full title · Song of Solomon
author · Toni Morrison
type of work · Novel
genre · Fiction, with elements of magical realism, adventure story, epic, and bildungsroman
language · English
time and place written · 1977, United States
date of first publication · 1977
publisher · Penguin Books
narrator · The novel is told through limited omniscient narration.
point of view · The narrator speaks in the third person, but concentrates at times on what individual characters are thinking, feeling, seeing, and hearing. Because the narrator switches focus from character to character, we know more about the events in the novel than any of the individual characters. While the narrator interprets and comments on the characters’ feelings and actions, we do not know whether the narrator’s observations are accurate or complete.
tense · Past
setting (time) · Most of the action in the novel takes place between 1931 and 1963, but there are occasional flashbacks reaching as far back as the late nineteenth century.
setting (place) · An unnamed city in Michigan (probably Detroit); Pennsylvania; and Virginia.
protagonist · Critics are divided over who is ultimately the protagonist of Morrison’s novel: Milkman Dead (also known as Macon Dead III) or Pilate Dead.
major conflict · Milkman Dead tries to leave the confines of his parents’ home and become an independent man. He is hampered by restrictions of wealth and class, as well as ignorance of his own family history.
rising action · Stifled by the oppressive conditions of Macon Jr.’s household, Milkman becomes involved in a harebrained scheme to win financial independence by stealing gold from Pilate.
climax · After traveling from Michigan to Pennsylvania, Milkman finds a cave in which there is supposed to be hidden treasure. After examining the depths of the cave, however, Milkman discovers that there is no treasure after all.
falling action · After he fails to find gold in a Pennsylvania cave, Milkman’s quest is transformed into a journey of personal self-discovery. Milkman travels to Shalimar, Virginia, where he uncovers his long-lost family history.
themes · Flight as a means of escape; abandoned women; the alienating effects of racism
motifs · Biblical allusions; names; singing
symbols · Whiteness; artificial roses; gold
foreshadowing · Milkman’s eventual flight off Solomon’s Leap is foreshadowed in the first chapter when we are told that he is born in Mercy Hospital the day after Robert Smith’s flight. The song Pilate sings in the first chapter, about Sugarman’s flight home, foreshadows the eventual discovery of Solomon’s Song in Shalimar. Guitar’s involvement with the Seven Days is foreshadowed during his heated participation in the discussions about racism at Tommy’s Barbershop. First Corinthians’s love affair with Porter, a member of the Seven Days, is foreshadowed when Freddie tells Milkman that Guitar might be involved in covering up a murder of a white boy. Finally, in his statements to Pilate, the ghost of Macon Dead I reveals both his wife’s name, Sing, and also the fact that his are the bones tied up in the green bundle.