Song of Solomon


Toni Morrison

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Song of Solomon Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison was born in Ohio to a working-class family that had fled the South to escape racism and economic oppression. She attended Howard University from 1949 to 1953 and later earned a Masters Degree at Cornell. She was married to Harold Morrison, an architect, from 1958 to 1964; during this time, she gave birth to two children, who she raised on her own. Following her divorce from her husband, Morrison worked as an editor in New York City, where she was instrumental in publishing the first works of the political activist Angela Davis. In 1970 she published her first novel,The Bluest Eye. Thereafter, she completed Sula (1973), for which she was nominated for the National Book Award; Song of Solomon (1977), the novel that first brought her widespread acclaim; and Beloved (1987), which contributed to her being awarded the Nobel Prize in 1993. Morrison taught at Rutgers, Howard, Princeton, and many other colleges and universities. Her final novel, God Help the Child, was published in 2015. In 2019, at the age of 88, Morrison died of complications from pneumonia.
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Historical Context of Song of Solomon

Song of Solomon alludes to many of the key periods in Black American history. Following the end of the Civil War in 1865, four million Black enslaved people were freed; for the remainder of the 19th century, the vast majority of them stayed in the South and worked on white farms for low wages, although some (including Macon’s father) earned land and property. In the Great Depression of the 1930s, millions of Americans, including both Black and white people, were unable to find a job and fell into poverty; this prompted many Black Southerners to migrate to Northern cities. It was also during the Great Depression that Black Americans began supporting the Democratic Party (previously, they had overwhelmingly supported the Republicans, “The Party of Lincoln”) – Morrison alludes to this change when she writes that Milkman identifies with President Franklin Roosevelt. The 1950s and 60s saw the rise of the Civil Rights Movement, led by nonviolent organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. This era saw many political and legal victories for Black Americans, including the Supreme Court’s decision inBrown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which protected Black Americans' right to vote and study and work where they chose. In the mid to late 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement took a more violent turn, led by leaders like Malcolm X and Huey Newton – this shift parallels Guitar’s embrace of violence to avenge the murder of innocent Black people. Morrison mentions many specific events of Black 20th century history, such as the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955 and the 16thStreet Baptist Church Bombing of 1963, in which four Black girls were murdered by Ku Klux Klan members.

Other Books Related to Song of Solomon

The most obvious related literary work to Song of Solomon is the Biblical Song of Solomon, often called the Song of Songs, the book of the Old Testament immediately before Ruth. The Song of Solomon celebrates love, even erotic love (though this love is often read as a metaphor for the relationship between God and the pious Christian), and moves through a large timeframe and cast of characters in much the same way as Morrison’s novel. The Uncle Remus folktales are another important work of literature for understanding Morrison’s interest in language and naming. In these stories, passed down orally for more than a century before they were compiled in written form, the clever, quick-thinking Brer Rabbit uses wordplay to outsmart his enemies. (The title of one of Morrison’s later novels, Tar Baby, explicitly alludes to the Uncle Remus stories.) Finally, the myth of flight back to Africa, again passed down orally by American slaves, echoes in Song of Solomon’s opening and closing scenes.
Key Facts about Song of Solomon
  • Full Title: Song of Solomon
  • When Written: 1975-77
  • Where Written: Washington, D.C.
  • When Published: 1977
  • Literary Period: Postmodernism, Black American Literature
  • Genre: Magical realism, Bildungsroman, epic
  • Setting: Unnamed town in Michigan
  • Climax: Milkman’s discovery of his great-grandfather, Solomon.
  • Antagonist: Guitar
  • Point of View: Third person limited. The novel moves between dozens of characters’ points of view.

Extra Credit for Song of Solomon

Late Bloomer: Morrison didn’t publish her first novel,The Bluest Eye, until she was almost forty years old. Over the next two decades, she had one of the most impressive runs of any American writer, publishing Sula,Tar Baby, andBeloved, within just a few years of each other.

Awards, awards, awards: Morrison has won virtually every honor available for an American writer: the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Pulitzer Prize, the American Book Award, etc. In 1993, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. As of 2015, she is the most recent American, the only American woman, and the only Black American to win this honor.