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Song of Solomon | Discussion Questions 1 - 10

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In Chapter 1 of Song of Solomon for what purpose does Morrison open the novel with a man jumping off a building?

Morrison begins the novel with a man jumping off a building because of the central importance of the symbol of flight for the main character, Milkman. Morrison depicts Robert Smith (the man who jumped) as a person who is alienated from the black community. He goes door-to-door collecting insurance payments and, because of this, is generally disliked. He appears to feel a desperation about escaping his life and its problems. Thus, he attempts to fly. This desire to fly to escape problems extends beyond Mr. Smith. At a young age, Milkman becomes disillusioned when he realizes he can't fly. As a result Milkman becomes burdened by his problems. The episode introduces one of the novel's major themes: life and death, and not only in the death of one member of the community and the birth of another. Also the insurance man collects money that people hope to capitalize on in case of their death. As such he is a person of whom the community is naturally suspicious and who they are not entirely sad to lose.

In Chapter 1 of Song of Solomon for what three purposes does Morrison have Macon secretly listen to Pilate and her family singing?

Macon secretly listens to Pilate and her family singing because doing this emphasizes the importance of rural roots for black people, especially those who have moved from the country to the city. Even a person like Macon, who is alienated from the black community and ashamed of his rural ancestors, feels a longing for his rural origins. Second, Morrison creates sympathy for Macon by showing him secretly listening to Pilate and her family. Up to this point Macon has been depicted as a harsh tyrant in his family who feels superior to the black community. However, Macon has a softer side, which he hides. In a way the reader feels pity for him because he feels ashamed of who he is. Third, Morrison emphasizes Pilate as a keeper of an important resource for black people, namely their ancestral heritage. The benefit of this resource can be seen for Macon. He becomes more relaxed, more human as he listens to Pilate and her family singing. The narrator states, "As Macon felt himself softening under the weight of memory and music, the song died down."

In Chapter 1 of Song of Solomon how does Morrison suggest that Ruth's nursing of Milkman is strange without stating it directly?

Morrison shows the strangeness of Ruth's nursing of her son through several descriptive details. First the author has Ruth avoid looking at her son's "legs dangling almost to the floor." This avoidance shows that Ruth is ashamed of what she is doing. The image of Milkman's legs dangling while being nursed seems odd because it suggests that he is too large to nurse comfortably. In addition Milkman has come to dislike the taste of his mother's milk, indicating that he is drinking it at an age when the taste makes him uncomfortable. When she realizes she is being watched, "terror ... sprang to Ruth's eyes." This fear indicates that she realizes her nursing will appear strange to others. In fact her terror is so strong that she drops her son to the floor.

In Chapter 1 of Song of Solomon why does Morrison include the scene between Macon and his tenant, Henry Porter?

Morrison shows the scene between Macon and Henry Porter to emphasize Macon's alienation from his black community. One of Macon's tenants, Henry Porter, is drunk and threatening to kill himself. Instead of showing concern for him, however, Macon only wants to get the money Porter owes him. Porter shows contempt for Macon, telling him, "You the worst. You need killin, you really need killin." This scene reinforces the view of Macon as a harsh landlord who is at odds with his community. Also the scene sets up the one that follows. The process of trying to make Porter pay his rent has made Macon irritable. He needs some relief and finds it by listening to Pilate and her family sing. Macon's alienation from his community makes him yearn for a reconnection with his black heritage, which he gets through Pilate. Finally the scene introduces Pilate's paradoxical relationship with her community, which is both nurturing and destructive. She provides them with the wine they need to forget their troubles, but during Prohibition, her actions are illegal.

In Chapter 2 of Song of Solomon how does Morrison relate the town of Honoré to the theme of searching for identity?

Morrison relates Honoré to the theme of searching for identity by showing how Macon's children do not understand why Macon wants to buy property in the Honoré area. Honoré is a beach community where white people spend their vacations. It seems to be an affluent area. Most black people couldn't afford property in this area even if they wanted to move there. So Honoré seems to have no relationship with the children's black identity. Macon's children are perplexed as to why their father wants to buy land where there are no black people. Macon, though, knows that some black people like himself want to adopt a white identity, or at least aspects of it. If wealthy white people have houses in Honoré, some black people will also want to have houses in the area.

In Chapter 2 of Song of Solomon why does Morrison have Pilate correct Milkman and Guitar about saying "Hi"?

Morrison has Pilate correct Milkman and Guitar about saying "Hi" because the author wants to convey a sense of authority for Pilate. She may have rural manners, but Pilate is intelligent and expects children to behave correctly toward adults. Also Pilate has a different code of behavior than many urban blacks. She knows that people say "Hi" to pigs and swine. So saying "Hi" as a greeting seems inappropriate. Most urban people would not know this. In fact Pilate asks Milkman, "What they telling you in them schools?" In addition Pilate's correction about saying "Hi" turns the tables on Milkman. He had expected to feel ashamed of her because of her country manners. However, he ends up feeling ashamed about his schooling. So he realizes that what is considered proper depends on a person's viewpoint.

In Chapter 2 of Song of Solomon how does Morrison show Pilate's close connection to nature?

Morrison shows Pilate's strong connection to nature through many descriptive details. Morrison describes Pilate's "berry-black lips," her figure looking like a "tall black tree," and her voice that sounds like pebbles. The author also has Pilate handling the fruit of the earth, such as peeling an orange, making a soft-boiled egg, and picking blackberries. Morrison even depicts Pilate chewing a twig. Furthermore, Pilate often describes things by comparing them to nature. For example, she talks about the types of green, saying "Green like a grasshopper? Green like a cucumber, lettuce, or green like the sky?" Pilate's stories about her past often involve nature, such as being lost in the woods after her father died.

In Chapter 2 of Song of Solomon how is Milkman's talk with Pilate similar to and different from his talk with Macon?

Milkman's talks with Pilate and Macon are similar because both conversations involve memories about Milkman's grandfather. Also with both talks Milkman becomes more relaxed when he hears about his family's rural background. In fact even though Macon is supposed to be scolding Milkman, Macon's story about growing up on a farm has a pleasant tone. The narrator states, "[Macon's] voice sounded different to Milkman. Less hard ... more southern and comfortable and soft." However, the two conversations focus on different aspects of the history of the Dead family. Pilate talks in detail about seeing her father being shot and, afterward, about the fear of being lost in the woods. Macon doesn't describe his father's death to Milkman, but rather focuses on his father's lovely farm. Also Pilate's talk with Milkman is an invitation into her world. In contrast Macon's talk with Milkman serves as a warning to stay away from Pilate and her world.

In Chapter 2 of Song of Solomon how does Pilate's song about Sugarman add meaning to both Robert Smith's jump and Milkman's disillusionment in Chapter 1?

Pilate sings the same song about Sugarman to Milkman that she sings when Robert Smith jumps off the hospital roof. This music appears to be a folk song that comes from the period when African Americans were slaves. The song refers to "cotton balls to choke me" and "Buckra's arms to yoke me." So Sugarman flying away has to do with escaping these problems caused by slavery. Therefore when Robert Smith jumps off the hospital roof in an attempt to fly, he was mirroring something that his ancestors attempted. Robert Smith wanted to escape oppression, probably caused by racism. For Milkman, he felt disillusioned when he realized he could not fly in Chapter 1. When he listens to the folk song in Chapter 2, however, Milkman feels transformed. Apparently listening to this song at least for a moment reaffirms his faith in the possibilities of life, including the ability to fly. By listening to a song that dates back to his ancestral past, Milkman feels empowered.

In Chapter 3 of Song of Solomon for what purposes does Ruth tell the story about taking communion?

First, Ruth tells the story about taking communion because she wants to get back at her husband for his abandonment of her. In this way Ruth's story is a form of passive-aggressive behavior, or behavior that seems passive or innocent but in reality is intended to annoy or hurt someone. The narrator states that Ruth wants to bring her husband "to a point, not of power ... but of helplessness." So through this story Ruth emphasizes that she is "her daddy's daughter." This infuriates Macon, but he can't really do anything to change this. Even though he hits her, Ruth will continue to feel a strong closeness to her father. Second, the story emphasizes Ruth's connection to the white community through her father. Ruth seems proud of this connection, which implies that her identity involves getting the approval of whites. Macon gets annoyed with Ruth because she acted like a fool in front of whites. So for Macon, he does not mind Ruth associating with whites but rather how whites see his family. Therefore in his way, Macon also seeks the approval of the white community. Third, the story shows Ruth's reliance on others to tell her what is right or proper. She defends herself from Macon's accusation about her foolishness by saying that the priest and Mrs. Djvorak didn't see her as a foolish woman. Ruth lacks the assertiveness to say that she wanted to take communion no matter what the Catholic Church states because she thinks communion should be open to all. Instead she pleads ignorance of the Catholic rules and uses the opinions of others to defend her.

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