Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Almost all of the characters in Song of Solomon are black. The few white characters represent violence and wrongdoing. After Guitar’s father is cut in half during a sawmill accident, for example, the mill’s white foreman offers the family almost no sympathy or financial support. Likewise, Circe’s wealthy white employers, the Butlers, are murderers. When they take Macon Dead I’s land, they end his children’s innocence. Even white animals carry negative connotations. A white bull causes Freddie’s mother to go into labor and die. The bull’s interference with Freddie’s birth represents white people’s devastating interference with the African-American world. Likewise, the white peacock that causes Guitar and Milkman to become infatuated with the pursuit of wealth represents the corrupting influence of greed.
First Corinthians and Lena make artificial roses that represent the stifling life of the upper class and the oppression of women. The roses do not bring in much money; the true purpose of the activity is to provide a mindless distraction from their boredom. First Corinthians and Lena perform their task without any enthusiasm, motivated by habit rather than conviction. In literary works, living roses often symbolize love. The artificial roses sybolize the absence of love in Macon Jr.’s household. Unlike living plants, the artificial flowers convey only the depression of their makers.
Gold represents Macon Jr.’s obsessive pursuit of wealth. Gold is utterly irresistible to men in the novel, who violate their principles in order to get it. For example, Milkman robs his aunt, Pilate, because he wants to be wealthy and independent. Likewise, Guitar’s desire for gold motivates his attempted murder of Milkman. Finally, Macon Jr. spends a lifetime pursuing gold without any greater goal beyond accumulation.