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Song of Solomon | Discussion Questions 11 - 20

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In Chapter 3 of Song of Solomon how does Morrison show that Milkman's hitting Macon is a shallow victory?

Morrison shows that Milkman's hitting Macon is a shallow victory because nothing significant changes for Milkman and his family. Macon will continue to treat his wife harshly and be disappointed in his daughters. Also he will continue to use Milkman to help his business. Hitting his father does not enable Milkman to break free of his family. Instead he will continue to feel used. His family identity remains the same. In fact Milkman's situation in his family gets even worse: after he hits his father, Macon burdens Milkman with a story of Ruth's unnatural attachment to her father, so Milkman feels even more like a pawn within his family.

In Chapter 3 Macon says, "To be a whole man, you have to deal with the whole truth." How is this statement true and false in the story's context?

The principal that Macon states proves to be true for Milkman. For him to become a whole man, he does have to know the whole truth. However, the truth that Milkman must know extends far beyond Macon's story about his wife's attachment to her father. He must connect with his ancestral roots and the truth about his great-grandfather. Macon's statement is false because he is implying that he just told Milkman the whole truth. As the reader eventually learns, however, Milkman's family has many more truths that will be uncovered. Macon has told Milkman a partial truth, which will be counterbalanced later by Ruth's story and the stories of Milkman's sisters.

In the last scene of Chapter 3 of Song of Solomon how do Milkman's and Guitar's views of names differ?

Milkman thinks a person should get his or her name the right way, which means the way that most white people get their names. The mother and father choose the name for their child based on their likes. The names chosen are often socially acceptable names, such as John and Susan. So for Milkman names represent acceptance by white society. On the other hand, Guitar accepts that black people often get their names in ways that are different from whites. A drunken Yankee might mistakenly give a black family a name, which happened with the Dead family. Or a person could get a nickname that sticks, such as Milkman. How a black person gets his or her name doesn't matter to Guitar. The main point is that black people get their names the best way they can considering the circumstances they live in. For Guitar this is the right way, because black people are establishing their identity in the midst of oppression.

In Chapter 4 of Song of Solomon how does Milkman's relationship with Hagar over the years show his inner conflict?

Milkman's inner conflict is reflected in how he treats Hagar. At first Milkman is attracted to Hagar, and the relationship has a unique spark. But his attraction to her goes beyond Hagar herself and includes his feelings for Pilate and her family in general. He feels a connection with this family and also is enamored of their unique identity. It's no coincidence that Milkman sleeps with Hagar for the first time after he witnesses Pilate threatening the man with a knife. This incident sparks Milkman's enthusiasm and respect for the independence of Pilate and her family from others, which leads to having sex with Hagar. His relationship with Hagar gives him something he's lacking in his daily life. Because of this Milkman maintains his relationship with Hagar for many years. During this time he has dated and dropped many women. Hagar has been a constant, even though Milkman has become bored with the relationship. However, Milkman also feels ashamed about sleeping with Hagar. As a result he keeps her on the periphery of his social life. This shame stems from how Milkman's high-class friends look down on Hagar and her family with their rural manners. Milkman wants the approval of black high society and also wants to keep a connection to Hagar and her rural ways. Eventually Milkman's malaise gets the best of him. Hagar's uniqueness wears thin, and he breaks off his relationship with her.

In Chapter 4 of Song of Solomon why does Guitar decide not to confide in Milkman about the Seven Days?

Guitar fears Milkman will not appreciate the significance of his involvement with the Seven Days. He sees Milkman as a person who does not commit to anything but instead coasts through life seeking pleasurable activities. Milkman's lack of seriousness makes him seem like a soft person. He might not have the strength of character to deal with the harsh news about Guitar's involvement with the Days. If Guitar tells Milkman about the Days, Milkman might freak out and get angry instead of understanding. Guitar sees Milkman as a passive person who does not take risks. Because of this Guitar fears Milkman will not comprehend why Guitar would want to take risks for the Days.

In Chapter 4 of Song of Solomon for what purpose does Morrison have Freddie talk to Milkman about ghosts?

Morrison has Freddie talk about ghosts to show Milkman's limited view of the world. He thinks that some things are possible and others aren't. Because of this he sees Freddie's story about ghosts killing his mother as ridiculous and laughs about it. Also the author uses the ghost story to foreshadow the importance of ghosts in Milkman's family. Pilate sees the ghost of her father, who tells her important information that she misunderstands. Eventually Milkman expands his worldview and believes that ghosts and many other things are possible. As a result he realizes the importance of Pilate's misunderstanding, which he corrects. Finally Morrison uses Freddie's story about ghosts to lead into other strange happenings, such as Guitar's involvement with Empire State.

According to Ruth's backstory in Chapter 5 of Song of Solomon, why does Ruth have difficulty seeing Milkman as an individual separate from herself?

Ruth's relationship with Milkman has been based from the beginning on what her son could do for her. Ruth got pregnant because she was dying of loneliness. Her husband had not had intimate relations with her for years. So Ruth got Pilate to mix an aphrodisiac potion that hypnotized Macon into having sex with his wife. Ruth therefore has sex with Macon to relieve her loneliness, not to get pregnant. Later when Macon attempts to abort the baby, Ruth defies him because she wants to have one act of triumph over her husband. This triumph seems more important to her than saving the life of a future individual. When Milkman is born, Ruth focuses on what he can do for her; namely provide her with physical affection through breastfeeding. Again Ruth stresses what she wants, not what is best for Milkman. It's no wonder Ruth asks who this son of hers really is and admits to knowing nothing about what goes on inside him.

In Song of Solomon for what purpose does Morrison give Pilate the physical trait of having no navel?

By giving Pilate no navel Morrison makes this character an outsider not only from society but also from humanity itself, giving her almost godlike powers. Pilate has insight that other people do not, particularly into matters of life and death. Pilate recognizes, for example, both that the insurance salesman will die and that Ruth will give birth. While the boys believe she has a sack of gold in her cabin, she actually has a sack of bones, a far more valuable possession. Pilate's lack of a navel often causes people to treat her with fear and hostility, a common reaction to strong, independent women in male-dominated communities. The death of her mother at the moment of her birth and her infantile insistence on being born regardless both indicate that she essentially gave birth to herself. She has thus completed the cycle that Milkman must endure through the novel of bringing himself into the world by discovering his identity.

In Chapter 5 of Song of Solomon how do Pilate's and Ruth's views of death differ?

Ruth views death as something unavoidable that happens to a person. She sees death in a passive manner. Also she believes death is natural because everyone dies. Ruth says, "Death is as natural as life." Ruth's view, therefore, is a common one that many people have. In contrast Pilate's view of death is different. First of all she sees death in an active way. A person can choose whether to die. Pilate says, "People die when they want to and if they want to." Also Pilate does not see death as natural, but rather as an aberration of nature, saying, "Ain't nothin natural about death. It's the most unnatural thing they is." Pilate probably says this because people often have a sense that they should live forever and that their souls are eternal. For Pilate this ingrained belief is natural, and, as a result, death is unnatural.

In Chapter 6 of Song of Solomon what are three ways Guitar deludes himself about the Seven Days?

Guitar deludes himself by thinking that all white people are unnatural beings who kill people for money or fun. Although clearly untrue, this viewpoint is understandable, considering Guitar's dealings with racism. Guitar also believes he kills whites because he loves black people. However, as the rest of the story shows, Guitar's main motivation to kill is hatred of white people. Indeed hatred becomes a driving force for Guitar, which leads to his third delusion. Guitar feels he can control his hatred. Because of this he insists he'll never kill a black person. Guitar says, "We don't off Negroes." Eventually though, Guitar does attempt to kill a black person, namely Milkman.

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