Book Review: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Song of Solomon
Toni Morrison

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I’ve let a few days pass since I finished Song of Solomon, to let it sink in. This is a book you can study for a long time because of its excellent construction and important message.

Song of Solomon is the story of Macon “Milkman” Dead, an African-American man on a journey to learn his family history, but more importantly, develop compassion, a sorely missing component of his character. Set in Michigan, the book begins in 1931 when troubled insurance agent Robert Smith believes he can fly and jumps off the roof of Mercy Hospital. Milkman’s mother, Ruth and her daughters witness Smith’s death and Ruth, who is pregnant with Milkman, goes into labor on the steps of the hospital. Milkman is the first black baby born at Mercy.

Milkman’s father, Macon, is a cold, opportunistic businessman and has made his fortune acquiring real estate and managing rentals to blacks in town. Ever-climbing, he rules the household and distances himself and his family from other blacks. As a result, Milkman grows up unsettled and bored, without need, ambition or empathy for others.

As a boy, Milkman meets Pilate Dead, Macon’s sister and the town’s bootlegger, who will become an important influence in his life. She lives in a shack with her daughter, Reba and granddaughter, Hagar, and seems to have supernatural powers. As children, Macon and Pilate were forced to fend for themselves. They separated and are now estranged. Although Macon forbids his son to visit the shack, Milkman is drawn to them, including Hagar. A romantic relationship with Hagar will show Milkman at his worst.

The larger backdrop of this story is the oppression of blacks, which has spanned multiple generations of the Dead family and has alienated its members and others in town. Morrison’s characters find different ways to live with racism. Some are survivors, like Pilate. Macon disassociates himself from blacks and others, like Milkman’s friend, Guitar and the Seven Days society, determine to avenge the deaths of innocent blacks. Morrison also shows how the women in Milkman’s family have been alienated by desertion and ridicule.

I don’t want to give too much away, because it’s better just to read the story, but Milkman leaves Michigan on a search for gold, believed to be hidden in Pennsylvania. His quest then takes him to his ancestral Virginia, where he learns the full history of his family, including Milkman’s great-grandfather, the legendary Solomon. Only when he fully understands his family history can he feel compassion for others.

One of the things I like best is how Morrison uses the concept of flying to connect her characters. The story begins with Robert Smith believing he can fly. Once Milkman understands his family’s history, he too can make a faithful leap.

I enjoyed Song of Solomon very much because of its symbolism, African-American folklore and magical realism. I think I need to read it again to fully appreciate this excellent story.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

27 thoughts on “Book Review: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

    1. Hi Donna – yes, I hadn’t read Song of Solomon either – I read Beloved and The Bluest Eye a long time ago, but would have to go back and re-read them to remember them completely. Thank you for reading!

  1. Wow! I can see how this has touched you deeply, Barbara! I love her books but this is one I’ve yet to read … can’t wait and think it will affect me profoundly.

    1. Hi Annika – thanks for stopping by. Morrison was a great writer – I’m going to have to go back and re-read her other books. I hope you enjoy Song of Solomon.

  2. What an excellent review, Barbara. I can’t put my finger on it, but this book was recommended to me by someone. I haven’t read anything by this author yet. Thank for sharing this! ❤️

  3. The message of Toni Morrison’s books rings true today. I am certain I’ve read The Bluest Eye, but not so sure about Song of Solomon, perhaps read in graduate school, long ago. Thanks for your insightful reviews, Barbara!

    1. Hi Marian – I had never read Song of Solomon. It was excellent. It was published while I was in high school and then somehow I missed it in college. Thanks for the visit!

    1. Hi Alelthea – yes, I agree with you completely. It’s one thing to tell a great story, but the way she ties so many important themes and feelings together is really fantastic. Thank you for stopping by 🙂

  4. This is a book I loved as well. The importance of family, even a dysfunctional one, and the relevance of knowing where you come from is woven in with a cast of diverse and quirky characters and intriguing settings. This story will stay with me for a long time. Toni Morrison is a master storyteller.

    1. Hi Darlene – I completely agree. I think I should re-read Beloved and Sula. I thought I’d read The Bluest Eye, but I don’t think I have. Thank you for reading.

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