Summary of Solomon’s Song

In American literature, one of Toni Morrison’s most famous novels is known as Song of Salomon, which was first published in 1977 thanks to the work of Alfred Knofp.

About Solomon’s Song

Mentioned by the Swedish Academy in 1993 as one of the reasons that led this institution to award this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature to Toni Morrison, Solomon’s Song has been erected since its publication as a reference book on the racial problems in the heart of the American people.

Thus, against the backdrop of Michigan’s black neighborhoods, The Song of Solomon is presented as an initiation novel, in which its author uses its protagonist Macon Milkman Dead III as a boy, who always around his desire to learn to fly, manages to uproot himself from his maternal world, to undertake a journey that will lead him to discover the true history of his lineage, knowledge that leads him to his first and last flight.

On the other hand, the novel also poses in a crude way the racist sentiment that floods the hearts of white communities and black communities, where the contempt and marginalization driven by whites is not received passively, but on the contrary is strong in the soul of these communities, which respond with the formation of some groups, such as The Community of Seven Days, a group of seven people who have decided to react to each murder of a black person, with the random murder of some innocent white person.

Summary of The Song of Solomon

As for the content of this novel, it can basically be said that it tells the story of how Macon Milkman Dead III undertakes the most important journey of his life: the one that will make him know his destiny, and find the true history of his family.

In this way, the novel begins when Macon Milkman Dead III’s mother watches with her two sisters and her aunt Pilate observe the suicide of the insurance agent, Robert Smith, an African-American man, whom the narrator identifies as belonging to the group The Seven Days. In a rather symbolic scene, Smith jumps off the roof of Mercy Hospital carrying a pair of blue silk wings.

This jump or flight, will be a symbol that will cover the whole novel, becoming a true dream or yearning for the protagonist, even will be this image that will drive his own arrival to the world, since the impression of the scene will make the mother of Macon Milkman Dead III go into labor, bringing him to the world.

However, this birth is in itself a novelty, since happening in front of a hospital, Ruth, the mother of the protagonist is admitted to Mercy Hospital, making his son the first black baby born in this health center.

However, the conditions in which her son Macon Dead III arrives in the world, as well as her unloved marriage, cause his mother to develop a feeling of guilt, which impels her to want to remedy it by prolonging breastfeeding. Thus, at four years of age, Macon Dead III still drinks from his mother’s breast, so his environment mocks him, assigning him the nickname that will accompany him all his life: Milkman. Likewise, at that age, he discovers between the physical pain and the disappointment that he cannot fly.

In this way, the feelings of mockery, of disconnection with his own, of his daily frustrations are turning this African-American boy into a rather sullen and evasive boy. However, it’s not just his home that makes him feel this way, since his life in Southside doesn’t satisfy him either.

For its part, history also begins to present the configuration that has the family of Macon Milkman Dead III, whose name has been inherited, having been used to baptize each of the men who have presided over each generation of this family, even though in reality is a name that has resulted from an error of the white man, because in reality the name of the first grandfather was not Macon Dead, but Jake. It will also show how the names of the descendants in this family are randomly chosen from the pages of the Bible.

Likewise, the novel will focus on the father of Macon Milkman Dead III, whom he will describe as an African-American man, who has made a name for himself at work.

Another important figure in the paternal line of the protagonist will be Pilate, an African-American woman, described as a sorceress, and whom the narration points out as responsible for having Macon’s father conceive him with his mother Ruth. In the same way, the story tells how these brothers, the father of Macon Milkman Dead III and Pilate, in spite of being brothers, in reality at some moment they separate forever, separated by an insurmountable abyss.

This is how the reader learns how many years ago, the Macon Dead originates is swindled and forced to leave his land, being finally executed when he resists.

His son Macon Dead II and his sister Pilate, still children, see no other way out but to flee, with nothing in the world. The journey then leads them to a cave, where they meet a white man, who had in his possession a bag of gold.

In an impulse, the children kill the white man, but decide not to take the gold, since, according to Pilate, they could be accused of theft. In spite of deciding this for the first time, in reality this gold will create a quarrel among the brothers that will never be overcome, because each one believes in the bottom, that the other has returned later in secret for the sake of fortune.

Just as the reader learns of this story, Guitar, the childhood friend of Macon Milkman Dead III and a member of The Seven Days, also does so through the latter. This is how these two friends also conclude that the gold must be in the possession of Pilate, who has a strange bag in his possession. The boys decide to steal it, and this adventure leads them to be stopped by the police. Even though soon after they are released, having served for everyone to discover that Pilate keeps in that bag the bones of his father, the original Macon Dead.

After this event, both Macon Milkman Dead III and Guitar -who has been experiencing a rather dark evolution within the novel- decide to embark on a journey south, convinced that the gold bag -if it is true that neither of the two boys took it years ago- must still be in the cave.

However, this adventure becomes a race after nothing, because friends will never find the gold, but the story will present them with different objectives to pursue. In this way, Macon Milkman Dead III comes to discover his true roots, while Guitar, forgetting the friendship that unites him with this boy, surrenders to hatred, hunting him to kill him, in revenge for his wounded honor.

This search for an answer will finally lead Milkman to witness a children’s song, in which children sing a round called Solomon’s Song, in which they talk about a man named Jake, who married a great woman named Ryna, with whom he had 21 children. However, Solomon decides to undertake a flying trip, so he decides to take one of his children, which falls in the middle of the flight.

Faced with the pain, Ryna falls into a ravine, which ends up having his name. Tying up loose ends and old memories, Milkman discovers that the song actually tells his family’s story. He has discovered his roots.

Milkman then returns to Pilate, to convince her that it’s time to put an end to Jake’s story, the original Macon Dead, which will only be possible by burying him in the middle of what was once his land. So Milkman and Pilate make a long journey to their ancient lands, and bury the first Macon Dead in front of the ravine, where Solomon’s song claims Ryna was launched.

After a moving scene, Guitar appears again, who wields a weapon against Macon Milkman Dead III, but mistakenly kills Pilate. Faced with the facts, Milkman decides to go against Guitar, so he undertakes a great leap, to fight this man.  Although the novel does not clarify which of the two men wins the confrontation, since they have an open end, it closes with the same image of the flight with which the story inaugurates, stating that Macon Milkman Dead III finally achieves its maximum and secret desire: learning to fly.

When Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993, many understood that the literary movement of African-American authors, who since Frederick Douglas in the 19th century and the Harlem Rennaissance in the 20th century had enriched American literature, was also rewarded. Morrison also represented a certain conceptual innovation, embodied in this, his third novel.

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Image: portrait of Toni Morrison, author of The Song of Solomon / Source:

Summary of Solomon’s Song
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