the window just to touch him, feel his heat..." (199) Whether this love is infatuation or lust, it originates from a lack of it in the Deads' lives, which Morrison emphasizes in order to show that the flaw in all her characters is how they are so foreign to the concept of love, that they play around with the thought of it and then take it to extremities, to a point where they do not even seem human, and we create a stark contrast between them and us; however, the reality is that the effects of love are just as horrid in our lives. Her audience, the reader, is of all cultures and genders because we are able to find love as a common ground, and we find disorder within the Deads - both on Pilate's side and Macon's side - due to their awkward, clammy grip on love when they try to reinforce it in their lives, but in all the wrong ways.
In Toni Morrison's Nobel Prize winning novel Song of Solomon (1977), the renowned author proposes that chapter 11 is where the rebirth of Milkman occurs, as he nears the end of his quest and, like Pilate, connects to nature. Morrison constructs this notion by having Milkman pompously enter the woods with the men of Shalimer (when asked how he was with a shotgun, Milkman lied, "Best shot there is." (269)), and exit after Guitar's attempt to murder him, which leads Milkman to be more aware of the surroundings he is in ("Milkman watched the lamp until he realized that focusing on it kept him from seeing anything else." (273)) and more rooted to nature ("his legs were stalks, tree trunks, a part of his body that extended down down down into the rock and soil" (281)). Milkman Dead's actions, before and after his rebirth, are juxtaposed in order to reveal a clear distinction from the man who was once indifferent to the exchanging of names and carefree to how he spent his money, to the man who now has the ability to admit his fear to others and can recognize his faults - especially the idea that he is undeserving of everything "bad" that has ever happened to him. The reader is forced to reevaluate his/her previous thoughts and judgements on Milkman, as he plunges his hands into the bobcat and takes out its heart (which can be interpreted that he's peering into his beating heart, no thanks to Hagar and her ice pick) and, to the audience, finally seems like a living person, giving him no need to say, "I'm already Dead," for he is now alive.