Song of Solomon

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The Earring Symbol Icon
In contrast to the economic interpretation of “flight,” Morrison suggests a more internal, spiritual meaning for the word. One can fly by involving oneself in one’s community and one’s friends; paradoxically, devotion to others yields more freedom, not less. Pilate devotes herself to Milkman and her daughter and granddaughter; Milkman later thinks that she can fly without leaving the ground, as if her love and sympathy give her a kind of independence that her brother, obsessed with his businesses, will never achieve. Whether Milkman achieves this second kind of flight is unclear. At the end of the novel, he seems to “fly” at Guitar, but we don’t know if he’ll kill his old friend or greet him with love. If we choose to believe that Milkman will do the former, we’re subscribing the old principle of “an eye for an eye” – this would be a failed flight, by Pilate’s definition. If, however, Milkman learns to overcome hatred and the desire for revenge – in essence, a kind of payment – then perhaps he’s moved beyond financial concerns and achieved the flight that’s eluded him all his life.

The Earring Quotes in Song of Solomon

The Song of Solomon quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Earring. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Power of Names Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of Song of Solomon published in 2004.
Part 2, Chapter 10 Quotes

He loosened his collar and lit another cigarette. Here in this dim room he sat with the woman who had helped deliver his father and Pilate; who had risked her job, her life, maybe, to hide them both after their father was killed, emptied their slop jars, brought them food at night and pans of water to wash. Had even sneaked off to the village to have the girl Pilate’s name and snuffbox made into an earring. Then healed the ear when it got infected. And after all these years was thrilled to see what she believed was one of them. Healer, deliverer, in another world she would have been the head nurse at Mercy. Instead she tended Weimaraners and had just one selfish wish: that when she died somebody would find her before the dogs ate her.

Related Characters: Milkman, Circe
Related Symbols: The Earring
Page Number: 246
Explanation and Analysis:

In this moving passage, Milkman--traveling through the country to track down the mysterious gold and learn about his family history--comes face-to-face with a remarkable woman, Circe. Circe is the nurse who delivered Pilate, as well as Macon Dead II, Milkman's father. Furthermore, Circe has spent her entire life caring for others--not just Macon II and Pilate, but children, dogs, strangers, etc. Milkman stops to contemplate the injustice of Circe's life: if she weren't black, she probably would have ended up working as a prestigious nurse or a doctor. Instead, she lives in squalor, devoting herself entirely to helping others.

The scene is an important turning point, since it marks one of the first times in the novel when Milkman shows genuine sympathy for another person--and a woman at that. Milkman is beginning to change--transforming from a selfish, materialistic brat to a more enlightened, forgiving figure. (The passage is also a great example of Morrison's magical realism--it's almost mathematically impossible that Circe could have tended to the Dead family for so long and still be alive, and yet here she is.)

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The Earring Symbol Timeline in Song of Solomon

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Earring appears in Song of Solomon. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1
The Power of Names Theme Icon
...grew older, she tore out her name from the Bible and made it into an earring. (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 3
Racism Theme Icon
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
...wonders what his grandfather’s real name was, and guesses that Pilate has it in her earring. He condemns his grandfather for accepting the name the Freedman’s Bureau accidentally gave him, and... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 7
Memory and Storytelling Theme Icon
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
...both of them, who works in a white family’s mansion. While there, Pilate makes an earring for herself; but shortly after she pierces her ear, she and Macon leave, since they’re... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 10
Memory and Storytelling Theme Icon
...his son. Cooper asks Milkman about Pilate, and recalls that his own father made Pilate’s earring. (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 15
The Power of Names Theme Icon
Racism Theme Icon
Memory and Storytelling Theme Icon
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
Mercy and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...wants to put a rock or a cross on the grave, but Pilate removes her earring and buries it on Jake’s remains. As she is finishing doing this, a gunshot rings... (full context)