Song of Solomon

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Susan Byrd Character Analysis

Susan Byrd is a calm, middle-aged, part-native-American woman who lives near the town of Shalimar. Milkman finds her late in the novel as he is searching out the history of his family and lineage. Though careful not to tell much about his past on their first visit, when the judgmental Grace Long is present, on his second visit she tells him the story that unlocks his past. Her story suggests that she is Milkman's relative: that her father, Crowell Byrd, was the brother of Milkman's grandmother, Sing. She says that Milkman was descended from "those flying African children" and tells him of how his great-grandfather Solomon flew back to Africa, leaving behind his family, including Milkman's grandfather Jake. Susan Byrd then dismisses this entire story as a fantasy, but tells how after Solomon's disappearance her mother Heddy took him in, and he and Sing eventually moved to Boston together. Despite Susan's dismissal of the myth of Solomon, her story triggers an epiphany in Milkman and sets up the events of the rest of the novel.
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Susan Byrd Character Timeline in Song of Solomon

The timeline below shows where the character Susan Byrd appears in Song of Solomon. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 2, Chapter 11
Racism Theme Icon
Memory and Storytelling Theme Icon
...last name was Byrd, and that she lived in a nearby area. Vernell thinks that Susan Byrd, another member of the family, still lives there, near a rock formation called Solomon’s... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 12
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
Mercy and Forgiveness Theme Icon
The day after Guitar tries to kill him, Milkman travels to Susan Byrd’s home. He thinks that Guitar won’t try to kill him in broad daylight, and... (full context)
Memory and Storytelling Theme Icon
Milkman arrives at Susan Byrd’s house and introduces himself as Macon. Susan appears to be around the same age... (full context)
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
...dozens of questions about his family history, and is particularly curious if the Sing whom Susan mentioned is the same Sing who married his grandfather. Since Pilate really didn’t have a... (full context)
The Power of Names Theme Icon
Memory and Storytelling Theme Icon
...took him to a red man’s house,” which Milkman concludes must be a reference to Susan Byrd’s grandmother, an Indian. (full context)
The Power of Names Theme Icon
Memory and Storytelling Theme Icon
...probably Crow Bird. Giddy with his own detective work, Milkman decides to go back to Susan Byrd’s house, certain that she knows more than she told him. He feels as happy... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 14
Memory and Storytelling Theme Icon
Milkman returns to Susan Byrd’s house, noting that it looks different than it did the last time he was... (full context)
Memory and Storytelling Theme Icon
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
Milkman asks Susan about Jake, and Susan tells him that Jake married Sing, and may have traveled to... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
Milkman asks Susan about Heddy; he learns that Heddy was Susan’s grandmother, an Indian woman, who took care... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Memory and Storytelling Theme Icon
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
Milkman asks Susan about the “flying African children,” and she mentions the folktale of the slaves who fly... (full context)
The Power of Names Theme Icon
Memory and Storytelling Theme Icon
Milkman pieces together Susan’s information and his own. Jake and Sing must have traveled to Boston but taken a... (full context)
The Power of Names Theme Icon
Racism Theme Icon
Memory and Storytelling Theme Icon
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
Milkman asks if Jake was a slave; Susan reminds him that no one in her own family was a slave, but also notes... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 15
Memory and Storytelling Theme Icon
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
Mercy and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Milkman thinks of his behavior after he left Susan Byrd’s house. He returned to Sweet’s home in Shalimar, where he ecstatically told her that... (full context)