I opt to work only on the second and third level of inquiries for Song of Solomon; which I wrap up in this one post.
What does Milkman want? What is standing in his way? And what strategy does he pursue in order to overcome this block?
Milkman wants freedom; freedom to lead his own life, not the life the society forces him to take. Even before he was born, it is as if his fate has been scratched into his book of life. After he’s grown up, everyone seems to want his life, own him, need him, and won’t let him alone (his father, his mother, his girlfriend, even Guitar). To overcome the block, Milkman knows he needs to leave his past, stays away from his families and all their histories. So, when his father asks him to find the gold, he leaves eagerly to the South. It’s not merely about the gold—although he believes it is at first—but more about the freedom, to do something his own way, to decide things by himself, to take control of his life.
Beginnings and endings
I believe this is one of Toni Morrison’s strengths: how she arranges her writings in a neat and tidy package. The novel begins with a ‘fly’ and ends also with a ‘fly’. The first fly—the insurance agent’s leap from the hospital roof—feels strange, and I didn’t know what it means until I reach the ending. And only when Milkman leaps towards Guitar, did I realize what all the leaps in this novel meant.
Images and metaphors
Being a magical realism, of course there are a lot of metaphors here. I only discuss one of them: the leap or the flying. People in this book do not think it strange for men to fly. So, it must have represented something real. After finishing the book, I think ‘flying’ here means flying from your helpless situation to a new brighter future. Milkman is so happy when he learns that Solomon—his great grandfather—can fly, and he thinks, if his great grandfather can fly, so can he. I think the flying for black people here represents the escaping from the whites’ domination and injustice.
Do you sympathize with the characters? Which ones, and why?
I thought more about Milkman and Guitar than the other characters in this novel. They both want to fly from their present conditions, although by leading different paths. They both would have led a great future if they were born as white men. Even Milkman, with a comfortable living, still feels oppressed by the racial colonialism; let alone Guitar, who have neither freedom nor money. His choice is wrong—killing innocent people is wrong—but it’s only to highlight how he feels so helpless; that there is no way out other than savage killings. And they—Milkman and Guitar—must go through that just because they are born black.
What does the setting of the book tell you about the way human beings are shaped?
It tells me that colonialism would only bring moral corruption to the oppressed. When you treat others inhumanly, they would grow savage, because men are created to be free. And after some generations, it would shape their whole race or nation’s mental. It is not that certain race is worse than the others; look at Milkman and Guitar; if they were born white, things would have been different. Milkman would not be that indifferent, while Guitar would perhaps not be a savage killer. They do not want to be that way, but they are forced to survive in the crushed world they live in. And all that is because they are black.
What exactly is the writer telling you?
Morrison wants us to witness the ugly truth of whites’ colonization towards the blacks. She wants to show us what really happened inside the society. Most of them were perhaps just living it bitterly, but some of them show us that they too have dignity; dignity to force them to leave their families, or, like Guitar, to be a savage killer. And all these mess were caused by the racial colonization. They do not want to be that way, but they were helpless. She also tells us not to live submissively under the colonialism, she tells us to fly or leap to a brighter future.
In what sense is the book true?
It’s true that men tend to feel superior against others who are different from them, and I believe racial colonialism is still happening even today.