Book review: ‘Song of Solomon’ by Toni Morrison


Toni Morrison died in August 2019 at the age of 88. She was a writer, an editor and a professor. It has been said that “in each of her works, Morrison manages to find a new way to think about and look upon blackness as it stands in American life.” “Song of Solomon” is a novel that deals with the complexity of life in the city and the challenges posed by the social order. This is especially complicated when trying to find the history of their often rural “people.”

Mecon Dead, son of Mecon Dead, who was also the son of the misnamed Mecon Dead, went by the name Milkman, though he had no idea how he’d gained that name. The unfortunate last name Dead came about as his grandfather was being registered by a white man who misunderstood an answer.

The middle Mecon Dead, Milkman’s father, was a successful businessman. Over the years, he had used his intelligence and drive to acquire several rental properties. The rental properties provided a good income. Milkman collected rents and did several odd jobs for his father’s company. His income from the business put him in stark contrast with Guitar, his closest friend. Guitar had befriended him when as a young student, he had been bullied primarily because his mother dressed him to show off their relative wealth.

Guitar was Milkman’s ticket to life on the street. It was Guitar who taught him how to find alcohol and even stronger stuff. Though the story is told through the eyes of Milkman, other characters are fleshed out, particularly his father and mother. We learn that the two have differing versions of the story and what that means for Milkman. But mostly we follow Milkman‘s attempts to retrieve the gold that Mecon Senior is sure his sister found while the two were on their own after their father was shot.

Guitar becomes involved in the early hunt for the gold because he hopes to use his share to help fund the Seven Days group, of which he is now a member. The Seven Days group is self-appointed to avenge any black murder with one done to the white race as nearly like the first as possible: a hanging for a hanging, a bomb for a bomb. Victims are to be chosen randomly according to availability.

Much of the book deals with Milkman going back to his family’s area of origin. He is pleasantly pleased that the family was held in high regard. It even helps him understand why his father is the way he is. He also learns that the white men who shot his grandfather not only were not punished, but also had continued to live in the area and had acquired the family farm.

Through a serious misunderstanding, Guitar mistakenly thinks that Milkman has located the gold, and instead of sharing, has shipped it off. He does not take this lightly.

I want to share a couple of quotations from the novel.

• “The bits of Sunday dresses that he saw did not fly; they hung in the air quietly, like whole notes in the last measure of an Easter hymn.”

• “Love shouldn’t be like that. Did you ever see the way clouds love a mountain? They circle all around it; sometimes you can’t even see the mountain for the clouds. … They let him keep his head held up high, free, with nothing to bind him.”

I thought initially that the title referred to King Solomon and that it came from Milkman gaining wisdom throughout the story. He does gain wisdom, but eventually we learn that the title comes from quite a different reference.

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