Places: Song of Solomon

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1977

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Bildungsroman

Time of work: 1869-1963

Places DiscussedShalimar

Shalimar Song of Solomon (SHAL-ee-mahr). The ancestral home of Solomon and Ryna, Jake (Macon Dead), and Sing (Singing Bird). According to legend, Solomon could fly. Close by are Ryna’s Gulch and Solomon’s Leap. The mysteries of Pilate’s behavior, and Macon’s, are found here, and memorialized in a children’s song. Here Milkman finds his truth. Pilate finds peace as they bury their father’s bones in the land of his birth. She discards the burden symbolized by the earring she has worn all her life. As Milkman jumps from Solomon’s Leap, he knows he can soar. He has found truth, a connection through time and place that is forever unbroken by earthly bonds.

Dead home

Dead home. Michigan home of the well-off family of Macon Dead, his wife, Ruth Foster Dead, and their two daughters, Magdalene, called Lena, and First Corinthians, located at 12 Not Doctor Street in a large city. It is a home filled with nice things, including a polished mahogany table and fresh flowers. They have a certain social status. Ruth is the daughter of the late Doctor Foster. Her husband Macon is a man of property and pride. His self-worth is tied to what he owns. Yet their home is truly a “dead” house. There is no life, no love within its walls. The Dead home is haunted by past secrets. Ruth is sad and loveless. Macon is angry and dissatisfied; he equates money with freedom. The daughters are troubled and frustrated, and Milkman is puzzled and angry at the rigid structure, and at his lack of personal peace and contentment in the constantly changing world of the 1960’s. The Dead home has a history, but it lacks roots.

Pilate’s house

Pilate’s house. Home of Pilate, her daughter Reba, and Reba’s daughter Hagar; a small house backed by pines, without gas or electricity. The house has no modern conveniences and smells of wine and spices, and sometimes peaches. It is disorganized, not well kept, and lacking status; yet this house on Darling Street is rich with music, love, and history. Here one finds connections to the land in the trees, the grapes, the earthy attitude of Pilate, and the thread of affection and loyalty that binds the three generations of women together. There is mystery here as well, in the green tarp hanging from the ceiling. Pilate calls the contents her “inheritance.” She speaks of personal and spiritual substance. She has much though she lacks wealth. Her home embraces her physical and emotional history. Her music and her joy connect her to people and places beyond the confines of her meager walls. She has found peace.

Hunter’s Cave

Hunter’s Cave. Scene of what Pilate and Macon believed was a murder. In fact, the bones Pilate retrieves and carries with her, literally and figuratively through the years, are those of her own father. Her history is always with her no matter where she travels.

Lincoln’s Heaven

Lincoln’s Heaven. Homestead of the original Macon Dead located outside of Danville, Pennsylvania, a town 240 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. For Macon Dead, land ownership was a tangible symbol of his freedom. His farm is small, with room for crops and fruit trees, a pond, and a rich forest of mahogany and pine. To a hard-working man, a former slave, unable to read, stripped of his dignity and even his given name by the oppression of slavery, this rural setting in Montour County was his own personal heaven on Earth.

Literacy was not required to work the land. He could provide for his family and put down roots. He owned this land and would protect this emblem of freedom to the death. His love for his land would be passed on to his son and grandson, but their understanding of this inheritance would be tarnished by the money, the grit and greed of the cold, and often heartless, city skyline. As the generations progressed, ownership became for Macon and Milkman not a sense of pride, but an occasion for greed and profit. The spirit of Macon (Jake is his given name) will speak to Milkman and to Pilate until they understand their connections to the land, to their heritage, and to one another.

BibliographyBakerman, Jane S. “Failures of Love: Female Initiation in the Novels of Toni Morrison.” American Literature 52, no. 4 (January, 1981): 541-563. Explores women characters’ search for love and self-worth in Morrison’s first three novels. Notes that each woman defines herself by “the standards and desires of a beloved man,” which results in her incomplete initiation and failed integration into the community.Bloom, Harold, ed. Toni Morrison. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2005. Collection of scholarly essays on Morrison; includes an essay on trauma and shame in Morrison’s fiction, as well as a study of acts of unification in Song of Solomon. Lee, Dorothy H. “Song of Solomon: To Ride the Air.” Black American Literature Forum 16, no. 2 (Summer, 1982): 64-70. A study of the novel’s mythic foundation, including folktales of the Flying African, whose flight is always triggered by the utterance of a secret, now-forgotten word and a signal given for the leap into the air. Incorporates a discussion of Egyptian, Greek, and biblical symbolism.Mayberry, Susan Neal. Can’t I Love What I Criticize? The Masculine and Morrison. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2007. This study of masculinity in Morrison’s novels includes a chapter on “feminine masculinity” in Song of Solomon. Mickelson, Anne Z. Reaching Out: Sensitivity and Order in Recent American Fiction by Women. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1979. Examines the woman character who breaks away from established society to create her own life. Pilate’s successful independence signals “a growth in the author’s feminist consciousness” not seen in previous novels. Parallels Pilate’s odyssey with Milkman’s picaresque journey, where each event tests character and brings knowledge. Unlike novelist Richard Wright, who “finds no sustaining values in the past of black people, Morrison celebrates the past.”Morrison, Toni. “Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation.” In Black Women Writers, 1950-1980: A Critical Evaluation, edited by Mari Evans. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1983. Interview on the importance of the ancestor, the community, reader participation, and the oral tradition in Morrison’s work. The author explains that in her novels, an elder is always present “whose relationships to the characters are benevolent, instructive, and protective, and . . . provide a certain kind of wisdom.”Royster, Philip M. “Milkman’s Flying: The Scapegoat Transcended in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.” CLA Journal 24, no. 4 (June, 1982): 419-440. Analyzes the novel as a bildungsroman depicting Milkman’s literal and figurative journey to manhood. Milkman is seen as an “unconscious scapegoat” by virtue of his sex and race, “victim of his burdensome past, blind to his future, and unable to assert himself” in the present until he is ultimately made whole at Shalimar.
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