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Song of Solomon

Toni Morrison

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Key Facts

Quiz

Study Questions

1.

Compare and contrast Pilate and Ruth. How does each of them treat Milkman? How does belonging to different economic classes affect their relationship with each other?

On the surface, no two women in Song of Solomon seem more different from each other than Pilate and Ruth. Although Pilate is poor and isolated, she is strong and independent. On the other hand, Ruth is a wealthy, refined, and entirely dependent on her husband. Ruth exchanges her freedom for material possessions. Furthermore, unlike Pilate, Ruth is entirely powerless and unable to change her own life or how others treat her.

These two seemingly different women are bound together by their shared love for Milkman. Pilate and Ruth raise Milkman together. Their concern for Milkman is more important than any boundaries caused by their different social and economic classes. Although Ruth does not befriend any women on the Southside and Pilate never goes to Not Doctor Street, the two women are at ease and open with each other. Through their deep bond, Morrison shows us that a shared love is more important in bringing people together than any superficial markers of status.

2.

Compare and contrast Macon Jr.’s and Milkman’s quests for gold. How does searching for gold alter their personalities?

Although both men seek money, they approach their quests differently. For Macon Jr., gold becomes an end in itself. However, Milkman’s quest for financial riches becomes a journey to uncover his family history. Having seen his father die while defending his land, Macon Jr. develops an unhealthy attachment to material things. For example, when Macon Jr. sees gold nuggets in Hunter’s Cave after murdering an old white man, his humanity begins to disappear. He neither regrets killing the white man nor pays attention to his father’s ghost, who is trying to speak to him. Although he never recovers the gold he sees in Hunter’s Cave, Macon Jr. spends his life trying to find the wealth he believes he has lost. He severs the relationship with his sister, Pilate, and damages the relationship with his immediate family, revealing that he does not own his gold. Instead, his gold owns him.

Initially Milkman is just as captivated by gold as his father, Macon Jr. However, Milkman does not seek gold for its own sake. For Milkman, gold is a tool, an instrument that can win him independence from his parents. Because Milkman never becomes as attached to the image of gold as Macon Jr., he is able to let go of his search for gold when his efforts fail. The quest for gold enriches Milkman because it puts him on the path of personal discovery.

3.

What is the relationship between whites and blacks in Song of Solomon? What does the novel reveal about Morrison’s attitude toward race problems?

Song of Solomon’s themes are universal, but almost all of its characters are black. We rarely meet any white characters, but we know that an oppressive white world exists just outside the black world. The few times that white characters do enter the novel, the consequences are immediate and devastating. White people in Song of Solomon are a source of harm for black people: Macon Dead I is murdered by a wealthy white family, and Guitar’s father dies in a factory accident because of his white boss’s negligence. Also, Emmett Till is hung in Mississippi by a white lynch mob, and four little girls are killed in a Birmingham church bombing.

Despite the whites’ catastrophic presence, Morrison warns that hatred and revenge are not useful responses to racism. Guitar’s lust for vengeance eventually causes him to attempt to murder Milkman, a black man just like him. While Morrison understands Guitar’s desire for justice in an oppressive white society, she shows that his anger is detrimental to his cause. By focusing on those who hate him rather than on himself, Guitar achieves nothing. Milkman, on the other hand, realizes his individual potential and liberates himself from his personal limitations.

Suggested Essay Topics

1. How do various genres such as magical realism, adventure story, and heroic epic, typify the plot of the novel? Is one genre term more appropriate than others? If so, why?

2. How does poorness influence participation in the Seven Days? Though the group is motivated by racism rather than economic injustice, why are all its members poor?

3. How is the relationship between love for an individual and love for an ideology explored in the novel? What are the similarities and differences between Hagar’s and Guitar’s expressions of love?

4. How do physical abnormalities represent the personality traits of the novel’s characters? Does Pilate’s lack of a navel have the same effect on her as Milkman’s undersized leg has on him?

5. What is the ideological agenda embedded in the novel? Is there a moral lesson to be learned from Song of Solomon? If so, what is it?

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Correction

by GrammarJunkie18, August 16, 2014

In your character analysis of Ruth Dead, you wrote that "Ruth relies on Pilate for financial support." I'm not sure what you meant to say - maybe "Ruth relies on Pilate for emotional support" or "Pilate relies on Ruth for financial support." Either way, please correct. Thanks.

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